Lisa and I split up on the summit of Mt. Washburn. She had the shorter but steeper hike, mine longer but more gradual. Going down can be nearly as difficult as going up, using a totally different set of muscles to keep you from rolling down the trail. Thighs would be burning by the end of this hike!
As I posted before, the skies were hazy from the smoke of the Idaho fires. I don't know how well you can see it in this small photo, but the trail winds from right to left through the center of the image. This appears to be a service drive for the ranger station atop Mt. Washburn as it was wide and marked with orange poles (as you'll see in some of the next photos) probably for better navigation in the snow.
Going down the trail alone was a treat for me. I love Lisa to pieces but sometimes it's nice to travel at your own pace, not worry if you're taking too much time taking pictures...just a chance to get lost in your own thoughts. Not too lost, though. This is grizzly country and I tried to be aware at all times to what was happening around me. The trail followed along the western side of a ridge, which I found rather disconcerting as I could not see what might be just on the other side.
After 15 or 20 minutes I rounded a bend, and there they were. Bighorn Sheep.
I love the sheep in front on the left. He/she was one of the only ones who paid me any attention. The day was hot and dry, and every time the group paused the little ones laid down in the dusty path.
I felt kind of bad for the little guys, they really seemed to be having a hard time in the heat.
I later learned that the older the sheep, the bigger the horns. Unlike animals with antlers (deer, elk) horns are not shed and in the case of some, like these sheep, continue to grow throughout the animal's life. This beautiful creature was undoubtedly the oldest of this herd.
They grazed along the verge, totally non-plussed by my presence. None the less, I stood as still as I could, moving little more than my shutter finger--I saw how sharp those horns and hooves were!
Once they moved past me they climbed back up to the path, and eventually the entire herd lay down. I continued my own journey.
If you look back to the first image of the sheep, you see a couple of folks on the path ahead of me. There was also a family some distance behind me. I could actually hear the folks in front talking, which I found rather annoying. However, they apparently were not impressed with the sheep and did not seem to have stopped to watch them. By the time I started back down the path, those folks were out of sight. Now, the people who had been behind me had their route blocked by a herd of snoozing sheep. I found myself utterly, blissfully alone on the trail.
What an afternoon that was. Sure it was hot, but it was bright, sunny and dry, filled with insect song. The slopes were covered with wildflowers,
and ghost trees left over from the fires.
If I hadn't been in something of a hurry to get down to the parking lot to meet Lisa I may have laid down in the grass. I could pretend, if just for an hour or so, that there were no cars, planes, televisions or cell phones. There was just me, the sun, the wind, and whoever made this huge pile of poop.
I'm sorry, what, did you say bear? Oh my. Well, sure, moose don't graze at 9,000 feet in open scrubby land, and sheep don't poop that big. I think it's a good thing that I did not realize at the time who or what made that pile. As I said the trail followed a ridge line, just to one side of it, and there was no way to see what was on the other side without climbing to the top. I was a little worried if I did that I would suprise something on the other side, so I never left the trail.
One last image of the rocks, flowers and lichens on Mt. Washburn before I came to the parking area.
I beat Lisa by about 15 or 20 minutes, so I sat in the shade of a scraggly tree and waited. I could have stayed on that mountain all day, but we were heading back to the Hayden Valley to look for the wolves again, which I wrote about a few posts back. After leaving the valley we headed back into town, but stopped a while to sit on the bank of the Madison River as the sun went down, some Native American flute music playing on the car's CD player. This was our last full day in the park and we wanted to sit back and enjoy it's peaceful side.
Next: The Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center