It’s spring in the wild places, and that means babies. The title of this post says it all for Spring Creek Basin, but I encourage you to visit the Pryor Mountains and Little Book Cliffs blogs to read about the new arrivals there. We’re close – really close, I think. If I was a gambler, I’d put money on Houdini and Luna to have the first foals in the basin this spring, and I’d guesstimate due dates at sometime this week?!
Look at big-belly girl Luna!
It was late afternoon Friday before I got out there, and the snow we got in Dolores and Mancos earlier in the week was evident in the basin. The first arroyo looked pretty soft, so I parked above it and did a big loop hike.
Four of the Bachelor 7 were way up above Spring Creek Canyon. Four gentlemen in a couple of pickup trucks were watching them when I got there. I was glad to meet them; I’d have missed the horses up there, where I’ve never seen horses before. Two of the B7 were tagging along after Steeldust’s band, so one was AWOL or with the four and we just didn’t see him.
Hiking on the south loop road (going southeast from the first intersection), I passed Steeldust’s family – still with Hollywood and Jif – and almost cut across to head back to the Jeep toward them. But thank goodness for binoculars. I saw Grey/Traveler, still with his little family, Molly and Roja up on the northwest flank of Round Top (didn’t see Seven at first, but he was there somewhere), and Bounce and Alegre, all farther east. So I walked the road almost to Round Top to get a closer look at the mares.
I ADORE this scene. Not the *photo* exactly, but exactly what’s going on inside the four sides of the frame. Molly was gathered last August and released, and after the roundup, when I started my documentation project, I found her with Roja – the sorrel mare there – and Kreacher – now a bachelor – neither of which were gathered. I found out recently that Molly was aged at “older than 20.” I’ve noticed in the past that she seems protective of Roja, always standing between me and her. I wonder what horses she was with before the gather. In this scene, in my opinion, she’s showing her vulnerability. It was a moment that didn’t last long, but it seals even more the beauty of these social wild horses.
The snow was still in patches, but the bare ground was pretty gooey. We needed the moisture; I think it had been close to a month since we’d had snow. There’s just the barest hint of green in places, and some more close-to-the-ground flowers are starting to open.
I cut off the road southwestish between Bounce and Alegre and Seven’s family. Roja looks only a little thicker in the middle than Piedra, but she also is developing an udder, and Alegre looks pregnant. I went south of Grey and Houdini, close enough to see through the binoculars that she’s still pregnant, and hit the old “road” on the north side of Flat Top. It isn’t a “road” I’d recommend actually driving on past a certain point (as you’re going east), but it used to be some kind of driving surface. From my walking direction – east to west – it curves around the west side of Flat Top and gets better just before it goes past a faint intersection. At that intersection, if you go north, there’s a little water hole just down to the east real quick after the split. From the intersection, either way you go will take you to the main road through the herd area. I’m really describing this all backward, but that’s just the way I was walking.
Just east of that intersection is where I found Steeldust, with Hollywood and Jif still tagging along, and new that day, Chrome and Comanche. On Saturday, I’d get a lesson in just how far those bachelors travel and how disloyal (ha!) they are to each other, when the four I’d seen above the canyon ended up northwest of Flat Top – with Chrome – and Comanche was still tagging after Steeldust’s band, but with Mouse this time!
The taggers-on. From left, Hollywood, Jif, Comanche and Chrome. You can see the road between Chrome and Comanche. In the near background is Spring Creek Canyon, and in the far background, the La Sal Mountains in Utah. At the top of the cliff and to the east a bit are where the four bachelors were Friday afternoon. There’s a boundary fence up there – the northwestish boundary.
The horses were moving toward me as I walked west on the road, and my shoes were already muddy, so I tried to give them a lot of room by staying toward where the “edge” of the road drops off toward the southwest. I finally stopped and watched them and took pictures as they passed by to the northeast, heading east.
A slightly different angle of Steeldust’s band, taken as I was walking around Flat Top.
