Sunday, August 31, 2008


I have two photos I want to share even though they are never going to win me any prizes for ability!
This first one is my favorite photo of Licorice so far. It is hard to describe the simple joy to be had from watching all baby llamas find their legs, but I will admit to having a special spot in my heart for this little one. She has more energy than the other two combined. She rarely sits still and when she does slow down it is usually due to curiosity about some new discovery in the corral. She has already managed to get her nose scratched by a haughty Frank the cat more than once!

This second photo is of one of a pair of Sphinx moths that showed up in the garden last night. Also called Hawkmoths, they are often mistaken for hummingbirds. If you look at the wing action it is easy to see why that is the case. If you click on this photo to enlarge it you will get a better view of the amazing proboscis this creature has for getting at nectar deep in flowers.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


Ken and I raise llamas solely for our own use and pleasure. I remember back when we first became aware of the possibility. We were on an airplane flying from Cincinnati to Wyoming, headed out on another of our many backpacking trips. We had already purchased property in the Equality State (Wyoming was the first state to allow women to vote) but were not yet living here full time. I was in my mid-thirties, Ken in his mid forties, and we were lamenting the fact that our packs seemed a little heavier on every backpacking trip we took. Ken is severely allergic to horses and we knew that would never be an option for us, so we were discussing the fact that there would come a day when we would no longer be able to take extended trips into the backcountry because of our inability to carry that much weight for days on end. Ken was reading a Smithsonian Magazine when he suddenly turned to me and excitedly said "You've got to read this!" It was an article on llamas and their suitability as pack animals. It talked about the fact that they were much more plentiful in the U.S. in recent years, that they had come down substantially in price as their utilitarian purpose was outweighing their show animal status and - this is the big one - that they were non allergenic!

We could hardly wait until that trip was over to arrange a visit to a llama farm near our home in Cincinnati. It was truly amazing to see Ken enter the barn and touch the animals without the least indication of his asthma setting in.

As soon as we moved to Wyoming and built a place to stay we set about finding a pair of pack llamas. We ended up purchasing three experienced male packers that were soon followed by two females and two very young, untrained males from a ranch that was going out of the show llama business. Since then we've witnessed the births of 17 babies, we've lost one of our original males to old age and we've given away 6 animals that were never going to be packers and are quite happy as lawn ornaments at their new home.

We decided last fall that we would breed four of our females and that, no matter the outcome, this would be our last round of babies. In just a few weeks I will turn 50 and Ken will be 60 before the end of the year. We had three new males born last year and, with proper care and training, they will be packing for us for the next twenty years. I hope we will still be taking trips into the backcounty 20 years from now, but I suspect they will be more in the way of day trips than extended camping adventures. To keep making more llamas when we will only be faced with finding homes for them someday just doesn't make a lot of sense. So it is a little bittersweet to watch this year's crop come forth in the last week. Babies are just so much fun!

All four of our females were due the first week in September but llamas tend to be incredibly unpredictable. On Sunday we arrived home to find two new babies in the yard, one obviously several hours old and the other being born minutes before. The first one, a male born to Cinnamon, we named Olympus to celebrate the games ending that day. The second was precocious from her first seconds and hasn't changed a bit in the few days since. She is our first and only completely black llama and we call her licorice. Her curiosity and courage are amazing and I just hope she can stay out of trouble! She just couldn't help coming up to smell the camera everytime I tried to take her picture. The third was another little female born yesterday at noon to Pepper. She is the only one of the three that shows any variation in color at all and we have named her Nutmeg. We have one more chance to get another male for packing when Alexis delivers, but we may have to wait a while for that. Her last baby was called Tardy because she held onto him for 380 days, more than two weeks longer than usual gestation!

Monday, August 25, 2008

White Elephants

Ken arrived home Thursday night and couldn't wait to head to the mountains for a hike. On Friday he suggested we spend the next day walking back to our property from the top of the Beartooths. This is a hike we have done several times in the past and it is not for the faint of heart. It requires leaving a vehicle parked on top of the plateau and walking about 7 miles across the bumpy tundra to the edge of the mountain, then taking the old cow trail straight down
another 5 miles - a descent of almost 6000 feet - followed by a final 3 miles across the baked prairie desert to our home. It is a hike you only do every two or three years because it takes that long to forget the pain from the time before. Of course I said "let's do it!"

We parked the car and started walking about 10 am on Saturday. It was much cooler at an elevation of almost 11,000 feet but still warmer than we expected at 55* or so. The first few hours were extremely enjoyable with the rolling hills and arctic wildflowers still in bloom. The arctic gentian were everywhere. This is the only place I ever see them on a regular basis and it is such a treat. My favorite wildflower, though, has always been the elephant head. I remember the first one I saw near Banff back when I was still in my teens. I couldn't believe the amazing resemblance of each little bloom to the actual head of an elephant, complete with ears and trunk and even tusks. So imagine my joy when I discovered this incredibly rare occurrence at a remote location on the very top of the Beartooth Mountains - a cluster of albino elephant heads! I GPS'ed the spot so I could find it again when I had my close up lens in hand.

