stories from the road

Bighorn Sheep in Badlands National Park

In National Parks, South Dakota, Wildlife on September 9, 2012 at 1:35 am

I remember the first time I saw bighorn sheep in the wild: It was June 25, 2004 — the last day of a week-long vacation in Grand Lake, Colorado, with my Dad and his wife and my two younger sisters. Each day we’d drive into Rocky Mountain National Park, looking for wildlife. And we saw plenty: moose, elk, pikas, golden-mantled squirrels, American dippers, magpies, Steller’s jays, and a coyote. But we were particularly keen on seeing bighorn sheep, the park’s symbolic mascots. On that last day, we drove back over Trail Ridge Road one more time, and around 10 a.m. finally encountered a herd of bighorns — 10 ewes and 5 lambs — near Horseshoe Park/Sheep Lake, right where the guide books told us to look for them. We watched them come up a hill after they’d been grazing on the mineral-rich soil around the banks of Sheep Lake, nervously trot across the park road (safely blocked by rangers) and practically pogo-jump up the steep rocky hill on the other side, with the lambs occasionally snatching a suckle from the ewes as they balanced on precarious ledges. It was one of those amazing wildlife encounters I’ll remember forever!

Years later, in summer 2010, I had another memorable encounter with sheep — but this time it was Dall sheep in Alaska’s Denali National Park. So, by the time summer 2012 rolled around, I was hoping I’d be able to tap into my good sheep karma again — this time on our cross-country roadtrip to Oregon. As it turned out, we were lucky enough to have two close encounters with bighorn sheep on that grand odyssey! The first happened as we were driving out of Badlands National Park at the end of the day. As daylight dimmed, a herd of ewes and a few rams were grazing on one side of the road, and we watched as they crossed over to the other side of the road (immediately in front of our white van!), where one by one they walked along the land’s edge, flanked by spectacularly purple-tinted Badland rock formations. The setting sun illuminated their coats with a douse of golden-orange, resulting in some pretty amazing photographs — and more great wildlife memories to store away for future reminiscing.

  1. Jenny, WOW! Those pictures of the sheep turned out amazing with the light and all. Perfect pictures! You really should consider submitting them to that contest! Badland and prairie dog pictures also so cool. You are a great photographer!

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