Friday, September 25, 2020

Incredible Onaqui

We are turning towards home now. One of our favorite places to stop before we make the shift from moseying home to full throttle is to visit the Onaqui wild horse herd near Dugway, Utah.

We spent the night in a motel in Tooele. The laundry just couldn’t wait. We also needed to re-provision and fill the water tank. We were also fortunate that dear friends agreed to meet us for lunch. We had much to catch up on and didn’t arrive at our favorite camping spot until after five. Our campsite is on a bluff below a ridge. From here we can see miles into the distance and keep better track of the constantly moving wild horse herds. 

We saw a herd below us in the valley, but they were over a mile away. A small herd of pronghorn dashed across the ridge. These creatures are the fastest land mammal in North America, reaching speeds of 55 mph. We had seen a man driving an ATV and holding a rifle. It appeared that he must have missed his shot. 

We settled in for the evening, scanning the area with binoculars. To our complete surprise, we saw nearly 60 horses coming over the ridge. They were in a fast trot, heading to the water tank over the other side. Wow!  It was such fun to see so many horses so soon in our visit. We have often gone days without catching more than a glimpse of these majestic creatures. 

The next morning we found the herd grazing not far from the water tank. We walked around them, taking photos. There were a half dozen other photographers sharing the space. Most everyone kept a respectful distance. Unfortunately we have seen too many walk right up to the horses.  We were definitely grateful for our long-range lenses.  We were also happy to find old friends, including our renegade painted stallion who always seems to cause trouble.

We decided to drive to another water tank in the area. It is not a very photogenic place, but with the drought, it was almost a guarantee that we would see more horses. Between ten in the morning and four in the afternoon are the dead times for a photographer because the sun is too harsh. We drove around, waited at the tank, and tried to amuse ourselves. 

As we were heading back to our campsite, we saw a large herd of horses running across the road and heading west. We stopped to take photos. My camera could barely focus with all the dust they were kicking up. We finally realized they were heading to an old stock pond. It had been dry during our last visit, but they must have repaired it. We hopped in the truck and barely beat the horses to the tank before they arrived. 

It was such fun to watch. They came running to the pond, some at a gallop. They splashed and pawed at the water. 

Some horses waded in while others rolled in the water. When one group had their fill, others would take their place. The wet ones would roll in the dust. Mothers would nurse their foals while tussles would break out amongst the stallions. Even a herd of pronghorn joined the herd to quench their thirst.  We watched with sheer joy.  Finally, all the horses had their fill, and various groups wandered off, grazing. 

We returned to our camp spot, relishing the moment we had just encountered. It was just beginning to get dark when we heard a clopping nearby. A giant dark shadow came towards us.  Three bachelor stallions walked right past our camp. What a glorious ending to a wonderful day. 

The next morning, we returned to the stock pond and found the herd grazing nearby. They were on the move, however, and weren’t extremely cooperative in getting their photo taken. It could have been because of the bombs going off at the Dugway proving grounds. They were having military exercises, and every so often a huge explosion would jolt us all. 

After ten o'clock, we decided to take a drive over to Fishing Springs Wildlife Refuge. It is a beautiful, spring-fed wetland in the middle of the desert and a migration point for waterfowl. While we were too early for migration, we did find some interesting birds and a very scrawny coyote looking for a meal. 

On our way back to camp, we found our herd again, heading to the stock pond. This time they were much more subdued. But it was still fun to watch them. 

We arrived back at our camp and were surprised to find a small band of horses grazing just a few yards from our usual place. Even more surprising, they stayed nearby for several hours after we set camp. Pronghorn grazed below us. We watched one small prong buck challenge and circle a larger buck.  It was amazing. 

We had decided to stay another full day if our good fortune continued. Unfortunately, we both awoke to the smell of smoke. David checked the area while I dressed. He spied two antelope fighting in the distance and managed to take some video. 

Still we smelled smoke. The area seemed clear, but after our morning stroll, we could see smoke drifting over the mountain. We broke camp and drove to the stock pond. Halfway there, we were engulfed in smoke. It appeared that the proving grounds had a rather large grass fire, perhaps intentional because several crews were still overseeing the area. 

The horses had vanished. The entire area was covered in such dense smoke that it would have been unhealthy to stay. We had no recourse except to leave the area. It was a bittersweet ending to a marvelous opportunity with these wonderful creatures.  It was, indeed, incredible!

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Operator 911... What's Your Emergency?

Ahh... the best laid plans of mice and men do often go awry.  Such was our time with the White Mountain wild horses.

