America's wild mustangs are our symbol of FREEDOM, SPIRIT, STRENGTH, and INDIVIDUALITY, as well as our historical heritage
This was a much cooler trip than we usually experience out in eastern Oregon. In fact on some occasions, it was misting in our high desert, but it was a nice change and we were glad for it. We dug for sunstones the first day, and had a grand time sharing gut-busting stories with the miners, and were fed rather well, best of all we got to play in the dirt and rocks.
After our late dinner cookout, we settled into our camping chairs and stared up into the clear desert sky. There was a crescent moon that set an hour of so after sunset with planet Jupiter in tow. My toddler could tell you which of the objects in the sky were stars and which were planets. The starry sky was remarkable, the kind of sky that you can't keep from staring at in awe and wonder. This was the first time in my life that I sat looking up at the night sky and actually felt like I was sitting on a ball of dirt out in space. The stars were so bright and numerous. Some were brighter then others, and some were bigger or smaller than others. It truly felt as though I was looking at the sky multi-dimensionally, instead of a single dimension like a picture, for instance. There was no "peyote", or any other spirits of influence. I've gazed at many incredible night skies in the past, but perhaps because the thought of infinite space is so hard to comprehend, it is too easy to view it as flat "picture". But this night, there was no mistaking that we were riding atop a big ball of dirt and hurling through infinite space and time.
The Milky Way was so bright; it shined on the sage and lit up the vast desert. The only thing missing that night, were the evening songbirds who typically sing all night after a very hot day. We were out there later in the year, and missed hearing their beautiful songs as they sit atop the sagebrush, distinguishing their territory from other "gentleman" birds, while diligently trying to lure the ladies with their haunting melodies. This night, the silence was deafening, but we still did hear coyotes in the far reaches of the desert plane. They were so far away, however, that we could only hear them if we quit breathing for a moment and turned our heads just so.
The next morning after a hearty breakfast of "everything-I-could-find-in-the-kitchen", cooked over the open fire, we headed to Steens Mountain and camped near the top at Fish Lake. With much detail aside, we drove toward the summit beyond Fish Lake and stood overlooking Kiger Gorge, the giant U-shaped glacial carved valley on the 30 mile long mountain, that is home of the geologically isolated mustangs known as the Kigers. After overlooking the valley some 3,000 feet below, and brazing a cold hard wind, we headed higher, where clouds happened to be skimming the summit. Our son was thrilled when he was able to literally touch the clouds, which moving over our heads very quickly. He still tells people about it to this day, and those he tells it to, look entertained and confused at the same time. I just laugh and then feel compelled to explain.
Fish Lake was teaming with small rainbow trout. At dusk, there were many of these small fish jumping out of water catching low-flying damsels and mosquitoes for their late evening supper, the various tones of the 'kerplunks' sounded musical and soothing and this occurred the whole area of the lake - near and far. We listened to their interesting music while we prepared our dinner. As we sat by the fire, a lone mule deer came to investigate behind us of about 7 feet, a rather large and healthy doe. What a thrill for our little boy! We enjoyed our supper of steak, wild rice and sautéed mushrooms, and dutch-oven cornbread with pre-cooked bacon pieces and cheddar. Our dessert? Drinking in the pungent smells of the sage, hearing the splashes on the lake's surface, and the mild wind rustling the Quaking Aspen leaves, and watching the dusk fade to a partly starry night.
The next day was overcast and somewhat cool, a nice break from the usual searing heat. As we drove, I was immersed in conversation; so much so that my husband had to remind me we were approaching the vicinity of our beloved mustangs. It caught my attention, but thought… "Oh, but how likely to see them this easy and quickly off the road!". Not a minute passed when I saw three, and exclaimed my excitement, jutting my arm across his chest as I pointed them out. I exclaimed without holding anything back, so much so that Rick almost drove off the road! We stopped our vehicle and watched in amazement 3 young bachelor stallions playing, chasing, and sparring. One palomino, one medium bay, and a dark chestnut played in the cool of the mist. The palomino was larger, and appeared somewhat older than the other two by body maturity and steady demeanor. He was a bit weary of us and watchful, while the two younger stallions, though stopping momentarily to assess us, went right back to having a vivacious ball.
They took turns chasing one another, but always returned to where the palomino was "stationed". They reared at each other, threw front legs over the back of the other, and then had a fabulous game of biting at eachother's legs, bringing the other to the ground (both front and back ends to protect their own appendages). These were young bachelor stallions, run out of the herd by the main stallion, so they were older than two year olds. Their soon-to-be missions in life, will be to steal mares and begin bands of their own. But for now, they had a magnificent and innocent time sparring~ clearly playing, but more importantly, testing their own strength, should some day the need arise. Once the handsome palomino became accustomed to our vehicle's presence, he once in a while joined the others running around, but still watchful. We chose not to get out of the vehicle as they were less concerned about the big "metal box", then had we gotten out. Their behaviors would have changed, if not disappeared in the vast hills of sage. We got them on videotape, and some far away stills.
Their mock battles and play took them farther and farther up the flank of the mountain, so we continued our own journey to scout for the larger herd which should be nearby, based on these three youngsters. We turned off on the Steens loop road just a mile or two further. We drove a couple miles when the mustang radar of my peripheral vision, picked up a band of about twenty to our north. These horses were on a farther hill, but we got out and walked to the edge of the closest hill to see if we can see another part of the herd in the small valley below, where they tend to rest. We walked between the wet sagebrush where our shoes, socks, and pants were all saturated- but that was the last thing on my mind. I kept my eye open for mustang mane-hairs to use in drawings of wild horses. We got to the edge, but there were no horses below as we had hoped, just across on the other hill, too far to recognize distinguishable markings. But even as far as they were, it was so quiet, and along with the nearby hills (which created something similar to an amphitheater) we could still hear a couple mares squealing, either establishing or re-establishing their placement in the herd with another ("the pecking order"). That, or putting an interested stallion in his place.
When mares are near, but not in estrus, and are approached by the stallion recognizing the olfactory signals, the mares will typically squeal and strike the front legs towards him indicating they are not ready for his offer. A few days to a week later, the mare will then usually accept the stallion's advances. Even as far as they were, I was thrilled to see the herd again. They were about a hill away from the three bachelors, or roughly ¾ of a mile away, for those of us accustomed to judging distance in miles. After I was satisfied filling my sight of these horses, and breathing their same air, we continued our way to their local watering hole where I searched for more horsehair.This week-long trip was much too quick, but we were able to experience so many wonders of nature. Besides the horses, we were fortunate to see two different herds of antelope, one of which had young; a great horned owl sitting on a window sill of an old weathered and sagging barn from days-gone-by; coyotes, red-tail hawks, golden eagles, and a two barred owls who circled over our heads a couple times to get a closer look at us, before we headed for home. But it's the horses, their social dynamics, and their wild flying manes that are forever burned in my memory.