The Day the Sheep Moved In!

August 2019 – Our favorite thing about our unusual lifestyle is that we never know what will happen next. One day this week when we were driving home after a day of exploring, we were surprised to see a huge truck with a ramp parked in the middle of the road, blocking the way ahead of us.

Unloading sheep in Utah-min

We turned down a normally quiet dirt road to find a huge truck blocking our way.

It turned out that a bunch of folks were unloading a whole ton of sheep to graze in the meadow!

There were several big livestock trailers parked all around, and the guys began fitting the ramp to the second story of the truck in front of us.

The sheep were stacked in two layers in the trailer!

Unloading sheep in utah-min

The guys connected the ramp to the upper level of the livestock trailer.

We heard a commotion in the upper deck of the trailer, and then a sheep headed down the ramp. The rest followed right behind!

Sheep comes down loading ramp in Utah-min

After some confusion in the trailer, stomping of hooves and banging around, a sheep appeared and headed down the ramp.

Sheep come down loading ramp in Utah-min

Soon dozens of sheep were running down the ramp.

We watched in amazement as the sheep came down the ramp. They just kept on coming and coming — dozens and dozens of sheep. Some even jumped when they got to the bottom!

Sheep jumps off loading ramp in Utah-min

Some of them leaped to freedom at the end of the ramp!

I don’t know what made them jump, but quite a few took a flying leap off the bottom of the ramp.

Sheep jumps off loading ramp in Utah-min

Weeee!

Sheep jumps off loading ramp in Utah-min

.

Then they all trotted around to the quickly filling field to start grazing with all their friends.

Unloading sheep to pasture in Utah-min

The sheep continued running once they hit the grass and quickly joined the rest of the herd grazing.

Grazing sheep in Utah-min

Ahhh… There’s nothing like tall lush grass!

The family that owned the herd was very friendly and explained that the sheep had originally belonged to the granddad who had driven one the of the trucks in. His son had purchased the herd from him years ago and continued the family tradition of raising sheep for meat and wool.

We talked a little about the meat and wool markets and were impressed when we learned that they have found a happy wool buyer in the US government. Some of the new military uniforms are going to be made from wool, in a nod to the uniforms and military of yesteryear, and the sheep we were looking at would be providing it!

The herd had almost 2,000 mamas along with all their babies from this spring, and the sheep had been moved from a mountain grazing area down the highway to this area. The family had obtained a sheep grazing permit from the US Forest Service and planned to keep them in these meadows until late October or early November.

We were fascinated listening to all this, but Buddy was much more interested in their dogs. They all made a quick round of introductions.

The dog sniff-min

As we talked to the sheep herding family, the dogs made their own introductions

These were working dogs, and they had different jobs according to their breeds.

The three or four border collies and a red heeler mix were the ones who helped round up the herd and head it in a particular direction. The four Great Pyrenees were the sheep dogs who lived with the herd, 24/7, and protected them from coyotes, mountain lions, and other predators.

Dog friends-min

The border collies and a red heeler mix were there for sheep crowd control

Dog friends-min

The four Great Pyrenees dogs were there to protect the sheep from predators.

When we were in Buffalo, Wyoming, two years ago, we took part in a huge celebration of the Basque sheep herders who had settled that area over a century ago.

Descendants of the original Basque families paraded down the main street of town and a bunch of sheep wagons that the shepherds of the late 19th and early 20th century lived in all summer long were on display (blog post here).

Sheep herder trailer-min

The shepherds’ little trailers reminded us of the historic Basque sheep wagons we’d seen in Buffalo, Wyoming two years ago.

Unlike cattle that are more or less left to their own devices to wander around their grazing areas in the National Forests and on BLM land, sheep are watched over quite closely.

There is a long tradition of the Basques and others living in small wagons or trailers out in the fields with the sheep. Over in Ketchum, Idaho, we had learned that Peruvian sheep herders had had such a big operation there in the 1920s that Ketchum was the second biggest wool producer in the world at the time, behind Sydney, Australia!

Nowadays the shepherding job is hired out. Peruvian shepherds are brought in each summer on special visas to live with the sheep as they graze. Being accustomed to high altitude living, the Peruvians are probably more comfortable living at 10,000 feet for months at a time than many other folks would be, although a new friend of ours in town said there are help wanted ads for shepherds in the local paper. For anyone looking, this could be a cool summer job!

The trailers they live in are very simple and are reminiscent of the historic Basque sheep wagons we had seen in Wyoming. Staying out in the meadows until late October, they must experience overnight temperatures in the 20s for the last few weeks, so the little smoke stacks on the trailers made lots of sense and were reminiscent of the smoke stacks for the woodstoves we’d seen on the Basque sheep wagons!

Shepherd trailers and sheep-min

The shepherds take their trailers to a campsite where they can watch over the flock.

That night it poured cats and dogs and was very cold. As we snuggled under layers of blankets and piled blankets on top of Buddy too, we thought about the thousands of sheep and the sheepdogs sleeping out in the fields. Brrrr!

The next morning we woke up to the ba-a-a-ah sounds of sheep grazing all around us. What a sight!

We also kept hearing bells! We looked around to see if the shepherds were ringing bells and then realized that a few sheep had bells on their necks, undoubtedly to make it easier to locate the herd when they wandered off.

Grazing sheep in the morning sun-min

What a surprise it was too look out our window at dawn and see hundreds of sheep!

Bell on a sheep-min

A few of the sheep wore bells, and we could hear them coming!

Buddy was as fascinated by our new neighbors as we were. What a crazy scene this was!

Suddenly, he went nuts and ran across the field in an all out sprint. He had seen one of the Great Pyrenees dogs and was overjoyed!

We had tried to explain to Buddy that these are all working dogs, not playmates, and that they were on the clock. But he figured any dog out in his yard was fair game to be a fun playmate.

Dog friends border collie mix and Great Pyrenees-min

Buddy was excited to see the Great Pyrenees he’d met the day before.

Despite their huge size difference, this particular sheepdog took a liking to Buddy and they hung out together for a while.

When we’d first come across the trailer loads of sheep the day before, I had asked the family how the herding dogs and sheep dogs learned their jobs and what kind of training they did to teach them to herd or to protect the flock. The gal I was chatting with shrugged and said, “It’s instinct. We don’t train them. The puppies learn their jobs from the older dogs.”

Dogs watching sheep-min

Keeping an eye on the sheep.

Well, we soon discovered that the instinct does run deep, even in a mixed breed pup.

The presence of all these sheep began to inspire Buddy’s inner herding instinct. We don’t know his exact breed — undoubtedly he’s a mix of at least four or five different kinds of dogs — but our little pup has a huge talent for running.

Dog watches sheep-min

Buddy felt his inner herding instincts calling.

Before we could stop him, Buddy decided to try his hand at moving the sheep.

Dog chases sheep-min

And he was off!

Dog chases sheep-min

.

Rounding up sheep with a dog-min

.

Sheep roundup with a dog-min

.

Our jaws dropped as he expertly got them all to head in one direction up the hill. He was really good for a roockie!

Once he had cleared the field of all but a few stragglers, we noticed a Great Pyrenees dog head lying low in the flowers and grass. The dog had watched the whole thing from a front row seat! He seemed as impressed as we were.

Sheep dog in the grass with sheep-min

“Good job, young fella!”

Later in the day the flock returned. They were like a giant lawn mower moving across the grass. The field was full of very stinky white flowers, and we hoped the sheep would find them particularly tasty!

Sheep grazing in Utah-min

.

Grazing sheep in Utah-min

.

Sheep in Utah-min

.

Sheep looks back-min

.

One of the Peruvian shepherds emerged from the woods to have a look at the flock. We waved and then he disappeared back into the trees.

Shepherd on horseback-min

The shepherd kept an eye on the flock from a distance on horseback.

I had learned the day before that the Great Pyrenees dogs literally live with the sheep their whole lives.

When they are mere puppies they are put into the middle of the flock with the sheep and the older sheepdogs, and they live all together from then on.

Great pyrenees sheepdog with a flock of sheep-min

The Great Pyrenees dogs kept an eye out for any threats to their sheep companions.

Sure enough, out in the flock we saw three of the Great Pyrenees milling around with the sheep. They barked to each other and all gathered together for a few minutes when they saw us, and they approached us as a group. Once they recognized us and realized we weren’t a threat they disbanded and went their separate ways.

