Surprise over the ridge

19 01 2009

Hello, my name is TJ, and I am addicted to the wild horses of Spring Creek Basin.

The lessons have been both big and small, but I learn something new about them almost every time I visit, and though two different people last week suggested I need to get a life (away from the horses, I think they meant), almost nowhere else do I find such enjoyment as in the simplicity of days in the wild of the basin. And so I can’t seem to stay away. They mean well, I think, but what other addiction is so healthy and enjoyable and full of benefit?

Perfect nap weather

Perfect nap weather

Steeldust and his big band and Hollywood and the bachelors were out between the loop road and Knife Edge. I was able to drive in and park at the water catchment. (Kreacher and the girls were down in the “valley” southwest of the catchment.) Mouse was close to the band, as he has been in recent months; Duke, Hook and Chrome were fairly close; and Hollywood and Comanche were scrapping a little farther away. Yep, you already guessed the change-up if you know which horses weren’t visible – because they were together. But given that they were all together the last time I saw them, I didn’t think too much about it and stayed on track to visit Steeldust’s band. Oh, notice Butch’s position – he’s lying down at far left. He looks like he’s so sleepy he’s about to roll over on Ember. In the next few moments, he did. They were so close, she had to lift her head over his when he laid his big head on the ground at her knees.

Harrassment

Harrassment

Where have you seen this pose before? Baby brother Storm was trying this with big sister Ember a few weeks ago (at least). In fact, the butt in the background is hers. Pinon was quite a bit more tolerant, but Storm also seemed a bit half-hearted. In fact, here, I love that he seems so focused on me but is still pawing at Pinon – what a multi-tasker!

Three boys

Three boys

Pinon, Storm and Butch. You can see Ember’s face in the background – flat-out asleep – and that’s Luna behind Butch.

Sentinel Duke

Sentinel Duke

Meanwhile, Duke was on a ridge above the band, taking it all in.

Hook and Chrome

Hook and Chrome

McKenna and the unnamed peaks in the background.

Lover boy

Lover boy

Meanwhile, Steeldust squeezed in a little lovin’ on Alpha-girl. She accepted it – for a few moments – then struck at him and led Storm away. Easy come, easy go, buddy.

Three more boys

Three more boys

Hook and Chrome hooked up with Duke, then they went across the ridge to a little point, where they could look down on the band.

I could see Hollywood on a ridge below, but Comanche had dropped out of sight, and I still hadn’t seen Aspen, Piedra and Baylee. I still hadn’t put it together. I climbed a little higher to make sure no one was on the other side of the highest ridge and found a dry spot for a little lunch break. Then I went down to Hollywood. Found Comanche … and, on the other side of the ridge below Hollywood … Aspen and the girls.

Uh-oh

Uh-oh

My first glimpse of change: Hollywood on the ridge (I’m shooting from a ridge parallel to his) and Aspen below with the missing mares. How did I not see that coming? Prior knowledge can be blinding.

All together

All together

Same five horses that have been together since before the holidays … a little change in dynamic. That’s Comanche and Hollywood together in the foreground, and Aspen, left, Piedra, back center, and Baylee in the background.

New lead guy

New lead guy

I gotta say I’m not liking this change. I’m pretty fond of Hollywood, and he’s a better stallion than Aspen, not to mention that Aspen was low on the totem pole among the bachelors. Not as low as Kreacher but maybe above Hook. What is it with these lesser stallions getting the girls?

Snow snack

Snow snack

After most of the past year keeping Mouse at bay, Hollywood loses his mares (and he got not one but two!) to Aspen?! Now, if Holls has a fault as a band stallion, it may be that he’s not always as attentive as he should be, especially with several footloose bachelors on the prowl. Nobody seems to be hurt, so I’m thinking it might have been as simple as Hollywood not paying attention and Aspen sneaking in and snaking the girls away.

The proof

The proof

I watched them for quite a while. Because these five horses have been separate from the big band and together for at least the past several weeks, I figured it was possible that I just happened along at a point in time when the girls just happened to be closer to Aspen than to Hollywood. But Aspen definitely was acting like the band stallion, so for now at least, Aspen is king.

Five in a line

Five in a line

There they are – my look back as I was leaving (the snaking actually came right after this). Hollywood, left, Comanche on the other side of a low ridge, Baylee, Piedra and Aspen. Piedra, by the way, should have Hollywood’s foal this spring (sometime in April); I think it will be her first.

I was hoping to catch a glimpse of Bounce, Alegre and Gaia and/or Poco, Bones and Roach because back in that area by Knife Edge is one of their stomping grounds (P, B & R are usually a little farther east), but I didn’t see hide nor hair of those ponies. After I left Aspen’s band, I headed toward the intersection on the loop road that goes to Round Top. Earlier, while walking the road, before cutting off toward Steeldust’s band, I saw horses that I’m pretty sure were Seven, Molly and Roja up on the saddle area between Round Top and Flat Top. No sign of them on the way back, either. I crossed the road and headed toward Flat Top to close my loop back to the Jeep, also hoping I might see Traveler; they were on the west side of Flat Top the last time I saw them. A long shot, sure, but worth a look.

Kreacher and the girls were still down in the little valley but a little closer to the road when I got back. I was plenty tired at that point (another five-plus hours of adventure walking), so I didn’t go out to them. They watched me go by, then went back to grazing. I was glad to see them branching out from their north hills territory.

The only cattle I saw were northwest of the dugout intersection by the hills above Spring Creek and northeast of the finger hills.

It was a gorgeous day, and I hiked without a coat. There was only a very light breeze. You can’t get much closer to perfect. Quite a bit of snow, and with snow and clear blue-bird skies comes mud. The coolest thing is that you can actually hear the snow melt (see what I mean about simple pleasures?). The ponies take it in stride and use it to their advantage. It’s much easier for them to just gobble mouthfuls of snow when they’re thirsty than have to travel to known water sources. They seemed to enjoy it, and in the next post, I’ll have a nifty shot of Traveler to illustrate just how much!

