Glorious rain – Aug. 31, 2008

31 08 2008
Spring Creek running

Spring Creek running

We start this weekend’s story in the middle of the story. From the wilderness study area in the southern part of the herd area, I got chased out twice by monstrous black clouds and threatening thunder. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen clouds that downright ugly. Walking around with a personalized lightning-bolt-attractor in the form of a metal monopod … not the smartest thing I’ve been accused of. The storms dropped rain in a very localized area – they came in sort of stationary “waves” and never passed out of the very east “pocket” of the basin, right inside the boundary ridgeline.

Fast forward to my drive into the main part of the basin. So far so good – until I hit the Spring Creek crossing! OK, so it’s not exactly clear, but it has to be indicative of more and possibly better water upstream (the point of this is that I think Spring Creek originates in the east). Any water in the basin is a good thing. All that grass in the east is going to benefit from the rain, too, and that benefits the ponies! So I got out of the Jeep and did a happy dance before I took some pix for documentation purposes.

No cross here

No cross here

This photo, like the one above, was taken from about the same spot – about mid-stream just downstream of the crossing. This one isn’t as dramatic as the first, but from the two pictures, you can tell that water is running in two “streams.” What you might not be able to tell is how gushy the mud gets when it becomes mud!

In the first photo, the darker soil right above the water is the high-water mark! It was about 2.5-3 feet above the arroyo. The water went about 8-10 feet away from the flat of the crossing, which is at the top of the photo. Before I went to the basin this weekend, I decided to take my mountain bike. I walked through the creek in my sandals, carrying my bike, and rode from there. Awesome!

But … I’m getting ahead of myself.

My weekend visit to the horses started at the county road across from the south meadow, where I spotted Cinch, then Bruiser. Hoping to find the others (band and bachelors) also in the meadow, I parked and hiked in. (A quick re-cap: David Glynn alerted me to the change in status of the pinto band and the “southside boys” bachelor band. I found them all last weekend, and Bruiser – band stallion – was definitely out, but it was hard to tell who had become king of the hill, err, band.) This Saturday, Cinch and Bruiser were on the south side of the arroyo that runs out to the road and just at the base of a little hill the horses pass to get into the meadow. So I hiked in on the north side of the arroyo, which provides more tree cover. My main goal was more observation of the new combined band, not photography, so I stayed out of their view until I reached the discreet little deer trail that leads up to the top of the hill north of the meadow. The rest of the horses were not in the meadow, so I went on up.

When I didn’t see the other horses from up top, I headed back down on one of at least two routes that takes the horses to the meadow – the “high” route that crosses the arroyo earlier (farther east) and skirts the hill on the south side of that arroyo. (Both trails take the horses to the better grazing on the south side of the arroyo.) The trail I took has a heights-defying spot that seems in imminent danger of eroding into oblivion. Any fall from there – maybe 15 feet? – would hurt horse or human.

At the edge of the trees above the meadow, I stopped to ready my camera in case the boys were still there. Ready to go and looked up to see two curious dark faces – Cinch and Bruiser. 🙂 Cinch pranced around a little, but Bruiser was so calm, Cinch calmed down as well, and they posed for some pretty pictures. I took pix as I walked around them, and the thunder chased me back to the road.

Sweet boys

Sweet boys

It does help the more wary horses to have a calm compadre nearby. Bruiser walks OK, but I noted last weekend that he limps on his left front if he tries to trot. Cinch is sporting a “roached” look here. It’s longer and wispier than Roach’s was when his was roached, probably caused by his pals chewing on it.

My next likely area to search for horses is a big open area just south of the San Miguel/Dolores County line, also right off the county road. On first pass, I didn’t see any horses. But on the hillside just north of the big open: Seven’s band. They’ve done some traveling since the loss of the filly, from the east to the southwest part of the herd area.

Seven's band

Seven's band

Seven with Molly, center, and Roja. Old Molly is still a thin girl, but she’s sure to gain some weight without the filly nursing.

From where I stopped to see them, I spotted Corazon back in the big open (which does have hills and trees and arroyos). Perfect. Another big cloud was brewing in the east, but I was covered in sunshine, and the rain from the previous cloud hadn’t made it to my part of the herd area. So in I walked.

David and Shadow

David and Shadow

Hello! It’s always nice when the ponies find you! I was glad to see that once-bachelor David has been able to hold on to yearling filly Shadow, but I was a little worried about them being so close to the other band. And I worried that he’d tip my presence to the band. Not to fear on either account. They must have skirted past the band because I later saw them farther east, and the “new band” was still where I had originally spotted them.

All in the family

All in the family

Left to right noses at top: Spook, Kiowa, Reya, Chipeta and … drum roll, please … Copper, the mud-encrusted new king. Then Corazon (pinto), Mesa (bay) and Ty.