Great Pyrenees sheepdog oversees his flock of sheep-min

On patrol.

It was fascinating watching these dogs moving among the sheep.

Great Pyrenees sheepdog with a sheep-min

The Great Pyrenees take their protective role seriously. They know the sheep and their ways very well!

The Great Pyrenees dog that had befriended Buddy earlier broke away from the dog pack and came over to visit.

Dog buddies-min

Buddy was delighted to make friends with his favorite of the Great Pyrenees.

They sniffed each other and hung out for a while. And then Buddy ran back to our trailer, grabbed his favorite sandal and began running around with it. He really wanted to play with his new friend.

Playful puppy with Great Pyrenees sheepdog-min

Buddy wanted to play with his favorite sandal that he found while we were out hiking a few months ago.
The sheepdog was intrigued but didn’t really get into the game.

Even though the bigger dog wasn’t really into playing, the two new friends bonded anyway.

What a special encounter this was for all of us!

Dog friends Great Pyrenees and border collie mix-min

We never know what we’ll find on the less traveled roads of this beautiful country, but we always make interesting new friends!

Subscribe
Never miss a post — it’s free!

Related Posts:

More Animal Tales:

Our most recent posts:

More of our Latest Posts are in the MENU.   New to this site? Visit RVers Start Here to find where we keep all the good stuff and check out our GEAR STORE!!

<-Previous || Next->

Wild Burros of the Colorado River – A Puppy’s View!

March 2018 – Continuing our theme this year of seeking out places where the southwestern deserts and waterways meet, we drove the scenic drive that follows the Colorado River from the town of Parker, Arizona, up to the Parker Dam. Starting in Parker, we went up the California side of the river to the dam and then we came back down the Arizona side to Parker.

Boating on the Colorado River California-min

The Colorado River is a favorite spot for boaters.

The Colorado River is a popular place for water sports and water play, and even though the river was cold and the air was springtime cool, there were still lots of boats out enjoying the water.

Boating on the Colorado River Arizona RV trip

The desert mountain backdrop is beautiful and RV parks line the shore for miles.

From power boats to party barges, there was plenty of boating action going on.

Party boat on Colorado River Parker Arizona RV trip-min

A party boat rides the current on the Colorado River

The Parker Dam Road on the California side of the river south of Parker Dam is a combination of wild and natural recreation areas and RV parks. One RV Resort ends and then the next one begins with a smattering of BLM managed Rec areas tucked in between.

As we rounded one bend on this road, we noticed some wild burros in the road ahead of us. How cool!

Wild Burros Parker Dam Road Colorado River California RV trip

We saw wild burros on the road in front of us.

We’d spent quite a bit of time with the wild burros in South Daktoa’s Custer State Park last summer, and we’d watched the wild horses of Arizona’s Salt River many times over the years, but it was still a great thrill to see these guys standing by the side of the road.

Wild Burros Parker Dam Road Colorado River California-min

Wild burros of the Colorado River.

We slowed down as we approached them, and another car coming the opposite way did too. The wild burros slowly crossed the road over to the other car and said hello to the folks inside.

Wild Burros Parker Dam Road Colorado River California RV trip

The burros crossed the road to say hi!

Then I noticed that there were more wild burros on our side of the road. They were standing around just hanging out.

Wild burros of the Colorado River Parker Dam Arizona-min

A wild burro’s life is pretty chill!

Wild burro Parker Dam Road California-min

.

Suddenly one of them walked up to our truck and poked his head in our truck window.

Wild burro looks into car at Colorado River Arizona RV trip

.

Buddy was fascinated and leaned way out of the truck window to have a closer look. The burro pulled his head back out. Buddy’s face was reflected in the mirror and it made a cool image.

Puppy leans out of car to see wild burro Parker Dam Arizona RV trip

Buddy leaned over for a closer look.

Then the burro poked his head in again. He seemed to be smiling. Buddy shied away a little.

Wild burro at car window with puppy Parker Arizona RV trip

.

Then Buddy stared up at the enormous muzzle in amazement.

Wild Burro and Puppy Colorado River Arizona-min

.

“What kind of breed are you?” He seemed to be asking.

Buddy braced himself on the window sill to get a different perspective.

Wild Burro and Puppy Colorado River AZ-min

The two got a good look at each other.

Then the burro and the puppy touched noses for a brief second.

Puppy meets a wild burro at the car window Parker Dam Road California RV trip

.

I reached out and petted the burro’s mane. He didn’t seem to mind at all. Then the burro slowly moved away, and I noticed a young colt standing off in the distance. He looked like a little stuffed animal!

Wild burro colt at Parker Dam Colorado River California-min

.

What a cutie.

Wild burro colt portrait Parker Dam Colorado River California RV trip

.

By then, Mark had climbed out of the truck and was taking Buddy over to meet some of the other burros.

Wild burros meet a puppy Parker Dam Road California RV trip

The burros were very calm and inquisitive too.

Everyone was relaxed and a bit curious as well.

Introducing puppy to wild burro Colorado River Arizona RV trip

.

What a neat animal encounter that was!

If you are traveling in the northwestern corner of Arizona near Parker and Lake Havasu, the drive on Parker Dam Road on the western side (California side) of the Colorado River makes for a nice excursion. There are thousands of RV campsites to suit any budget, and the lake is a great place for recreation of all kinds.

Hopefully, the wild burros will come say “hi” to you too!

Kayak on Colorado River Parker Arizona RV trip-min

A kayak on the Colorado River.

Subscribe
Never miss a post — it’s free!

More info:

Other blog posts about Wild Burros:

Other blog posts from Northwestern Arizona:

Our most recent posts:

More of our Latest Posts are in the MENU.
New to this site? Visit RVers Start Here to find where we keep all the good stuff and check out our GEAR STORE!!

<-Previous || Next->

Fall Colors and Wildlife on the Sonoran Desert Rivers in Arizona

December 2017 – The Sonoran Desert in Arizona is known for its cactus and warm dry climate, but one of our favorite things in the Sonoran Desert is the waterways – the rivers and lakes that flow through the arid land.

Sunset on Verde River Arizona RV camping-min

Sunset on the Verde River

While Spring is an awesome time to see wildflowers in the Sonoran Desert, the months of Fall are a beautiful time to explore the central Arizona waterways because the cottonwood trees and other riverside deciduous trees begin to change color.

RV camping on Arizona Verde River-min

The many waterways in Arizona are wonderful to explore.

Autumn comes later to the Sonoran Desert than most places, peaking sometime in November. Some of our favorite Arizona fall foliage images are in this article about Tonto National Forest here. They are from the eastern side of Phoenix just beyond the edges of the city of Mesa along the Salt River and the Verde River (“Green River”).

This year we returned to the banks of the Verde River once again to witness the colorful display.

Verde River Arizona RV camping-min

A thick bed of fallen leaves leads to the river.

The Verde River rises and falls depending on rainfall and water releases at the dam upstream. In some places the water had seeped up between the trees and made wonderful reflections surrounded by fallen leaves.

Verde River Reflections in Arizona-min

Reflections.

Big cottonwood trees reached out across the Verde River.

Verde River Camping in Arizona-min

.

Suddenly a group of wild horses appeared on the far shore.

Wild horses on the Verde River in Arizona-min

Wild horses come for a drink on the opposite shore.

Central Arizona’s wild horses live in small family groups all along both the Salt River and the Verde River. We have seen them many times over in areas east of Mesa along the beautiful Bush Highway which parallels the Salt River.

Suddenly one of the horses crossed the river and approached quite close.

Wild horse Verde River Arizona camping trip-min

The wild horses of the Salt and Verde Rivers are much loved by Phoenix residents and visitors.

His tail and his mane were filled with burrs from running around in the prickly desert. It gave him a bit of a rastafarian look!

Wild horse in Verde River Arizona burrs in its tail-min

This guy’s tail and mane were thick with burrs.

Arizona wild horse with burrs in its mane-min

Quite a hairdo!

We wandered away from the river after the horses left and found some stately saguaro cacti with their arms outstretched toward the heavens.

Saguaro cactus near Four Peaks Arizona-min

Arizona is the only state where saguaro cactus grows, and they bring a lot of personality to every landscape.

A yucca plant erupted in a spray of gold along its spikey leaves as the sun lit it from behind.

