The Snows Of Summer
Ann Evans, Quinn and I travel from Colorado and arrive in Lovell, WY at 5 pm. We have a full agenda that begins with picking up our friends and fellow wild horse advocates, Cynthia Smoot and Bill Weller of Tampa Florida. We head out to the Dryhead on the paved highway in the spectacular Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area.
Seeing horses here is not a given, and I’ve often come up with zero sightings. Not so this time, however! Less than a quarter of a mile into the range, we spot Seneca peaking over a hilltop just past the lake that feeds into the Bighorn River. Hickok stands protectively next to his senior mare.
We hike uphill so Cynthia and Bill can see the whole band. They represent some of the unusual, primitive colors that make the Pryor herd so unique—mahogany bay, grullo, dun, red dun, and apricot dun.
They all look well and Quasar, the first foal born this year, is growing up fast–trading in his fuzzy baby coat for a sleek one. Look at those stripes!
Miles past Hickok’s family we see Fiero and his mare Strawberry, and beyond them Fool’s Crow and his mares Jewel and her older sister, Halo. The threesome start walking down the road. Horses have the right of way here. The small band stops and stares toward the canyon.
Cynthia jumps out to glass in the direction the band is looking. She can see a distant Blizzard snaking his mares away on a ridge above the beautiful Bighorn Canyon.
Fool’s Crow’s band walks farther then stops, and looks up.
There are bighorn sheep just ahead on a steep, deep red side slope next to the road. The group includes tiny lambs and their mothers. They race to the top of the hill, backlit in the early evening light, then race back down the slope.
We can hear the lambs bleating and surprisingly, Fool’s Crow’s band answers them with quiet whinnies. Amazing, sweet communication! Such a special moment.
Day 2 July 6th
Ann, Cynthia, Bill, Quinn and I drive to the top of the Horse Range via scenic Crooked Creek Canyon. Tony Wengert, long time friend and fan of the Pryor herd, has flown in from north Florida and joins us on the mountain.
There are so few wild flowers compared to years past, probably because June was so hot and dry.
Despite the dry conditions, ranchers are unloading their cows and calves that will graze in the Custer National Forest where the horses are banned.
As we near the horse range, I see movement on the road—a Blue Grouse hen and her four little chicks hustle into the high grass at the edge of the forest.
Then the big fence comes into view—the Forest Service barrier which robs the horses of their late summer grazing, forage vital for them to bulk up for the coming long winter. Please click here and sign our petition to allow the herds to access this area during the late summer/fall months.
As we wind through the trees and into the wide meadow called Mustang Valley, we see many bands of horses including Galaxy and Electra with her new foal and Custer with the amazing Winnemucca. At 29 years of age, she may well be the oldest wild horse that has ever lived here.
As an experienced anchor of the nightly news on Fox 13 in Tampa, Cynthia is well-versed on how to do real-time broadcasting and taught Ann and I a thing or two. Although high winds obliterated much of the sound, it was fun doing FaceBook live. In retrospect, this would would prove to be a great weather day.
We travel down to the snow-fed waterhole and find Pride (Cloud’s son) and his little sister, Quintana, watching their mother, Feldspar, cool off in the muddy mess.
Then Mescalero’s Band moves uphill near Duke’s band and their 2016 beauty, Quintasket. The April filly is turning from red to chestnut.
She decides to say hi to the younger, smaller Quintana who holds her ground. Then Pride comes to join them like a good big brother and play abruptly ends.
Above us, Knight and Encore rest in the leeward side of a tree, as the wind continues to howl. Intermittent small hail comes and goes and Cynthia jokes that she’s never been in hail in July. Little did we know that in comparison with what is coming, today’s weather would feel balmy.
Day 3, July 7th
Cynthia, Tony, Ann and I hook up the UTV and head up Tillett while Bill visits the Medicine Wheel in the Bighorn Mountains. Tillett is a rough road, but three times shorter than Crooked Creek.
Near the top of Tillett we catch up with the lovely dun bachelor, Naolin, and his new bay friend, Orlando. The two year-old son of Garcia, was kicked out when his mother, Greta, foaled. At the top of the mountain we hike out on the long ridge where the stallion, Plenty Coups, was struck and killed by lightning many years ago. Strangely, the bears never came to feast on his body as they do on every other lightning struck horse. Depicted in Cloud’s Legacy - book and DVD.