New family

New family

With top-of-the-heap status comes great responsibility. Copper’s guarding his new family from the bachelors, out of frame to the left.

Pinto girls

Pinto girls

Girls with spots. From left, mama Kiowa, her 2008 filly, Spook, 3-year-old Chipeta and Kiowa’s yearling filly, Reya. Very calm; very cool. And it was time to beat the thunder, so I walked away, leaving them very calm and very cool.

And that brings us back to raging Spring Creek.

I had spotted Steeldust’s band and the Bachelor 7 way around in the east at about the curve where the road heads south, so I headed that way by bike. It was way cool to get out of the Jeep and on the bike in the basin. I got off the bike at the washout. You could definitely see by the soil that it had rained hard back there. The horses didn’t seem to see me ride up, so I stood on the road on the other side of the washout until the bachelors saw me and alerted the band, then walked on down the road. They were up the hill away from the road … checked me out, then went back to grazing. A good problem to have, I guess!

Baby Storm was hammin’ it up, though, so I got some good pictures of the little boy.

Pinon nursing

Pinon nursing

Storm nursing

Storm nursing

By the time I got out to them, it was around 7ish – dinner time!

Baby boys

Baby boys

Pinon, left, is about 3 and a half months old, and Storm is about a month and a week old. Pinon has gotten a lot darker in the past few weeks.

Posin'

Posin'

No words necessary. 🙂

What kind of flowers?

What kind of flowers?

I thought I figured out what kind of flowers these are when they were blooming earlier this summer, but now I can’t remember and can’t find them in my wildflower book(s). They’re blooming – again – all over. (Notice the flowers in the previous pic with Storm. The flowers in this pic were at the edge of the little wash that leads out to the road washout. My bike was just on the other side of them.)

While I was watching Steeldust’s band grazing on the hillside, I spotted Bones, Poco and Bounce farther to the south. And that was Saturday. Really a fabulous day. The loss of the filly still bothers me, but humans who watch wild horses must adapt as they do. Always more to learn.

Sunday’s story is all about rain! I slept in the Jeep right inside the herd area boundary. Woke up around 1 a.m. after a dream that I woke up in the Jeep the next morning and it had snowed and a guy was skiing up the road into the basin! Reality: At 1 a.m., lightning was flashing sporadically to the west, but the sky was filled with stars (you really haven’t lived till you’ve seen that night sky – phenomenal), so I went back to sleep.

Woke up at 3:15 to rain tapping on the Jeep’s roof. I don’t recommend this, but I spent the rest of the night at the intersection at the county road … and woke up just before daylight to steady rain. If I hadn’t wanted to see my Grey-boy so badly, I’d have called it a day at 7 a.m. and headed for home. Yeah …

Long story short, I inched my way back into the basin but got stopped before the first “V” arroyo. The road was good till that point, but it took me awhile because I kept stopping to scan for horses. I stopped for good above that arroyo. By then, I had already spotted Steeldust’s band and the B7, and I had found Bounce, Alegre and Gaia way back in east park. So I had seen all but the one horse (and band) I wanted to see. It had stopped raining, and the sun had peeked through the clouds a couple of times, but huge dark clouds still loomed over the east ridge of the basin and back to the west. The length of looming almost had me convinced I could bike from there to see if I could find Grey/Traveler’s band around the far side of Lizard Mesa (east of Knife Ridge). Then I happened to spot something white far to the north.

Nine times out of 10, a white spot is a rock. The 10th time, you get lucky, and it’s Alpha, Houdini or Traveler. I grabbed the binoculars, and bingo, baby; there was my boy … and Houdini and Jif and Twister, and Two Boots and Iya, standing together under a tree. Did I say far to the north? I mean WAY far to the north. I mean way far northeastish of last August’s trap site. I mean so way far away I couldn’t see a way to get to them without a (really) long (long) hike.

About three minutes after I took some reference pictures, I checked the west clouds – uh oh. Big black cloud had become a grey sheet of rain. I really can’t stress enough to visitors that if it rains, you do NOT want to be in the basin OR on the road across private land that leads to the basin. You want to be on the good county road. I wouldn’t have so totally ignored my own advice – and believe me that it made me really nervous to be in the basin. But today is my birthday, and my birthday wish was to see my favorite boy. Wish granted. 🙂

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PSAs

31 08 2008

Documentary filmmaker James Kleinert recently put together a public service announcement about the BLM’s decision to euthanize horses. James is the wonderful filmmaker behind “Saving the American Wild Horse,” a tough-to-watch but eloquent plea for protection of our nation’s mustangs. He has filmed quite a lot in Spring Creek Basin, and our horses may be seen throughout the film.

Follow this link to the PSA: http://www.theamericanwildhorse.com.