Yucca plant in Arizona-min

A sunlit yucca.

Up on a wire we noticed a regal Harris Hawk surveying the scene below him.

Harris Hawk Lake Meade Utah RV trip-min

High wire act — a Harris hawk surveys his domain.

He moved very slowly, first staring in one direction and then staring in another, surveying the ground for any signs of scurrying feet that might make a good snack.

Harris

.

Harris Hawk on an RV trip to Lake Meade Utah-min

.

We have gotten a kick out of seeing various animals in our travels, including wild burros, buffalo, prairie dogs, mountain blue birds and herds of cows in the Black Hills of South Dakota this past summer (blog posts here and here).

Arizona’s most scenic spots off the beaten path offers the opportunity for some particularly special wildlife encounters too, and I wrote an article in the December issue of Motorhome Magazine describing the wide variety of animals we’ve seen in our Arizona RV travels.

Motorhome Magazine Feature Arizona Animals by Emily Fagan December 2017-min

Motorhome Magazine December 2017 issue
Article by Emily Fagan – Photos by Emily and Mark Fagan

Motorhome Magazine has posted the article online at this link: Animal Encounters in Arizona.

Dead tree in Arizona-min

.

From snowy egrets to burrowing owls to peach faced lovebirds to sandhill cranes to hummingbirds and a whole host of four legged critters like big horn sheep and mountain lions (not to mention the wild horses), there are all kinds of animals to be seen all around Arizona!

Arizona is also famous for its beautiful sunrises and sunsets, and we caught a few along the Verde River.

Pink sky at sunset in Arizona-min

Sunsets in Arizona are stunning and surprisingly reliable!

Sunset on the Verde River on an Arizona RV trip-min

Twice the color!

Arizona sunset-min

.

Sunset on the Verde River in Arizona-min

.

Lots of snowbird RVers are headed to Arizona now and in the coming weeks, and we hope you all take a drive on the beautiful Bush Highway and catch a glimpse of the wild horses and perhaps a Harris hawk or two!

Happy days on an Arizona RV trip-min

.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

Subscribe
Never miss a post — it’s free!

More info about the Sonoran Desert and its rivers:

Other blog posts with wildlife sightings in Arizona:

All of our blog posts from central Arizona – Places to camp, scenic drives, hikes and wildlife

A sampling of our Motorhome Magazine articles:

    Our most recent posts:

    More of our Latest Posts are in the MENU.
    New to this site? Visit RVers Start Here to find where we keep all the good stuff and check out our GEAR STORE!!

    <-Previous || Next->

    Badlands National Park – Rugged Beauty on a South Dakota RV Trip

    August 2017 – Several states boast rugged landscapes that are known as “Badlands,” and we have enjoyed two trips to the mysterious Bisti Badlands in New Mexico. But the Badlands in South Dakota are sizeable enough to have been set aside as a National Park.

    Landscape Badlands National Park South Dakota

    Badlands (along with dot-sized cows) in South Dakota

    The town of Wall, home of Wall Drug, sits right next door to Badlands National Park, and after just a short drive from town we found ourselves immersed in the moonscape of a windswept desert where relentless erosion has shaped the sedimentary rock into an endless array of triangles.

    South Dakota Badlands Scenery

    Rugged “badlands” landscape

    As far as our eyes could see, the land was rippled with peaks and valleys, natural pyramids and buttes.

    South Dakota Badlands scenery

    Slightly hazy from smoke coming from Montana’s wildfires, the golden glow was still beautiful.

    Unlike Bisti Badlands, the rock in Badlands National Park is not brightly colored. There is a small section that features rolling yellow and red mounds, but for the most part the land is filled with shades of brown and beige. Despite the drab colors, it is a very stimulating place for photography, and we had fun trying to capture the essence of this desolate land on our cameras.

    Photography Badlands National Park South Dakota

    .

    Golden Hour Badlands National Park South Dakota

    .

    Badlands National Park is quite popular, and there are several overlooks where you can get an outstanding view.

    Overlook at Badlands National Park South Dakota

    There are badlands as far as the eye can see!

    For us, one of the coolest things in Badlands National Park was the large resident herd of bighorn sheep. These guys wander throughout the park at their leisure. They are well accustomed to tourists and totally unafraid of people. Best of all, it didn’t take long to spot them relaxing on the various precipices and promontories as they took in the views of the Badlands!

    Bighorn Sheep Badlands National Park Overlook South Dakota

    Two bighorn sheep enjoy the awesome view.

    Like the wild animals at Custer State Park and Yellowstone National Park, this herd of bighorn sheep can hardly be called “wild.” The rangers keep a close eye on the herd and follows their movements about the Park. To help with their monitoring, some of the bighorn sheep have been outfitted with collars that carry rather bulky radio beacons, complete with a long antenna.

    Bighorn sheep walks past an RV wearing a radio collar

    Have radio, will travel! If the rangers gave this sheep an iPhone X, he could make calls and post pics on Facebook!!

    This wasn’t the first time we’d seen bighorn sheep decked out with radios around their necks. The whereabouts of a herd of bighorn sheep at Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area is monitored this way, and the elk that have repopulated Great Smoky Mountains National Park are tracked via radio beacon too.

    But the animals seem to manage just fine despite this bulky electronic gear, and only a few in the herd were collared. As the sun set, we found ourselves very close to the herd as they munched the grasses near the road, and we were able to get some wonderful portraits at close range!

    Bighorn sheep at sunset Badlands South Dakota

    .

    Bighorn sheep (ovis canadensis) really are in the sheep family (ovis), and they have been around on the North American continent for millenia. During our stay in Wyoming, we’d had a chance to get some fun mom-and-baby shots of domestic sheep too (ovis aries), and this made for an interesting comparison between the two species.

    Mama sheep and her lamb

    Very sheepish, but a little different looking!

    Bighorn sheep in the prairie grasses Badlands South Dakota

    .

    Pretty soon the herd began to leave the roadside and make its way across the shimmering golden grasses of the Badlands. The crowd of tourists on the side of the road murmured and held up their cell phones to capture this majestic and classic western sight unfolding before our eyes. How fabulous!

    Bighorn sheep family at sunset Badlands South Dakota

    A family of bighorn sheep moves through the golden grasses.

    Big horn sheep family at sunset Badlands South Dakota

    .

    Herd of bighorn sheep Badlands South Dakota

    .

    Badlands National Park turned out to be an excellent place for wildlife viewing, and one day at a watering hole just outside the Park we spotted a flock of pelicans getting a drink and a bath. What an unexpected surprise!

    Pelican Badlands National Park South Dakota

    Here’s a Badlands visitor we didn’t expect to see!

    But perhaps the most endearing animals were the prairie dogs. These little guys are just too cute for words!

    Tourists like us love them, of course, because of their funny antics as they pop in and out of their holes. But they are not so popular with ranchers because their massive dog town communities spread out for acres and acres. They dig up the grasslands, leaving very recognizable little piles of dirt outside their holes, and it’s just too easy for a horse to step in a hole by accident and injure itself.

    But we couldn’t resist them!

    Prairie Dog Secrets Badlands National Park South Dakota

    “I wanna let you in on a little secret…”

    Two Prairie Dogs Badlands National Park South Dakota

    “No… are you serious?!”

    Prairie Dogs Badlands National Park South Dakota

    “Hey! Guess what I just heard…!!”

    We made our way across the Park, and at sunset the striped eroded sediment rock of the Badlands began to glow.

    Badlands National Park South Dakota

    .

    Badlands National Park South Dakota

    .

    As we drove out of the Park the sun slowly sank out of sight and disappeared behind the hills, taking the rich golden light and dark shadows with it. Suddenly, we spotted one of the bighorn sheep standing on a ridge against the fabulous Badlands backdrop. What a classic image!

    Bighorn Sheep Badlands National Park South Dakota

    First there was one…

    Then two of his buddies joined him.

    Bighorn sheep Badlands National Park South Dakota

    …and then there were three!

    So often we have looked around at a classic western desert landscape and said, “Wouldn’t it be perfect to see a bighorn sheep standing right there!” And there they were right in front of us!

    Red ball at sunset Badlands National Park South Dakota

    The sun sets in a fireball of red.

    If Badlands National Park seems a little out of the way, or if the scenery itself doesn’t lure you to the Park, perhaps the chance to see large communities of prairie dogs and a sizeable herd of bighorn sheep will. We were surprised at just how easy it was to spot these animals and how much they make an otherwise barren landscape come alive.