The crazy thing is that I almost left that evening because the walking was so tiring. But I hadn’t seen my boy Grey (Traveler), and I just am so addicted that I couldn’t leave without seeing him. It took all day Sunday, but I found him and his family. 🙂 Stay tuned.





Bachelor no more

13 12 2008

What that really means is the new girls have found a beau! David Glynn, who was out both Saturday and Sunday last weekend, emailed this week to say he saw the girls Sunday with “companions.” Wow! They got pushed down out of the hills by the cattle, and that’s how they came to mingle. I could tell you the name of this less famous “Bachelor” (he’ll never make it on the more famous show), but I’m going to mimic my own suspense and keep you waiting (or you could cheat and scroll all the way to the bottom).

A big snow storm (it’s supposed to last until about Thursday) is headed our way, but I wanted to get out to the ponies one last time before I head south for the winter holidays. Two weeks ago when I went out, the road was muddy enough that I parked at the corrals and hiked in – but while the ground was “soft,” it wasn’t really muddy. This time, the road was perfectly dry to drive in on, but the rest of the ground was slick, slippery, gooey … absolute mud. And snow was still in patches all over the place. The wild thing was that if you looked south, the landscape looked all white and wintry, but if you looked north, it looked the same golden brown as usual – the pattern of snowmelt.

Steeldust and his band were out southeast of the pond close to the entrance, so I parked just down the road to the old trap site and hiked out. I realized pretty soon that the quality of the basin road would deteriorate between the high ground just in from the entrance and the shady side of Filly Peak, so I decided to leave the Jeep and do another walkabout. Naturally, the bachelor-formerly-known-as … ha, thought you had me, eh? Anyway, the boy had the girls waaaaay out on the northeastish side of Round Top, and I had to wait that long to see them, so you’ll just have to wait.

In the meantime, I had a really great visit with the babies (particularly) in Steeldust’s band. Remember on my walkabout two weeks ago, muddy Ember was chasing everybody around? Turnabout’s only fair in play, and this time, it was Storm who was little Mr. Ornery.

Storm, Kestrel, Ember and Sundance

Storm, Kestrel, Ember and Sundance

One of the funniest things about this picture is the fact that Kestrel and Sundance barely moved from these positions the whole time I was there, despite all the young energy swirling around them.

So worried

So worried

Ember was so concerned about me walking toward them that she actually laid down a few seconds after I took the the first pic.

World view

World view

A wider view to show the background … Note the stealthy approach of a wee baby brother …

Play with me, please?

Play with me, please?

Zoomed back in – do you see that Storm has a leg over Ember’s neck?

Mmmm, ears taste good!

Mmmm, ears taste good!

By this time, Ember may have been regretting her assault on Storm a couple of weeks ago … He chewed and chewed and chewed – her ears (both), her forelock, her face, her neck …

Enough!

Enough!

Until she couldn’t stand it anymore! So much for taking a nap.

Hiding

Hiding

But of course Storm wasn’t out of potential playmates. Just to the right, Luna was napping on her feet while Steeldust grazed (Mouse was even farther right) and Pinon tried to go unnoticed.

Wanna play?

Wanna play?

Not having much luck with big sis, Storm tried his luck with big brother Pinon.

Tastes like colt

Tastes like colt

Notice Sundance there on the right.

Who, us?

Who, us?

Notice now that Pinon managed to get away from Storm and hid behind bigger brother Sundance, who became a protector without moving a step.

Leave me alone

Leave me alone

But moments later, Storm was at him again.

Protect me!

Protect me!

Mama, Storm won’t leave me alone!

Intermission

Intermission

Might as well take advantage.

Me, too

Me, too

So Storm decided it was a good time to find HIS mama. But about a second after I took this shot, Butch walked up and parked himself right in front of them. Then Pinon became fair game again …

Sisters

Sisters

Sweet girls, but notice the drama in the background.

Ember and Luna

Ember and Luna

Have I mentioned that the babies still all seem to be nursing?

Aww

Aww

Little sisters ARE good for something … like when you have an itchy face.

Mouse

Mouse

Mouse seems to have given up on Piedra and slid into Hollywood’s position as Steeldust’s lieutenant. He has stayed with the band even while the other bachelors have split up recently. (And now you know it’s not Mouse who has the girls!)

Snow queen

Snow queen

Lovely Alpha is the color of snow.

Steeldusts band

Steeldusts band

Only Alpha and Mouse are missing from this “family portrait” of Steeldust’s band. (The wordpress program doesn’t like apostrophes in photo captions.)

Baby faces

Baby faces

Another zoomed in view of the youngsters – you can just see Pinon’s ears in the background.

Three of the bachelors were close, so I went to see them, thinking that Hollywood and his girls and the missing bachelors and possibly the new girls were just out of sight over the hill.

Still bachelors

Still bachelors

Duke, Hook (back) and Chrome maintain their bachelor status. Points to you if you know the remaining three bachelors!

But Hollywood and the others weren’t over the hill or beyond the next ridge. In fact, from the top of a hill above Spring Creek, I could see a lot of country but no other horses. Because I had seen a lot of horses recently in the Flat Top-Round Top area, I decided to walk on out there to see what I could see.

I hit the road just before the first Spring Creek crossing and walked it all the way to the base of Round Top. It was really muddy, snowy, slightly less muddy and snowier in spots, and I think my trusty hiking shoes are toast (Santa, are you reading?).

I finally spotted a group of five horses between the road and Flat Top, but I thought I was looking for a group of nine horses, and Grey/Traveler and his band were in that area last week, and though the horses were darkish, I thought that could have been because of the weak light, mud and/or a horse out of sight below a ridge. I thought it would be too easy to find Hollywood – and the new mares – that quickly. So of course it was Hollywood, Piedra and Baylee … and two bachelors. Guess who?