And here’s another announcement about a summit to be held in October in Las Vegas. I’m already excited about the hoped-for outcome of this meeting. Contact information is included if any of you are able to attend.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: CONTACT: Karen Sussman ISPMB, 605-964-6866

EMERGENCY WILD HORSE SUMMIT TO CONVENE IN LAS VEGAS
With more than 33,000 healthy wild horses threatened with
euthanasia by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the International Society
for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros (ISPMB), Wild Horses Forever, and
Marisa Morin will hold one of the most informative and enlightening wild
horse summits ever to be conducted.

The summit will bring together the leading experts in the world of equine
behavior, genetics, research, and range management.  The focus of the summit
will address the current crisis facing America’s wild horses’ threatened
existence on public lands and will bring forth proposed solutions.

Along with the many equine scientists presenting, there will be panels
composed of interested wild horse groups yet to be announced.  ‘It is the
desire of our group to have as many diverse participants on the panel to
create an enlightening discussion,’ says Karen Sussman.  The conference’s
theme will be ‘Using our Diversity as a Strength to Preserve and Protect
Wild Horses.’

The summit will be held at South Point Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas on
October 11th and 12th from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., culminating with a media event
on the morning of October 13th.

Interested parties should send their names, addresses, and e-mail address to
wildhorsesummit@gmail.com. You may also check the Web site for up to date information at www.wildhorsesummit.com. Registration deadline for the summit is September 9th and can be done on line.





Upsets

24 08 2008
The herd is one less. Molly’s sorrel filly, never named, is missing, presumed dead. Unfortunately, before this weekend, the last time I saw her was when the guy from Brighton chased her and her family, Aug. 2. I didn’t see Seven’s band when Karen and I were out. I don’t know how long she’s been gone. When I saw Seven, Molly and Roja on Saturday from the road south of “east park,” they were on a ridge at the edge of some trees. I couldn’t see their full bodies, and I first thought the baby was lying down napping. But when the three walked through some open areas and still the filly wasn’t visible, I got worried. I was so frantic to find the filly I didn’t take my camera when I hiked out to them, so I don’t have any pictures of the horses.

Nature. Life cycle. Whatever. It’s never a happy day when a 2-month-old filly disappears.

I couldn’t seem to function after that. I went sleepwalking back to the Jeep, then drove around to where Steeldust and the bachelors were grazing just off the road near Grey/Traveler and his band. Storm is growing so fast. Pinon is getting darker. Ember is such an old soul in her baby’s body. Iya has all but lost her sorrel shading and is very dark grey. I sat with them into the dark (it comes so quickly now) and took some comfort in their presence, their sounds: relaxed snorts, hooves on rocks, mama’s soft nicker.

I went to the basin this weekend with the head’s up that the pinto band and southern bachelor band were mixing things up. That was all the craziness I expected. Punch in the gut to later find out about Molly’s foal.

Bruiser is battered and on the outs. Saturday, he led me to the other horses far in the south, but Sunday, he was in that same area but alone. David stole the black yearling filly, Shadow, and they were right off the county road both days. Cinch, the darker pinto bachelor, was separate but close to the others Saturday. Copper (the muley red-bay bachelor) seems the closest to Kiowa, Chipeta, Reya and Spook, but Mesa (solid bay) and Corazon also are very close. It’s hard to tell who has taken the crown, so to speak. All the bachelors are heavily scarred.

Scars aside, the horses look great. Jif has gained weight and looks back to normal, if not a tiny bit chubbier (a petite mare if ever there was). They’re definitely drinking out of that full-again water hole just off the road back in the east. I stress that travelers should be careful traveling that loop road; the rain-caused erosion of some of those arroyo crossings has rendered them pretty tight. Actually, some big vehicle with wide tires and some kind of blade was in between Monday and Saturday and smoothed over some of the cuts and arroyos, including that wash just before you get to the herd area boundary. The tracks went up the road that splits off in the east (to Horse Park? Klondike Basin?), so the washout just past it is still, well, washed out. Not sure about the who/why on that road work, and I’m not sure about the long-term effectiveness of it.

I did see all the horses this weekend except the filly … but it wasn’t really the happy weekend I hoped for.

Met some other folks out in the basin Saturday. I have to say that when I saw their vehicle coming, I actually started to shake with flashbacks of the Brighton guy (and I met them before I realized Molly’s filly was gone), but they turned out to be super nice: a woman and her two daughters from Durango. From their descriptions, they had seen Poco, Bones and Roach, Seven’s band, Bounce’s band, Steeldust’s band and the Bachelor 7 before they got around to me, where I had just gotten back to the Jeep from taking some pix of Grey/Traveler and his family. They did everything right in their approach – slow and easy, and the horses looked but never budged. Excellent. They’re no strangers to the horses, either; they’ve been out to visit at least the past four years. They’re also fans of Claude Steelman! They have his book and a print of his beautiful photo “Traveler’s Return.” If you’re reading, very nice to meet you ladies.