    RV camping in the South Dakota Badlands at sunset

    .

    Subscribe
    Never miss a post — it’s free!

    More info about Badlands National Park:

    Other blog posts from other Badlands adventures:

    Other fun encounters with wildlife:

    Our most recent posts:

    More of our Latest Posts are in the MENU.
    New to this site? Visit RVers Start Here to find where we keep all the good stuff!!

    <-Previous || Next->

    Custer State Park Burros & Bison – Close Encounters of the Animal Kind

    July 2017 – Custer State Park in South Dakota is a wonderful place to see wildlife up close, and we ended up driving the Wildlife Loop Road quite a few times during our stay.

    Wild burros with RV Custer State Park South Dakota

    The “wild” burros in Custer State Park are surprisingly tame!

    The “wild” burros are actually feral burros that were “set free” many decades ago. Now they are known as the “begging burros,” and for good reason!

    As we drove on the Wildlife Loop Road with pro wildlife photographer, Steve Perry, and his wife Rose, we were astonished when some very bold burros walked right up to our car.

    Car with wild burro Wildlife Loop Custer State Park South Dakota

    Wild burros approached our car.

    Wild burro approaches car Wildlife Loop Custer State Park South Dakota

    Steve reaches out to pet a “wild” burro in Custer State Park.
    The burros here rightfully earned the nickname, “begging burros!”

    The white burro pressed his nose against a closed car window and made funny faces at us…

    Wild burro at the car window Custer State Park South Dakota

    A burro presses his big nose against the car window.

    The other poked his whole head right in!

    Wild burro head in car Custer State Park South Dakota

    Another burro sticks his nose right inside the car!

    It turns out that these begging burros are the rather lazy descendants of a very hard working group of burros who began taking Custer State Park visitors on rides from Sylvan Lake up to Harney Peak back in 1927.

    Little girl with wild burro Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota

    The wild burros are very accustomed to people, but not all the people are accustomed to the wild burros!

    After a few years of providing these fun sounding burro rides, Custer State Park officials decided to end the rides, and they simply let the burros go.

    Petting a wild burro Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota

    “Look what I found. Can I keep him?”

    Nowadays, the burros are so accustomed to human visitors — and are so fond of the treats that many humans bring them — that they are quite fearless and are more than happy to mingle with tourists. They even let folks pet them.

    Boy and wild burro Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota

    The burros don’t mind being petted.

    Custer State Park encourages people not to feed the burros, but while we were there loads of people got out of their cars with bags of food for them. Keeping the burros’ waistlines in mind, though, most folks showed up with something nutritious like a bag of carrots or romaine lettuce.

    Feeding a wild burro Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota

    Although signs say not to, lots of visitors bring snacks for the burros.

    On our first foray into Custer State Park, we had been amazed just to see the wild burros and their foals from a distance, period. But this time we found ourselves standing right next to them.

    Wild burro mare and foal Custer State Park South Dakota

    We saw several moms and babies.

    Wild burro mare stands watch over foal Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota

    Standing watch.

    Wild burros nuzzing Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota

    .

    The burros were so darned laid back that one mom suddenly did a barrel roll in the dirt, letting a cloud of dust fly.

    Wild burro dust bath Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota

    Mom takes a dust bath!

    I was smitten by the little foals. They had such sweet and innocent faces.

    Portrait wild burro foal Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota

    .

    One foal was particularly mellow. It must have been nap time, and when I knelt down next to her and stroked the soft fur on her head and neck, she leaned her whole weight against my leg and closed her eyes. Naturally, I was thrilled!

    Burro foal resting Wildlife Loop Custer State Park South Dakota

    I could not believe this little foal was so trusting.

    Wild burro foal on the Wildlife Loop Custer State Park South Dakota

    “Look what I found. Can I keep her?”

    Custer State Park’s herd of bison is another big draw for tourists, and the opportunities to see them are plentiful. Custer State Park’s 71,000 acres are fully enclosed by fencing, and there are roughly 1,300 buffalo in the Park’s buffalo herd. The herd is carefully culled and maintained each year.

    On the day that we were out photographing prairie dogs with Steve and Rose, we suddenly noticed there was a huge group of bison approaching us from the distance hills. As the leaders drew near, we turned our cameras away from the prairie dogs and focused on the approaching buffalo.

    Group of buffalo in Custer State Park South Dakota

    A huge herd of bison came down out of the hills towards us.

    There were both buffalo cows and bulls in the herd and lots of buffalo calves as well. They came down from the hills in a long, steady stream.

    Buffalo herd approaches Custer State Park South Dakota-2

    .

    The herd fanned out and approached us like an approaching army. It was a little unsettling, even though they were walking slowly.

    Bison herd approaches in Custer State Park South Dakota

    The herd approaches.

    Even the prairie dogs stood up on their hind legs to see what was rattling the roofs of their underground compound.

    Prairie dog stands up when herd of buffalo approach Custer State Park South Dakota

    “Who’s making all that noise?

    As they approached us they stirred up the dust with their hooves.

    Buffalo herd Custer State Park South Dakota

    The dust flies as the herd approaches.

    A few even stopped for a dust bath as their comrades marched on.

    Buffalo dust bath Custer State Park South Dakota

    A buffalo takes a bath.

    The herd easily numbered a hundred, and they moved steadily towards us, getting closer and closer. We kept taking photos, but we all began to back up towards the car.

    Bison herd Custer State Park South Dakota

    .

    All of a sudden they were within just a few feet of us, and let me tell you, these animals a huge.

    It felt like a gang was surrounding us as they walked towards the road and then circled around us and the car. We could hear them breathing, and we could hear the grass rustling as they moved pass. The gravel in the road crunched under their feet. Their huge heads swayed slowly back and forth as they came right towards us.

    Photographing buffalo in Custer State Park South Dakota

    Steve takes photos of the approaching bison.

    It was an incredible opportunity to take some portraits! Each buffalo was completely different. Some had tall horns, or widely spaced horns or sharply curving horns. Some had long faces and others had broad faces.

    Approaching buffalo Custer State Park South Dakota

    Every buffalo portrait revealed a totally different face.

    Bison head Custer State Park South Dakota

    .

    Buffalo head Custer State Park South Dakota

    .

    The bison were big and burly and a little frightening up close, but as we studied them, we could see they lead very hardscrabble lives.

    Mark got photos of one that had a big open sore on its side that was bleeding. We weren’t sure if it had been gored by another buffalo or had scraped itself on a tree branch, but it was a surprise to see a bright red oozing wound. Another had a horn that had broken off.

    Bison with broken horn Custer State Park South Dakota

    A buffalo’s life can be rough and tumble.

    As we clicked away with our cameras, all I could think of was the scary statistic from Yellowstone National Park: Each year more people are gored by bison there than are attacked by grisly bears! I backed up to the car and stood in front of the open door for a few last shots and then dove into the car in a panic.

    Steve’s wife Rose was already in the car, and she cracked up as I fell all over myself getting in.

    I sorted myself out, and then we both watched anxiously as Steve and Mark remained outside the back of the car, madly taking photos as these enormous animals closed in around us.

    Buffalo head Custer State Park South Dakota

    Watch out for those sharp horns!

    Finally the two crazed photographers threw their tripods in the trunk and then jumped inside with us, slamming the doors closed and rolling the windows up.

    The bison surrounded us like a big black sea, walking slowly alongside the car within a few feet. Then, like water flowing around an island, they moved on down the road, more interested in finding greener pastures than in bothering with the silly photo crew in the little car.

    In the distance, we could see other members of the herd running across the meadow. It was amazing to see the huge creatures nimbly galloping, the calves dutifully scampering right behind.

    Buffalo on the run Custer State Park South Dakota

    Buffalo on the move…

    Buffalo cow and calf runnning in Custer State Park South Dakota

    A buffalo cow runs at full speed with her calf following close behind.

    And then, as quickly as it started, the show was over.

    The entire herd had easily covered a few miles of ground in a very short time, moving from the hills on one horizon to the stream, trees and meadows on the other. What a fabulous experience that was.

    Buffalo on dirt road Wind Cave National Park and Custer State Park south Dakota

    We’ll always treasure our memories of this unusual buffalo encounter.

