An Update on Cloud and the Pryor Herd – Happy Thanksgiving!
Dear Friends of Cloud, his family and herd;
Our trip to the mountaintop late last month was a difficult one. At least six inches of snow had fallen several days before we began our drive up scenic Crooked Creek Road, just reopened after summer-long repairs. Our late start found us in the dark as Lauryn and I passed the Big Ice Cave. Within minutes, we were in snow following the tracks of at least one other vehicle which gave us hope of reaching the horse range. Then the tracks ahead stopped and turned around, and so did we. There was no getting through the wet drifts so we backtracked. Halfway down Crooked Creek, our headlights lit up a little red fox as it dashed across the road. It’s only the second fox I’ve seen on the mountain in 17 years.
We both agreed if we were to find Cloud and the rest of the mountaintop horses, it would not be on the “easy” road.
The next morning we made a trip out to the Dryhead to see if we could find Climbs High’s mother and the band. No luck. But we did see 15 Bighorn sheep including 7 that were foraging on mountain mahogany near the Devil’s Canyon Overlook. A young half-curl ram joined the ewes and lambs, clearly interested in one female in particular. Back on the main road we rounded a curve and came face-to-face with the young grullo band stallion, Fiero, and his little family as they strolled down the roadside.
Next, we turned our sights on Tillett Ridge. On the mid-ridges, snowdrifts were visible under the trees although most of the snow had melted off the road. A huge mud puddle was rimmed with fairly recent horse tracks, but where were the horses?
We glassed over onto Sykes, but saw no horses over there either. It’s eerie to travel mile after mile, knowing there are more than a hundred horses around, but not seeing any. We didn’t spot a single deer either. It had been a really rough winter for them, but I trust they’ll make a comeback in time.
Surely we’d see horses in the teacup bowl. Again—nothing. We walked to the snow-fed water hole. No horses. Where were they? Tiny rivers of melting snow made the road to Penn’s Cabin a slip and slide. Beyond the cabin we finally saw horses and thought we had found Cloud, but it was his grandson, Echo, with Bolder and the band. Beyond them Diamond grazed with Cloud’s mother, Phoenix, Trace’s mother, Warbonnet, and Kayenta, her gorgeous, red roan filly. We hiked closer to Bolder’s band and were distressed to see Cedar and Bolder’s young son, Lobo, holding his left leg off the ground. His pastern was badly swollen, and when he walked he tried not to put much weight on it. I hoped it was just a sprain. The ground was slick and he could easily have twisted his ankle. Everyone else looked great. Bolder was particularly chubby and two-year old Jewel was looking stunning. I wonder when and who she’ll choose as a mate? Velvet was fatter than I’ve ever seen her. I am still shocked that she left Cloud and that he allowed her to go, but that might be because she hasn’t foaled in the past 5 years. A lack of reproduction can result in a lack of fidelity.
I was surprised to see Bolder courting and then breeding Cascade this late in the year. As a result of PZP, the mares cycle monthly but don’t settle.Echo is Cascade’s only surviving offspring even though she’s a nine-year-old. Cascade, herself, may be the only surviving offspring of the stallion, Mateo. So Echo represents a rare Pryor bloodline on his mother’s side. Watching the pale palomino yearling is déjà vu for me, as if I’m getting a chance to see Cloud growing up all over again.
The next day, Lauryn and I hiked out to take more pictures of Cabaret’s band—the four that died sometime over the past winter at the base of the new Forest Service fence. Deep snow covered the distant Beartooth Mountains and patches of snow had accumulated around the bodies of Cabaret, his black mare, Duchess, and their son and daughter. In 2010, Fortunatus dogged the band all summer and into the fall. He has not been seen all year. Did he expend too much energy trying to steal Cabaret’s band? I doubt we’ll ever know what became of Sierra and Zeppelin’s blazed-faced son. He was the last of his line, and the only young sorrel on the mountain. Cabaret’s mare, Duchess, was also a huge loss to the herd as she was the only remaining offspring of our Freedom Fund mare, Mystery. With a tiny wild horse population like the one on the Pryor Mountains, it’s easy for rare lines to disappear and this is what happened with the death of Duchess and the likely death of Fortunatus.
Later in the day, we found Bolder’s band again and were encouraged to see Lobo looking a little less lame. The bands we saw were the same ones we’d had seen the day before. Cloud’s mother looked remarkably fit going into winter. But where was her pale son? Maybe Cloud and his family went down the mountain during the recent snowstorm. But which ridge—Tillett or Sykes? We set up the spotting scope in a place where we could see both ridges. Way down on Tillett near the old uranium mine we spotted Jackson with Firestorm and their large band. Then we spotted two unidentified horse on Sykes. We decided to head down on Tillett a ways which allowed us to glass onto Sykes to see if those dark horses belonged to Cloud. As soon as we glassed onto Sykes I spotted a light horse among some dark ones near the new water cachement. It was Cloud and his family!