They were far enough off the road, and I was far enough from a good view of the area around Round Top, and the mud was such a deterrent, that I decided not to go down and take pictures of them. Onward.

Bounce and Gaia came into view next – they were near the roller-coaster ridge pond. Dark Alegre was close by. For the same reasons as above – and one other – I decided not to go down to them, either.

That “other” reason is that I had spotted – through the binocs – the dun girls up in the trees on the east side of Round Top! Just call me a horse-findin’ fool.

By this point, I knew who had the girls because of the bachelor missing from Hollywood’s group (and you all peeked, I know you did!), but oddly enough, I never actually saw him until I got almost to them.

Pretty girls

Pretty girls

These girls are smart. They already know me, so they weren’t worried at all when I came into view from the trail around the north side of Round Top. That makes me feel really good!

Fuzzy!

Fuzzy!

The apricot dun mare – look at her gorgeous winter coat! It was so still when I arrived in the basin that morning that I noticed it as soon as I stepped out of the Jeep. It’s always so windy out there, when it’s NOT, it’s a noticeable absence. You can HEAR the silence. But at almost 1:30 on the nose, the wind suddenly picked up out of the south-southwest. It was just above freezing when I arrived, and the Jeep showed 42 degrees when I got back, but I was plenty warm while walking. I spent enough time being still with the mares and their boy that I started to get cold, and I was envious of their thick coats!

Lovelies

Lovelies

Are you dying to know?! I know you all cheated and scrolled down, but drum roll, please ….

Who, me?

Who, me?

Kreach-a-licious!

Knock me over with a feather. Kreacher was low man on the Bachelor 7 totem pole, but he’s the only one I know of that actually had a band previously (Molly and Roja, with Seven now), so maybe that helped him. He is not what I call an outstanding stallion, and his personality is so laid back as to be prone on the ground, but I have become fond of him this past year. He did NOT act like a stallion when I showed up, but I’m unsure whether to attribute that to him knowing me and being comfortable with me, too, or being timid. The mares still interacted with each other (black mare still kind of poopy toward the apricot dun but not quite as much as before), but although they didn’t seem to mind Kreacher’s presence, they pretty much ignored him. (I’m sure they got a lot of the “get to know you” out of their systems in the past week together.) Another un-stallion-like behavior of his is that he stayed behind them almost the whole time; he never came up front to “protect” them. Again, because he knows me or something else? The only time he was closest to me was after they had passed me on their way up to the “saddle” and I crossed behind them back toward the trail and he just happened to be in back, and thus, closest.

Peace and hope to you and yours

Peace and hope to you and yours

I wish all of you a very merry Christmas and all the best in the coming year. I hope it’s as full of joy and wild beauty for you as the past year has been for me.

Grey/Traveler and his band showed up on the northwest side of Flat Top as I made my way back to the Jeep. Steeldust and his band and hangers-on had moved to the other side of Spring Creek, so I was glad I had my earlier visit with them. It was a very long walkabout (about 5.5 hours) and well worth every minute!

Amazing

Amazing

The day was solidly cloudy … until the very last moments of sunset. As I was driving up the curvy-curvy road out of the Dolores River canyon, the above view stopped me in my tracks – literally. If you’ve been on that road, you know the view begs for a pullout (or five), but there aren’t really many good places to stop and get off the road. So don’t tell the authorities, but I pretty much just stopped in my lane and pointed the camera out the window.

Basin glow

Basin glow

Besides the (fading) glow, do you recognize what makes this view so significant? That’s the home of my ponies out there underneath that glowing sky. At the almost-very-far-right is that prominent, unnamed peak you can see from almost anywhere in the basin. Pretty beautiful, eh?





The cattle are in

8 12 2008
Holiday teaser

Holiday teaser

Who wouldn’t think “Christmas card” when they saw this scene? Bones, Poco and Roach.

If we don’t get snow to stick on the ground before I need to get my Christmas greetings in the mail, you’ll see something similar to the above photo as my Christmas wish to all of you before the holidays! (Of course, as I type this post, it’s snowing like crazy – and it’s sticking.)

The biggest change to the basin this weekend is that our bovine winter visitors are back in town (so to speak). The cows are in from Dec. 1 until the end of February.

Moo

Moo

This photo was taken near the first crossing of Spring Creek and is looking to the north-northwest. I saw other groups up in the north hills (where I did NOT see the new mares this past weekend), and there was a group east of the finger hills.

Several groups were in the area of Flat Top and Round Top again. Bounce and his lovely ladies were on the north side of the roller-coaster ridge. Grey/Traveler and his band were between the loop road and Flat Top. Seven and his girls were up at the base of Flat Top. Hollywood and his girls and a few of the bachelors were closer to Round Top, but I couldn’t see any of the main family band. I saw for sure later that they had separated – Steeldust and his band were up at the yucky puddle between the Tops, but I didn’t see them the first time I saw the other horses. Through the binocs, I thought I saw Shadow or David between the Tops … but I can’t confirm. Saw a lone dark horse to the east past Round Top that I finally identified as Poco, but Bones and Roach didn’t come into view until I hiked out to them. I lost a green Camelbak bottle last winter while I was hiking out there in the snow (remember when Seven had Houdini, Two Boots and Twister?), and the threesome was in that general area where I thought I lost it, so I decided to hike out to see them. (I never need much of an excuse to go visit those ponies!)

Have you ever wondered if Bones could lie down – even roll – with her healed, fractured pelvis? I have, and I was wondering that again just recently. Would you believe she cooperated and showed me she absolutely can?

Rolling Bones

Rolling Bones

Too bad I couldn’t divine the future from the way the “Bones” settled … 🙂 One reason I like Bones so much is her pluck. She looked so skinny last year, I named her thinking she wouldn’t make it through the winter. Not only did she survive, she has flourished!