    Buffalo calf Custer State Park South Dakota

    Not quite as sweet as a baby burro, perhaps, but the buffalo calves were still pretty cute!

    Subscribe
    Never miss a post — it’s free!

    More info about Custer State Park:

    Other blog posts from our RV trips to South Dakota:

    More info about Photography:

    Other blog posts with fun animal pics:

    Our most recent posts:

    More of our Latest Posts are in the MENU.
    New to this site? Visit RVers Start Here to find where we keep all the good stuff!!

    <-Previous || Next->

    Custer State Park Wildlife Loop Road – Where the Animals Are!

    July 2017 – Not only is Custer, South Dakota, a charming place for RVers to enjoy a spirited, small town 4th of July celebration, it is situated next to enormous Custer State Park where beautiful scenery and unusual wildlife abound. While Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park are famous for bison leisurely strolling down the road, Custer State Park offers the same thrill but in a much less visited setting.

    Photographing a bison Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota

    The animals were easy to spot in Custer State Park!

    The Wildlife Loop Road is the place to see the animals in Custer State Park. When friends told us this drive was their favorite part of the Park because of all the animals they saw, I wondered how in the world the animals knew they were supposed to hang out there to greet all the tourists. I still don’t know, but it doesn’t take long on the Wildlife Loop Road to see them!

    Buffalo at Custer State Park South Dakota

    We had to share the road…with bison!

    We arranged our 2017 travels to take us to Custer State Park because we knew a professional wildlife photographer that we have admired for a long time was headed there to test out some new camera gear for one of his video reviews. His name is Steve Perry, and he has a very popular YouTube channel as well as two excellent books about photography (links below).

    Buffalo head through the grass Wildlife Loop Custer State Park South Dakota

    Up close and personal in Custer State Park.

    Ever since we purchased and devoured Steve’s first book on wildlife photography a while back, we have studied his tutorials closely and learned a lot from his many tips.

    So, we were absolutely thrilled to meet Steve and his wife Rose in downtown Custer. We agreed to catch up with each other again out on the Wildlife Loop Road in the early dawn hours the next day.

    Wildlife Photographers Custer South Dakota

    Mark with pro wildlife photographer Steve Perry.

    We were out on the road before sunrise, and in no time we spotted a little group of wild burros. Several mares were accompanied by their adorable foals. How fun!

    Mother and baby wild burros Custer State Park South Dakota

    Mom and her foal.

    Mare and foal wild burros Custer State Park South Dakota

    There were wild burro moms and babies everywhere.

    Suddenly, the sun appeared above the trees, and cast its soft rays across the meadow. But we hardly noticed as we watched this herd of burros, utterly enchanted by the sweet little knobby kneed foals.

    Wild foal Custer State Park South Dakota

    Adorable!

    Wild burro mare and foal Custer State Park South Dakota

    The babies are all legs…!

    We drove a little further on the Wildlife Loop Road and spotted a gorgeous young white tail deer with soft, fuzzy antlers.

    Young buck Wildlife Loop Custer State Park South Dakota

    A young buck.

    There were pronghorn antelope too.

    Pronghorn antelope Custer State Park South Dakota

    Pronghorn in the grass.

    All these animals live in the middle of a smorgasbord of their favorite foods. There are not only grasses to munch…

    Pronghorn antelope Custer State Park South Dakota

    .

    …but there are wildflowers too. Yum!

    Pronghorn eating flowers Custer State Park South Dakota

    Flowers taste good!

    All these animal sightings were great, but where were Steve and Rose? It hadn’t occurred to us that meeting “somewhere” on the Wildlife Loop Road was a little non-specific, and that we would probably all get totally sidetracked by watching the animals and possibly miss each other completely.

    Fortunately, with split second timing, just as we passed a dirt road that intersected with the Wildlife Loop Road when we were leaving, we saw Steve’s car bumping down the lumpy road. What luck! Steve excitedly told us what fun they’d just had photographing the prairie dogs in a dog town commonunity just a ways back on that road.

    Steve Perry Wildlife Photographer 00 601 Wild foal Custer State Park South Dakota

    Steve Perry showed us how it’s done!

    He offered to lead us back there, and soon we were looking out on the open prairie where dozens of these adorable little creatures were busily popping in and out of their burrows.

    Two prairie dogs in a burrow Wildlife Loop Custer State Park South Dakota-1

    A pair of prairie dogs peeks out of their burrow.

    Pair of prairie dogs Custer State Park South Dakota

    .

    Prairie dogs tell secrets Custer State Park South Dakota

    Psst! Can you keep a secret??

    Steve crouched down with the new Nikon D7500 camera and a mammoth Nikon 600 mm lens to get photos for his review, but before he did, he lent me his Nikon 200-500 mm lens to see how I liked it. Wow!

    Prairie Dog Wildlife Loop Custer State Park South Dakota

    “Watcha doin’?”

    Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota Prairie Dog

    Pretty in pink.

    Mark was using our Tamron 150-600 lens on a Nikon D500 camera, and all three of us hunkered down on the dry prairie grasses and aimed our cameras at these little bands of comedians. What a blast we had watching their capers and taking pics. After growing accustomed to our presence, they stopped barking warnings about us to each other and began going about their daily business and munching breakfast.

    Prairie Dog Custer State Park South Dakota

    A prairie dog sits in the middle of a breakfast buffet.

    Prairie dog eating grass Wildlife Loop Custer State Park South Dakota

    .

    The prairie dogs appeared and disappeared all across the meadow, like bubbles forming and popping in a fizzy drink, and we had to think and act fast to catch their antics before they vanished from sight. I realized, as I sat there, that one of the keys to wildlife photography is having a vast reserve of patience.

    Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota Prairie Dog

    .

    Prairie Dog munching grass Wildlife Loop Custer State Park South Dakota

    .

    We had seen prairie dogs at Valles Caldera National Preserve in New Mexico just a few weeks prior, but we had been in a rush to see other things and had given them about five minutes to strut their stuff for us. No wonder our pics had been mediocre. We learned from Steve that if you’re going to shoot prairie dogs and capture their adorable cuteness, it takes time.

    For RVers traveling to South Dakota, another great place to watch prairie dogs is in front of Devils Tower National Monument.

    Prairie Dog trio Wildlife Loop Custer State Park South Dakota

    .

    It also requires good equipment, and I couldn’t believe the quality of the photos that were coming from the lens I was borrowing from Steve! As I checked my images, it suddenly dawned on me that when we’d decided to come all this way to watch and learn from a pro wildlife photographer, we had inadvertently signed up to start lusting after some really nice camera gear!

    After we filled our cameras’ memory cards with pics of prairie dogs and packed up to head out, we told Steve he might have cost us some big bucks if we couldn’t keep our lust in check. He laughed and told us how he had been in the exact same boat when he first got serious about wildlife photography years ago. He said photography buffs have a name for it: GAS or Gear Aquisition Syndrome. Oh dear!

    Prairie Dogs standing Custer State Park South Dakota

    .

    Driving a little further on in Steve’s car, we got another lesson on the patience it takes to get great photos of wildlife. Ever since we’d arrived in Custer a few days prior, we had been hearing the most beautiful birdsong. But we hadn’t been able to track down the bird that was responsible for it. The bird always seemed to be out of sight.

    Suddenly, just as we heard the familiar birdsong, Steve stopped the car and backed up slowly, and we noticed that a little yellow bird was sitting on a fence post singing his heart out.

    “That’s a Meadowlark,” he said. “I’ve been wanting to get a good shot of one while I’m here, and we spent hours trying yesterday!”

    Well, this little guy had no problem with the car being parked right next to him, and as we all pointed our lenses out the car windows, he belted out verse after verse of his angelic song. Every time he opened his beak to sing, a rapid fire rat-a-tat-tat erupted from our camera shutters, providing a funny drumbeat accompaniment to his melody as we all shot as many pics as we could.

    Meadowlark Custer State Park South Dakota

    A meadowlark was singing his heart out.

    We returned to our little camping spot in the woods absolutely elated. We’d each gotten some really cool wildlife photos, and we’d learned the key tip for how to do it: Patience, patience, patience!

    If you see some prairie dogs, have a seat, relax, and let them get used to you. Eventually they’ll begin to do their thing at their own pace. And if you see a row of fence posts, don’t drive past too quickly, because there might be a little bird using one of them as center stage for performing his full repertoire!

