After completing math lessons, we loaded all seven kids along with two Mamas into the truck and entered the Park, making our way over to Sheep Lakes. We attended Ranger Don’s program telling us all about the Big Horn Sheep herds in the area. Sadly none of these elusive sheep appeared while we were there, but we learned quite a bit about them which the kids then wrote about in their Junior Ranger books – below is the information from their notes:
The volunteers who help around this station are known as the Big Horn Brigade. Before they began their patrol, sheep didn’t cross over to the lakes, and herds noticeably decreased, now the volunteers assist in stopping cars so that these sheep can cross over to reach this important area. Although they drink some water, the Big Horn Sheep come to this area primarily to eat the soil which contains important minerals to aid growth. The rams have horns which curl around as they age; ewes actually have very small horns as well. Unlike elk, which have antlers that they shed each year, sheep’s horns continue to grow throughout their life. The horns have distinct growth rings and, like trees, they can be used to tell the age of each animal. The rams occasionally move from herd to herd; there are three main herds in this Park with numbers of about 70, 75, and 85. The rams fight for the right to females by smashing their horns against each other. December is the mating season. Ewes give birth to one or two lambs in the spring. At birth, the lambs only weigh about 3-5lbs! Given their size, they are an attractive target for predators; sadly because of this, only about 25% of lambs survive into adulthood. By the time they are three days old, lambs can already jump from rock to rock. Predators in the Rocky Mountains are coyotes, bears, eagles, and mountain lions. Sheep's eyes are set wide apart to allow them a greater scope of vision to look for predators. It is definitely survival of the fittest – if a predator comes, every sheep runs for the hills, lambs are not protected! Fully grown, a male weighs 300-400lbs while a female will weigh 150-200lbs. They are great scramblers and can jump about 20feet.
Clearly, they paid good attention (although Nate's attention did wander a little when a small group of elk meandered through the meadow)!
Later in the afternoon, we loaded eleven of us into the truck (this was the disadvantage of buying the iBus right before the trip, there was no time to purchase a vehicle which could be towed), cramming smaller kids into double belts and cushioning the long-limbed boys into the boot! I actually didn’t think it was too bad but then I was riding in the front!
One of the definite advantages of traveling to the west coast is that Dave’s work day begins much earlier and consequently ends much earlier, allowing him to join us for the fun activities. Michael’s week also allowed him some flexibility, so we were lucky enough to have lots of people to hike with.
We parked at Endovalley picnic area and hiked out to Chasm Falls along with closed road. Caitlin and I were horrified to realize that cars could actually drive up here in the summer, gulp, despite its steepness, we were far happier hiking than driving!
The views coming down from the hike with the late evening light and then leaving the Park were spectacular - a wonderful first day's hike.