When I left the Pryor Range on Monday, the plan was to go to a ghost town called Kirwin on Tuesday. I drove through Clark and Meeteetse to the Wood River. One of the best things about this area is that the two campsites are free. I did give a donation, but you don’t have to if you need a cheaper trip. There was only one other group that came in to the campsite that night. It won’t show up great in the picture, but it looked like it was snowing with the sun sparkling off of the cotton from the cottonwood trees ( the white dots).
Tuesday morning I woke up at sunrise and started back the 9 miles to Kirwin. I stopped to take a picture of an area marked “slide” on my map, just in case I want to show pictures to illustrate the difference between landslide, slump, creep etc. for my physical science class. I am not sure that it is really important to know the difference, but it will strengthen the understanding of porosity, permeability and mechanical weathering for those that get it.
The first river crossing was not too bad, but the second one looked more sketchy. A piece of advice: do not stop as you move across the river, as I did when I took this picture looking downstream. As saltation occurs the rocks around your tire will be removed. In a slow current it probably doesn’t matter too much, but when the current is faster it can present problems.
I had actually not stopped to take the photo, but to check how deep the water was on the tires as I don’t think I had quite reached the deepest part yet. I went to back up and my tires just spun and dug in a little. I stopped and worried I had just stranded my FJ 2 miles from the nearest people, who had a vehicle that would not have been able to help. Then I remembered I was still in 2-wd. I put it into 4-wd and was able to back out without further trouble. I debated whether I should try to go across in 4-wd or just bag it for now. I didn’t know if there were other crossings (at least 1 more on google earth), or how much deeper this one was. I decided to come back in August when the water was lower. The view upstream of where the water comes through the willows and I had to cross may give a better idea of what I was debating going through.
I decided to head to Fifteenmile a day early. I did see a young looking coyote on the way out.
It is only 30 miles from Meeteetse to the Fenton Pass entrance of the HMA. I know it now, but finding the way in can be tricky the first time. One of the reasons I do love Fifteenmile is that I rarely see anyone there. No one the 2 times I have been there this year, and only a rock collector or two last year.
I will not be doing a story of the horses like I would for the Pryor herd. For one, I only know the name of maybe one horse. I am not sure if many people, if any, know their names. The BLM may still just have numbers for many of these. Even if there was a list with all of their names, this herd does not offer the same chance to observe them and get to know their personalities like some of the other herds do, for reasons that may be more clear after reading about the range in general.
When I reached the last part of the descent from Fenton Pass to the desert floor, just above the dry waterhole. I stopped to scan the distance for horses. I looked to the benches to the right where I have often seen a majority of the herd, but did not find any there. That is one difficulty of Fifteenmile, a lot of them are in one large group so if you don’t find them it means you need to be lucky to find the few anti-social groups. There is a chance you leave without seeing any at all. I did see a group of four on a ridge to my left, and it appeared there was a foal.
A second difficulty of the Fifteenmile HMA is that while you might see horses, getting to them is not always easy. There are a lot of little spurs along the desert floor, but some are impassable. The ridges, rock formations and draws also create a maze, so while you may see a road you might not be able to know which ones to take to get to it. So I had the choice of hiking all the way to them, or trying to find my way to the road I could see below them.
I chose to drive and made a quick run to 2 waterholes I have often seen small bands at before. There was no one there, so I began my search for their road. I eventually got to a road that would have crossed the flat to the road that went up to the top of where I had last seen them. Since it crossed a wash I didn’t like and I hadn’t seen them in hours, I decided I would eat lunch and see if there was a better way to go.
I decided to check the waterholes along Fifteenmile Creek road again, and went a little further west than I usually do. I tried a side spur I had never used that went back toward some cottonwoods, which usually means water. It ended at one of the widest washes I have found out there, and the straight ledge didn’t even leave passing as an option. I checked the creek bottom to the North and did find water, and a plant many might like because of its pretty pink flowers.
I hated seeing it though, because I knew what it was. Tamarix, or salt cedar is an invasive species that is an extreme water hog. While the water is usually already alkali, their deep taps roots bring up even saltier water which can kill intolerant plants. I think that I have read that when their leaves fall they exude salt into the air and that can kill out competitors. A single plant can produce up to 500,000 seeds a year. They can sprout vigorously when cut, so you need to treat the stump with herbicide. I have written the Worland BLM volunteering to do so on some of them I find, but have not heard back yet.
From my location, I was able to see the main herd of horses back near Tatman or Sheets Mountain, I am not sure which.
There are no roads back in this area that I have ever found. Here is one of the biggest decisions when visiting the Fifteenmile herd, whether to hike to them when you do locate them in that area. It is a long hike through a usually very hot desert. There are washes that drop straight down and must be either jumped or sometimes you can move up or down the draw and find a way to get down and up them. The horses are very human intolerant, so there is a good chance you hike a long way, briefly see the horses before they run off, and then hike all the way back.
Of course I decided to make the hike. It was about 3 miles back to them. Fortunately, while I usually had to make my long hike from Fenton Pass Road and cut across gullies, go up and over ridges and walk through sage and prickly pear, this time I was going directly up the draw on a horse path. It was much easier than the other way and I may try more North-South than East-West in future visits when possible.
I was able to get to a rock outcropping that was semi-close undetected. The horses were still a decent way off and I could tell from the heat waves between us that I would not be able to get a sharp picture, but I also knew that I wasn’t going move any closer without them seeing me. I stayed behind the hill and peaked over now and then, hoping they would eat in my direction and present a better shot. While they are soft, I did snap a few pictures to show the diversity in colors and patterns on the range.
I wish I could have seen the one in the middle closer, it looks uniquely patterned.
A paint section with a fight going on. “war paints”
I think they noticed me, but just my head so instead of running they were curious and came slightly closer to check out what was there.
This little foal would have been nicer to see close, too.
Despite some close ones knowing something was there, most continued business as usual.
While the close ones never got antsy, one of the far groups must have been nervous and started moving. once they did others joined in and pretty soon the whole herd was heading to my left. We happened to be near the ridge that would spill into the next draw. Instead of staying to get what pictures I could now, I retreated a little further away and disappeared over the ridge. I then moved up the next draw, expecting them to come over before I could get closer. After I got to about where I thought they were, I moved to the ridge top and looked over. I was fortunate enough to actually be near the horses and get some close shots. It is not likely you can get pictures of the entire herd before they are gone, but I was able to get a lot more than I could have expected.
Not one of the above 2. I love his 80’s rocker hair.
While some had spilled over into the draw and were crossing, the main group decided to head back to the right. The ones that had gone left did not want to be away from the main herd so they came running back over to join the rest.
I did not want to bother them any more since they were moving away but not running, and felt lucky to have been able to see this herd as close as I had. I made the trek back to the FJ. I did find one reminder of the harsh desert life on the way back that I had not seen going in.
It was only 5:30 when I got back to the bottom of Fenton Pass. It was too hot and shadeless to just hang out in the desert, so I decided to run to McCullough to look for horses before dark and camp. I will tell that story in my next blog.