    Sure enough, the next day we were driving down a dirt road that ran alongside a fence line, and suddenly Mark spotted a Mountain Bluebird sitting on it. The bird was on my side of our truck, so I quickly grabbed Mark’s camera with the long lens attached. Following Steve’s tip we’d learned, I rested the lens on the partially lowered car window, and fired away with abandon.

    When I paused for a second to check out my images, I was thrilled to see that the bluebird had a bug in its mouth!

    Mountain bluebird with bug Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota

    OMG – That bluebird has a bug in his mouth!

    He hopped and turned to show me his other side. Perfect!

    Mountain bluebird holding bug Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota

    .

    Suddenly, Mark said, “Look, there’s another bird on the wire over there!”

    I turned and fired away again, and then I noticed that it was the little bluebird’s girlfriend, and she too had a bug in her mouth! Thanks, Steve!

    Female Mountain bluebird with bug Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota

    His little girlfriend had found breakfast too!

    Talk about getting some wonderful shutter therapy and having a satisfying feeling of success!

    If South Dakota is in your sites for your RV adventures, the cute town of Custer and nearby Custer State Park make for a fantastic RV destination, and driving the Wildlife Loop Road a few times can easily end up being the highlight of the whole trip.

    Subscribe
    Never miss a post — it’s free!

    More info about Custer State Park:

    More info about Photography:

    Other blog posts with fun animal pics:

    Our most recent posts:

    More of our Latest Posts are in the MENU.
    New to this site? Visit RVers Start Here to find where we keep all the good stuff!!

    <-Previous || Next->

    Black Hills National Forest, SD, RV Boondocking – Camping with Cows!

    July 2017 – The US Forest Service, which manages all the National Forests in America, dubs its land the “Land of Many Uses.” The uses we love most are camping with our RV, hiking, biking and photography. But when we are on public land, we share it with folks who hunt, fish, ride horses, graze cattle and extract various natural resources.

    For urban and suburban folk who come out to America’s public lands to smell the pungent fresh air and see the stunning scenery, the omnipresence of cattle can be a bit of a surprise. In our many years of nightly boondocking, we have found ourselves sharing our back yard with cows quite a few times. It is, after all, open range.

    Open Range Grazing Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

    In the west, the public lands are Open Range. Literally!

    Cattle ranching is very much alive today, and cowboys really do exist in the real world, far from the classic TV shows and western movies. The other day, as we were driving to town in Buffalo, Wyoming, we came across a cattle drive going right up the highway.

    Cattle drive across highway

    On the highway one day we came upon a cattle drive. How cool is that?!

    We crept past and were amazed at the huge number of cows and calves. The cowboys herding them were on horseback.

    Cattle drive on horseback

    The cattle were being driven by cowboys on horseback.

    Slow traffic for horseback cattle drive on highway

    This is what a traffic jam in the big western states looks like!

    As we went down the line of mooing cows and watched the calves trotting along to keep up with their moms, it was like stepping back in time. America has a rich history in cattle ranching, and in many ways it is a way of life that hasn’t changed all that much in the past 150 years.

    But technology has definitely made deep inroads, and besides using ATVs to zip around the many square miles of a ranch, it helps simplify many other things too. Towards the end of the herd of cows we came across a cowboy riding his horse with a coiled rope in one hand and a cell phone in the other! How much easier it must be to coordinate the herding process when you can simply call your buddy cowboy at the other end of the herd!

    Cowboy on cell phone during cattle drive

    Modern day ranching: a coiled rope in one hand and a cell phone in the other!

    In South Dakota’s Black Hills National Forest we found a lovely spot to camp with our RV for a few days, and as we were first setting up, we couldn’t help but take a few photos of our idyllic little campsite.

    RV boondocking and camping in the US National Forest

    Finding a beautiful place to camp in the National Forest is one of the biggest highlights of our lifestyle.

    Boondocking in the National Forest is always a treat for the senses. In the early mornings we spotted deer nearby.

    White tail deer in Black Hills National Forest South Datkota

    Hi Neighbor!

    A wild turkey caught Mark’s eye on a solo hike he did at dawn another morning.

    Wild Turkey Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

    A wild turkey fluffs his feathers and shakes his tail.

    He’s not a birder, but his camera managed to catch a woodpecker searching for bugs, a robin carrying a bug in his mouth, and a stunning Western Tanager.

    Woodpecker in Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

    Woodpecker.

    Robin with bug in its mouth Black Hills National Forest

    Robin.

    Western Tanager Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

    Western Tanager.

    Flying Western Tanager Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

    .

    The nights were glorious. The Milky Way marched across the sky all night every night for a few days.

    Milky Way with RV boondocking in Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

    Starry, starry night!

    Beautifully mysterious trail of clouds crossed the sky one night, and we were astonished later when Mark lightened his photos on his computer later and saw how much orange and pink lingered in those clouds.

    RV under the Milky Way in Black Hills South Dakota

    Wispy clouds cross the Milky Way.

    RV under the Milky Way in Black Hills South Dakota

    Clouds whirl past the stars.

    But the most humorous and heartwarming aspect of this particular South Dakota campsite wasn’t the stars or the natural wildlife.

    We were both jolted out of bed one morning by the raucous braying of a huge animal standing right under our fifth wheel’s overhang. Right under our bed! Good grief, what was that?

    I jumped out of bed and poked my head out the door and found myself face to face with an enormous brown bull with a white face and an expectant expression. It was the ideal photo op. Our trailer and awning framed this huge bull’s head as he stared at me.

    But I was in my PJs and was still wiping my eyes with disbelief, while my camera was tucked away in some safe place out of reach. By the time I got my hands on my camera, the bull was walking away to greener grass.

    Cow by an RV in the US National Forest Black Hills South Dakota

    This big bull stood under our bedroom and bellowed loudly to wake us up!

    It turned out that his noisy braying — he sounded suprisingly like a very loud donkey on steroids — was a call to the herd to come check out our trailer. Before I knew it, our little buggy was surrounded with USDA Choice Grade A Grass Fed Beef!

    Cows around fifth wheel trailer RV Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

    Cows and calves check out our trailer.

    Fifth wheel trailer RV boondocking with cows in the National Forest

    .

    Over the next few days these cows came by our campsite on a regular basis. They seemed to be fascinated by us. And we were fascinated by them. We’d be sitting quietly minding our own business in our trailer when suddenly we’d hear the sound of grass being ripped out by the roots and footsteps clomping around in the dirt. We’d look out the window, and sure enough, there they’d be.

    Herd of cows surround RV boondocking in the National Forest

    We’re surrounded!

    On a few mornings we woke to the trailer rocking as the cows rubbed their shoulders and scratched their itches on its corners.

    Cow outside RV window camping in Black Hills South Dakota boondocking

    I look out the window to see a peeping Tom!

    Cow outside fifth wheel trailer RV Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

    .

    Moms and calves would gather together and stare at us whenever they heard us come out of the trailer. The calves were skittish and would run away if we got too close, but the moms would stand calmly facing us, slowly grinding grass in their mouths and staring.

    Cattle herd with fifth wheel camper RV in Black Hills National Forest

    .

    Fifth wheel camper with herd of cows in Black Hills National Forest

    The herd moves in on us.

    One morning we were both woken from a deep sleep when we heard another strange sound just outside the trailer. We ran outside to see what it was and saw a balloon floating past. The sound we’d heard was the balloonist firing up the gas flame. Every few seconds he’d do that and the flame would fill the balloon with hot air to make it rise.

    Balloon over RV boondocking in Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

    The sound of a balloonist filling his balloon with hot air woke us up at dawn.

    But it was those darn cows that kept the smirks on our faces and gave our days a special funkiness. I began to imitate their mooing, and that would make them turn around and look at me. I had to laugh when Mark commented, “That’s pretty good. You sound just like them!”

    Grazing cattle Black Hills National Forest

    All ears perked up when I mooed.

    Mark took out his guitar one day and sat on our steps and played for them. They seemed to like the music and began mooing. Just like howling dogs, they seemed to want to add their own melody to his tunes.

    Playing guitar for cows in US National Forest

    The cows responded to Mark’s guitar playing by adding their voices in a moo-along!

    A few calves got bold and ventured close to our truck. They were very intrigued by it.

    A calf visits our truck in the National Forest

    A brave calf approaches our truck.