If you’ve read this far, some photos. Try to keep the loss of Molly’s filly in perspective. I’m trying …

Shadow and David

Shadow and David

The first ponies I saw Saturday from the county road just south of the county line (in Dolores County). Last August, David had escaped from the herd area and was on some private property. The contractors took down the fence to the herd area and, using the helicopter and Shorty the Judas horse, they got him to run through the gate of the private property, across the road and into the herd area. He was never gathered. He hooked up with some then all of the “southern” bachelor band, which I call the “southside boys.” Now he has the beginnings of a family, and they’re well away from the others – at least for now.

Spook

Spook

This is Kiowa’s 2008 filly, Spook. In the very southern end of the herd area is a little “valley” with a big arroyo that runs away from the road as a drainage. It makes a nice route into the interior of the wilderness study area as well as a nice little barrier to photograph the horses.

Now what?

Now what?

The horses were going to or leaving water when I got down to the valley after following Bruiser down, so I didn’t stay too long. Cinch was separate from the band, but Bruiser kind of hooked up with him. Ty was just sort of following along. Copper seemed to be the one that could get closest to Kiowa and Spook, Reya and Chipeta. Corazon also was close, but Mesa seemed to be the enforcer keeping the others away. In the pic above: Chipeta and Copper under the tree; Corazon and Mesa in front; Kiowa and Spook in back.

Spook and Copper

Spook and Copper

Copper’s really the last one I would expect to take on “band stallion” status, given his subordinate attitude with the other bachelors. He’s not the clear leader, but only Mesa and Corazon were close to this close.

Grey/Traveler’s band was just off the loop road by the east hills when I got to the main part of the herd area later Saturday afternoon. They were very calm this time when they saw the Jeep. Good news.

Relaxed ponies

Relaxed ponies

Twister, Grey/Traveler, Houdini and Jif. See how much more “rounded” Jif looks? Better than the bony look she came back with after going missing back in June.

Bright, shiny, happy boy

Bright, shiny, happy boy

Grey/Traveler looking just downright beautiful – naturally!

Sissy, hide me!

Sissy, hide me!

Curious Iya is shy-girl. She pulled this same manuever also with Twister, but he doesn’t hide her as well because she’s almost as big as he is. Yearling Two Boots makes her stretch a little. These sisters are both Houdini’s daughters. Houdini was with the stallion Junior when she had Two Boots last year, so I’m pretty sure he’s Iya’s sire … but that doesn’t mean he’s Two Boots’ sire. Two Boots was born black, and Iya was born sorrel. You can’t really see her here, but she has just a little bit of red shading over her withers and back now; the rest is already dark grey!

Storm and Alpha

Storm and Alpha

The sun had already set by the time I got back to Steeldust’s band from Seven’s when I found out Molly’s filly is gone. I didn’t take many pix – lack of light and lack of motivation – but here’s one of Storm and Mama Alpha. He’ll be 4 weeks old Monday.

Do horses mourn? Do they grieve? Do they miss something – a baby – when it’s no longer there? No answers from me.

Basin sunrise

Basin sunrise

This morning, Steeldust’s band, the bachelors and Bounce, Alegre and Gaia were up on the east-west hill south of the loop road. Beautiful light. Another day in the basin. Life goes on.





Up, ponies

19 08 2008
I attended the big Pony Up extravaganza tonight at the Durango Arts Center where folks learned about our Spring Creek Basin horses and bid on cool art items like a Claude Steelman print, bronzes by Veryl Goodnight, jewelry by Rachelle Davis, a headstall, pairs of spurs and other things with proceeds going to benefit various projects in the herd area.

Claude also entertained a packed house with his slideshow, an illustrated life journey from young buckaroo to dogsledder to mountain man to wildlife and nature photographer and back full circle to horses: He uses his images to increase awareness and educate people about wild horses. Images he has taken in all four of Colorado’s herd areas grace his newest book, Colorado’s Wild Horses, which you can find at most local bookstores or order from his Web site, www.wildshots.com.

The event was organized by the San Juan Mountains Association’s Kathe Hayes, who organizes volunteer efforts in partnership with the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management on San Juan Public Lands – of which Spring Creek Basin is a part.

It was awesome to see so many people there, and I hope they raised a lot of money for the horses! That money will go to various projects in the basin, including but not limited to fence maintenance and repair and tamarisk removal. Kathe organizes the “alternative spring break” program every year, which in our case brings some enthusiastic University of Missouri students to the great wild West, where mustangs still roam free, to work on projects in the basin and elsewhere in the Dolores District of San Juan Public Lands.

