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Trailing across I80 and the Union Pacific

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Crossing I80
photo by Sharon O'Toole

Faithful blog readers may wonder at the various places that appear in our photos and accounts. Our ranch is a transhumance livestock operation. We move with the seasons, as people and livestock have done from time out of mind. To see all the photos, click on “Continue reading.”

The sheep and cattle have spent the summer on our national forest permits. In the fall months, they trail back to the home ranch, which lies about 24 miles east of Baggs, Wyoming and 54 miles northwest of Steamboat Springs, Colorado. After grazing on pastures near home, being worked and with their calves and lambs shipped, they are ready for the winter season. The cows stay home and eat the hay which we raised last summer.

The sheep head for the “desert.” We take most of the sheep north to Wyoming’s Red Desert, spending a few weeks in a leased pasture on the “checkerboard”—so known because every other section for 20 miles in each direction was given to the Union Pacific railroad when it was built in the mid-1860’s. This pasture is known as “Badwater.”

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Leaving Badwater
Sweetwater County, Wyoming
photo by Sharon O'Toole

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Coming onto the highway
South of Creston Junction, Sweetwater County, Wyoming
photo by Sharon O'Toole

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Crossing the railroad bridge
photo by Sharon O'Toole

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Train passing by
photo by Sharon O'Toole

This week we left Badwater, which is located right on the Continental Divide at the eastern edge of the Great Basin. The Great Basin is an area which is bounded by the Divide as it splits and runs in two formations before coming back together south of the Haystack Mountains.

From Badwater, the sheep and the sheepherders head north to spend the winter. This trail takes about four days and necessitates crossing the railroad tracks over a bridge, and Interstate 80 at Creston Junction, under the overpass. I think it is one of the most dangerous things we do all year.

This passing used to be merely interesting, with the necessity for the flaggers, front and rear to pay attention. These days the whole area is being massively developed for oil, gas and coalbed methane. Not only does this development have a profound effect on the habitat for livestock and wildlife, but it brings an astonishing amount of traffic to the region.

Due to the kindness of neighbors, and BLM trailing permits, we can mostly avoid the highway, but we must go for about a mile in order to cross these coast-to-coast transportation corridors. When we crossed the first band on Friday, we had trucks backed up about 20 deep in both directions. Today was Sunday, and quieter, and I was able to take some pictures. The temperature was about 5 degrees, with a brisk wind.

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Sharing the highway
photo by Sharon O'Toole

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Waiting for the sheep
photo by Sharon O'Toole

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Under the Interstate
photo by Sharon O'Toole

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Passing the on-ramp, and almost there
photo by Sharon O'Toole

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Suzie, wishing she were outside
photo by Sharon O'Toole

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About Pat & Sharon O'Toole

Sharon O'Toole
Pat and Sharon O’Toole are ranchers in the Little Snake River Valley near Savery, Wyoming, right on the Colorado-Wyoming border. They raise cattle, sheep, horses, dogs and children. Pat “immigrated” from Florida in 1970. He attended Colorado State University, where he met Sharon when both worked for the campus newspaper. Sharon grew up on their ranch, where they live and work with her father, their daughter, son and granddaughter (soon to be grandchildren!). Pat is a “water buffalo” and has served in the Wyoming House of Representatives (1986-1992), on the President’s Western Water Policy Review Advisory Commission, and is the current President of the Family Farm Alliance, which advocates for farmers, ranchers and irrigators. Sharon is an author, poet and journalist. She writes extensively on Western issues and is a columnist for “The Shepherd” magazine. Pat and Sharon are the parents of three children: Meghan, 27; Bridget, 26; and Eamon, 20.
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