The eagle and the raven

The eagle and the raven

I call the ravens Heckle and Jekyll indiscriminately. They heckle me; I try to get them to help me find horses. None of us is very cooperative (!). While I was photographing P, B & R, a golden eagle soared low down an arroyo close by, then rose into the air in ever-ascending spirals. I guess I feel better that I’m not the only subject of Heckle’s heckling. There was one raven at first, then two. They were pretty far above me, and this photo is significantly cropped, but can you see how the eagle is looking at the raven? When you’re a human object of Heckle’s affection, there’s not much you can do. When you’re an eagle, you just fly away. By the time s/he flew away, four or five other ravens had joined the “game.”

What a view

What a view

The horses aren’t always in position for me to get shots of them with the mountains in the background, but most of them were cooperating Saturday for me to get a bunch of different potential Christmas card scenes. That’s Comanche, who was turning to lead Hollywood and his girls down the trail. It was at this point that I realized Steeldust’s band really wasn’t in the immediate neighborhood.

Walking the line

Walking the line

Comanche leads Aspen, Baylee, Piedra and Hollywood down a trail to an arroyo. When they got to the arroyo, they dropped out of sight for a little while … I’m not sure if they got water there? You can see in this photo how much Piedra resembles Comanche in color.

Grey boys

Grey boys

Chrome, Kreacher and Hook (and Duke) were about a minute behind Hollywood’s group on the same trail. If you’re wondering about bachelor Mouse, who has been after Piedra most of the year, he was the only bachelor still with the family band. That’s Knife Edge in the background.

El Duque

El Duque

Big bay boy Duke stopped to say hi as his boys followed after Hollywood and Co. He has come a long way. He used to be pretty intolerant of people (me); now he almost seems to like me and will stop for prolonged (moments) visits.

Shades of grey

Shades of grey

Grey/Traveler and his band were across an arroyo that emptied into the arroyo the boys (and Baylee and Piedra) went into – and I could see them ahead of us – so I trailed along with the ponies, down close to the arroyo, until I got to the silver boy and his family (remember when HE was one of the bachelors?).

Lunch

Lunch

Big, growing girls need plenty of chow! I keep thinking about telling the tour folks back in October that I hadn’t seen any of last year’s foals still nursing last fall. I’ve still seen several of the babies nursing this fall … and not just youngest baby Storm. I like the picture above particularly because it also shows Two Boots, Houdini’s yearling filly.

Another spectacular view

Another spectacular view

And you know I’m not just talking about the landscape scenery!

Bosom buddies

Bosom buddies

Twister is another horse with a good dose of pluck. He was an orphan in the care of two stallions (Corazon and Cinch) when I first saw him last fall. Then he found mama Houdini and Two Boots and joined the family. That’s back when Seven was the head of the family. I wish he could stay young forever so he’d always have the comfort of his adopted family, but in another year or two, Grey will likely kick him out on his own. Maybe Two Boots will go with him. They’re pretty good pals.

Watching over baby

Watching over baby

Jif and Iya. Most of the band napped while I sat on the ground; Houdini grazed most of the time, but then she came back and stood a little in front of Iya, just to the right out of the picture.

Mama

Mama

A different angle. Wise old girl Houdini has had her share of babies. Twister, in the background with Two Boots, is just one of her brood.

Itchy

Itchy

I like how the plane of his face matches the line of Iya’s neck and body.

I had been keeping an eye on Seven, Molly and Roja up at the base of Flat Top while I hung out with Grey/Traveler, and that’s when I had seen Steeldust and his band up at the puddle. Eventually, they moved down, past Seven’s, toward Traveler’s and toward the bachelor boys and Hollywood’s. I walked up toward them on another trail and got into position so I could photograph them against the mountains, but they were on a mission to reunite with their boys, I guess, and they never stopped walking, grazing as they went. Consequently, I didn’t get many pix with their heads up!

Muddy boy Butch

Muddy boy Butch

Still muddy! Ooey gooey!

Sundance, clean

Sundance, clean

Sunny-boy was as muddy as Butch last weekend. He must have had a few good rolls since then.

Muddy Mouse

Muddy Mouse

Mouse was the only bachelor still with the band. It looks like he waded into the water hole – look how deep it must be! He has mud all the way up to his belly, but it doesn’t look like he rolled in it. The “puddle” is pretty small. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned its dimensions, but I’d say it’s about 3 to 4 feet in diameter – tiny!

Pretty buckskin girls

Pretty buckskin girls

Remember how muddy Kestrel was last weekend? She cleans up nice, eh?

Alpha and Storm

Alpha and Storm

Lovelies.

Guardian

Guardian

Kinda wild that I didn’t see Seven for almost two months, and now I’ve seen them the past three weekends – and all in the same area! And yes, I had been looking there all that time and never saw them. I do like seeing them.

Top of the hill

Top of the hill

Seven and Roja on a short ridge at the base of Flat Top. Roja is ornery! When Steeldust’s horses came past them on the old road, I could see Roja trot out to meet them – kind of like a stallion will do. Seven stayed back on a little rise, and Steeldust’s horses seemed to be on a mission like I mentioned above, so they just ignored her; they never stopped moving until they got just a little past me and within view of the bachelors and Hollywood. Roja is a tough girl and fun to watch!

End of day

End of day

Here they’re on the shady eastern side of Flat Top, late afternoon. This pic doesn’t translate very well on the Web, but in the full version, I like the almost painterly quality of the light. Old Molly got the PZP last August before she was released, so she shouldn’t have a foal next year (her 2008 filly died sometime in August). She and Roja were with Kreacher last fall when I first saw them (remember that?); neither Roja nor Kreacher were gathered, and Roja didn’t have a foal. I expect Roja to have her first baby in the spring, and because Seven stole her and Molly from Kreacher in early March, I’m sure Seven’s the daddy.