Mescalero’s band comes up on the windswept ridge and the stallion and his yearling step-son share a sniff of a stud pile. Pride shows the requisite deference to the male leader of his band.
It is Cynthia’s best look at the unique and stunning last son of Cloud as he sniffs near the bones of Plenty Coups, then looks up at us as if trying to understand. What a stunning colt.
Over by the muddy waterhole we catch a distant glimpse of Washakie and Baja’s new filly. Our friends, Jamie Baldanza and Kim Michels found her early this morning in the still dewy grass and named her Quahneah (kwa-nay-ah), an apt Cheyenne name meaning morning dew.
On the slopes around us, many bands are visible. It is the only place I know of where you can see the majority of the complex behaviors of wild horses in a matter of days, behaviors that might otherwise take a lifetime to see in other places. How privileged and fortunate we are.
On our drive down, four year-old Mato Ska and his bachelor friend, Miguel walk by. Cynthia gets a good look at the handsome son of Cloud and Feldspar. Like his sister and brother, Encore and Pride, his conformation is hard to fault and lately his personality is emerging. Time will tell if he has the fighting spirit of his father.
Day 4/5, July 8-9
Ann and I say goodbye to Cynthia, Bill and Tony and drive to see our TCF Freedom Family horses north of Wilsall, MT. Then we visit Effie Orser and family who have rescued more wild horses than I can imagine, including our latest, Cassidy, the younger sister of Cloud. The mare was destined for slaughter.
I will write more about the Freedom Family (FYI-all are doing great!) and Cassidy once I finish this latest Pryor Journal.
Day 6 July 10
I drive the 4-Runner up Crooked Creek while Ann takes the UTV the short way up Tillett. By the time Quinn and I are on the high road traveling toward the horse range, the fog is so thick I can barely see 10 feet in front of the bumper. A truck coming from the horse range swerves to avoid a head on with me just as we approach the big boundary fence.
Once we drop down a bit in elevation, the fog allows me to see the former major band stallion, Jackson, ambling across the mountaintop.
Our friend Kristen Collett is already on top. She has helped Ann set up camp near the muddy waterhole. By afternoon the fog turns into rain and the rain turns into snow! The wind is brutal. Undaunted (or perhaps just foolhardy), we drive the UTV in search of horses. Facebook Live Video
We drive down a bit, out of the thickest fog. Near the Teacup Bowl, we spot a jackrabbit and marvel at his long ears rimmed in black. When he takes off, he’s out of sight before you can say jackrabbit.
Movement in the damp limber pines catches our eye. It is Galaxy’s band and Electra with her newest foal, a filly named Quillan.
Even though she is only a few weeks old, it is clear this little one is going to be a roan. Can you see the light hairs in her dark coat? Perhaps she will be a bay roan like Galaxy’s son, Oro, now in Jasper’s band, or maybe a brown roan or even a blue roan. In any case she is a sturdy, beautiful filly.
When it starts to snow again, we head back to camp.
The sunset is stunning but temperatures drop into the mid-thirties. I have never been in this kind of cold on the Pryors in July. I guess there is a first for everything.
Day 7 July 11
The next morning is still miserable but we begin our search for horses. There are none on the open meadows. Wisely, they have dropped into the trees and even down onto the mid-ridges. In the Tillett limber pines we spot Hamlet’s band with their late born filly from 2015, Penn (named by Linda and Vic Hanick who found her while camping last September). The little band is huddled in the trees as it snows and blows!
Ann and Quinn and I continue to the bottom of the mountain. Half our day is spent driving down Tillett to get an air compressor that Nancy Cerroni has kindly picked up at a store in Lovell for us. Once back on top, we were able to put air in the back tire of the 4 Runner before it goes completely flat. Note to self: Always carry the air compressor in the car/UTV! We drop down into the limber pines on Sykes to take a look around.
Horses! It’s Echo with Cedar and nearby, Bolder with Echo’s mother Cascade and the Black. In between Echo and Bolder is Lobo, Cedar and Bolder’s 5 year old son. Apparently nobody leaves home in the Bolder family, not even when chased away innumerable times by their father.