In addition to the money raised tonight, local pub Steamworks Brewing Co. has pledged a percentage of its proceeds raised from beer-at-the-bar sales for the whole month of August! I’m not a beer drinker, but I have to think that would amount to some serious cabbage, as a friend and former co-worker would say.

So kudos to Kathe and Claude and everyone involved in this effort to get the word out about our ponies!

This post also marks my return to Colorado from vacation with my family in Texas. I had a super-wonderful-fabulous time helping my dad celebrate his 60th birthday and my folks celebrate their 39th anniversary just six days later! All our ponies at home are doing well, and it was great to smell, touch and ride my big grey mare and a couple of others and do some groundwork with the youngsters. I may not like crowds of people, but I’m nowhere more comfortable or happy than surrounded by horses.

I got in at 1:30 a.m. (after a 15-hour drive), and by 9 a.m. was on the road to the basin. Can’t keep a woman away from her horses?!

Karen Keene Day is an artist who spends summers in Ouray and the rest of the year in South Carolina. She has an excellent, bold, beautiful, bright, full-of-life style, and wild horses are the subject of her heart and her paintbrush. She has been to Spring Creek Basin several times and was present at the roundup last August. I met up with her and we drove around the loop looking for horses. The weather cooperated beautifully, but the evidence of past rain is obvious in the deeper ruts and washes across the road. Some of those little washes on the east side of the loop road are creeping in toward where the Jeep’s tires really need to go. Time to start carrying the shovel along. Be careful, and especially watch that washout a little past the road to Klondike Basin; it has come in at least a foot since I was there last.

The horses still showed signs of being chased (two weeks ago!), unfortunately. We saw Steeldust’s band and the Bachelor 7 over by the northwest end of Knife Ridge. Everybody was there, and I saw little Storm through the binoculars. Straight east of them, around the loop and on the other side of Knife Ridge and Lizard Mesa were Poco (we saw him first), Bones and Roach. Closer to the road just around a curve were Bounce, Gaia and Alegre. While we were focused on beautiful Gaia, Poco, Bones and Roach silently disappeared into the trees and over the saddle – there’s a trail right there that leads down into that little valley between the ridges. It made me so sad to see them disappear like that because they’re usually the most relaxed around visitors, and we were pretty far from them in the first place. They were chased off by the guy back in early August, but they weren’t part of the groups he chased with his truck. In contrast, Bounce, Alegre and Gaia were pretty relaxed. Bounce watched us while Alegre grazed calmly behind him! She is such a good new mother, but she has gotten to where, with just a little patience, she’ll stand in the presence of vehicles and not immediately run away. I don’t think the guy saw or bothered them that day.

Ham

Ham

🙂 Too cute for words! She stood like that for several seconds while Karen and I took pictures of her from inside the Jeep.

Guardian

Guardian

Bounce, looking very relaxed and calm while Alegre grazed just behind him.

Gaia and Alegre

Gaia and Alegre

Notice that Alegre, grazing, is paying full attention to us. And look how big is baby Gaia! She’s such a big, stocky girl and full of life. They finally moved off, following Poco’s band, and we sat in the parked Jeep until they disappeared over the saddle so they wouldn’t feel at all like we were coming after them. They paused on the far side of the arroyo at the base of Lizard Mesa, and Gaia reared up and danced on her hind legs in front of Alegre, clearly asking Mama to play. Didn’t get any pictures of that, but it was awesome to see!

On around the road, the landscape opens up to the north with a good view of that area between the northeast hills and the east-west hill, so I stopped and scanned with the binoculars. Finally caught a swish of tail up in the trees – grey horse, but she was tail-to-us, so I couldn’t tell at that point if it was Houdini or Grey/Traveler. They were up on the hillside in the trees just slightly south of the area where Poco, Bones and Roach and Seven’s band were on Aug. 2 before the guy chased them off.

There’s grass in them thar’ hills! And that little water hole right by the road is still full of water, so it’s a great place for the ponies to be. Karen and I checked the water hole off the doubletrack at “east park,” but it’s still dry and cracked. There’s still water in the pond below the roller-coaster ridge road, and because of Traveler’s location, I’m guessing there’s still water in Wildcat Spring. There are short little ribbons of water and pockets and seeps in places in the arroyos, but it looks pretty dry out there. Karen said she thinks it looks a lot more dry this August than last. What I know is that the horses look fabulous; they were pretty lean last August, all competing for forage before the roundup. I love to see Alegre (all the mares) looking in such good condition – feeding her baby very well and still finding enough to eat to look so good. Excellent!

While I watched through the binocs, another grey head popped up – Grey! But that was a signal to Houdini, and she started trotting downhill, out of the trees, leading Iya, Jif, Two Boots and Twister behind her. Oh, that really unnerved me. We were parked on the road, a LONG way away from them. It is EXTREMELY uncharacteristic for them to run at the sight of a (my?) vehicle, but they were traveling toward us when that guy drove on down the road, stopped their direction of travel, turned them around and chased them back the way they had come. STILL afraid of vehicles?! 😦 Not happy.

