Dubois

In between our visits to some of the central Wyoming HMA’s last week, Ahnya and I spent a few days in the beautiful Dubois area.  I still love the Dubois area, although it was a lot more “crowded” in the summer than the usual time I used to visit it around Thanksgiving.  It allowed Ahnya to play in some streams and we could slightly escape the heat.

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Playing in Torrey Creek where it enters Trail Lake

We did not see any of the bighorn sheep that are in the area, partly because we did not make it up Torrey Rim due to a run in between Ahnya’s shin and a rock in the stream.  We went to the store for some frozen fruit that we then ate after it thawed.   You can see the sheep some of the sheep that I have seen often on my photography site, here: http://www.wyomanphotography.com/Animals/Bighorn-Sheep/Dubois-Area/11030687_SFxJ7j#!i=1112074098&k=SR2KFpk

I did get to explore a new area as we drove back Horse Creek and camped at Double Cabin near the Wiggins Fork.  It is beautiful to visit, but the 1 1/4 lane road would not be fun if you had a trailer and came across another trailer.  This is why I love the FJ for my camping trips.

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Heading back to Wiggins Fork

ImageImageIt probably isn’t common knowledge, but streams and river segments can be classified using the Rosgen classification key.  While it may not seem necessary for daily use, it can tell a lot about the age of a stream, flood potential, types of macro-invertebrates ( plus fish), and stream health.  Since Wiggins Fork is braided (multiple channels) it is a type D stream.  To further classify it I would need to know the width/depth ratio ( seemed large), then the sinuosity ( seemed low in this stretch), next slope and finally the size of the channel material from a pebble count.  I would actually think the rocks were boulder size, but the largest size listed on the chart for a type D is cobble, so it is most likely a D3b or D3.  Now that I have bored you with the science, here is Wiggins Fork.Image

All that really mattered is that Ahnya could play in the water.  The fishing was good if you like catching a lot of 8-12 inch cutthroat with a few brook trout mixed in.
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On the way out, we did stop at a small section of Horse Creek.  There is a section near the Horse Creek campground, which is easy to reach, that meanders more and is probably a C3.  Someone was fishing the good stretch and we didn’t want to use the actual campground part, so we went back a side road and fished a section where the creek is starting down through more canyon sections- probably more of a B3a or A3a. We lost more of the flipping (literally) fish here than we caught.

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If you are going to Yellowstone or Grand Teton, you can’t go wrong in setting aside time to visit the Dubois area on the way.  Carry bear spray, as they are in the area.  You may even run across one of the areas jackalopes.  This one has been trained to ride.

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Jeffrey City to Sweetwater station

According to my map most of the land to the South of the road between Jeffrey City and Sweetwater Station is BLM and part of the Crooks Mountain HMA.  I traveled by it twice on my trip but did not see a mustang in that area.  To the North of the road is also mostly BLM, with the exception of Ice Slough and a little patch, but it is not part of an HMA until the other side of Graham Road and the Sweetwater River.  I did see some beautiful horses North of the road, though.  I am not sure if they were in one of the private chunks, or if there was even a fence between the private and BLM, or if possibly someone had a grazing permit for the horses.

I am sure the fact they aren’t “wild” has turned some off, in the same way I met a family on the mountain last year that had probably seen 75+ beautiful horses but seemed disappointed because they had not seen Cloud.  We all have personal favorites, tastes and likes/dislikes so I am not saying there is anything wrong with her disappointment in not seeing her favorite horse she had come to see or people not really caring about pictures of non-wild horses. To give a happy ending to the mountain story,  I was able to find Cloud and it was nice to see the girl’s face light up.

Whatever the case may be, a beautiful horse is a beautiful horse to me.  True, not being “wild” they lose some of their mystique.  Unlike many domestics, these had every appearance of living life fairly similar to the wild mustangs.  There were bite marks on stallions.  It did not look like they ate anything but the forage they could find in the sage.  If they are “domestics” as the HMA map  would suggest, I would not be surprised to find out that some were former BLM wild mustangs that someone had adopted and was now letting live a life similar to what they had before,  the main exception being that they hung closer to the road and seemed more likely to run toward me than away when I stopped.

Without further adieu, some extremely striking horses from along 287/789 between Jeffrey City and Sweetwater Station.

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Dishpan Butte, Muskrat Basin and Castle Gardens

After visiting Crooks Mountain, I decided it was best to head for the cool mountains to fish and let Ahnya play in the water.  On our way to Dubois, we saw some beautiful horses that I believe were semi-domestics, and I will post later.  We also took 135 which led us by/through Dishpan Butte HMA.  We only saw a set of 3 horses while going through, but admittedly did not explore the area too much.

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After spending a few days in the Dubois area, we started home on a route that took us to Castle Gardens, and also allowed us to look for horses in conant Creek and Muskrat Basin.  I honestly am not sure exactly where the boundary between these 2 is, but the horses can move between both of these, Dishpan and Rock Creek, so I am not sure that it matters.  While I am used to very cleary marked boundaries for the HMA’s in northern Wyoming and the Pryors, I found that most of the central Wyoming HMA’s were not near as thoroughly marked. Actually, I don’t recall any signs on any of them.