    Baby calf sniffs our pickup truck US National Forest

    Another calf sniffs our bumper.

    One day I came out of the trailer to find myself facing a lineup of cows. If I hadn’t knowd better, they would have seemed a little intimidating. They looked a lot like a gang of thugs in the hood.

    Herd of cows and grazing cattle Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

    The gang’s all here — in the hood!

    Mark got busy taking portrait shots of a calf one day, and it was hilarious to see the little guy’s mind turning as he approached the camera.

    Cow checks out Nikon camera

    .

    Photography cow inspects Nikon camera

    .

    Closeup of calf face

    By placing the camera so low, Mark got a neat angle on this calf’s face.

    Suddenly Mark saw his big wet nose and thick black tongue going for his camera. Uh oh!!

    cow inspects Nikon camera Photography_

    What does that thing taste like?

    He pulled his camera away just in time, but when we started to pack up to leave the campsite a few days later, he discovered that one of the cows had gotten into our barbecue and had damaged the latch on the cover. He did a quickie repair job on the fly before we hitched up to leave.

    Mother cow and calf in US National Forest

    Camping in the National Forest sometimes gives us close encounters with cows.
    It’s most fun with moms and their calves in Spring!

    After we arrived at our next campsite, we found gooey prints from cow lips in a few places on our truck and trailer. Oh well! That’s all just part of the unusual experience of RV boondocking in the National Forest.

    Subscribe
    Never miss a post — it’s free!

    More info on the Black Hills:

    Other blog posts about South Dakota and boondocking:

    Our most recent posts:

    More of our Latest Posts are in the MENU.
    New to this site? Visit RVers Start Here to find where we keep all the good stuff!!

    <-Previous || Next->

    Canadian Rockies – Big Mountains & Bighorn Sheep!

    May 2016 – We wanted the theme for our RV travels this spring to be “Snowcapped Mountains” and, if possible, “Cool Wild Animals.” So far we had seen a little of both in northern Utah, southeastern Idaho, the Bitterroot Valley and in Glacier National Park in Montana. But we knew some of the most impressive mountains and close-up wildlife sightings were probably to be found even further north, so we drove over the border into Canada.

    RV travel in the Canadian Rockies Columbia Lake

    Snowcapped mountains were on our agenda this spring… and cool wild animals too, if we were lucky!

    Our first stop was in Fernie, British Columbia, a mountain town in the Canadian Rockies that is home to a popular ski resort.

    Church in Fernie British Columbia Canada

    Fernie, British Columbia, is a picturesque ski town in the Canadian Rockies

    We asked for snowcapped mountains and we got ’em!!

    Church steeple Fernie British Columbia Canada

    The mountains soar above the edges of town.

    Even though we had rather threatening skies, the mountains framed every view beautifully.

    Fernie British Columbia Canada

    What a backdrop for a cute little town!

    The town of Fernie has a hip and youthful vibe. Lots of kids come here to take advantage of the outdoor sports, and they live on the cheap in shared apartments so they can spend their days on the ski slopes or on the mountain bike trails. We saw almost no gray hair around us as we walked the streets!

    Up by the ski resort there were elegant Swiss style lodges.

    Ski lodge Fernie British Columbia Canada

    Classic ski lodges at the Fernie Alpine Resort

    Fernie is tucked into a bend in the Elk River, and a lovely path skirts the edge of town on the river banks.

    River trail Fernie British Columbia Canada

    There was a pretty walking path that went along the Elk River around the edge of town.

    We wanted to walk the whole path, but just a little ways into our walk it began to rain. The mountains began to fade away in the mist!

    Peaks of Rocky Mountains in British Columbia Canada

    .

    Fernie is a great town, but we had Canada’s national parks on our minds, so we pressed on into the mountains. It was early May, and a heat wave had just passed through the area, but our arrival was heralded with cold. We stopped in one visitors center and as we were told about various wonderful things to go see, the gal joked, “Well, we’ve already had summer and now we’re back to winter again.”

    Freezing cold in British Columbia Rock Mountains in May

    A few months ago I was in shorts!

    Fortunately, the sun came out and the snowcapped Rocky Mountains filled our view as we drove.

    Rocky Mountains peek through in British Columbia Canada

    The Rocky Mountains lured us onward up the road.

    Cool view.

    Cool view.

    Rocky Mountains in British Columbia Canada

    Good morning Rocky Mountains!!

    As we drove north we saw road signs for big horn sheep. We were hopeful for a sighting or two, but didn’t get lucky. “Hah, there aren’t any big horn sheep around here!” We joked with each other.

    Rocky Mountain Big horn sheep sign British Columbia Canada

    The only big horn sheep we saw were on the road signs… argh!

    We stopped at an overlook at Columbia Lake which is the headwaters for the Columbia River that flows down into the US, between Oregon and Washington and out into the Pacific ocean.

    RV travel and camping in British Columbia Canada

    The overlook at Columbia Lake

    In the town of Invermere we got a glimpse of Windermere Lake. This is probably wonderful in the summertime, but it was a bit forbidding when the skies clouded over and more rain fell.

    Columbia Lake British Columbia Canada

    Windermere Lake

    Just before we reached the first park in the cluster of national parks that make up the heart of the Canadian Rockies, we saw another sign for big horn sheep, but this one had flashing lights on it!

    Flashing street sign Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep

    Hey look, this big horn sheep sign has flashing lights!

    There were cars pulled over ahead of us, so Mark pulled the rig over along wtih everyone else. Then I looked out my window and found myself staring right at a big horn sheep!

    Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep head British Columbia Canada

    Well, hello there!!

    Wow!!

    There were a few other sheep near him on our side of the road, but suddenly he marched out into the middle of the highway.

    Big Horn sheep Invermere British Columbia Canada

    .

    Then he stopped.

    Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep in the road Invermere British Columbia Canada

    .

    Crazy sheep. Why was he hanging around in the middle of the highway?!

    Big Horn Sheep Canadian Rockies Invermere British Columbia

    .

    Then we noticed that there were a few sheep on the far side of the road waiting to cross. He stood in the middle of the road while the other sheep began to cross the highway in front of him.

    Big horn sheep crossing a road in British Columbia

    .

    He was like a crossing guard for them! When they’d all passed him, he joined the last one and came across with it.

    Big horn sheep cross the road Invermere British Columbia Canada

    The crossing guard accompanies the last sheep across.

    Big horn sheep cross the road Invermere British Columbia Canada

    Safe and sound.

    We looked back across the highway and there was one more sheep. This was a beautiful big ram with a huge pair of horns.

    Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep crosses the road Invermere British Columbia Canada

    Oh wait, there’s one more sheep to come, the big granddaddy of them all!

    What a fantastic big horn sheep sighting.

    Ram big horn sheep Invermere British Columbia Canada

    And there it was — our Cool Wild Animal Sighting.
    Welcome to the Canadian Rockies!!

    Back in Arizona we’d been excited to see a pair of big horn sheep lying around sunning themselves at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum. Seeing them here with their shaggy, shedding coats in the wild of the Rockies — or close to it on the highway — was a total thrill.

    It turns out that wild animals are actually a lot more street smart and highway wise than you might think. When we got to Banff National Park, we discovered that a bunch of overpass bridges have been built for the animals so they can cross the Trans-Canada Highway that traverses the national park. And they use it!! (Who wouldn’t — it looks pretty nice up there with trees and bushes — and a view of the traffic from above!!).

    Wild animal overpass Banff National Park Canada

    How the wild animals cross the road in Banff National Park!!

    More info about these area in the links below…

    Subscribe
    Never miss a post — it’s free!

    More info about this area:

    Blog posts from our RV travels with similar themes:

    Other blog posts from our RV trip to Canada’s National Parks in the Rocky Mountains:

    Our most recent posts:

    More of our Latest Posts are in the MENU above.

    <-Previous || Next->

    Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum – Wild Animals in Tucson AZ

    February 2016 – During our RV travels in Tucson, we visited the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum which is located in Saguaro National Park. This really fun “museum” is really more of an outdoor nature walk and zoo that lets you see all the creatures native to the Sonoran Desert up close in their natural environment.

    Big horn sheep Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

    The great thing at this “museum” is that the animals don’t run away!

    The Sonoran Desert spans the states of Arizona on the US side of the border and Sonora on the Mexican side of the border, and it is an ecosystem and habitat that we just love. But the most exotic birds and animals are a bit reclusive, and the iconic creatures aren’t so easy to find while out hiking in the desert.