After my visit with these guys, I headed back to the Jeep and on out to beat the dark home (not successful). I looked but didn’t see Bounce, Alegre and Gaia on my way out, and I scanned the north hills the whole time I was out for the new girls, but I never spotted them. I don’t know if they know about cows, but I wonder if the “tourists” will encourage them to come down from their hilly stronghold and meet some new friends.

What a gorgeous day! Chilly but gorgeous sunshine and great weather for hiking around and visiting with the ponies. The days are short, and I keep thinking about the past year, all that I’ve learned and experienced. I certainly don’t lack for peace, hope and joy this holiday season! It’s supposed to snow again next weekend, but I’m going to try to get out there because I’m taking a two-week holiday to visit my folks and home ponies, which will mean at least a three-week hiatus from the basin. That’s the most time (by far) I’ve spent away from the horses since February, but given the potential weather in December in Colorado, it’s probably the best time to plan to be away.

I’m tossing around the idea of asking you, blog readers, for suggestions to name the new girls. What do you think? Can’t keep calling them “the new girls” forever, and I want people to really know these horses as OURS. So if you have suggestions, leave a comment, and be sure to specify a name or names for each particular mare: the dun, the black pinto or the apricot dun.

Thanks for coming along on this journey of discovery and joy. As much as I’ve enjoyed sharing part of the horses’ lives, I’ve enjoyed sharing what I’ve learned with you. It’s not over by any means!





Love and light

19 11 2008
First light

First light

It comes a little after 7 a.m. now, that gentle, golden light that slides over ridges and slips around hills and envelops you like a caress. If the horses are relieved to see it morning after morning, they give no indication. It finds them, warms them; it marks the next day in Spring Creek Basin. I can think of few better places to enjoy the coming of dawn. Above are horses in Grey/Traveler’s band: Iya and Houdini, Traveler in the background (farther away than he looks), Jif, Two Boots and Twister.

What scary monsters are yonder?

What scary monsters are yonder?

Very close to the main entrance to the herd area here and not long after my visit with Grey’s band, still fairly early. Chrome was fascinated by something in the near distance and couldn’t take his eyes off it. Duke came to offer support.  What scary monster could it have been that eventually sent the boys all running to catch up with their mates down at the pond?

Ooooh ... scary!

Ooooh ... scary!

Go ahead, give it a chuckle. Two little baby boys, just up from morning naps, were the “monsters” Chrome was so worried about.

Snack time

Snack time

Not much longer, and Debbie and Kathleen arrived and we drove around to watch the horses in Steeldust’s band from the road near the catchment.

Another nap

Another nap

Pinon and Storm laid down for another nap, surrounded by family.

Last ones standing

Last ones standing

While we watched and Debbie communicated with them, almost all the other horses laid down, too. It would be a shorter list to name who did NOT lie down. In this photo, you can see Kestrel, Sundance and Hollywood lying down. Butch also is back there lying down. Even Steeldust laid down.

And even Duke

And even Duke

Even vigilant Duke laid down for a rest. Both Chrome and Hook also eventually laid down. It was fantastic to see them so relaxed, even with visitors.

Wild light

Wild light

Evening light here. I took Debbie and Kathleen up on Round Top to give them an overview of the whole basin. On the way there, we saw Bounce, Alegre and Gaia. We saw the pintos from the summit, as well as Bruiser and Cinch and, close by, Ty. We saw Poco, Bones and Roach from the loop road. We saw a large (20?) herd of mule deer and one beautiful young buck near Lizard Mesa (Sunday was the last day of the fourth and last hunting season). We had seen Steeldust’s band from the summit of Round Top, too, and we were looking for them on our way toward closing the loop – voila. We came up over a slight rise that blocked our view, and there they were, just above the dugout intersection. The picture above represents what we saw. The horses were very relaxed and all very close together. Beautiful horses in beautiful light.

Asleep on their feet

Asleep on their feet

Piedra and Baylee are rarely far from each other these days. Did you spot Hollywood in the previous picture? He’s right up in the middle of the band. At left is bachelor Aspen.

Three grey boys

Three grey boys

Hook, left, Chrome and Kreacher. Kathleen and Hook took an instant liking to each other.

Bachelor 4

Bachelor 4

All calm on the eastern front. Chrome, left, Kreacher, Hook and Duke.

Last light

Last light

Gorgeous, yeah? Ember and Luna, Storm and Alpha.

Zzzzzzzzz

Zzzzzzzzz

Storm-baby was sound asleep almost the whole time we were with the band – probably because the other horses were so relaxed no one raised an alarm.

Time to get up!

Time to get up!

Ha! I’m not sure I’ve captured a funnier face than the one Ember is making here! Storm had awakened, and she was checking him out as he scratched and stretched. He was in no mood to get up, but he finally did.

Now what?

Now what?

After the nap – now what trouble do you suppose they can get into? Tomorrow’s another day …!

The band crossed the road to the side we were on, then went down the hill to graze into the night.





Makin’ the rounds; checkin’ ’em twice

29 09 2008

Almost every weekend in the basin this year, I thought I had it covered: the June gnats, the July cheat grass, the September nasty-prickles (I don’t know what it’s called, but it’s everywhere). But there’s something else to September that I learned last year, after a day and night in the McCullough Peaks Herd Management Area (outside Cody, Wyo.): I am apparently allergic/uber-sensitive to September sage. Zowie. It hit me like a bull.

Grey/Traveler and his band were way up on the north fenceline/ridgeline in the morning. There’s water in the pond down near last August’s gather site, so they might be getting water there. It makes me happy to see the boy back on home ground.

