Meanwhile, back at the ranch...
photo by Pat O'Toole
We have had extreme cold. Temperatures were mostly below zero for a couple of weeks, with several days of minus twenty-five. A few days ago, we had a lot of wind which “blew out” our sheep on the Red Desert. In a blizzard with high winds, the sheep just set out and walk before the wind. The Red Desert has very few fences, which is fortunate. In a storm like this one, livestock walk out away from the storm, seeking shelter and relief. Over the years, many animals have been lost when they piled up against a fence and suffocated. In the Red Desert area, usually they can safely travel until the storm passes. When the storm blew over, it took us two days to find one band and a couple of days to trail them back to our allotment. When we found the last band, they had miixed with a neighbor's sheep, which meant that we had to set up portable corrals and sort them. This particular neighbor, from Kansas (where they had storm-related troubles of their own) had sub-leased BLM AUM's (Animal Unit Months--a way of measuring grazing) and had never been to the Red Desert before.
The bitter cold came in on the heels of the storm. Pat went out to the sheep camps to make sure that men and animals were faring well. (We had been in contact by cell phone.) On his way back home (some 125 miles), but still way north of Wamsutter, his pickup developed an oil leak. He stopped on a high point and called me for a rescue mission.
At home, I loaded up my pickup with a sleeping bag, food, water, matches, a candle and asked Nerio, one of our Peruvian employees, to accompany me. The trip takes over two hours, so it was well after dark when we reached Continental Divide Rim, a high vantage point. By this time, Pat, who was well bundled up, but couldn't run his pickup, was getting pretty cold.
I often curse cell phones, but on this night, they were a life-saver. Pat keep flashing his headlights and was able to guide us in to his location. This is in the heart of the oil field, so there are literally hundreds of roads criss-crossing the desert. We found our way to him, and he was very glad to see us, and especially my pickup’s heater! The next day, we sorted the sheep, and located the broken-down pickup in the labyrinth of roads.
The next day
Red Desert, Sweetwater County
photo by Sharon O'Toole
We were rewarded with the sight of these sage grouse, tumbling through the snow.
Red Desert Grouse
photo by Pat O'Toole