    So it was just fabulous to see a big horn sheep sitting up on a rocky hill and to be able to admire him will he slowly turned his head this way and that in the morning sun.

    Big horn sheep Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

    Within moments of entering the park, we saw a big horn sheep sunning himself.

    The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum has several habitats for the animals of the different regions of the desert, with a mountain habitat for the animals that like the cooler climes amid big rocks and trees, and open grasslands for the creatures that prefer those areas.

    Fox Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

    A cute little fox walks by

    We haven’t ever seen a fox or a wolf while out hiking, but we got see both here at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. A beautiful wolf who was pacing in his enclosure, no doubt looking for Little Red Riding Hood.

    Wolf Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

    A wolf on the prowl — looking for Little Red Riding Hood!

    Little did he know that Little Red Riding Hood was actually over at the mountain lion enclosure!

    Mountain lion Arizona Sonoran Desert museum

    A little girl checks out a mountain lion… or vice versa!

    You can watch the mountain lion on two sides of her enclosure. There is a plexiglass window in one corner where the little girl was, or you can stand on a slightly elevated viewing area on the opposite side of the enclosure for another view down into her mini canyon.

    Mountain Lion Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

    What a beautiful cat.

    This lioness kept everyone guessing and on the run. First she’d hang out by the window, but when the crowd got thick, she’d move around the corner out of sight. Then the crowd would trot around on the path to try and see her from the open viewing area on the other side.

    What a hoot! As this enormous cat leaped effortlessly between the rocks by the window and the big open gully around the corner, all of us tourists ran back and forth on the path outside her enclosure, cameras and cell phones at the ready!

    Mountain lion Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum Saguaro National Park Tucson

    This mountain lion kept all the tourists on the run!

    The trick to getting the most out of this museum is to arrive a little before the place opens at 8:30 a.m. When we arrived at 8:32, the parking lot was quickly filling and there was a line for tickets at the door already. The thing is, the animals are fed at opening time, so if you hustle down the path to the ones you want to see, you’ll catch them as they eat their breakfast.

    Within an hour, most of the animals were settling in for a nap, and many of them were hard to spot!

    We caught a fleeting glimpse of an absolutely gorgeous ocelot. What a fur coat!!

    Ocelot Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

    The ocelot ran past so fast she was just a blur.

    But after that out-of-the-corner-of-our-eyes peek at her, she was gone for the day in a quiet corner where we could just see her head moving as she licked her paws…

    But we did see the bobcats. They were snoozing under a rock!

    Bobcats Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

    Bobcats catnap under a rock

    The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is artfully laid out, with paved and dirt walking paths that intersect and wind through the property. In some higher areas there are lookouts, and we loved the gnarly shade shelter that protected one of them.

    Lookout Area Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

    A fun and crazy awning over a viewing platform.

    There are lots of more common animals too, and we got a kick out of the javelina, an animal we have spotted many times in the desert.

    Javelina Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

    Arizona’s desert “pig” – a javelina (pronounced “havaleena”

    A little squirrel was busy scratching…

    Squirrel Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

    I’m not sure if this guy was on display or just stopped by for the free food.

    And a coyote posed for several minutes while a crowd of camera shutters clicked away.

    Coyote Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

    A coyote strikes a classic pose.

    We even spotted a deer back in the brush.

    Deer Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

    We saw deer through the trees.

    One of the big highlights of a trip to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is the Raptor Free Flight presentation which happens twice a day at 10:00 and 2:00 all winter long. Again, even though we were there on a mid-week school day, the crowds were thick. Everyone stands along the walking path in one area and then a presenter begins to talk about the various birds that will be flying by.

    Raptor Free Flight demonstration_

    The highlight of a visit to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is the raptor free flight show.

    There are two trainers who have yummy dead animal pieces in their pockets, and they go into the various bird enclosures and ask the birds if anyone wants come out and fly around and get a snack.

    They bring out only those birds that are in the mood, so there is no guarantee who will be flying on the day you are there!

    The first bird we saw was a raven. These guys love the western National Parks, and we’ve seen them many times, but it was still a thrill to see one swoop over our heads and land on the trainer’s hand.

    Ravens and crows are extraordinarily smart birds, and I’ve read of a study of a flock of crows where one member of the flock was taken away for seven years and then brought back. The flock went wild upon his return, obviously recognizing their long lost buddy.

    Free Flying Raptor Exhibit Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

    A raven flies to the trainer for a snack.

    Perhaps most thrilling was the great horned owl. I have a super sweet spot for owls (we had a wonderful encounter with some adorable wild burrowing owls just a little southeast of Phoenix last year and watched a wild great horned owl at the sandhill crane roosting area in southeastern Arizona too).

    Great horned owl Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

    A great horned owl came out to see the crowd.

    To keep all these free flying birds within reasonable range, the trainers pulled bloody bits of thawed quail out of their pockets every so often and lure the birds over. (These weren’t pieces of the southwest’s sweet Gambel’s quail, thank goodness, but were commercially grown to feed raptors). Mark got an awesome shot of the great horned owl downing a bite!

    Great horned owl Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

    Mmmm, mmm, good!!

    What a beautiful bird!!

    Great horned owl Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

    .

    Last up was a peregrine falcon, and it was really wonderful to see a falcon flying without the leather hood that falconers usually put on them. This guy zipped around and did some fabulous dives.

    Peregrine Falcon Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

    A peregrine falcon comes in for a landing.

    Arizona was once home to a parrot species too. The Thick Billed Parrot lived all over the American southwest and was last seen in the Arizona’s Chiricahua Mountains in the 1930’s. They were reintroduced to the wild in Arizona in the 1980’s, but the effort was a tragic failure, in part because of predators, like hawks, and also due to releasing adults that had lived in cages for too long and had lost their street smarts.

    The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum had two thick billed parros on display, and they were making a wonderful racket!

    Thick Billed Parrot Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

    A pair of thick billed parrots squawked happily

    There are two big walk-through aviaries in the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum — one for bigger birds and one for hummingbirds.

    What we’ve discovered in our RV travels around the southwest is that hummingbirds of all varieties are super easy to attract with a hummingbird feeder hung outside the rig, or mounted an RV window, and filled with a concoction of four parts water and one part table sugar.

    Hummingbirds

    Hummingbirds are easy to attract and fun to photograph from an RV if you’ve got a feeder.

    Hummingbird hand-feeding kit

    A hand-feeding kit!

    Even better — and a reader just alerted us to this — get a hummingbird hand-feeding kit. Doesn’t that look like fun?! We’ve just ordered one ourselves!

    Another great way to attract both birds and other small animals is to put out a dish of water a little ways from the rig. We’ve used a big upside down frisbee with great results. Several birds at a time, including cardinals, will stand in and around the frisbee, taking baths and drinking.

    The Sonoran Desert spans the Sea of Cortez too. This is an unusual eco-region because the creatures that live in or near the water have to contend with the very cold Pacific Ocean temps and climate that sweep up from the open ocean and the very hot desert climate and water temps that develop each summer.

    The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum has a tropical fish display that shows some of the fish of the area.

    Fish Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

    The Sonoran Desert includes Baja California and the Sea of Cortez where tropical fish abound.

    A trip to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a really fun excursion, especially for RV snowbirds looking for a neat daytrip during their stay in Tucson. Be sure to get there early so you can catch the animals as they chow down their breakfast!!

    There’s more info at the links below…

    Subscribe
    Never miss a post — it’s free!

    More info about the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum:

    Other fun animals sightings we’ve enjoyed in our Arizona RV travels:

    <-Previous || Next->

    Our most recent posts:

    More of our Latest Posts are in the top MENU above.

    Wild Horses of the Salt River in Phoenix

    Horseback riders on the dusty trail

    Horseback riders on the dusty trail.

    April, 2014 – The phrase “wild west” evokes images of horses and cowboys and wide open spaces.

    While we were visiting Phoenix Arizona these past few months, we ran into lots of different horses and riders out on the desert trails.

    Some suddenly appeared in a cloud of dust, materializing on the trail as if in a mirage, or as if walking right out of a movie.

    Their cowboy hats and boots and spurs completed the picture to perfection.

    Others rode a fine line between the modern digital age and the wild west of yore, holding the horse’s reins in one hand while chatting away on a cell phone with the other. Continue reading