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August 30, 2017

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Nature Adventure

By Colton Jones, WIB Sourcing Manager 

It’s amazing what you can discover when you turn off the machines.

Typically, long distance travel throughout the ranch is done via all terrain vehicle (ATV). Anytime we’re checking on the herd, fixing fence, monitoring pastures for grazing rotation or giving tours, it’s done sitting atop “the iron horse.”

Obviously there are many benefits to doing things this way, one being the ability to get from one end of the roughly eight-mile-long ranch to the other before sundown. The ATV’s impact on the pasture is minimal if handled properly compared to a pickup truck per se.

ATV’s are nifty ranch tools that make work easier and more efficient, but are not ideal for viewing wildlife in its natural state. The low lull of the ATV’s engine may be just what the doctor ordered to convince a sleepy three-year-old boy to give up the fight against a much-needed nap, but it’s a peculiar and unnatural sound to the local fauna.

During a calm day in the middle of the prairie, an ATV can be heard by the human ear from miles away. Most of the wildlife on the Great Plains hear much better than humans, having evolved sensitive sensory mechanisms to notify them of subtle changes in their surroundings that could indicate danger.  

One Sunday, our family decided to drive the ATV close to a nearby draw that was cut by years of rainwater runoff from a big flat on the west side of the ranch. The draw runs for a couple miles north across the ranch before it dumps into Lower Spring Creek. The draw is abundant in ash and cottonwood trees, and provides sub-irrigation for lush stands of Western wheatgrass that stand as tall as our young son Lincoln’s shoulders.

I scouted the draw a while back on horseback. I pegged it as a wildlife corridor to Lower Spring Creek and wanted to know what types of fauna were coming and going. We decided that a strategically placed trail cam (a weatherproof, stationary camera that takes photos automatically when a passing animal triggers a motion detector) might catch a glimpse of some locals. So, we set out on an adventure to find the perfect spot for the camera while taking in the environment along the way.

The first thing we saw as we crept into the tree-covered cut was a group of whitetail deer (including this year’s crop of fawns) grazing in the shade of a clump of ash trees. We crouched down and watched as they nervously trotted further down the draw until out of sight.

Jilian spotted a desert cottontail rabbit munching on fresh Western wheatgrass shoots. He directed his attention to us after a bit by facing the open end of his large ears in our direction. He was so close we could see the small veins that snaked around his heat-regulating ears.

As we continued to venture deeper into the draw, we noticed a game trail that crossed a barbed wire fence in the bottom of the waterway. Knowing that the fence would be an obstacle for animals moving through, we saw it as a place wildlife might stop and mill around while they negotiated the decision to cross. We decided to set the camera up here.

The vegetation thrived in the bottom of the waterway.  Winterberry, prairie sand reed and an array of other plant life stood tall and thick. As I was fiddling with the trail cam in my attempt to fasten it to a fence post, Jill, Jilian and Lincoln decided to do some more exploring further down in the waterway.

A quiet shriek followed by a laugh caught enough of my attention to investigate once the trail cam had been set. I found Lincoln, Jill, and Jilian huddled in a circle staring into a thick stand of vegetation.  A Plains garter snake was in the middle of the vegetation scanning for an insect for lunch. He stopped and began tasting the air with his forked tongue, sensing a change in his surroundings. We took a moment to admire his colors and then left him undisturbed.

As we began our trek out of the draw, we decided to walk along the waterway in search of more signs of the wildlife that use the corridor as a discrete way to pass through otherwise wide-open prairie. Lincoln was thrilled to find where a bull snake had molted its skin just before entering a den along the waterway.

When we got back to the ATV we took a moment to relish our experience. We talked about the things we saw only because we parked the machine. We vowed to do a similar activity once a week to build our appreciation for nature and the experiences that would otherwise escape us atop the iron horse.

So far, we’ve upheld our vow and are starting a “Trail Cam Sunday” blog dedicated to closer looks into the private moments of the Cheyenne River Ranch wildlife, via trail cam pictures and videos. Our hope is to provide our online community with experiences similar to those we enjoyed on our recent adventure.

Stand by for the first “Trail Cam Sunday”!


Comments

Georgene

August 30, 2017

Great photos and commentary, Colton.

Deborah Abbott

August 30, 2017

I’ll be looking forward to these trail cam views; perhaps others on the country can share similar views

Paul Knowles

August 30, 2017

Thanks for spurring good mems of growing up on farm in north eastern Colorado (Pawnee Valley) with very similar terrain.

Shirley v. Norton

August 30, 2017

I love ranching and wild life. Thank you for sharing these lovely pictures and descriptions.

John ingram

August 30, 2017

Wonderful experience. You all are an inspiration. I love your products also. Thankyou

Beth Flint

August 30, 2017

Thanks for the walk through the draw. Made me really miss that country!

Susan

August 30, 2017

Sounds like a very enjoyable day. I will look forward to the next!

Pat Woolley

August 30, 2017

Thank you for sharing. Some of our best memories of our 5 years living in south central SD are from the silence on the prairie; not really silence at all, filled with sounds that being inside a vehicle block out. We don’t have the prairie anymore but do take time to walk quietly around our little acre, listening and observing.

Nancy Haag

August 30, 2017

I live just a little south of your ranch, in Nebraska, on similar ground. I look forward to your next blog. As you picture and write about my world and life. Thank you.

Pat Lattamzia

August 30, 2017

I look forward to seeing the views from “Trail Cam Sunday”. The story above was much enjoyed. Every journal placed by Wild Idea.is an exciting adventure. Thanks for doidng this. Thanks for all the wonderful work you do for this planet.

Astrid

August 31, 2017

great ! nothing can replace walking or horse back riding to see animals, that’s sure !! and it is quiet, too, no noise !

pat

August 31, 2017

Sweet! Thank you!

Benny and Beth Richardson

August 31, 2017

Enjoyed your article and pictures looking forward to the next adventure. I miss our country living.

Bob Mahoney

August 31, 2017

I cannot think of a better way to teach the younger generation about the wonders of nature, thanks for sharing

Liz Aicher

September 01, 2017

Looking forward to more of your discoveries!

Cheves Leland

September 02, 2017

Thank you. Your commentary and photos bring it to life. I hope to experience it in person one day. Take care.

Vernon Cross

September 06, 2017

Truly the sacred is all around us for those who see with the eyes of God. Thank you for the glimpse. What a beautiful boy!

Jane C. Murphy

September 14, 2017

This is just incredible. Some Sunday soon… Love to you all.

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