2019—Desert Bighorns

Nevada’s State Animal is the Desert Bighorn Sheep. A large flock of these majestic ovines roams the craggy hillsides in the Great Basin in Nevada. We found some of the flock Tuesday morning, more than 70 individuals by one count, making its way through an area near the lake that is sparsely dotted with mostly ramshackle trailers and mobile homes. It is a rocky, arid, and treeless area at an elevation of about 4000 feet. The sheep forage among the grasses and scrubby plants, climb the crags, and sleep. Twice a day they must go for water. The lake is the usual destination which can be perilous as they must cross the two-lane Hwy. 95 that separates their foraging territory from the lake.

We experienced our own perilous journey the day before as we traveled to our destination. It started early for me. I drove from home to Reno to meet Moose and Richard. As I approached Rocklin, a low tire alert flashed at me from my dashboard. I was able to pull off the highway and to the Goodyear Tire store in Rocklin where they graciously inflated my tires and sent me on my way. Then, as I drove east toward the summit, a slight drizzle turned to torrential rains. It rained so hard at times that my windshield wipers could not keep the rain from obscuring my sight. Big rigs in the slow lane created huge rooster tails of water that covered my car as I drove past. At one point, a CHP vehicle pulled out in front of me and with its blue and amber lights flashing, led a convoy of cars at very slow speeds for almost half an hour as the rain pummeled us. It was clear in Reno by the time I arrived exactly on time, my one hour time cushion evaporated by the need to service my tires and the slow freeway speeds. The winds picked up as we drove south on Hwy. 95. We were constantly buffeted by the winds in our Yukon. A Nevada Highway Patrol vehicle screamed past us lights flashing. A few miles up the two lane road we came to a complete stop. A big rig accident moments before had closed the highway…and we sat for four hours until it opened again. We watched a med-evac helicoptor land on the highway in front of us as the winds created havoc with its maneuvering. An ambulance drove away from the scene. We sat, never learning what exactly was happening. It was well past 8 PM when they reopened the highway and we were able to continue on. We were still a half hour from our destination.

Despite our difficulties getting to our destination, we were rewarded with a wonderful morning photographing these Desert Bighorn Sheep. The winds had calmed. The temperatures were comfortable. And, because they live near a small residential community, they are somewhat acclimated to people so our presence was not threatening to them as long as we were quiet and didn’t make sudden movements.

Nikon D5, Nikkor 500mm PF