I had seen Steeldust’s band to the east on a saddle north of Lizard Mesa the night before, so I reasoned they might be in the same area. I wondered if Duke, Hook, Chrome and Kreacher were back with them or still off on their own adventures. Also haven’t seen Poco, Bones and Roach for a while, and it’s been a couple of trips since I’ve seen Bounce’s or Seven’s bands. Cutting to the chase, I still didn’t see Roach’s, Seven’s or Bounce’s bands, but the four wayward boys are still off on their excellent adventures (way up in the north hills), and everybody else in Steeldust’s band looks fabulous. Mouse, Comanche and Aspen are still with the band, but they must be going crazy – or be completely resigned. Hollywood, meanwhile, seems to have added to his harem; Baylee is still hanging out close to Piedra and, coincidentally, Holls. Consider this theory: Piedra may be Mahogany’s daughter (it’s all in the ears), and if so, she’s Baylee’s big sister.

Adding to the harem?

Adding to the harem?

The rest of the band – and the three bachelors – were over to the right. A situation that bears watching.

Bachelor 3

Bachelor 3

Bachelor boys, playing calm and detached. Comanche, left, Mouse and Aspen.

Who's who?

Who's who?

Name those boys … Butch, left, and Sundance, right. (Pinon playing peek-a-boo!)

Double trouble!

Double trouble!

These boys just make me smile every time I think about them. 🙂 Even Ember was getting into the act of playing with them the other day. She’s usually the “grown-up” one! Good thing both Mahogany and Alpha are seasoned mamas. These two characters are bound to keep them busy.

Daddy's girl

Daddy's girl

Speaking of Ember, there’s the girl, looking remarkably innocent after provoking Daddy Steeldust into nipping at her (!). She’s holding her dark red color, but you can see (maybe not in this small image) the greying all around the edges of her ice-cream-cone star and strip.

Parting shot

Parting shot

Left to right, little to big: Storm, Pinon and Baylee.

A rumble of thunder hustled me out of the basin, but I don’t know if the ponies actually got rain. Hope so; it’s dry out there.

On my way south on the county road, I stopped to scan the big open area south of the county line, and voila! There were the spotted girls with their beaus on the far hill, on the bench that runs around the west side. Mama Kiowa and yearling filly Reya were so clean I barely recognized them! I hope that means they’ve had a “shower,” but I hope it doesn’t mean their mud spa has dried up. Didn’t see David and Shadow or Cinch and Bruiser again.





Magnetism

10 09 2008
Piedra and Hollywood

Piedra and Hollywood

Maybe something in the air, maybe some good karma. It took me all day Sunday to find Grey/Traveler’s band, but when I did, they came right up to me, just like Piedra and Hollywood here. Actually, Mr. Tough there just followed his gal; Piedra was Little Miss Curiosity.

I got into the basin early Sunday morning. It was a beautiful, clear day, but signs of rain a week ago were abundant. Spring Creek was down enough to drive across, but the two biggest rain-related things to report are that the water hole off the doubletrack in “east park” is full again (yay!), and the loop road is no longer passable by a full-size vehicle like my Jeep. If not for a big rock too solid for me to budge, you’d be able to hug the hillside and get by, but the hole created by water running down the wash there makes it just too narrow because of the rock. If you’re going around the loop clockwise, it’s the third bad spot past the washout (which is, ironically, still just barely passable).

Alegre, Gaia and Bounce

Alegre, Gaia and Bounce

Bounce was the first horse I saw through the binoculars after I drove into the basin – way up in the north but right by the road. The grass is marvelous up there, and a water hole nearby has some muddy water in it. I’m pretty sure Grey/Traveler and his band were just a hill or two to the west last Sunday when I spotted them. It was kinda cool to go over there because the horses hadn’t been in that area most of the year, so I haven’t been in that area most of the year.

Pretty girls

Pretty girls

Alegre and Gaia. I was standing on the road, shooting through a couple of trees. They were in a little meadow not far from the northern boundary. They were so accommodating for photos that I left them after a short time and took the trail away from the water hole, around the nearby hill, hoping to find Grey/Traveler. I didn’t find his band, but I had a great time exploring the hills and valleys in that part of the herd area. I ended up back on the ridge above the valley where I had first seen Bounce’s band, and to my surprise they were still there. By that time, it was close to noon, and I wondered if they were still there because it was close to the water. I found a seat in the shade of a juniper and watched them through the binoculars for a while. Sure enough, Bounce finally trotted over to the water, where he drank, then stood on the “dam” side and waited for Alegre. It took her a little while, but she finally walked over with Gaia. She drank while Gaia stood with Bounce. I guess Gaia gets enough water in her mother’s milk. One thing I’ve noticed with wild horses is how long they drink. Both Bounce and Gaia did spend a lot of time drinking. Then they took the trail I took earlier. I waited until they’d disappeared, then walked down the hill toward the trail. I spied on them to make sure they wouldn’t see me, then dropped down onto the trail and took it back to the pond and the road and the Jeep. I’d see them later in the day all the way back over at the second intersection.

Steeldust's band

Steeldust's band

Next stop: Steely Dan. I’ve started calling him that as a sort of nickname. It’s sort of a joke because he’s really a big softie. I actually took this pic as I was leaving the band (they look disturbed, don’t they?), mostly to show our terrain as compared with that of the Little Book Cliffs range. In the background is Filly Peak. The horses were up on top of the east side of the east-west hill, which starts as the “finger hills” to the west, right near the dugout intersection. I hiked out to them from the east side to check Storm and make sure everybody was present and accounted for. I still kinda expect the bachelors to “shrug off” sometime?

Bachelor boys

Bachelor boys

From left: Kreacher, Hook, Duke and Chrome. They also walked toward me before they stopped there where I took their picture. Comanche and Mouse – as usual – were hanging out closer to Piedra and Hollywood, and Aspen was behind these guys.

Chrome

Chrome

In the next post about the Little Book Cliffs horses, I showed a photo of Chrome, a sorrel and white pinto mare in Phantom’s band. This – above – is our Chrome!

Ember-girl and Pinon

Ember-girl and Pinon

The babies were curious enough to walk toward me, too. Ember’s closest in the photo. She, like Gaia, is still holding onto her reddish baby coat, but she has started to get a little darker while Gaia is still pretty bright.