We left Kemmerer and drove straight to the entrance of the wild horse loop outside of Rock Springs, Wyoming.  It was a warm, windy, and clear afternoon.  

We found our first wild stallion not far from Pilot Butte, the highest point in the White Mountains at 7,932 feet.  The horse was most uncooperative, keeping his rear end to me the entire time.  At least with the hazy Pilot Butte in the background, it made the photo somewhat decent.

We continued our travels and horse hunt, taking various dirt roads deeper into the mountains.  Finally we spied a rather large band.  We struck out on foot to try to get closer.  The horses were skittish but did not run away.  Rather, they kept their ears up and their distance.

The dirt road was in good condition, so we decided to find a place to camp.  We had been checking the weather frequently because a storm was moving into the west.  The new report suggested light rain and wind.  No problem.

A Sage grouse flew in front of the truck, and I was able to get a bit of a photo when he landed.

We had driven past the band of horses and had now turned around, heading back to the main road.  The horses were heading towards us, so we stopped to watch them pass us.  A curious colt caught my eye...

While I was photographing, David checked the weather report again and found it had changed again.  Now they were predicting a light dusting of snow and, perhaps, winds up to 30 miles per hour.  It was 87 degrees, so we figured the ground was so warm that the snow wouldn't even stick.  Still, the area we were in was rather exposed.  We drove closer to the main road and set up camp in a low spot.  The sunset was beautiful.

As dark approached, so did the heavy clouds.  The wind picked up and felt substantially more than 30 miles per hour.  As we crawled into bed, it began to rain.  By midnight, the truck and camper were rocking and shuddering under 60 mile per hour winds.  When David got up to check our status, he found the window on the back door covered in a sheet of ice.  

We hardly slept.  The wind gusts were so violent that we weren't certain the soft-side, pop-up portion of the camper would hold together.  We literally were bounced and jolted in the bed.  As the night wore on, every check outside showed more and more snow.

We broke camp around 6:30 in the morning, wanting to get off the mountain and into a more protected area.  We had to drop the pop-up twice because the wind was so fierce that the soft-side blew out instead of inside the camper.  Snow was blowing horizontally in a wickedly cold wind.  When David finally got into the cab, his beard was covered in ice.

Thankfully, we had cell service.  We checked the weather and found out that a foot of snow was expected with winds in the 60-mile-per-hour range with higher gusts.  We knew we had to get out.. and quickly.

What we didn't realize was how protected we had been in our little valley.  As we reached the top of the road, the amount of snow was greatly increased and drifting.  David popped the truck into 4-wheel-drive low and locked the rear end for maximum traction.  

We were doing well but conditions continued to deteriorate.  Shortly after the above video, it turned into a white-out blizzard.  Unfortunately, we couldn't tell there was a low spot in the road.  The truck jolted to a stop.  It simply couldn't plow through the enormous, nearly four-foot deep snow drift.  

The driver's door was jammed against the snow, so we had to crawl out the passenger door.  As soon as I stepped away from the truck, I sunk into snow up to my knees.  As we accessed our situation, it was obvious that the truck wasn't going anywhere.  Our little WWII shovel didn't stand a chance against all that snow.  We knew we were stuck.

We were only about 700 feet from the main gravel road, but remembered another large dip where the two roads met.  Even if we could get out of this drift, the next one would be even worse.  The temperature was in the low 20s, and the wind continued to gust above 60 miles per hour.  With the snow so deep and the weather so bad, we knew we couldn't hike out. 

We got back into the truck and talked about our options.  There were only two... try to wait out the storm or call for rescue.  The weather report indicated more snow and freezing temperatures for the next several days.  It was time to call 911.

The operator turned our call over to the Sweetwater Sheriff's Department.  These wonderful folks offered us everything we needed.  They asked if we were warm, did we have water and food, could we run the truck for a while?  We had a full tank of gas, a full propane tank, lots of food and water, and we were warm.  They told us that the freak storm had caught everyone off guard and there were lots of emergencies in the area, including downed power lines, vehicle accidents, and road closures.  Could we wait a while before they came to get us?  We said yes.  They reminded us to keep the tailpipe clear of snow to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.  After checking our GPS location, the dispatcher told us that White Mountain Road was so bad where we were that they would need to bring a snowcat in to retrieve us.  It was all, quite literally, unbelievable.

About five hours and a few check-in calls later, we were delighted to see a bright orange snowcat coming towards us.  I took this photo out the truck window when they arrived.  The orange object is the snowcat.  The bright green object is Lt. Tomich.

