Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Big Horn Nursery

One day late last week the temperature was forecasted to drop to 11 degrees overnight.
By the time LC and I went to bed that night the temperature had already dropped down to 4 degrees and when we woke up on Saturday morning the temperature gauge perched outside, and visible from the kitchen window, read -1.
Minus one.
I hadn't seen that kind of temperature since living in Sault Ste Marie, in northern Ontario many years ago.
It had also snowed overnight and the ground (and the mountains surrounding Cody) were covered.
The day was trying hard to be sunny and it held the promise of a very beautiful day. 
It was still only two degrees when me, Jamie and LC walked out of the house, climbed into the truck and headed west towards the section of Shoshone National Forest that is adjacent to Yellowstone.
Just before we pulled out of the driveway I heard a loud (and now familiar) sound up in the sky.
For the past 24 hours we had heard the regular screech of seemingly endless flocks of geese.
Heading south.
I had already missed many opportunities, and as they flew overhead I scrambled to dig my camera out of the side pocket of my pack.
By the time I got myself organized I only captured a couple of not-so-great pictures of them as they flew away from us.
A couple of minutes after this flock had disappeared over the BLM hills close to the house I heard one more screech and looked up into the increasingly blue sky, searching for the source of the noise.
One goose.  Not very young but young.  Little guy had missed the rush, and I watched him as he flew around in circles above us, obviously distressed that he had been left behind.
He circled and circled some more, crying out to those that had left him behind, but they were already long gone.
Finally he disappeared - flying back the way he had come.
I mulled over this lost little goose for a few minutes as we slowly headed down our rutted out gravel road, hoping that he would eventually hook up with another flock.
I hope that he did.
OK.  Enough of that.
We were headed for the forest.
I knew that there would be much snow in Shoshone National Forest, and both LC and I wondered whether the big horn sheep, the bison, and the elk had moved down from the mountains yet, and if they were now residing in the lower lands along the highway.
Heading west through the canyon between Cedar and Rattlesnake Mountains, only a few miles from Cody...............
There were no more tourists.
Codyites have the place to themselves again, and as we approached Buffalo Bill Dam I asked LC to pull the truck into the parking lot of the Visitor's Center so that I could take a picture.
We climbed out of the truck and walked alone in this newly solitary place, pleased to have the dam to ourselves.
The wind was blowing wildly, and it was absolutely and completely freezing.
A beautiful and now quiet place, but after only a couple of minutes we quickly climbed back into our warm truck, welcoming the reprieve from the battering wind...........
The world looked completely different.
The dust and sand and sage, and the pine trees higher up into the mountains, had all disappeared in the snow.
It was very cold, but there was something incredibly wonderful about the isolation and quiet and snow.
There were no other vehicles on the highway.
After leaving town it took only minutes to find absolute quiet.
The quiet is compelling, and both LC and I are drawn to it..............
I noticed it first in Juneau, and then again when we moved to Wyoming last year.
Truthfully I am not certain whether it is an optical illusion or whether the snow simply smooths out the rough edges of rugged terrain, but to me mountains always look so much bigger covered in snow.
We quickly passed through Wapiti and without stopping continued driving until we found ourselves in the Shoshone National Forest.
Once we hit the forest we knew that we would run into very few homes, and only occasional lodges and now-closed campgrounds and commercial outfitters.
Aside from those rare hints at civilization there is only forest - pine trees, endless views of mountain ranges, the north fork of the Shoshone River.
There are favorite big horn sheep and bison "hangouts" along the route to Yellowstone National Park, and we began scouting the area as we continued driving.
Eager to see whether or not these wonderful animals had moved down from the higher ranges..............
Ten minutes after entering the forest we saw them.
A small herd of big horn sheep were all grazing close together and fortuitously close to a pull-off.
LC and James stayed inside the warmth of the truck as I slowly climbed out of the truck, all the while focused on the herd grazing in the snow.
Carefully closing the truck door (not too loud Karin - you'll scare them)  I had planned on walking slowly back towards the herd so that I could take pictures of them.
A sudden movement to my left broke my trance, and I quickly turned to identify the source of the movement.
Bears should be sleeping soundly in their beds by now, but you never know.....
Instead of a big, hairy, brown, and cranky bear I was surprised to see a female big horn climbing up the embankment from the river.
She was only 30 feet or so from me and for a few moments we both stood motionless, carefully regarding each other.
She saw me but was completely unperturbed by my presence.  These sheep, in this area, are completely used to people, and are completely used to living in the protective arms of the locals.
Regardless, I moved slowly and carefully, not wanting to scare her with sudden movement.............
Digging through the snow to find food............
After grazing briefly she turned to look back the way she had come.
Without moving (and without being alarmed) she was searching for something................
Within moments I had my answer, as her beautiful and absolutely wonderful offspring unexpectedly came scampering up the embankment to join her momma....................
There must have been many sheep down by the river, because one by one they began to appear out of nowhere.
One here, two there, three further down the road.
I wasn't going to get pictures of the herd we had originally stopped for because there were suddenly big horn sheep in all directions around me.
And that was OK too.................
I was absolutely freezing by this time, but was also too enamored by the scene around me to care.
Big horn sheep were appearing from all directions and they were indescribably wonderful to see.
And something else............they were all mothers with their young.
Mothers had brought their babies down out of the mountains.
We had found a nursery.  Deep in the mountains and deep in the snow................

The baby on the opposite side of the road nursed, while the baby close to me searched for her mother...........
They quickly found each other, and baby tried to nurse but momma was having nothing to do with it.
Impatiently the mother big horn stepped over her young and crossed over the road with little one quickly in tow...............
After standing for a long time watching this young herd of families seamlessly interact with each other and with the terrain, I climbed back into the truck.
Warm!  It felt great!
LC and I talked excitedly about what we had just seen.
It had all been too unexpectedly wonderful.
The world was white and freezing cold and completely devoid of people, and we were greatly enjoying our trip.
We continued further down the highway wondering what we might find next.................

No comments:

Post a Comment