We didn’t mind the 1200-foot descent on snow-covered switchbacks; our goal was to banish our winter lethargy and serve notice to our sluggishness. A sunny late-December day with highs around 40 degrees seemed to be a perfect invitation to a long hike.
Traipsing over the mesa-top through pinyon-juniper forest, Julia and I marveled. At everything. When you are a nature geek, you can’t help that. Shapes of pinyons, cloud formations, animal tracks in the snow, changes in rock layers, oddities of winter cacti — it’s what makes hiking better than, say, a StairMaster workout. Or just about anything.
A couple of hours into the jaunt we reached a good turning-around place, but I wanted to see over the next crest before we headed back. My “Let’s just walk to the ridge” ushered in an unexpected surprise as we rounded a knoll and startled three desert bighorn sheep. Hoofs went flying, but as we had frozen in place and were not a threat to them, they stopped, turned, watched us with eagle eyes, and eventually returned to their grazing.
There is something indescribable about watching wildlife on their own turf. I feel honored to be allowed to share their place with them, to peer into their world, to study their behaviors and interactions. I learn to ask good questions about what they are eating, how old they are, what is their general state of health, where do they bed down to avoid being eaten by a mountain lion, etc. But mostly, I just bask in the delight of seeing these mysteries for myself instead of in the pages of a magazine or on a PBS special. It’s one of the consummate rewards of being a wilderness woman.