We pulled our backpacks and camera gear out and crawled into the snowcat.  What a ride down the mountain!  Officers Tomich and Carr had brought the snowcat on a trailer as far as they dared on the icy road before off-loading it and driving up to us.  Wow!  What a wild and bumpy ride!  We traveled in the snowcat about fifteen miles to the trailer.  These photos are on our way down the mountain.

The officers loaded the snow cat back on the trailer while we watched from the comfort of the heated cab of Sgt. Carr's truck.  He took us down to a motel in Rock Springs and made certain they had room for us before he left.  He even gave us the name of a group called Stuck! RS-GR who pull folks out of the snow (or any situation) just for the fun of it.  

I need to break this story to express our sincere gratitude to Officers Tomich and Carr.  They braved terrible weather conditions to save two crazy Texans.  They didn't care who we were, what color we were, our financial or political status, or our religion.  They only wanted to help, and they did so bravely, efficiently, and with the utmost courtesy and kindness.  Quite honestly, I am embarrassed that these brave men and women all over our country are being treated so maliciously by so-called fellow Americans.  They are being denigrated as a whole because of a minuscule few.  Without these wonderful souls, who will come to your aide when you need them most?

As soon as we got into our motel room, I looked up Stuck! RS-GR on Facebook.  All I needed to do was post a message that our truck was stuck and where.  Unfortunately, I am not a Facebook aficionado.  In fact, I probably haven't posted anything in the last five years.  I couldn't figure out how to post on someone else's page.  Then, low and behold, one of my Texas nephews was online.  I quickly messaged him.  He was kind enough to walk me through the process, including how to pin the truck's location.  (Thank you, Jackson!)

Within minutes, Paul from Stuck! called us.  It was a little after three in the afternoon.  He and his buddy were ready to help.  A few minutes more and they were at the hotel lobby to pick up David.  

David tells me they were driving a souped-up Blazer.  To a layperson, he said, it wouldn't look like much, but to the off-road traveler, it was a limo.  It had off-road tires, heavy-duty suspension, special locking differential, and all the best in a back-road vehicle.   They drove up to the truck and were met by another fellow driving a Dodge power wagon with all the gear.  Between these three men and David at the wheel of our truck, they had him pulled out in less than two minutes.  Here's a shortened version of the video that Paul sent us.

These three young men charged us nothing to pull the truck from the snow.  They do it for a handshake simply because they enjoy helping people.  Between the amazing, self-sacrificing officers who rescued us to these fine young men, I am filled with gratitude and heartened that the values of our culture still exist.

We had another two inches of snow last night, and the wind is still blowing fiercely.  As a result, we have spent the day tucked warm and safe in our motel room with the truck and camper in the parking lot.  It has been quite the adventure.  Who knew this crazy Texan would ever get a ride in a snowcat?  All I can say is "Praise God and Woohoo!"  It's a wonderful life! 

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Another Email Gone Haywire

Dear Email-subscribing Friends, For some reason the Blogger site is not sending entire posts by email, some photos and videos have been deleted, and it's even eliminating a few posts.  Just know that you can always catch up with posts on the Ruffing It site at  

You should receive two posts today and another tomorrow.  We'd love to hear your comments... particularly about tomorrow's 911 emergency post!  Love and blessings to all, Virginia

Call Us Crazy

We knew it would be utterly crazy for us to go to Yellowstone and the Tetons during Labor Day weekend.  But we were longing for cooler temperatures and were hoping for more wildlife to photograph.  Also, we reasoned with all the travel restrictions that tour buses would be at a minimum.

During our time at Yellowstone, we did not see a single tour bus.  However, that didn't mean the park was empty.  A lady at the visitor center in West Yellowstone told us the park had received record attendance during the summer while only having a quarter of the normal park rangers.  We later learned that the park had not opened over 300 camping sites because of those staffing issues.  None of the lodges were open in either Yellowstone or the Tetons.  In short, finding a place to camp was nearly impossible. 

We spent two nights in the area.  Our first night we found a dispersed site on National Forest land about a half hour west of the park.  The second night, we found another dispersed site east of the park.  

We found the resident bull elk in Mammoth Springs.  Unfortunately, it just doesn't seem right to take a photo of such a majestic animal with a building behind him.

We did spy a moose cow off in the distance on our second morning.

The crowd numbers were growing.  The temperatures were rising, and the haze was horrid.  As an example, here are two photos from the same area in the Tetons.  I took the first photo when we were here in 2014.  The second photo is from this trip.

It just didn't make sense to continue fighting crowds, particularly when animals were few and the haze so thick.  We decided to move on. 