Pinon and Storm

Pinon and Storm

Cutest baby boys in the basin! OK, they’re the only baby boys in the basin, but how cute are they?! It’s so amazing to watch them grow up!

Storm and Alpha

Storm and Alpha

Curious Storm checks me out from the protection of mama while Alpha pretends to ignore me.

Mouse and Comanche

Mouse and Comanche

When I walked away, these two boys came in for a closer look. Or, I should say, Comanche did. Mouse followed and tried to distract him. A few weeks ago, I watched Mouse take out on best-bud Comanche his frustration over not getting past Hollywood to Piedra. Sunday, he was all sweetness. In the background is Aspen.

While I was watching these guys, I saw Seven, Molly and Roja walking downhill toward the arroyo that runs below the south part of the loop road. Too far for pictures. They look good, but it seems so odd not to see the filly with them. Speaking of her, posthumously, I gave her the name Starla. A long time ago, I heard about a Native American legend or tradition that says the stars are the campfires of our ancestors who have gone before us. I like to think baby Starla is one of those bright stars now.

I was on my way out of the basin toward the end of the day, then, profoundly disappointed that I hadn’t found Grey. In a perfect world, I’d braid some tiny GPS unit into his raven mane so I could find him! But it’s not a perfect world, and I try to remind myself that finding him is part of the fun (when it doesn’t wrack my nerves!).

I did finally see him heading toward the water hole (or so I thought) near Flat Top. I had planned to drive past it on my way out to see if it, too, had filled up from last weekend’s rain, but I didn’t want to get between the band and their evening drink. I waited out on the main road, hoping they’d come that way on their way up to grazing by Filly Peak as they have in the past. They did, but I later realized they weren’t coming FROM water. They must not have found water in that pond because they ended up going TO the water tank at the catchment!

Coming toward me

Coming toward me

Because I thought they had just all had a drink, I couldn’t figure out why they were coming right toward me. I had parked back from where I thought they would come out, and I was standing out in the open, not on a trail and not on the road. And because I’d had a couple of encounters already that day where the horses came toward me and Grey’s band is pretty tolerant of me, I wasn’t too worried. They broke off right before they go to me and went past me, to the road … then up a trail to the water tank. Uh oh.

Drinking at the water tank

Drinking at the water tank

They went right to the water tank and drank. That’s when I realized they must not have found water at the pond. That was dumb of me, to be between them and their path to another water source. Fortunately, they didn’t hold it against me.

Beautiful boy

Beautiful boy

Diamond Rio, bay stallion in the Little Book Cliffs, is about 15 years old and looking handsome. I thought about him while I was watching Sir Grey, my formal name for Traveler, who I believe also is around 15. So full of vim and vigor, these boys!

A face everyone can love

A face everyone can love

It’s getting harder to get photos of this boy looking up; he’s so worried about me, half the time I can’t even see his face because he’s grazing and ignoring me.

Unconcerned

Unconcerned

In fact, this view is becoming more and more common. And I love taking pictures like this. 🙂 My beauties; calm, cool and wild. And this is the view with which I left the basin. Left to right: Jif, Two Boots, Twister, Iya and Houdini. You can just see Grey/Traveler through Two Boots’ front legs in the background.

Remarkable day. Remarkable weekend. Remarkable horses.





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. 🙂





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.





The wait goes on – Sunday, July 6, 2008

6 07 2008

Any month now …

Alpha with Steeldust, Luna, Butch and Ember

Alpha with Steeldust, Luna, Butch and Ember

Hey, check it out – automatic captions now below the pix. Cool.

So there’s the big girl, looking like she could hold out until August (hopefully not!).

As the Fourth of July approached, I was hoping, hoping, hoping Alpha would do us all the honor of foaling on or near Independence Day. I’ve already – just recently – named her foal … though if it turns out she’s really just monstrously fat, the joke will be on me. I’m going to keep you waiting on that name.

When I first got out to the band Saturday, three things hit me in quick succession, in the space of about three seconds: Where are the bachelors? Where’s Sundance? Where’s Hollywood?

But before I could panic unnecessarily, Hollywood strolled up out of a nearby draw, which contained, you guessed it, Sundance hanging out with the bachelors – minus Mouse, who followed hot on Hollywood’s heels, and minus Chrome and Hook, who were still hanging out close to Wildcat Spring, off to the east. I wondered if Sundance had been kicked out of the band or if he had wandered over to the boy band of his own accord … but there will be plenty of time to speculate about the young man because when I saw the band later – after I had gone partially around the loop, he was back and secure with the family band.

Let me go off on a partially related tangent: Butch was hanging out close to Luna, but he and Sundance hang out – at various times – close to all the other horses. I’ve tried to pay attention and see if I noticed them hanging out more with Luna or Mahogany, but they’re family. Even Pinon and Ember don’t stick right to their mothers’ sides anymore. In the past, I’ve wondered if Luna and Mahogany were the mothers of Butch and/or Sundance. It seemed weird that two mares would produce such twin-type colts in one year. But how about this for a new working theory: What if Sundance is 3, Butch is 2 (they’re almost identical in size), Kestrel is 1 (she really is), and Ember, of course, is the baby. What if both Sundance and Butch are Luna’s? Maybe they were born sorrel – like Ember.

It was partly sunny – mostly sunny – when I got out to them, around noon, which becomes important to the story later.

Steeldust\'s band in big country

Steeldust

Home sweet home on the range. The above photo was taken from the road just up from the dugout intersection, looking eastish.

Grey/Traveler\'s band

Grey/Traveler

Jif is still with Traveler’s band … I suppose I’ll keep looking for her for a while, given her recent disappearance. She walked slowly, but she didn’t seem to be limping.

Alegre and Gaia

Alegre and Gaia

Gaia stamped a foot just as I took this photo. The gnats are still buzzing, but they seem to be *less.* I stamped and swatted and fidgeted, too, but I was never driven so insane that I had to go for the head net.

