Exploring unfamiliar territory – Sunday, March 23, 2008

26 03 2008

Mule deer doe

I am fortunate enough to have friends who have a paradise hideaway in the Disappointment, and I stayed there this weekend. After a long winter with snow up to their eyeballs, the muleys are finding Disappointment Valley and Spring Creek Basin another kind of paradise. On my way to the herd area Sunday morning, this doe stood still long enough – close enough to the road – for me to take her portrait in the softly lit sage of early morning.

From the north, looking south

I drove into the northwestern part of the area early during my project, but I didn’t find any current sign of horses, so I haven’t been up there since, although I’ve been into the northeastern part and haven’t seen any horse sign there, either. I really had forgotten how beautiful it is up in the north, with the hills and the pinon/juniper and red sandstone. The photo is from the road looking south. The hill in the distance rises up just to the west (southwest?) of the road as you drive in, before you get to the water catchment.

I hiked up a small, narrow canyon with pools of milky water, still frozen in the shade. An unmarked doubletrack runs up the other side of the canyon. It may be saying something, but the deer trail I eventually followed, about halfway up the east-side wall, wasn’t much better than the two-track. While there are some small meadow-like areas up there, there didn’t seem to be much water – not enough to support multiple horses, anyway. I did walk back on the doubletrack. It’s a pretty place to explore, but don’t count on seeing horses.

I also drove over into the northeastern side, but when the road turned southish, I didn’t go much farther. Again, not much horse sign. Maybe there’s a stallion hiding away up there, and he came out, swooped down and snatched up Slate and hustled her away into hiding again … but all the hoof prints I saw were cloven.

On my way back to the intersection, I stopped north of the enclosure and hiked south, past it, down and up through a big arroyo and up the north side of the east-west hill – from the south part of the loop road, you see this hill from the southish side. Driving in earlier in the morning, I had seen what looked like Bounce and Alegre and the Bachelor 6 far to the east on the south side of that hill. I thought I might hike up to the hill top and look down on them … and maybe see down into places I can’t see from the road.

Lots of cattle tracks, lots of four-wheeler ruts (how do they get those things where they get those things?!). I have seen horses north of that hill in the past, but I haven’t seen them up there since I began my project last fall. From the top of the hill, the horses were still fairly close together but even way farther east, so I watched through the binoculars for a while, and scanned the area for big, dark bodies, then headed back.

You know, in Texas, we sometimes like to say the mosquitoes are as big as buzzards. Out in the basin, the jack rabbits are practically as big as deer. Especially when they explode out from a sagebrush practically under your nose.

I admit to being a little (OK, a lot) bummed after not finding Slate – again – so I headed out in early afternoon. I saw Steeldust’s band on the north side of Flat Top, and when I was approaching the water catchment, up to the north, guess who? Grey and Houdini and the foals. They were north of where I last saw him with the bachelors – when they were 7 – north of the catchment.

Driving south along the herd area boundary, I spotted a flash of white. Whoooooaaaaa, Nelly. Chipeta … and Shadow … and Bruiser … and possibly the top of Reya. They were way in and behind a hill and trees, so I didn’t see Kiowa. I had lunch with my friends, the owners of the hideway (thanks!), then after they headed home, I headed back into the herd area where I had seen the pintos a couple of hours earlier.

Sometimes, you can’t find horses no matter how hard you look or how hard you beg the powers that be. Other times, they’re right where you want them to be. Ta da, there they were, still where I’d seen them earlier. They look good and still have Shadow. I think she’s probably a permanent member of that family for a while. Question: What happens when she grows up? Will Bruiser kick her out, or will she go from adopted daughter to harem mare? We shall see. 

Kiowa and Bruiser

Kiowa, left, and Bruiser. He IS a big bruiser, but I’ve come to respect him. He’s calm and confident and pretty tolerant. Note that black spot on his left front cannon – it’s his distinguishing mark.

Pinto family

From left: Shadow, Reya, Kiowa and Chipeta. Like Twister with Two Boots, orphan Shadow has gotten attached to Reya, it seems.

It was after seeing these guys that I hiked to the top of the hill south of Round Top and east of the water hole. Just on chance I saw Kreacher and Corazon. I’m fairly sure Cinch, Ty, Mesa, David and the muley bay were on the other side of the hill where I spotted them, but I can’t confirm. Just a couple of minutes after I spotted them through the binocs, they were gone. I hung out on that hill quite a bit longer. Just one of those perfect, slow moments that come so rarely anymore.

In the basin, it really is all about the simplest things in life: air (wind), water, shallow arroyo crossings, light and dark, heat and cold, social interaction. You learn quickly that the fastest way to the other side of the arroyo is by following the deer and hoof prints. It’s a place of elements, simple life, and it’s always hard to leave.



2 responses

30 04 2008
T Poling

I can’t tell you what it means to me to see how much these horses mean to you. Keep up thr good work. I realize that is not really not as much work as it is a way of life. Either way, I respect and even envy the work you do.

1 05 2008

It is, indeed, a labor of love. I talked to someone yesterday who grew up in Nevada and had seen wild horses there. He’s not necessarily a horse person, but even he said he likes knowing they’re out there in the wild. Yes!

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