This is typical of what we see on those long, lonely roads...
Well, the first half of our trip, of course!
We’re on the road for nine and a half weeks this time. We’ll be going to Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and Idaho. We will be visiting at least seventeen HMAs, a national wildlife refuge and at several herd areas (places where there are horses but not an HMA).
The drought has made this trip tough. Everything from having horses moved to higher country, to disappearing water holes, poor forage and heat have affected our finding horses. More about that later.
We always try to make a stop in the Ochoco Forest to see the forest horses. This year was no different.
This was the earliest we’d ever been there. Usually we are there at the end of our trip instead of the beginning. We went to the places we usually see them in the summer. It was still spring though. No doubt about it.
We went up the road. Down the road. Up the road again. Hmmmm…
Apparently, the horses were on their way up to the higher country and that made it hard to find them. They have trails that we would never be able to find. We did finally locate a few horses and lo and behold, babies! We didn’t get to see as many as we wanted, nor did we get as many photos as we usually do, but we weren’t skunked!
We only stayed two days, eager to get to our favorite horses!
Those of you who have been following us for any length of time know that we consider the South Steens HMA our “home” HMA. It’s where we’ve been photographing wild horses the longest. We know most of the horses well, even if we don’t know their names.
It’s always a joy to be there.
We had been warned but were still surprised by the cracked, dry ground, sparse forage and dry waterhole when we got to the Hollywood Meadow, where the Hollywood Herd spends much of the year.
The Hollywood Herd was still using the mineral lick near the Hollywood Meadow and of course, they were still grazing in the meadow on the way. They were having to go over the hill to a usually lesser used waterhole. We had never seen them there before, so this was a surprise.
The waterhole is a big one. Usually only one band at a time comes into a waterhole, with the rest waiting their turns. However, there was room to accommodate many bands at a time here. Such a treat!
Of course, that many bands at the waterhole at one time is a recipe for tension!
Arrow and Yellow Boy
One of our big concerns was Jack and his band.
We knew from other photographers that he was under siege by four stallions. He had been holding it together for some time, largely because the four were fighting each other as much as they were fighting with him.
Blue & Arrow
We were happy to see new foals and some cuties too. There were new additions to just about every band we saw. The newest foal that we saw was in Cortez’s band, Whisper’s new foal, Dark Feather, who had a rough start. He seems to be doing well now, though. I know there will be photographers there this weekend and I hope for an update on this little guy, as well as the rest of the Hollywood Herd.
Whisper and her foal, Dark Feather
There is just something about seeing a brand new foal that endears them to you forever.
Exactly one week after we arrived, we were surprised by the moving of the Hollywood Herd to higher ground by the BLM. We weren’t surprised it was needed, just that it happened so suddenly. While we tried a few times to find the horses “up there” we never successfully photographed them again.
Both of us are glad they are where forage and water is better, but we sure did miss our old friends!
During that same time, the weather was unpredictable. We had many afternoons of thunderstorms. I don’t know about you, but we don’t like to take our tripods out with lightning- it's the perfect lightning rod! So we missed many opportunities to go out. Not surprising really, it was May and May is very unpredictable in southeastern Oregon!
So unpredictable, that the first morning we went up to the Kiger HMA, it had snowed. It’s not the first May snowstorm we’ve experienced in our years there, and it certainly wasn’t the heaviest. In fact, it was just enough to make the setting quite magical!
We visited the Kigers three times but only found the one band of horses. We aren’t complaining, of course, sometimes we *do* get skunked when it comes to the Kigers!
We tried to make the best out of our time there. Between the weather and the horses being moved, we had to do *something*!
Birds in the campground...
Birds in the barbecue...
Birds on Malheur National Wildlife Refuge...
During our time there (18 days), we also trekked south to Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge to see if we could catch up with some burros. We lucked out with one band, but otherwise, it was a quiet (and long) day.
We tried not to be disappointed by our time there. We were happy the horses were in a better place and also happy that it rained when it did. The horses are always the first priority, but we missed them…
Next mission – burros in Nevada! We didn’t have much time to spend here but we wanted at least a little. We were able to go out twice. Again, thunderstorms foiled us on two occasions. Still, we had a little luck.
We even found some of the wonderful pinto burros!
While there, we found an old cemetery just below an abandoned mine. There were nine graves, all with simple unmarked crosses of either rough wood or metal. Three of the graves were clustered together, one of them small as if for a child. They must have been buried together. What a story there must be there!
You can see the abandoned town and mine in the background.
We had been to the area before and we knew there had been gathers since we were there last. That coupled with the drought made it harder to find horses. Then overnight, the temperatures soared and the horses headed for the trees and the high country.
We weren’t totally skunked, but we sure had to work hard to find the few horses that we did find.
Oh, so you want to see that luscious black silver stallion again, huh? OK. ;-)
This is the only place outside of South Steens HMA we've ever seen a silver. You can imagine my excitement!
Yes, that’s him in the middle of the scuffle!
Just like a two year old, isn't it? LOL
We did see one of the longest manes we’ve ever seen on a horse. He was one bored stallion, but you get what you get in this business!
We had a high school graduation in there somewhere (Congratulations, Sara!) and then we were off again. Back to the burros.
We just hadn’t had enough!
This time, instead of being cold and rainy, it was hot! The several days we were there, it was 97 degrees. Way too hot for Washingtonians. We think it’s hot when it’s 80!!
We toughed it out though. It was definitely worth the trip back! We saw two pure white burros, which we have never seen before!
You’ll just have to keep checking Facebook for the other one. ;-)
Our last day there, we decided to take the long way back. We had heard rumors of horses when we were there two years ago. We couldn’t make it around then because it was too wet. Talk about a contrast to this year!
It was a seven hour trek and we did, indeed, see wild horses. We estimated that we saw 200 horses. All of them were running away!
I do believe I promised you a video of that event, didn't I?
…every single one, with the exception of three young bachelors who were curious enough to give us a couple minutes of their time.
Running, but not running away - yet!
Then they ran away too!
Though it's been slim pickins' in most of the places we've been, it's still wonderful to be on the road. We often forget how fortunate we are to be able to do what we do. We might complain we only saw a handful of horses in a whole day's excursion, but we also know that many people will never be able to see any. We are, indeed, fortunate!!
Next Stop- Eastern Nevada!
...then Utah, Wyoming and Idaho. There is still a lot to come!
The next blog will be published on June 30.
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I would like to give special recognition and thanks to Mary Ann. Through the years, she has been an invaluable resource for understanding wild horse behavior. Without her knowledge, expertise and willingness to teach, we would only be guessing at much of what we see. Thank you Mary Ann!