The Noble King of the Desert
When most hear the name Bighorn Sheep, they think of those high up in the Rockies, butting heads in the snow and braving the cold. The Rocky Mountain Bighorn is a spectacular creature but they are rivaled by their desert cousin, the Nelson’s or Desert Bighorn Sheep. My life long fascination and love for Bighorn began with the Desert Bighorn way back in ’84 when I was part of a translocation, there to document and work the move. When you are sitting on three animals (that’s a heck of a story) and one of them kicks your F3T out of your hand while shooting, you tend to have a whole lot of respect for that critter. I fell in love with them that day which still goes strong today.
As you might imagine, finding let alone photographing Desert Bighorn Sheep requires going to the desert. At the same time, finding them in that vast space when they move about so much is a huge challenge. There are a few locations like in Palm Springs and by Hoover Dam, you find small bands that are well known, but by and large they are a secretive species. That’s one reason why I’ve not gone after them for decades with a camera, just watched them every now and then with bins. Another reason is they live in a rugged word where triple digits and vertical faces are the nicest things you can say about their habit. This doesn’t lend themselves to a quick pic.
One well known but guarded secret place to find the Desert Bighorn Sheep is the Great Basin Nat’l Park. That’s where we found them for a couple of days until they moved downrange to forage. For those couple of days, we had a herd of ninty head, rams and ewes which had come together at the beginning of their rut. When sex is in the air, a big, white Suburban is not even noticed bristling with 180-400VR out its window. The time we had with the herd was the finest Bighorn Sheep photography I’ve ever experienced!
On the last day of our trip, the sheep were gone from the locales where we had been working them. After many hours, we finally found them downslope foraging and new greens and in a locale, there was no way we could access. I talked with a range manager a week later to find out they had walked over the mountain and were in a valley that was accessible by helo only. We lucked out with our three days with the herd, but what a magical three days. You can see more images from my time here but this is just a fraction of what I shot and doesn’t come close to fulfilling my love affair with this noble king of the desert.