So we waited and watched while Houdini led them into the open toward the road. I wish I was good with distances, but I’m not. They were a long way away; hard to see except through the binoculars. They eventually got strung out: Houdini was making a beeline toward the open, across the road and down toward the east-west hill, but Grey/Traveler, Jif, Twister and Two Boots were lagging behind. Iya caught up to her mother, but then she stopped (on or near the road, it looked like) and stood facing Daddy Grey, Big Sis Two Boots, Big Bro Twister and Auntie Jif (she’s really related only to 2B) with Mama behind her. I was worried about them being so strung out like that. Grey/Traveler had started grazing, and Jif and the yearlings did the same – above the road. Grey finally marched out to have a chat with Houdini, and the others finally followed him down so they were all together. Then it was nap time. I inched the Jeep around the road to where they were, but out in the open, with a clear view of anything coming, Houdini was finally pretty calm.

Catching some zzzz's

Catching some zzzz's

Left to right: Jif, Grey/Traveler and Two Boots.

Meanwhile, a little to the right …

Baby love

Baby love

… Iya appeared to watch over Twister while he napped lying down. (I just happened to catch her as she nipped a fly or buggy bug away from her chest.) Houdini was just a little farther to the right from them, grazing.

These two photos were taken from the Jeep, from the road, straight up from them. I was so relieved that not only did they relax enough to stop moving away but actually eventually turned their hindquarters to us as they napped – a sign they were comfortable where they were and with where we were. A good time to leave them be.

We drove on, and I showed Karen the little entrance to Wildcat Spring. We turned around there and slipped back past Grey’s band to go back clockwise around the loop road. They never moved. Happiness. 🙂

Steeldust’s band had come over the hill south of there but still quite a distance away, so we got to see them again but not Poco’s or Bounce’s bands. And we never saw Seven’s band. We didn’t go into the south, so we never saw the pintos, but an email from David Glynn of Ophir said he found some of the southside boys with Bruiser’s band Sunday. I’ve been wondering if the Bachelor 7 will ever leave Steeldust alone, and now some of the other little boys are trying to hook up with the pintos! Ha! I haven’t seen those guys for a while, so one of my missions this coming weekend will be to hike in and get the low-down on their situation. David said Spook looks great.

To end a rather long post, I want to recount something else David said in his email. He got to the basin late Saturday and rode out but didn’t see any horses. He called it “spooky” and said, “Made me understand how terrible it would be if we ever lost this herd.”

True. But they’re there, and they’re well and healthy and mysterious and magical – and free.





Calm after the storm

3 08 2008

OK, it’s a little punny, but it’s true. I went back out to the basin Saturday afternoon. I had an assignment for the paper Saturday morning up at the Calico Trail above Rico, which is kinda, sorta, semi-in the same general vague vicinity as the basin. I did not see the clueless man, and I saw only Bounce, Alegre and Gaia, and Steeldust’s band and the Bachelor 7 *minus* Chrome and Hook (I can’t even confirm that they were or were not with the band Friday because I never got close enough to see the whole group). Those two have been wandering off by themselves lately, though, so I’m not too worried about them.

The good news is that Alegre, Gaia and Bounce were up in the trees on the hill past (eastish) the road that goes off to Klondike Basin and seemed very calm, and Steeldust’s band also was relaxed. Still, I was very careful with them and parked a long way away and walked off the road and out around them (they were just at the curve where the road goes from almost straight east to almost straight south). I had thought Alpha’s tolerance of me last week after she had her baby might have been a fluke, and I was worried that after Friday’s mess, the band wouldn’t want any part of a two-legged, but she barely looked up from grazing.

Before emotion strikes and I can’t write about it, I want to say again how awesome is the gift the horses have given me, of their grace and spirit and tolerance. I was so worried about them, but they allowed me back into their world as if I’d been there all along.

And something a little funny/endearing: They are the coolest cats when it comes to “circling the wagons” around the babies. Go ahead and try to get pictures of the babies without a head, a butt, a swishing tail, legs. They’re the most strategic of generals. No matter where you are, or where a baby is, there will be a horse (or two or four) – oh-so-casually – between you and the foal. And even the bachelors help close ranks when need arises. When Storm laid down for a nap, I tried my through-the-legs tactic, but the grass up there is so high, the picture looks like a lot of legs – and a tiny little baby face, just his eyes and ears.

Storm through legs

Storm through legs

Kestrel is closest; Butch, Luna and Alpha also are in the frame.

Scratchies

Scratchies

See what I mean? Here’s Hollywood, standing between me and Ember and Pinon. I’d take a step to the right, he’d take a step forward. And look how calm he is … “just here grazing along …” Pretty cool.