Luna is definitely heavy-pregnant. Alpha usually foals late (May), and she’s starting to actually look pregnant. I’m pretty sure the bay mare, Mahogany, is pregnant, but neither she nor Piedra are very obvious about it.
I caught a pic of the two young rose-grey stallions together. I decided to name them Butch and Sundance, after two notorious outlaws whose names you might recognize, who were rumored to have hidden out in the Disappointment from time to time.
Butch, left, and Sundance. I think this photo shows both their similarities and their differences – if I can be any more cryptic!
The snow was coming in waves over the line of ridges and hills to the north and northeast while I was there late in the afternoon, but the sun did peek through the clouds a little toward the very end of the day. The wind was whipping, and it had a mighty bite to it, but by Sunday, temperatures were in the mid-60s with nary a cloud in the sky!
Chrome, left, and Comanche. Another sweet little moment, but by the next day, Chrome had ditched Comanche for the other bachelors, and Mouse had ditched them for Comanche’s company. Mouse and Comanche have a bit of the twin thing going on like Butch and Sundance; I’ll have a photo farther down of them.
That’s Hollywood in the center, earning his keep by chasing Chrome and Comanche, right, away from Steeldust’s band. In this frame, Chrome is getting ready to buck and kick, and in the next frame, he flashed Hollywood his heels! That’s Luna at left, and following her, out of the frame, are most of the rest of the band.
Curious George – I mean Kestrel! I wish Jif was more visible in the background. Hollywood is a most-attentive suitor.
Saturday, I hiked in first from the county road down south, looking for the pintos; it had been about three weeks since I had seen them last. More snow in the south (in the wilderness study area), which meant more mud. Impossible to avoid. I hiked two hours and looked in all the places in which I’d previously found them – nada. I was pretty disappointed because that’s the first time I’ve gone looking for them and have NOT found them.
On my way (driving) up to the main entrance then, I stopped at the corrals and met some folks – Tom and Amanda – camped there with their mustangs, Sunny and Albert (correct me if I heard those names wrong!), and three dogs. They couldn’t have picked a better weekend, weather-wise. After the snow blew itself out Friday, the weekend was absolutely glorious. It was great to hear about their experiences in the basin with the horses, and I can’t wait to hear more.
In the basin from the main entrance, I parked again and did another hike – four hours this time and opposite loop direction – in the same basic area as Friday evening.
Saw Duke, Aspen, Chrome, Hook and Kreacher of the B7, then Grey/Traveler, Houdini and the foals (Two Boots is about to “celebrate” her first birthday!), and Steeldust’s band with Hollywood and Jif and Comanche and Mouse. Farther to the east, still near Round Top, were Seven, Molly and Roja. I got some nice photos of the horses with Steeldust with the La Sals in the background.
One big happy family! That’s Steeldust’s band – try getting 22 ears up all at the same time! Ha! From left: Luna, Mahogany (behind Luna), Baylee, Piedra, Kestrel (barely), Butch, Jif and Hollywood (background), Alpha, Sundance and Steeldust.
Mouse with the sweet face. I was walking away from the band on the other side of a low hill, and Mouse and Comanche were curious enough to come for a closer look. Half a second after I took this picture, he’d had his look and whirled around and was gone.
When he spun around, that started the band moving. Who’s who? This photo was taken just a few minutes after the above photo of Mouse. That’s Mouse at left and Comanche at right.
On my way back west, I followed a big arroyo and passed by the bachelors again.
Duke, left, and Hook. I named Hook for a perceived upswing of his little snip, but it’s not very clear in this photo, is it?
This is getting fun. Can you tell the greys apart in this group of four of the Bachelor 7? Duke is slightly apart from these boys to the right, out of the picture. From right this time: Hook, Aspen and …? Kreacher and Chrome! Chrome is slightly lighter, and he’s shedding in a rather raggedy way (is that a word? Raggedy Andy, anyone?). They both have wide blazes, but Chrome has four stockings, and Kreacher has right front and left hind socks.
I took just a few photos of the boys and moved on. The first time I looked back – I always like to look back – they had already gone back to grazing.