I think the first horses we saw were far enough East to be in Muskrat Basin, although I am just guessing.  I mentioned how different Green Mountain and Crooks Mountain were.  The HMA’s in this group are a lot different than both of them.  It is open sage country for most of them.

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I did not get any great shots of this band, but enough to identify the 5 in the band if anyone follows this HMA.

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As is the case with most horses in these HMA’s, they are usually a decent hike from a road and they do not stay around long for pictures.

While most of these HMA’s are open sage, there are some washes and ridges mixed in. We left the HMA for the evening to visit Castle Gardens a little to the North and camp nearby for the night. Castle Gardens gives you an idea of how even in the middle of seemingly nothing there can be little worlds tucked away.  In this picture you can see that past it is pretty open, but the area itself has some trees, actual green, and some interesting rock formations.

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While living in Kemmerer, I had found that out near Little Round Mountain if you found bluffs you could often find raptors.  The same held true here as we found a nest that had at least 5 prairie falcons around.

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We were also being watched from above by this guy.

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What makes Castle Gardens marked on the map is the petroglyphs which were left on the rocks.  Since it isn’t very guarded or watched, people have also left their mark much more recently. I suppose there could be a discussion of how the people aren’t doing anything different than was done at Independence Rock or Register Cliff, but it just seems wrong to do it here to me.  The petroglyphs themselves are very interesting with many round shields and evidence of animals that were historically in the area.Image

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After a rough night of wind and needing to move to the FJ to sleep at 2:30 because slow moving lightning storms ( no rain) were moving through the area, we found a lone stallion in Muskrat Basin that I hiked to while Ahnya slept more.

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While there are windmills with water for the cattle, I also noticed that some of the washes still contain water that the horses can utilize.

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We drove down a road to Jeffrey City that I believe is either in the HMA or along the East side of it, but we did not find any more horses.  Considering how many horses are in the 4 HMA’s combined, I believe it is going to take some back road driving deeper into them to find them.  Maybe in 2 weeks I will try that.

July 16 – Crooks Mountain HMA

On Tuesday we made our first visit to Crooks Mountain HMA, which is just West of Green Mountain.  There may be back roads connecting hem, but not knowing the area we went back to Jeffrey City and then south on Crooks Gap Road.  From behind Crooks Peak I could see the roads over to Bairoil and Stratton Rim, so I should be able to switch between Stewart Creek and Crooks and see more horses in the future.  I also saw a sign for Lost Creek, which is another HMA I have never visited but want to try.

Stewart Creek may be right next to Green Mountain, but it is much different.  It feels a lot more like the desert.  It has a very “upcountry mule deer hunting” feel.  Sage brush dominates most of the landscape.  There were a lot of rolling ridges and draws.  As you get higher onto Crooks Mountain there are trees but they are not as dense as Green Mountain and have a lot of open sage meadows between them.  You can see a little of the land behind Romeo’s band.

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Romeo’s band was one of two that I saw for the day.  They were in the more open area about half way up.  This was my first time to see them, but I recognized them right away since I had seen many pictures by Angelique Rea.

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Updated: There were 3 more nearby that I thought were a separate band, but Angelique let me know that the larger stallion is Romeo’s foal from last year.  The mare is called Bella and she has another foal with her that looks similar to his brother except with more white.
ImageImageImageImageImageImageThe only other horses we were able to find on the HMA was another band of 3 in an open area on the top.  I thought it was a bachelor group by the way they acted, and I knew the first and last one I saw were stallions.   The grey stallion, which I assume was he lead stallion, saw me and left the other two.  He did not snake them as I would expect a lead stallion to do.  The other 2 did not see me and I was able to get come up through some trees and get decent pictures of them.  Eventually they noticed me and joined back up with the grey stallion.

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The 11 horses we found only represent a fraction of the 65-85 set in the AML, and a lot of draws and mountain face we didn’t explore.  We also didn’t complete the loop and come out Happy Springs Road, so maybe next time we can find the rest of the herd.

7-15 Green Mountain

Ahnya, Malaki and I began our camping trip a little later than we would have liked Monday, but we were still out the door by mid-morning.  The original thought was to spend a bit of time in Stewart Creek, and I was able to find 2 groups a little East of Soda Lake. I only hiked to the one small band of 3.

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Due to the late start and the need to get over-priced gas in Muddy Gap ( where they know you have no choice), we decided not to drive back to the Bull Springs Rim area where more were likely to be found, but made our way to Green Mountain.

One of the things that was very noticeable on this trip is that a lot of the ranges have such different terrain and feel to them.  At least the parts I have visited so far.  Green Mountain does stick out from the surrounding land, but it seems a little more of a long ridge than the traditional mountain that often comes to mind.   It does have steep sides and the woods on it seem fairly thick.

We did see 3 horses on the front face, but since they were away from either road that makes the main loop we decided to make our way to the top where we could make dinner and set up camp.  There is one main pasture that I had encountered most of the horses I had seen on my one previous visit.  A bachelor stallion was all that was found there on this day.

