Thursday, 28 May 2015

Action in front of the lens, and drama behind it

In Australia our wild horses are called Brumbies, in America they are called Mustangs, and can be found in a number of states including Utah, Arizona, Oregon and Wyoming. They are wild feral horses that don't belong to anyone.

This is the second time we have had the opportunity to photograph these magnificent animals. Near Cody, they roam on the BLM land about 30 miles from town, but like most wildlife, it's not always easy to find them.
The terrain is not what I would call 2WD territory but that didn't faze two of friends who came with us, one with a 2WD and one with an AWD. The tracks have deep ruts which meant they had to drive on the ridges as they didn't have the clearance.  Then there was a creek crossing and a mud crossing. The weather on the first day was fine and we found the horses easily. They weren't mating and therefore not fighting as much as last year but we still managed to get some good shots. Maybe they have realised that mating doesn't produce foals. You see, BLM decided that there wasn't enough feed for the horses and they used to round them up and do whatever it is they did with them. I really don't want to think about it. In response a women's group that protects horses protested. BLM came up with an alternative of darting them with a contraception that would stop foals being produced for about two or three years. They say it's not permanent, I hope not. No foals last year, and none this year.  Part of the deal was that the women had to administer the darts themselves, which they did, as it was a more humane alternative.



Being in the great outdoors, you can almost guarantee that there will be mozzies and gnats, and they  pretty much found me straight away and luckily this time I had some insect spray in the car.

The following morning Klaus and Melvin had been looking for the horses for over an hour before we arrived. There is a huge area that they roam, and even though we know they like water holes, they aren't always near them. We spotted the group from the highway this morning, they must have been hiding in a gully when the others looked in that spot. You end up do a lot of walking with your camera gear as the horses are constantly on the move. My gear is the lightest of all four of us, but for me it is very heavy, and I'm sure my shoulder is bruised. We decided that the light was starting to get a bit harsh after 10am so went back to our trailer to get lunch. Klaus and Melvin stayed with the horses which would make it easier to know where they were when we came back. We had cell coverage out there as long as Klaus stood in the right spot as he's on AT&T, so we could ring him to find out where they were.



Klaus rang us just after lunch and suggested that we come back earlier than we had planned as he thought the horses were going towards the pond (dam). The sky looked very angry as we drove the 30 miles out of town and we got a few light showers on the way, but it wasn't raining out there. There was no driving track near the dam, so we had to walk about a mile with our camera gear. I was too slow so Lindsay insisted that he carry my gear as well as his own, then as he slowed down I took mine back. We could see lightening and hear thunder in the distance but hoped it would bypass us. Not so! Just as the horses approached the dam, the heavens opened. Murphy's law! The rain was coming in the same direction as the horses, so I couldn't take pictures without getting rain on my lens. The horses didn't stay long and then the rain stopped! They went off in another direction, and just like the bears in Yellowstone, they took off over the ridge line and we lost them. Another trek back to our cars to go and find them again. I was stuffed, and Melvin and Lindsay weren't much better. Klaus has incredible stamina or is it determination? and can keep hiking far longer than any of us.



We did another hike once we found them and that was it, I needed a rest. It isn't as high as Yellowstone but we are at about 5,500 feet above sea level and the altitude really knocks you around. We could see that they were heading in the direction of the dam again, so we drove there and waited. Klaus kept following the horses while the rest of us rested. He saw them mating, so my other theory is untrue! Quite some time later, we were rewarded as they all came to the dam. Some went for a swim, others just rolled in the muddy waters, others took a dust bath. Some are very placid while others such as the bachelors create havoc, run around and pick fights. Lindsay and I left before sunset as the gnats and mozzies were giving me grief.



The next morning we arrived back at 6:30am and you could see the effects of the heavy rain the night before. Klaus and Melvin hadn't found the horses but that didn't matter as there were bigger problems to solve. They couldn't drive out! When it had started raining the night before they had driven as far as the mud hole but hadn't crossed it, which was just as well as they wouldn't have made it. We stopped on the opposite side of the mud hole, and even though we had trouble getting that far, there was still talk about snap straps and tow ropes and us getting them out. I asked if they had AAA. Ah yes, so Klaus rang them but they wouldn't come as they were more than 100 feet from the main road.



Lindsay then decided that a hand held winch would be the way to go, using t-posts (star pickets for you aussies) and a t-post driver. We had a lot more trouble driving out, during the last part we were going sideways, so we were not prepared to drive back in again in case we got stuck. We took our truck to a car wash and pressure cleaned the mud off before it set like concrete. This would mean that Lindsay would have to wade across the slippery muddy creek to get back to them with his recovery kit.



We had called into the BLM office on the way home and told them what had happened. The girl there said that it was due to rain for two more days and that it would take a day or two of sun and wind to dry out the track, so they would have to wait it out. Lindsay told her they were in 2WD's. "Oh, they got a 2WD in there did they?", she was surprised. And you would be if you saw the track. She changed her prognosis, "they might be stuck there for a week!"

Lindsay took all his recovery gear in a backpack and waded through the muddy creek. Thankfully he took his shoes off. I'm so glad I didn't go! In nearly three hours he only managed to pull Klaus' car back by six feet. Why backwards? so that when Klaus went forward, he wouldn't slide into the deep muddy ditch to the side of the mud hole which had been made by a tow truck as he slid off the track a few weeks before. Klaus, every the optimist, was still saying, "it only needs to dry out a little bit more and I can drive out". Yeah, right.



While this was happening Melvin found a tow guy that agreed to pull them out for $450. So Lindsay left. The tow guy came, took one look at Lindsay's tyre tracks and said "no way, maybe tomorrow" and left! He knew he wouldn't be able to get them out, he just wanted to be able to charge AAA.

Klaus had asked Lindsay to buy him a shovel. They used this to scrape off the slimy mud which helped the road dry a bit, dig a channel to redirect the water from the mud hole and to fill in the V of the mud hole with clean soil from the hill along with lots and lots of rocks. The T-post driver came in handy to chip off the rocks from the hill. After getting through this section, they used sage bush to put over the other slippery parts or just drove over the sage bush above the track. At 5:30pm they got out, eleven hours after we first saw them. And the poor same car wash got their cars too, oh the mud!



Klaus was so pleased to prove Lindsay and the BLM lady wrong, that he didn't have stay there all week! We all went out for a celebratory dinner - Klaus and Melvin had to buy new clothes!

It started raining again as they were leaving, and continued all night and into the next day. They were soooo lucky to get out.


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