We stopped for lunch about 1:30 as we reached the front edge of the mountains. There are only a few routes off the top on this side and of those, probably half, like this one, are virtually unknown to all but a few. The trail we were on was the one used by the Tolmans to move their cattle up and down to their summer grazing allotment on the Shoshone National Forest. For a number of reasons - primarily losses due to predation by bears and wolves - they have not used the allotment for the last two years and there is some concern the trail will simply disappear from dis-use. The next 2 1/2 hours proved to us once again why this trail is used so infrequently. Going downhill at such a severe angle for a prolonged period of time is absolute hell on knees, ankles and hips. By the time we got to the bottom our packs felt twice as heavy as they had starting out and every muscle in my lower body was protesting in pain. One thing people tend to forget when getting ready for a big hike is to cut their toenails. Mine were fine but Ken had a big toe that was severely cramped the whole way down. He was limping badly for the last few hours and every step on the downhill was agony for him. His toenail was totally black by the next morning and I am sure he will lose it.

As we got lower in elevation the vegetation, wildlife and temperature all changed significantly. As we neared the prairie at the bottom of the mountain I heard the telltale ch-ch-ch-ch-ch of a rattle snake. Sure enough, there he was, stretched across the path in front of me until Ken chased him away with a stick. I tell you, I can find those critters anywhere! A friend once told me he thought my middle name should be Medusa and I think he may be right! A little further along I discovered one of my favorite high desert creatures. Horny toads are not very fast so they have to rely on blending in to avoid being eaten. They do a pretty good job of disappearing into their surroundings.

Once home we collapsed into chairs. It was a while before I could summon up enough energy to make a light dinner and then it was off to bed with the dirty dishes left in the sink until the next day.

The next day we woke up sore and stiff. We both know the best treatment for such a condition is a little bit of the "hair of the dog" so it wasn't too hard to convince Ken that we should take a short hike back to the white elephant heads when we went up to get the vehicle we had left behind. The plan was to take my close up lenses and get some photos of individual blooms but I was totally bummed to find that, despite a solid hour of searching everywhere I could think, I simply cannot find my lenses. I know where and when I had them last but they have disappeared. I am sure they will turn up eventually but for now it is a real disappointment. We went up and did the approximately 6 mile loop anyway just to stretch our sore legs and to get a few more photos of the area.

We have had three more Search and Rescue calls in the last few days and I am hoping we don't get a call for at least another day or two that requires a lot of hiking - particularly downhill. As it is, the three that came in have followed the path of the last few: the first was for a missing pair of horse riders that did not return to their vehicle after going for a ride north of Cody. The problem was that during the time they were gone the forest fire burning in the area had tripled in size due to strong winds. We were not looking forward to having to go into the fire zone to search but before we made it that far they showed up at another trailhead further north. They had been scared by the increasing smoke and had changed their plan. The second came at 11pm at night and was for a missing three year old. The child was located before we made it as far as the pavement. The third page woke us up at 3:30 am Saturday morning and was for a 17 year old who had been partying on a mountain near Cody. She had headed back to her car but became disoriented and had called 911 on her cell phone. We were at the mailbox when the call came in that she had been located wandering along a dirt road by a sheriff's deputy in the area.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Chukar Time

Spring is the time of year we tend to associate with the birth of baby animals and birds in this part of the world. Chukars are an exception to the seasonal rule. It is sheer conjecture on my part, but I assume the late hatch is due to their diet of grass and other seeds. Why try to raise a brood before the harvest is mature?

Every year it seems that late July rolls around and Ken and I lament the fact that there are no baby chukars. Then, within a week or two in early August, it seems as though the little grey balls are crawling over every space imaginable. This year was no different, other than I think it is truly a record crop. I have verified at least four flocks with 6, 11, 14 and 15 chicks. It is always the same: the two parents share in the duties of guiding and protecting their young. On rare occasions you will see a single parent with one or two babies - never more - and they may try and join another complete family unit. It is sometimes permitted but it is made very obvious to all that the joiners are at the bottom of the pecking order and are expected to follow and eat at the end of the line.

Yesterday I looked out the back window and was astonished to see the family of 11 plus mom and dad all in the enclosed patio out back. That is pretty bold! Mama walked back and forth across the bridge while keeping a close eye on her exploring young while papa stayed on top of the rock as lookout.