Hiking in the north was quite a bit more dry than the south, and it had dried out more even from Friday. The arroyo was pretty soft in the bottom, but it was easier to walk through it than having to cross it multiple times, so I mainly did that until I came to Grey/Traveler and his family. I walked up out of the arroyo on the side away from them. I’ve been amazed lately at the strange places in which I’ve found ATV tracks. The most disturbing I’ve seen was there: tracks in the bottom of the arroyo … and straight up a straight-up arroyo wall?! Or down? I really don’t want to rant, but why on Earth do some people feel the need to test gravity – and destroy part of the Earth in the process?!
The little family grazed their way up away from the arroyo, moving slowly along, and I decided to try to hang out with them for a little while. So I crossed the arroyo and went up the hill west of them, taking care to stay far enough away that I was confident I wasn’t making them move. I even found a dry spot to sit for a while and watch them. I had been thinking earlier how lucky I was to be out hiking in this wonderful wild place, mostly moving, not staying too long near any one group, long enough to take pix but not long enough to cause them stress. Sitting there for 10 or 15 minutes, unmoving, just watching and taking photos, was something just a little different. Wonderfully satisfying.
Houdini was the most watchful; she kept popping up from behind a little “hill” to check on me as I sat or stood a little west of them. The foals tagged along, relaxed. They kept an eye on me, too, but I think they took their cue from the adults. For his part, Grey barely spared me a glance.
Handsome boy looking hale and hearty.
They grazed their way toward the loop road, and I moved along with them until we got to that point.
Two Boots, daughter of Houdini and, I think, the grey stallion I called Junior. Junior’s band was gathered; Houdini escaped. I first saw the grey mare with the black baby with a star and two socks on April 22. She was a week or less old then! So go ahead, have some cake, blow out a candle, wish Two Boots a happy first birthday, even if it is a little early!
My dad would call these youngsters compadres. Twister is rarely very far from his adopted big sister. While I watched them, I wondered about his wonky knee. Will he grow out of it? Is it something that will hinder him all his life? If he’s gathered in the future, he would not be a good candidate for release, but would he be a good candidate for adoption? I can’t help but wonder what the future holds for this brave, tough little guy.
When they reached the road, I left them to continue west and back around to where I’d left the Jeep. Looking back through the binoculars, I saw Seven, Molly and Roja again near Round Top, and, WAY out to the east and north of Round Top, Corazon and Cinch – the pinto bachelors – with a dark horse. They could be with Ty (black), Mesa (solid bay), David (mahogany bay) and the muley bay – or any combination thereof – and they were so far away, I could see their pinto patterns enough to identify them, but I couldn’t identify that dark horse. From the road as I walked, I kept looking back to see where Grey and Houdini were going, and I saw Bounce and Alegre out in that big open area northeast of the road.
Sunday morning, I parked at the southern point of the herd area and hiked in, following the fenceline north. It was still soft, and there were still patches of snow all around, but it dries so quickly out there. The herd area is about 22,000 acres, smallish as herd areas go, but it’s an amazingly diverse place. The south would be more commonly called pretty, with hills and dense little islands of pinon and juniper trees. Central in the herd area might be called “the big wide open,” riven with arroyos and hidey places – amazing topography in what at first glance looks featureless. The land slopes up again in the north, to Klondike Ridge and the impressive ridgeline of Spring Creek Canyon.
I highly recommend experiencing it all for yourself.
It smelled like Christmas, following the fence up from the south, walking through the trees, over the snow. Lots of deer and elk track, lots of OLD manure piles. That got me to thinking about the spread of horses in the area. No horses – that I’ve identified – in the far north, three in the northeast, five horses in the whole of the south, none in the west, and all the rest – 30ish horses? – in the big wide open. I was surprised but glad to see the bachelors up above Spring Creek Canyon on Friday, and I was surprised but glad to see Traveler and family slightly east of the trap site a few weeks ago, but most of the horses are fairly heavily concentrated in one main area. It makes them easy to find, but I’m hoping to see them spread out this spring as more browse becomes available for them to graze. Bruiser’s like the mob boss; he rules the south!