Itchies

Itchies

Kestrel, at right, getting ready to block my view (they learn it young!) and Mouse at left.

Disagreement

Disagreement

Hollywood patiently explaining to Mouse that no, he still can’t have Piedra (background). The compression factor of the 400mm lens makes Piedra look closer than she was. They didn’t get very animated, but just a few seconds after I took this, Hollywood walked off, and Mouse lunged at poor Comanche, who was minding his own business but close enough – and subordinate enough – for Mouse to vent on!

Hungry boy

Hungry boy

Luna ready to step in if needed.

Bounce, Gaia and Alegre

Bounce, Gaia and Alegre

I wanted desperately to find Grey/Traveler, but ugly storm clouds were brewing over the east ridge, and I didn’t want to spend too much time with the horses on the heels of Friday’s incident, so I headed out. I had seen shadow-black Bounce and a flick of Alegre’s tail up in the trees when I first passed, but they were in the open when I went back past them. Took a couple shots over the hood of the Jeep and drove on.

As it turned out, I don’t think it rained a drop. However, on the moisture front, I have some cool news to report: The little water hole just off the road back in that area is full of water again! It makes me wonder if the pond that dried up most recently off the double track at east park has any water in it. The grass actually looks pretty decent there in the east, and I guess the horses think so, too, because that’s where most of them were (I think Seven’s and Grey’s and probably Poco’s were just farther to the south). Also, the spring area has water in the low “creekbed” behind the old “dam,” and it trickles over the spillway, but right there it just goes into the ground (the standing water is pretty smelly, but the tracks are fresh). There’s no water from that point on. There’s also still a tiny trickle coming out of the seep between the intersections. And, back near the entrance to the herd area, the pond off the road to the trap site also has a little water in it.

I was really glad to see those “renewed” water sources. Even though there is grass (clumps but definitely grass) in the east, for the first time this weekend, I noticed how parched and crispy the basin looks. And did I mention how hot it was? Friday, the Jeep showed 100 degrees, and that was under a huge cloud. Saturday felt much hotter, but the gauge refused to rise above 99. Ha. It must be too hot even for most of the bugs. The gnats are gone but a few flies remain. The ponies constantly swish, and the babies are always itching and scratching – and Ember and Pinon look kind of ragged (I don’t know whether that’s because of bug bites or shedding or what). I put pix of Storm and Molly’s filly on the “Find a (Wild) Horse” page and was looking back at the baby pix of Ember and Pinon and Iya – they look so little! They do grow up fast.

By Saturday early evening as I was leaving the basin, I realized the beautiful, wild magic had kicked in again, and even though I hadn’t seen my beautiful boy, Grey (Traveler), my spirits were boosted. Billie, who keeps a blog on the Little Book Cliffs horses (see blogroll), reminds me that visits to the ranges are “musts,” a natural tonic to what ails us in the unnatural world. Amen!





Before and after

3 08 2008

Friday was one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had in the basin – up there with not finding Slate after the winter, worrying about Duke when he was lame and I couldn’t find him and wondering about Jif when she went missing. Read the next post for more information, but suffice to say I had the misfortune to come across a guy so clueless about wild horses he not only chased away the two bands (Poco’s and Seven’s) I was photographing by approaching them too close on foot with a short lens and a cell phone (a cell phone!!), but later I watched through binoculars as he chased Seven’s band, Grey/Traveler’s band, Steeldust’s band AND the Bachelor 7 down the road ahead of his pickup.

Before he chased them away, I did get some nice pictures of Seven’s band, and particularly Molly’s filly. Although I waited almost an hour before I drove on after the guy left, I saw only Steeldust’s band and the B7 from a distance – and they ran as soon as I stopped to look at them with the binoculars – and Seven’s hiding under some trees way back past the dry water hole east of “east park.”

Roach, Poco and Bones

Roach, Poco and Bones

Roach, Poco and Bones watching the guy approach them. At this point, he hadn’t gone back yet for his cell phone. I thought about including pictures of him but decided not to. I did send photos to the BLM herd area manager.

Seven's band

Seven's band

Seven, the filly, Molly and Roja, who apparently has been to the Wildcat Springs Spa for her mud bath! The filly doesn’t have a name yet; I’m waiting to see if David Glynn, who saw her first, wants to name her. Isn’t she a cutie? They all are, I know. 🙂

Until the guy showed up, I was counting my blessings to see Seven’s band like this. Molly, bless her old heart, is a very protective mama, and I haven’t had very many chances to take some good identification photos of her baby. This day, they were very calm, and I stayed a good distance away from them across the road and an arroyo – I’ve learned that in a lot of cases, the horses seem to regard arroyos as protective barriers. You can see Molly’s very prominent withers in the picture, but I think a lot of that is her basic conformation. She does seem to have gained a little weight, and she’s obviously feeding her filly well.