The funniest thing was when one of the babies discovered a shady hole in the garden wall. He hopped on up and all the rest soon followed. I was rolling on the floor laughing as I watched them. They resembled nothing more than a Volkswagen full of high school students trying to break the world record for how many bodies they could stuff in to a small space! Meanwhile, mom and dad started going nuts as they suddenly lost sight of all their small charges. Eventually the youngsters had enough and jumped out to rejoin their frantic parents.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Catch Up

The months from June through September of 2008 will go down in my personal history book as the summer that wasn't. It isn't just that we had the wettest spring in history, making the prairie green and the mountains white far later in the year than normal, or that the brutal heat of the season didn't even manifest itself until August was well under way - no, it is the combination of those things plus many more. The biggest thing preventing this feeling like summer even now is that Ken and I have not been to the mountains even once. In fact, Ken hasn't even been around for most of the last few months. His work has kept him in Cincinnati and he has only been home twice in the last 45 days - the first time for three days which we spent visiting his folks in Jackson Hole and the second for four days, three of which I spent in Douglas helping judge the State Fair!

That is the other thing that is different about this year - I have been traveling a lot in an effort to work toward my NQA Judging Certification. Getting the required experience means attending a lot of shows which means putting in many miles. I have also been spending a crazy amount of time doing the paperwork required for the program. It is surprising how intense and time-consuming the whole process is.

Many months ago we talked to Ken's daughter about having her son spend a couple weeks with us in July and August. The plan was that Allmon would arrive, we would load up the llamas and we would head into the Beartooths for a week or so. That was before we realized I was going to be a work widow for much of the summer. Allmon and I got along fine despite the change in plans but it was surprising to find out how little time I had to call my own while caring for a 12 year old for 14 days! Ken actually came home for a couple days while Allmon was here and we drove through the Park and down to Ken's mom and dad's place for a few days. While there I took the obligatory photo of Ken and his grandson next to the "mushroom" rock.

Since Allmon left I have been trying to catch up on my quilting and other chores but I still feel like I am behind for now.

Even Search and Rescue has been a little strange over the past few weeks. We seem to be getting lots of calls but they are resolved before we get to do anything. For example, we had three calls in the last week - the first was for a horse wreck in an area of the Beartooths with which I am totally familiar and I would have loved to hike in to assist. But it just so happened there was a med-evac helicopter in the area and he was able to fly right to the guy and load him on before we could even get to the trailhead. Then, a couple nights ago, there was a call for a missing child in Cody. Happily for all concerned he turned up at home before I even made it as far as my garage. The latest call came yesterday morning when it was announced that four kayakers were overdue on the Clark's Fork River. The Sheriff sent up our plane to locate them just to find they were all fine and had just decided to spend an extra night on the trail.

My photos are completely out of sync so I will just stick them all at the end and hope you enjoy seeing them.

This first one is called "Dreams of being a peacock". This bunny knows exactly where the shade is and he spends every day next to this aptly named "rabbit bush".

Allmon and I went for a hike while he was here and discovered this pack rat trying out his climbing skills in this crack in the rock!

Here are Ken and Allmon at "the mushroom".

Last but not least - A photo of a baby swallow. Doesn't he look mad?!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Dog Days

Red sky in the morning, sailor's warning... Unless you happen to be living in the American West during fire season. Then every morning is rosy and every evening too. We have two large fires burning near us: one in Red Lodge, Montana just to our north and one west of Cody to our south. Some days the smoke goes right over the top of us and we don't notice it much. Others, like today, it seems to land on us and it is hard to even breathe. Right now it is 102* outside my door and, since I don't have air conditioning, not far behind that in here.

It really was a dog day of summer a couple days ago. We have a very small pond in back that we fill with water from the hose. We keep it topped off in the summer as a watering hole for the local deer and the birds. Since we don't stand there and ask for ID, however, we often find the coyotes and the bobcats stopping by uninvited to partake. Since they tend to get their drinks at dusk or during the night when Frank the cat is safely in doors, we don't begrudge them their sips. This guy is a bit of an exception. He is probably this year's pup. He is not very big but he is bold. I chased him away three times only to turn around and see him sneaking back into the yard. I finally gave up and brought Frank indoors for the morning, much to his chagrin. But I have a feeling this guy's boldness may have caused his downfall. Two days ago I was on my morning run, trying to breathe shallowly so the smoke wouldn't burn my lungs quite so badly. I was about a mile from the house, near the front gate when I suddenly I caught a whiff of something even more foul than ash. I made like a search dog and followed the scent cone to its peak where I found a dead coyote about the size of my visitor. I don't know if he was taken down by another coyote, a big cat or the neighbor's dogs but I was sad to see him go.

One of the funnier sights I see around here in the summer months is the plethora of pooped cottontails. We have so many of the smaller rabbits and they are not the least bit spooked by our presence. When it gets above 90* or so, I sometimes have to watch where I walk so I don't inadvertently step on top of a lethargic lapin. This guy had all he could do to open one eye as I took his photo.

I saw this pair this morning and had to take their picture. What do you suppose they are doing? Dancing? Mating? Dry land synchronized swimming? Don't they know it is too hot for any of the above?!