[Note: this encounter occurred just hours before the Boston Marathon carnage. Draw your own conclusions about the importance of preserving wilderness in this increasingly violent world.]
Ram’s stopping place after he first dashed away.
Observing me. And me observing him.
He found this overhang in the rock and took up residence there.
Black snout spots are likely scars from crashing horns with other rams.
These stunning canyons are the kingdom of the bighorn. Looking NW from Upheaval Dome.
Couldn’t take my eyes off of him. Such a handsome animal.
The newest spring blooms are the neon-orange-red Paintbrush.
The ram has bedded down for a long rest.
Sh-h-h-h. He’s right there, 12 yds behind me. Looking at me.
The last ten feet of a steep slickrock ramp beckoned me upward, and I dug my boots in for the final push. Breaths were coming quickly as I hit the top, where flying pebbles and a furious clatter of hooves announced a startled ungulate. I froze in place.
A magnificent desert bighorn ram with fully curled horns bolted to a sandstone knoll twenty yards distant and turned to study me. Heart pounding, I lowered myself to a crouch.
He sniffed the air, locating molecules of my scent.* His solid muscular body remained tense, ready to scramble, as I attempted to appear even less threatening. I recalled being told that herbivores can be put at ease if you act herbivore-ish yourself, so I lowered my head in a quasi-grazing stance and avoided eye contact.
A good five minutes passed. We were breathing easier now; he seemed more relaxed and less jumpy. He sniffed again, licked his nose, and did something I never would have predicted: began walking haltingly toward me. Not for a second did he take his eyes off this curious green-clad flat-hatted creature as his curiosity drew him in for a closer look. In disbelief, I quickly scoped out an escape route should the need arise.
He and I soon came to a wordless understanding that we weren’t a threat to each other. Finding a small rock overhang twelve yards distant, he parked himself, still eyeing me, unperturbed by my camera work. I snapped photos and admired the physicality of this six- to eight-year-old ram.
A front hoof lifted, scraped the sandstone twice. Repeating with the other hoof, he folded his legs beneath himself and bedded down for a long stay. My senses, atrophied from living in a too-easy world, strained to catch details about him on this spring morning. Silence was interrupted only by the tic-ticking of falling graupel (snow beads) as the minutes slowly passed.
Tingly legs told me it was time to unbend, and bid him farewell; I had more miles to hike, more cairns to build, more trails to patrol. But now this day’s tasks would be colored by a vivid overlay of my chance encounter with a wild, elegant, handsome beast. All was well in my world.
*(Immediate regret: the single spritz of Dolce & Gabbana’s Light Blue that I had applied hours earlier. What an affront to his senses.)