Will it never end? That must be the question going through the heads of the wild life and horses who have survived one of the longest, coldest, and snowiest winters in the last 30 years. Just last week the Park received another 12 inches of snow. I don't know what the total is for that area, but Bismarck has had over 99 inches this season. We are 1.8 inches from breaking our all time record of 101 inches in the winter of '96-'97. One advantage is that it will ensure a good growth of vegetation once the snow melts off and the sun warms the frozen ground.
We like to make a trip to the Park for our Anniversary in late December, so after Christmas we spent a couple days in the Park enjoying a fresh blanket of snow. We had seen High Star's band in the SE corner of the park on our way to Medora the first morning. It was pretty tough going through the deep snow, but we were able to get close enough to them for a few photos. All looked as if they were faring well, even with the deep snow they had to paw through for every bite. Baldy and Bashful trotted over for a visit while we were there, but High Star was not interested in neighborly niceties and ran them off.
Since the Park had so much snow, the loop road was closed; we spent the rest of that day skiing the Little Missouri. The snow was excellent for cross country skiing and the weather was perfect with bright sun and very little wind. It is always a thrill to see the buttes in their winter dress, like something from a Bev Doolittle Painting. The next day we hoped to see some more horses when we skied up the loop road on the north side of the Park. We got about two miles in before the weather turned cold and windy, so we high tailed it back to the car before we got caught in a storm. The only wild life we saw on our skiing trek was a very cooperative Cotton Tail, but there were numerous deer, bison, and elk along the main road.
In early March I was able to return to the Park with some friends. We missed the first break up of the ice on the Little Missouri by about 12 hours. From what we heard, it was quite impressive. ( read about this on Ranger Nathan's blog. http://rangernathan.blogspot.com/ )
The loop was still closed but we found Brutus and his fillies, Dolly and Autumn, near Wind Canyon. Dolly appeared to be in foal, but it is probably Embers' foal, since he had her in his band from May until September. Further up the road to the east we found Cocoa, Busy Blue with her yearling, Amigo, and Stormy with her yearling, Rusty. The two year old fillies, Maggie and Maddie were missing. Along the road, against the warm south side of a high river bluff, we found Curious George. Though he was thin and shaggy, he seemed to be well.
On April 3 we were able to go out with Mike Oehler, the Park Biologist. From the Fryburg road we saw Thunder with his mares, Rain and Winter, and their offspring as well as High Star with his band and a couple additions. Sweetheart and her two year old, Oreo, were with them. We were surprised to see that Sweetheart had been taken from the double band of Singlefoot, Red Face, and Satellite.
On the way back to town, we spotted four young bachelors on the south bluff, overlooking Cedar Canyon. Farther west, we crawled under the fence to get a better look at Little Sorrel's band. He was missing a few, some of which we found later with Gray Ghost and some we suspected were with the young stud, Cruiser.
Being with Mike, we were able to take the loop road deeper into the Park. Much of the road was still covered with 6-8 inches of snow and one drift on Boicourt Ridge forced us to turn around, but we were still able to find several more bands. Red Face, Singlefoot, and Satellite had four new foals with them. Two foals had been sited earlier, one with Copper and one with a young stud, Cloud, who had acquired the old mare, Flicka, so the count is five stud colts and one unknown for now.
It is a wonder how those tiny foals survive the cold and storms that still rage through the breaks in the spring, but the horses of the Badlands are made of sturdy stuff. For their sake and our own, we will pray for warmer temperatures as we look forward to another trip to the Park in two weeks.