Bounce

Bounce

Bounce, trotting after Alegre and Gaia. When I first saw them as I was driving, Alegre and Gaia trotted away, so I stopped, turned off the Jeep and made some notes about Steeldust’s and Grey’s bands and Chrome and Hook. Then I drove on, where, just around the next curve, there they were. She must like me; she used to go a lot farther than that! 🙂 I snapped the above pic of her and Gaia and drove on to the split where the doubletrack goes back to the water hole. I checked it – totally dry – then drove on south. But when I looked back, I saw Bounce leading Alegre and Gaia toward the water hole. Didn’t he know it was dry? The horses – all the northern bands – had been in the area, but they had seemed to move on in the past couple of weeks as the pond became a stinky puddle. As I watched, Bounce led the little procession, then stopped, dropped and rolled on his right side, got up, dropped and rolled on his left side, then got up and TROTTED to the dry pond! Oh, mister. He obviously didn’t know it was dry and was anticipating a drink. If there’s so much as a puddle of water in any of the arroyos that cut through there just south of that pond, I certainly don’t know about them. I wondered if he (or Alegre) knows about Wildcat Spring … I’ve never seen him up in that area, but Steeldust’s, Grey’s, Seven’s and the bachelors know it’s there because they’ve been frequenting that area recently. When I went back past that area later, they were gone. I hope they found water. The pond below the roller-coaster ridge road is the only *pond* now with water.

Not too far away, guess who found me? My boy Roach and company. I was happy to see them because I hadn’t for a few visits. But my happiness at seeing them turned into concern. Poco managed to find himself a prickly pear patch, and I guess they had a close encounter. I’m sure the cactus got the better end of that deal – it left at least three spines in Poco’s face (including one directly below his right eye) and a small cluster under his right jaw. ARGH. Didn’t his mama teach him about cacti!?

Poco and Bones

Poco and Bones

This photo may be too small to pick out the spine under his eye. Of all the pricklers he’s stuck with, that one’s the longest – naturally. When he’d shake his head to ward off the gnats, he’d do so gently, so I know it was bothering him. I haven’t seen them for a while, so I have no idea how long he’s been stuck. And I have no idea how he’s going to rid himself of the spines. Too bad I can’t just walk right up and help him out!

Dear, sweet boy Roach snuck up on me behind a tree (in front of me) while I was photographing Poco’s spines, then casually came out from behind it, just grazing. He never seemed surprised, and even though I was stamping and swatting, he never spooked. He went around the tree, and I thought he was heading back to Poco and Bones, who had gone back to grazing, but then he turned around broadside and decided to take a nap under the tree. Guess he’s not too worried … or he figured now that he’d successfully snuck up on me, he was in perfect position to keep a close eye on me. He’s one of my favorites; personality plus.

Thunder was rumbling, and I was about as far away from the basin entrance as possible at that point, so I bid farewell to the boys and girl – I hope Poco sheds those spines soon?! – and headed back around. This is a good time to note that the basin has been getting rain, somewhere between enough to dampen the dust and enough to change a bit of geography in the first major arroyo crossing (Spring Creek) before the first intersection. If it rained, I didn’t want to be on the interior side of that arroyo. (And here’s an interesting side-note to this note: The horses don’t seem to be down in that area at all for water – it’s there, however thin a trickle.)

Bounce, Alegre and Gaia were gone from the dry pond when I passed … Grey was still hanging out near the road with his family. Twister must have rolled in the spring just before I saw them the first time because he was as dark as Two Boots, but when I came back around, he had dried into his (muddy) rosy grey color again. Chrome and Hook were still guarding the trail to the spring.

When I got back around to where Steeldust’s band and the other bachelors had been, they weren’t anywhere to be found. I walked off the road in both directions in case they were just below the drops – nope. I had been gone for about three hours, so I figured they might have gone to water … but where? The spring or the arroyo?

The sky didn’t look terribly threatening (but it was completely cloudy by then), and I hadn’t been on the middle part of the loop road in a while since the horses had been back in the east, so I decided to go that way and see what I could see.

Note to self: Voice of intuition not always right. As I drove, I kept thinking, they’re not down here; no way they’re down here. Damned if they didn’t show up on top of the finger hills almost directly across from me! They grazed their way up from an unseen-to-me draw in the hilltop and into the open, then gradually made their way to the top and over. The skies didn’t look threatening, remember, so I wasn’t too worried. Besides, I was still pretty close to the intersection. I hung out there for a while, actually enjoying the wind that kept the gnats away, then went back to the intersection and north. The horses were at the base of the northeast side of the hill and not very visible. I decided it might be OK to call it a day and head back across Spring Creek for the evening.

It started sprinkling. Nothing to worry about.

The sprinkling got steady. I crossed the arroyo and headed – slowly – toward the entrance, trying to decide whether to just stop somewhere and wait it out or call it a day.

Another note to self: Voice of intuition not always loud but sometimes right on the money. I kept going, and about halfway out on the road through private land, my tires started kicking up mud. Uh oh. By the time I got to the curve by the dilapidated cattle corral, I could barely steer, and braking wasn’t much better. I made it around that curve and put it in four-wheel-low. The Jeep doesn’t like it when I don’t come to a complete stop before putting it in low, but I didn’t dare stop. My heart has pounded that hard during mountain bike races but never while sitting still.

Note to readers: If it starts to sprinkle in the basin, get out. Now.

I’ve never been so happy to make it to the county road – an all-weather, graveled road. I came home via the highway, and when I got to the highway, the rain had stopped there, but behind me, the basin was a single curtain of grey shroud. I couldn’t see so much as a single landform.

Gotta be happy about that – for the ponies’ sake!

(Other horses: I also saw three of the “southside boys”: David, Cinch and Mesa. They were just inside the herd area from the county road. And a couple of days ago, I saw Seven’s band by the spring.)