We drove back up Tillett and on our way to Sykes spotted Duke’s band above the teacup bowl. Madonna’s bay filly foal, Lariat, was hopping rather than walking. One of her front legs looked broken. Unlike Lobo’s swollen ankle, her leg dangled as she struggled to keep up with her family. As we watched the little filly struggling on the far hill, all those scientific rules of the wild like natural selection and survival of the fittest rang very hollow. I know that Madonna will not leave her foal. The old mare is like that—remarkably nurturing, even with the young of other mares. Where is a mountain lion when you need one? The big cats are quick and efficient killers, but there has been virtually no predation this year and only two cats have been successfully collared in the mountain lion study going on in the Pryors. Despite this, it is likely that up to a half dozen cougars could be legally stalked and killed if hunters with dogs can track them down. I texted Matt Dillon (there’s virtually no cell reception on top but we can usually get a text to go through) and asked him to notify the BLM in hopes they might come and monitor the situation.
We headed over to Sykes and into the limber pines. There was movement in the trees ahead and we stopped. Some very big birds were walking through the forest. It was a small group of turkeys! This is the one and only time I’ve seen turkeys on the mountain. I wonder what had prompted them to come up so high?
We continued down the mountain, and stopped just above a descent into two deep canyons. A distinctive cliff face is key to finding the area where the new cachement lies. I scanned to the left of the cliff. Horses! It was Cloud’s little brother, Red Raven, with Blue Sioux and the band. Beyond and above them was Morning Star and his band, including Shadow, Cloud and Aztec’s beautiful dark roan daughter born in September of 2007. We thought we saw Flint and his family just as they dropped out of sight over the ridge top. It was too late in the day to hike out to them so we drove back up the mountain, knowing we would be back in the morning.
The wind was brutal as we reached the top of Sykes again, but died down just before sunset. We backtracked to the teacup bowl. Empty. But beyond it, we made a discovery. Bands of horses were grazing in the late light, including Mescalero, the dun roan son of Shaman and Sitka. Next to him we saw a newborn dun foal nursing his black mother. It was Polaris with her tiny son. My heart dropped. A birth in the fall can be a life-threatening situation for both mare and foal. I set up the camera and filmed the spirited newborn racing around the mares and his older sister, Lemhi, who looked like a giant next to her little brother. He ran around the trees, through the trees, and into the meadow, bucking and flipping his short little tail into the air. He will need every bit of spirit he can muster to survive the coming winter. The family moved into the bowl after sunset with the dun foal still dashing. Even Lemhi broke into a run, catching up with her little brother. We named the spunky colt Longshot.
The next morning we drove down Sykes, looking for Cloud. We saw Red Raven and his family walking uphill through the deep forest. It was clear they were on a mission to reach the mountaintop. Everyone looked great, including Red Raven and Blue Sioux’s beautiful filly foal, La Brava.
Farther down the road, we glassed over to the trees hiding the cachement and spotted bachelor stallions. It was a group of four led by Cloud’s six-year-old brother, Fiddle. No other horses appeared to be around so we drove on, stopping to glass through every opening. As we turned to look back up the mountain, we spotted a dark shape on a hilltop. Both Lauryn and I strained to see who it might be. When we saw the long, dagger-shaped star, we knew we were looking at Agate. Cloud had stolen Flint’s family the winter before when Flint decided that he must have the beautiful mare, Sequoyah. He lost Feldspar, Jasper, and little Agate in the process.
We began hiking and within a half an hour, we were in the presence of Cloud and his family. What a backdrop—behind them was the spectacular Bighorn Canyon. Within minutes, however, they buried themselves in trees for a mid-morning snooze. Lauryn went off to find more horses while I sat with Cloud. Wild horses generally don’t sleep for much more than a half hour before they go off grazing again. Well, so much for what I know. Over an hour later, I was still sitting on the hill above them watching Cloud sleep. The mares had started to graze. The only foal in the band, Lynx, is small but looks like he is ready for winter. So does his three-year-old mother, Ingrid. Aztec is plump. So are she and Cloud’s daughters, Jasmine and Breeze. Feldspar was looking fit and Agate is turning into quite a beauty. Jasper had become a fun-loving bachelor shortly after Cloud claimed Feldspar and little Agate.
Once Cloud finally woke up he went a few steps to rub on dead snags, scratching those hard to reach places. When the band moved onto a flat near the road, I noticed that two-year old, Jasper, and his buddy, the Indigo Kid (Prince and Electra’s three-year old blue roan son) were in the trees below, watching. They could see Cloud as he grazed on the hilltop. Suddenly Cloud looked up, giving the two bachelors quite a start as he barreled down the hill toward them. As I filmed Cloud, I could hear Jasper and Indigo racing away behind me. Cloud raced past me and into the forest. Distant screams reverberated through the forest. I knew that Cloud was having a “talk” with Fiddle and his young buddies. In a few minutes, Cloud came racing back to his band. He looked the same as he always has—fit, strong, and ready to defend his family, and, in true Cloud fashion, anxious to show off a bit.
The next morning we left the mountain as fog rolled into the canyons. Down on Tillett again we glassed over to Sykes. Mescalero and his band had descended onto a huge ridge above Big Coulee. We could see little Longshot running around his mother. Good luck little boy, I quietly whispered as we drove away. I think of Longshot everyday, praying he and his mother can somehow survive the coming snow and cold.
Happy Trails and Happy Thanksgiving to you all!
P.S. Please consider making a contribution to our current legal efforts to save Wyoming’s mustangs, or to our continuing legal battle to restore the lands in the Custer National Forest for Cloud, his family and the entire Pryor Mountain herd. Be sure to keep the TCF store in mind for Christmas. We will be doing a Cyber Monday Sale on 11/28! Your gift is tax deductible.