I really got lucky during a couple of recent hikes, encountering bighorn sheep on my way up Wheeler and Lobo peaks in the course of just a few days.
I've hiked many miles without seeing any notable wildlife, so big mammal sightings are always exciting — especially when I can take some good photos away from the experience.
Sports editor Cody Olivas and I decided to give Lobo Peak, in the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Study Area, a shot last Thursday (June 14). We went up by way of Yerba Canyon, a steep and sustained hike to the top. Yerba gains close to 4,000 feet of elevation in just over four miles, and I hiked it several times last year to get myself in shape for long backpacking trips. It's a relatively narrow canyon, and I had yet to have any major wildlife encounters.
When Cody and I reached the summit of Lobo Peak after about four hours of hiking, a single bighorn awaited us. It noticed us but was far away enough that it didn't feel threatened. It grazed and sunned itself while we at sandwiches and took pictures.
I gave my legs a few days to recover before hiking up Wheeler Peak on Sunday (June 17) with my wife, April. We started out at the Bavarian and reached the top in a little under three hours. At first, we saw a small cluster of bighorn sheep in the distance. Because the trail up the mountain was relatively crowded with hikers, I didn't expect to have a closer encounter but was excited to have seen any bighorn at all.
However, as we continued above the tree line, a bighorn crossed the trail just ahead of us. I got some excellent photos of it silhouetted against the rocky, green hills and blue sky. As we continued up, we saw another small group grazing by a large patch of snow.
In Taos County, bighorn range from some of New Mexico's highest peaks down into the Río Grande Gorge. Sightings are never guaranteed, but I'm liking my chances lately — and the hikes are worth it, even without the wildlife encounters. They're exhilarating when they do happen, and if I don't see anymore bighorn sheep for the rest of the year, at least I can savor my photos from the past week.