We took the Lander Cut-off Trail on the Oregon Trail.  It was another rough, gravel trail but offered some welcomed surprises.  We saw a moose and her calf not far from a hunting camp with eight or ten RVs and campers.  We speculated that the mother moose may have brought her baby near humans in order to protect it from predators.  As an example, in Denali National Park, moose cows raise their young near the sled dog kennels in order to protect their babies from bears.

We entered a large burnout area and had difficulty finding a campsite away from the dead trees.  Finally we found a small area with a covering of green trees that was perfect for us.

The wind made the burned trees sway and crackle.  The sun set eerily behind the stumps and dead trunks.  

We completed the cut-off drive the next morning and found one more moose to make this road one to remember.

Our original plan was to travel into the Utah mountains for a few days.  As we sat in a parking lot in Kemmerer, Wyoming, however, checking weather reports, we were discouraged.  A cold front is approaching and will drop temperatures into the teens at night in the mountains.  There is even a chance for snow.  No problem... on to Plan B. We'll head to Rock Springs, Wyoming, and the White Mountain wild horses.  They, too, are old friends, and weather predictions there are for cool and comfortable weather.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Heat, Haze, and a Horse of a Different Color

We arrived at the Black Mountain Wild Horse Management area late afternoon.  We drove the entrance road to the exit, but found no horses.  Unfortunately, we did find several trucks parked with empty ATV ramps.  In our experience, wild horses flee whenever they hear an ATV because they have been chased by them so often.

We found a side road and drove it until we found a place to camp.  The Black Mountains are lovely but have one tremendous disadvantage... black flies.  They were so relentless that we decided to call it the Black Fly HMA instead of Black Mountain.

We strolled up a ridge.  With binoculars, we were delighted to find a large band of wild horses in the distance.

Perhaps they would still be in the vicinity next morning.  Then we heard an ATV.  By the time we made it back to camp, the fellow driving the ATV raced past us, up the same trail we had just come down, leaving us in a cloud of dust.  After about a half hour, he raced back down, then turned up another road.  So much for seeing any wild horses, I thought.  But then, again, God always surprises me.

The sun was beginning to set when I saw movement out of the corner of my eye.  Incredibly, a lone stallion was walking over the hill towards us.  He walked slowly, and when he finally recognized we were in front of him, he simply made a wider berth around us before disappearing over a hill on the opposite side of the road.  The stallion looked worn, with all kinds of scars on his girth and haunches and a ratty-looking tail.  This horse had definitely seen some battles during his lifetime.  Perhaps he was just old, tired, and unafraid of ATVs.

Sunset was beautiful, followed by that gorgeous full moon.

The next morning, we broke camp, hoping to find the band of horses on the hill.  They were, indeed, closer to the road, so we drove the truck as close to them as we could, then set out on foot.  They were most uncooperative, moving several feet away from us with every step we took.  We finally had to settle for photos in shade and at a distance.

Among the band was a colt with the most odd colorings I have ever seen.  His mane was dark, matching his coat.  His tail was short and blonde.  And he had different length white socks on all four feet.  He was most definitely the "horse of a different color" you've heard tell about.  

The Black Mountain wild horses are few in number, with a population of only 60 horses.  They are believed to be descendants of Calvary re-mounts.  Their HMA is rather large and includes 50,904 acres.  

It was still early morning.  With all the ATV activity in the area, we figured we had seen all the horses we could and decided to go to one last Idaho wild horse area near Glenn's Ferry.  

The Saylor Creek HMA proved to be difficult to locate.  We asked for directions in town, then called the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) office, and, finally, received help from a most unexpected source.  We were at a cross roads, traveling the directions given to us by the BLM manager.  As we tried to decide if we should go left or straight, a gentleman in the neighboring mint field jumped off his enormous tractor with its disking harrow and asked if he could help.

We told him we were looking for the wild horses.  He was able to provide us with exact directions.  He cautioned, however, that he had not seen the horses in several years.  An enormous brush fire had broken out and driven the horses deep into BLM ground.  We then chatted about the farming area he was working.  It covered 118,000 acres and include corn, alfalfa hay, mint, and potatoes.  In fact, he told us that this farm grew all the potatoes for MacDonald's in the northwest.  The farm even had a mint distillery.

We continued on to the HMA.  The temperature was already into the mid-90s, and it was early afternoon.  We saw no sign of wild horses.  We drove up a hill with a 16-percent grade, hoping to find the horses with binoculars.  We saw none.  It was hot, hazy, and disappointing.  Time to move on.  Yellowstone will be our next destination.