The fence is in pretty good shape, but I did stop in a few places and lift strands where they were sagging. There’s a big hill that the fence goes up and over – I don’t envy those fence-builders! I wasn’t going to follow it up and over, hoping instead to just wander around the hill, but then I hit pay dirt – a deer trail. I’m sure it was a deer trail because I’ve never seen mountain goats in the area!
I wrote earlier that I’ve been amazed at some of the places in which I’ve seen ATV tracks. Now’s the time to follow that up with appropriate amazement at some of the places in which I’ve seen pony tracks! I huffed and puffed my way up to the top of a teaser hill and discovered several old manure piles and tracks. It was from there that I spotted the faint trail the rest of the way to the top. Up I went, actually thinking, “No way a horse is going to use this trail,” when what to my wondering eyes should appear but a couple of dessicated little road apples! Right in the middle of the trail, halfway up the hill! My amazement grows.
From the top of that hill, Lone Cone stood out like a beacon way off to the east, and I took advantage of the altitude to scan the lowlands for horses.
Not too far down that hill along the fenceline - north – I found a spot that needs more help than I had tools to fix – note to any BLM readers. The top and bottom strands are both snapped. If you’ve ever fixed fence and NOT dropped a fence staple, my hat’s off to you. A huge pet peeve of mine is random strings of wire lying around waiting for an equine leg to come along, and just when I could have used a random string of wire lying around with which to splice the strands together, I was extraordinarily happy not to find any (although of course it means the strands are still disconnected). But I did find a staple! A make-shift rock-hammer, and at least I could get the top strand off the ground. No fresh horse tracks near there, but at least it’s a kinda sorta semi-barrier again.
The fence goes on up – and down - and eventually right into a cliff – a natural barrier. I’ve seen the horses before up on some little “finger hills” close to that cliff (in fact, the photo of them in the snow was taken there). I wandered around up there, looking out trying to spot them … and eventually, ta da, I was looking straight down on them. Well, not exactly straight. I stayed high and followed an even more faint deer/elk trail across the top part of the hill/cliff. Got to a nice little shale bench out of the wind and settled in for some lunch and pinto watching.
When I first saw them, it was Chipeta and Shadow I saw. When I got to my perch, I saw only Chipeta and Bruiser as they wandered away from the cliff from behind a hill that hid the rest of the horses. Maybe it’s the season, but Chipeta has gotten a little possessive of her man. Later, I watched her actually lay back her ears at Kiowa to move her away from him. Kiowa is the mature mare there!
They all eventually came out into the open, and I watched them through the binoculars. Kiowa is definitely pregnant; Chipeta? I won’t rule it out, but she still has her girlish figure (kinda like Piedra, go figure).
From bottom right, Kiowa, Reya, Shadow and Chipeta up to the left. Bruiser is out of sight beyond (actually below) Chipeta.
They were peaceful and quiet, and after I spent about 30-45 minutes watching them from afar, I decided to head back out to the road. With the binoculars, I saw the pinto bachelors again, again way up to the north, east-northeast of Round Top. Again, I saw just a glimpse of them, with at least another horse before they disappeared behind a hill or ridge. I also saw a grey horse I think was probably Seven; it looked like he had gone away from Molly and Roja toward some other horses – likely some of the Bachelor 7.
Ahh. This is a shot from my perch looking northwest. That’s Round Top in the middle distance and the La Sals again in the background. What wonderful, gloriously wild country!
On the way back, I looked up and saw the moon rising over that prominent peak that you can see from just about anywhere in the basin. Does it have a name?
If you’ve read this far, thanks for sticking with me through two and a half days and about 12-13 hours of hiking. We’ve seen at least 35 of the 41 wild and beautiful horses of Spring Creek Basin and bestowed some new names on familiar faces. Our appreciation of a wild and simple life has expanded even more. Our shoes are muddy, and our faces are a darker shade of tan. We’ve smelled Christmas and touched the moon. And I don’t know about you, but I’m not really ready for the constant drumbeat of civilization.
So I’ll see you again in a week!