Friday, April 21, 2017

Desert Places

 As it always is, spring is slow to arrive in Idaho.
Days vary wildly from warm and sunny to freezing and raining.
The other day I was wearing shorts.
This morning I walked with Kory in the wet snow.
A few days ago it was dry, but also windy and cool and the sky changed by the minute, varying continually between brief periods of sunshine and brief periods of cloud.
Loading Kory into the back of the Suburban we drove out onto BLM land, with our intended destination being Cedar Butte.
Although there is still plenty of snow up on Big Butte, Cedar had only patches left and I wanted to wander with my dog.
After a long winter of not being able to get out here, we were both more than ready to return to our desert places.
It was Easter Sunday and I was taken aback to discover that others had the same idea that I had.
As me and my excited pup slowly drove the 8 miles towards Cedar Butte I saw a surprising number of empty trailers along the way.
After a very long, very cold and very snowy winter, locals were eager to wander (even on Easter Sunday apparently), and the empty trailers were a sure sign that there were four wheelers and dirt bikers rediscovering the Snake River Plain.
As we arrived at the huge parking area at the base of Cedar Butte I looked to my left and was disappointed to find two more trucks, pulling two more trailers, filled with two more ATVs.
This was OUR desert.  Mine and Korys.  And these interlopers had no business intruding on our secret places.
Yes I know.
That made no sense.  
But for a split second I felt that way anyway - until the reasonable and adult part of me kicked in again.
There were tens of thousands of acres of BLM land out here.
Surely we could find a place to be alone, so that we could roam alone.
Much to the alarm of the dog we didn't stop at Cedar Butte.
Instead, we continued driving...............

We didn't go much further.
Two miles or so later, and I pulled the Suburban off the road and onto a large open section of land which would ensure an easy turn around when it was time to head back.
It was Easter and I had a ham to cook.
I didn't want to be out too long or too late.
Climbing out of the ugly yellow beast I reached for the back door and then scooted out of the way so Kory could leap her way to freedom.
As she quickly began to run and dart in different directions I looked to my east.
The reassuring view of the Twin Buttes.
Even though I couldn't see it, I knew that Atomic City lay between them.
Well..........actually...........12 miles in front of them......................
It seemed like a very long time since I had stood in this exact place.
There had been so much snow this past winter that it was impossible to travel out here without a snow machine.
For the second winter in a row I had wished that we had snow mobiles.
I had tried to take Kory for long walks while I snow shoed this past winter, but she only wanted to go to the four old potato silos on the outskirts of town.
 She spent the entire winter excitedly chasing, catching and killing rabbits.
Once she had made her kill she dragged each and every one of the hapless bunnies back to the house and buried them in the snow all over the back yard.
Once spring hit and the snow melted (predictably) we had dead rabbits spread out all over the yard.
She chewed on them, tossed them around, buried and unburied and reburied them, played with them for about a month (a head over here, a leg over there, half a body over in the corner, a random set of ears, and fur all over the yard) until I got tired of looking at the rabbit-carnage my dog had happily created.
One day my beautiful dog walked out into the yard and was dismayed to learn that all her dead bunnies and bunny parts had disappeared.
Circumstances unknown.................... 
Still plenty of snow in the mountains...............  
 Small clusters of white flowers were all over the desert.
The first wild flowers of the year, and over the next month there should be many more types.
For a short while in late May and into early June, the desert will be alive with color.
Cannot wait to see it all...................
 Kory and I hiked up a short and steep gravel trail that picked up one more trail on the back side of a hill.
This was the same road I had biked early last summer when I had unexpectedly discovered a huge section of wild flowers.
It was still early in the year but this was an off-the-beaten-path trail and I was hoping to see whether or not any wild flowers had made their appearance yet.
I was also hoping to keep our distance from the ATV's that were wandering around the area.
We had only been walking for a few minutes when I heard the shot.
Instantly Kory dropped her head, turned, headed back towards me, passed by me and kept going.
I heard another shot.  And then another.  And then another.
Over and over, and I quickly realized that somebody was target shooting.
I could see a vehicle a mile or so ahead of us and I was instantly disappointed that my dog and I would not be continuing on this trail.
Kory was terrified of gunfire.
As I turned away from the sight of the vehicle that sat in the distance, I watched my dog for a moment.
She was heading back to the safety of her vehicle.
I called to her and reluctantly she stopped and turned towards me.
Instead of walking back the way we had come, I encouraged Kory to head off trail with me.
The new plan was to bush whack up and over the hill, head down to the road that I knew was on the other side, cross over the road, and bushwhack in the direction of Cedar Butte.
I called to my dog as the gunfire continued, and my beloved furball reluctantly followed......................
 Kory continued to stick with me even though she was still upset about the sound of gunfire, and we continued to bushwhack over lava rock, sage brush and desert grasses.
I had never walked on the side of Cedar Butte before and wandered without much thought.
There were no real plans, no real destination, we were just wandering together out the desert for the first time in many months, on Easter Sunday.
Interlopers had invaded our territory - both those on wheels and those shooting guns - but we at least had this place at this moment, to ourselves...............
 As usual, I had been walking with one eye on the terrain and one eye on my athletic and adventuresome dog.
Every once in a while I would catch a glimpse of red fur and know that she was still close.
Every once in a while I would call to her so that she did not lose track of my location.
Usually things went according to plan when we wandered together, but occasionally we would lose sight and sound of each other and it would take a while for us to reconnect.
This turned out to be one of those days.
I was still picking my way across the hillside and suddenly realized that I could neither see nor hear my dog.
Rinse and repeat over and over again for the next 20 minutes until I had circled around the back side of one hill and both the road and the Suburban were now visible 500 yards away.
Sighing in mild frustration (and wondering both where my dog had disappeared to and how long it was going to take for me to find her again) I headed down hill and towards the road................
 The Suburban barely visible in the center of the picture..................
Half way down the hill I saw Kory.
She had beat me down to the road, and was slowly heading towards "her" vehicle.
After a long winter of eating snow, my dog was suddenly back in the desert again and as I watched her moving towards the Suburban I could tell that she was hot and thirsty.
And tired.
She had been restless for the past couple of days, and this trip had not only been a chance for us to explore together, but also my conscious attempt to tire her out.
Not an easy thing to do.
But at this time, on Easter Sunday, she was tired and obviously ready to go home................
It was April - and April always meant the return of the huge sheep herds that grazed on BLM land for a few weeks early each spring.
We had seen them a few days before and taken some pictures, but the sheep were a long way from us and the pictures were only OK.
As Kory and I had headed out to BLM land a couple of hours earlier they had been close to the road.
Eager to walk, eager to let Kory run, eager to feel the freedom of wide open space, I did not stop.
Instead, I told myself that I would snap pictures on the way back to the house.
A couple of hours later, as we approached the place where the sheep had been, they were nowhere to be found.
How could so many sheep have been moved out of sight so quickly?
You could see for many miles in all directions and yet there no sheep?
Where on EARTH did the shepherd take them?
I had no idea, was impressed at the efficiency of this sheep operation and the shepherds ability to move the flock so far, so quickly.
And I was disappointed that I had not taken the pictures when I had the opportunity.
Maybe next time.
The sheep wagon standing silently and alone in the middle of the desert...............
And one stealthy shepherd returning (without dogs and without sheep) to his wagon...................

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