Day 8 July 12
In hopes of finding Cloud and maybe the three-legged Bighorn Ram, Tripod, Ann and Quinn and I head down to the mid-ridges of Sykes.
In the entire day, we find one distant Bighorn ram and a glimpse of what may have been Johan, the bachelor stallion.
And so we settle for the little things--a very hungry red squirrel that devours a pine cone just 20 feet or so from the UTV, and a lively junco that calls and flits around in a limber pine.
And of course, the scenery from Sykes is amazing like this shot of high cliffs and the red hills far below. Still, it would have been a great relief to see Cloud and his brother Red Raven. There are stallions that have not been seen in a year or more and suddenly show up. And so, we still hold out hope that they are hiding out someplace.
Day 9, July 13
We head toward the teacup bowl and see He Who and Fiddle’s band (band stallion and feisty lieutenant) marching uphill.
They had dropped down into the forest when the weather turned cold and wet. Now, they’re heading back to the open meadows. The band, which includes Bolder and Cedar’s buckskin daughter, Jewel, stops for a quick drink at a mud puddle in the road.
The two stallions seem fine drinking and pawing together. Suddenly, they attack each other, rearing and screaming a “get away from me” message. What an interesting years-long arrangement. Why does Fiddle waste his time being the primary defender with no apparent breeding privileges?
We notice movement in the bowl to our left. Mescalero’s Band is walking up and over the ridge toward the snow-fed waterhole. We hustle toward camp and the waterhole.
By the time we get there we see Mescalero moving from what is still just a mud hole. After all the moisture, there is only a bit more water in the pond than when we arrived.
Ann and I hike down to watch the bands. We sit atop a little hill above the pond. Encore spots us.
The filly is half brown and half white—clearly she and Knight have visited the waterhole too. She heads toward us. What’s up with this? When she keeps coming, we try to grab our gear and back away but I don’t have enough hands and have to leave my binoculars and lunch box behind.
Encore forgets all about us once she gets to our stuff, carefully sniffing my binoculars over and over again. Then she goes to Knight as if to tell him of her experience. I wish I could get inside her beautiful head to figure out what triggered her curiosity.
As I was silently bemoaning not seeing Mescalero’s band and Knight and Encore getting muddy, Pride decides to liven things up in the meadow below us.
He begins to play with the coming two year-olds, Oklahoma and Okiotak. It doesn’t seem to matter that he is up against older and bigger horses. Even Pride’s little sister Quintana, briefly joins the play until Oklahoma and Okiotak gang up on her. Then she hustles back to Feldspar.
Meanwhile her brother continues to gently spar, mainly with Okiotak. I don’t remember a yearling playing for so long with bigger males. Is this a harbinger of things to come? I hope so.
As a four year-old Cloud spent the entire summer attempting to start a family. He failed and ended up with a broken nose and a bitten ear tip that eventually fell off. He went into winter thin and lame but came roaring out the next spring.
Day 10, July 14
Time to head down the mountain. Quinn is sad to leave. He loves to camp up here. Me too.
Just before we drive off, I notice Quintasket just 50 yards or so away. She is taking a nap and I walk toward her and sit down. After a few moments, her older sister, Outlaw Lady, comes to check on her. Such a sweet moment.
Then, as we begin driving down the mountain, we spot Baja, Bacardi, Washakie and the newest member of the Pryor Wild Horse Herd. It is our first close look of Quahneah.
The moment doesn’t last long. Washakie, always the protective mother, leads the foal and the band away.
As they disappear into the limber pines, the phrase family and freedom comes to mind. It means everything to a wild horse.
Was family so important to Cloud that he decided not to continue without one? Was being a loner, or just one of the bachelor boys never a part of his DNA? Still, I hold out hope of seeing him again.
P.S. Journeys like this one require teamwork, curiosity, and toughness, something my companions Cynthia, Bill, Tony, Kristen, and Ann certainly possess. I am so grateful you are my friends and the friends of our wild horses.
Wild horses and burros are under siege in the West, and theiy need all us to fight for their right to live as nature and the Wild Horse and Burro Act intended! Please sign our petition for the Pryor Mustangs and do what you can to help us fight for all our wild horses and burros still remaining in their wild homes.
P.P.S. Cynthia Smoot did a fantastic follow up piece on her trip to the Pryor Mountains when she got back home to Tampa, check it out here!