Running

Running

Poco, Roach and Bones after they ran past me and on south (behind me as I had been taking pictures). They paused momentarily, and I told Roach how sorry I was, then they galloped on down to the arroyo that runs along the base of that long hill. I never saw them again Friday or Saturday; at least they didn’t end up on the road with Seven’s and the others.

Chased away

Chased away

This is Seven’s band a few minutes later. After the guy chased Roach and Co. away, he turned his attention on Seven’s band, but those horses are not NEARLY as accommodating as Roach, and they immediately ran away. Unfortunately, they ran down farther to the road, and the guy ended up chasing them with his truck.

I didn’t see Bounce, Alegre or Gaia that day, so I hope they escaped. It has taken a long time to gain Alegre’s trust that I can drive by her without making her run.  I did see them Saturday, up in the low hills a little farther south from where I photographed Seven’s and Poco’s on Friday.

Threatening skies and rumbles chased me back around and out of the basin, and as I was leaving, I saw a single column of dark smoke away to the west outside the herd area. By the time I got to the county road, it was raining nicely, and I had a cell signal, so I called the public lands office. How cool are those guys?! The woman I talked to was pretty sure they (Forest Service, BLM, etc.(?)) were already on it.

Based on the tracks I saw leaving, I’m pretty sure he went out ahead of me (his tracks in, my tracks in; a third set as I was leaving).

One of my biggest disappointments – aside from the obvious – was that I still didn’t see Grey except from a very far distance. That’s two weeks I’ve gone without seeing him close enough to check his condition and that of his mares, the yearlings and Iya. I’m leaving the end of the week for vacation, so it will be a month of weekends before I see him again, and that’s hoping I see him when I go back out after I get back! I don’t worry too much when I don’t see the pintos or the southside boys, but it surely helps my soul to see my favorite boy regularly and know he’s OK.





Grizzly mama

3 08 2008

No, I didn’t see one, but I’m mad as a grizzly bear defending her cubs; I only wish I had the information to give teeth and claws to my complaint.

Note to Mr. “I Know About Wild Horses” from Brighton: If I ever see you again in Spring Creek Basin, you can be sure I’ll get your license plate number and report you – again. I thought you were clueless but harmless. I still think you’re clueless, but your clueless actions could have done lasting harm to the horses. Do you know the first mare you chased off has a (healed) fractured pelvis? I guess I should thank you – I’ve NEVER seen her run before (go figure), but at least now I know it doesn’t seem to bother her (she ran away just as fast as the boys).

Did you feel bad about not only stopping Grey/Traveler’s band’s direction of travel (I think they were heading to water; it was 100 degrees out) but chasing them down the road with your truck? That band has a lame mare, a yearling colt with a wonky knee and a 3-month-old filly. The other band you chased with your truck – which was the second band you chased away on foot when they didn’t stand still for your cell-phone photography – has a 20-plus-year-old mare and her 2-month-old filly. In the THIRD band you chased down the road with your truck was a WEEK-OLD COLT. The Bachelor 7 make up the FOURTH band I saw you chase down the road with your pickup. How awful did you feel to chase THIRTY horses down the road with your truck?

Do ya feel like crap now? You obviously didn’t when you chased Poco’s and Seven’s bands away from where I was photographing them. Do you know I have NEVER seen Poco, Bones and Roach up in that area? That, in fact, I have NEVER seen them outside their relatively small little area farther south – where there’s not much to eat and water is scarce? They were up where they were – where most of the bands were Friday – because the grass there is still plentiful – and there’s water. Think they’ll ever go back to that good grass? I hope so.

I already complained to the district ranger, and I sent a complaint with photos to our BLM herd manager. Too bad I didn’t write down your license plate number when I had the chance.

I know most of you who have an interest in the Spring Creek Basin horses and read this blog know this already, but let me beg again: Please, please, please respect the wild horses. During the course of almost a year now, I have been patient, calm and consistent in my approach to the wild horses of Spring Creek Basin. I do that not only so they are tolerant of me taking pictures to document their lives and social interactions and behaviors and new herd members, but also so you who come behind me have the same beautiful chance to see horses in the wild – that they don’t immediately run off at the sight of a vehicle or people taking pictures of them. I have a very long lens, and I can “get close” to the horses without invading their space – something you, guy from Brighton, with your medium telephoto and cell-phone camera, obviously can’t do. What’s worse, you weren’t even upset that you caused those horses to run away.

The first tenet of wildlife photography applies to WILD horses: NO PICTURE IS WORTH SACRIFICING THE WELL-BEING OF THE SUBJECT. If you cause your subject(s) to gallop off – from you on foot or because of your vehicle – you have failed.

Brighton guy: YOU FAILED.