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Not seeing any others, we decided to make our way out to Wild Horse Point to use the picnic area, restrooms and scan surrounding ridges.  I must admit that I was surprised when we saw tracks on the garbage structure at the picnic area.

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The fact that this type of trash can is even there would support that there are bears on Green Mountain.  With the surrounding desert around it, I had never really thought of Green Mountain having some of the game it does. 

There were a lot of butterflies to watch as we ate.  Ahnya’s favorite was a swallowtail that was very tolerant.  

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here were a lot of fritillaries and I noticed a sand wasp for the first time.  They are around the flowers, but they are there looking for flies to feast on.

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After we were done, we went back to the main open section and saw the lone bachelor near the water hole.  This was the first trip I saw the water hole, and I bet if we stayed a day or two we would be able to see quite a few horses come in to it, unless there are a lot of other water sources.

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There was only one other band that we saw on the top all evening.  It did have a foal in it, though.  

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Stallion. Sorry for the harsh light on top.

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Tuesday morning we did not find any horses in the field, but as we hit the closed-mine road junction we ran into some of the other animals that I didn’t ever think of as being in this area, elk.  Bulls, too.

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4 of 5 bulls.

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Not great focus, but the 5th bull.

We did not find any more horses on our way out.  It is going to take some time to learn where they horses hide-out in this HMA.  I don’t know if they stay in small groups, or if the majority of the bands are grouped together somewhere like in the ranges I am more familiar with.  I look forward to future visits to Green Mountain.

July 9 – McCullough Peak

After spending most of the day in Fifteenmile Creek HMA, I knew I wasn’t going to have a lot of time in McCullough Tuesday evening.  I was going with low expectations, thinking maybe I would see the more accessible horses like Medicine Hat at the most.  It was about 7:00 when I got to the McCullough.  There were no horses at the first entrance, which is not unusual, and none further back.  As I continued down the road, I saw a large group on the hilltop, and some down in the bottom.   There were at least 30 up top.

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The first place after spotting them that I could turn in was the county line pit.  I had never used this entrance.  From here I had to hike back along the bluff a ways and then down into the creek bottom.  I didn’t plan to get pictures of the ones on top of the hill because I would have to cross the creek, but thought I might be able to get a few pictures across the bottom to the far side where they were.  I was able to come out closer to them because the way a point stuck out, and started to make my way closer using the grass and channels to stay out of sight.  I got closer than I expected, but was still a decent distance at the top edge of a little side branch of the stream.  I knew if I tried to get closer they would see me and was fine where I was because I could watch them but not disturb them.  I think a few saw me, but they kept eating.  You don’t know how the McCullough horses are going to act with a human.  They aren’t as wild as the Fifteenmile horses, but they aren’t as tolerant as the Pryor horses.

What happened next was unexpected.  One of the farthest bands from me made their way down the hill and with full knowledge I was there decided they wanted to eat right by me and cross the little creek.  As the evening unfolded, most of the groups in the bottom ended up near enough for pictures, and eating peacefully on all sides of me.  I am not as familiar with the McCullough horses, but I think I figured a lot of them out.  If there are mistakes ( probably with Dozer’s) let me know.

First, the only real action for the night. I  know one is Rerun, and I am pretty sure the other is Little Rumbler from the mares nearby and his color.  Rerun seemed to get the best of getting up into Little Rumbler’s chest.

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Little Rumbler seemed to gain some control and push Rerun back down.

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But Rerun seemed to turn that momentum into a full double-leg kick

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That first group that went by me was Two Socks’ band.

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Sunrise and Tequila

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Sunrise foreground

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Tequila

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Two Socks

I’ll now go through all of the bands I think I have right with names in the captions.

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Moe’s Band ( Kodiak’s colt, Kodiak, Totem, Moe)

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Kodiak

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Kodiak’s colt left side

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Kodiak’s colt right side

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Medicine Boy (bachelor)

Wild Bay’s band

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Wild Bay, Neka, Nalla

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Nalla and Sweetgrass

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Neka, Seminole, Wild Bay

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Seminole

Dozer’s band – the group I am least sure of having the individuals right or even all from his band.

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Dozer

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Trooper

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Maverick?

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Chevron?

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Fancy Lady?

Rerun’s band

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rerun vertical

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Rerun right side – a little blood on shoulder

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Sanita

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Adobe Girl

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Cheyenne – Love, love , love the face

The rest I am not sure of, so any help would be appreciated.  I may guess on one.

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Little Wind?

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I think these two were a pair, with no others

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Or this might be Maverick?

Having a clear lane to leave without disturbing the horses, I made my way back to the FJ.  I could still see a large group on the ridge above the horses I had just seen.  A group was to their right.  Another group of at least 15 was further back.

I ate some dinner and listened to coyotes howl (some sounded young) and watched the sun go down before setting up camp for the night.

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Fifteenmile HMA

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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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I decided to head to Fifteenmile a day early. I did see a young looking coyote on the way out.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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I wish I could have seen the one in the middle closer, it looks uniquely patterned.

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A paint section with a fight going on. “war paints”

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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.

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This little foal would have been nicer to see close, too.

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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.

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Not one of the above 2. I love his 80’s rocker hair.

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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.

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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.

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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.