Desert Big Horn Sheep… On the Road

The Desert Bighorn Sheep of the southern Nevada desert calmly eyed me.

He stood there with his magnificent rack of horns, eyeing me and idly chewing on grass. Normally this shy creature of the Southwest deserts would have been hunkering down in the shade on a remote cliff, hiding out from the intense summer sun of southern Nevada and avoiding people and other likely predators.

The greenery of a small park had seduced him and his companions, however. Each day they made a pilgrimage down from their hidden mountain retreat to graze on the tender foliage and contemplate the good life. Unfortunately, two-legged animals came with the territory. We had to be tolerated.

He did not have to tolerate the large Bighorn Sheep that waited for him on the edge of the park, challenging his right to the green grass and threatening to steal his lovely ewes. In a ritual dating back to ancient times, he reared up and charged full speed ahead, smashing into his enemy’s horns time and time again until the intruder was driven from the path. But the rival was as tough as he was stubborn. The next morning, he was there again, waiting…

It was a beautiful location for a new home. A green park placed just below the house provided relief from the parched desert. Surrounding mountains offered glorious picture window views. The man and his wife felt they had found heaven on earth. The loud crash that jarred them out of their bed changed their perspective. Their insurance agent refused to believe their story.

To get their money they had to have photos of the Bighorn ram that challenged his reflection on their metal garage door each morning. (A neighbor of the homeowner related the above story to us.)

It was easy to understand how the Bighorn could do serious damage.  An adult male weighs over 200 pounds and sports 30-pound horns. Plus he can clock out at 30 mph on level ground. Big Bang. Big Dent. His head is specially designed to absorb the shock. Rams have been known to crash horns for up to 24 hours to win a ewe.

Prior to my visit to the small park near Lake Meade I had only seen Desert Bighorn Sheep as small specks on high cliffs or along side canyons of the Colorado River. They are ideally suited for their mountainous, desert environment. Their hooves allow them to perch on two-inch ledges. They are capable of making prodigious leaps of up to 20 feet to land on another ledge, scrambling over difficult terrain at 15 mph. They can also go several days without drinking water, living off of the water they process from plants.

I spent a pleasant morning photographing the sheep doing what sheep do.

The Desert Bighorn Sheep totally ignored a jack-rabbit hopping by.

It would be hard to sneak up on these Bighorn Sheep. Note how each one is checking out a different direction. Predators include mountain lions, golden eagles and man. At one point, they were almost hunted to extinction.

I thought mowing machine when I watched these three rams munch their way across the park.

Both male and female Bighorn Sheep grow horns but the horns of the males curve all of the way around and can weigh up to 30 pounds. I was amused by this guy sticking his tongue out.

Who gets the girl? During mating season the two large rams would be charging each other from 20 feet away and crashing their horns together to determine who wins the lovely ewe. Battles have been known to go on for 24 hours.

I liked this photo because of the perspective it provided on the different size horns.

Regal is how I would describe this impressive pose by a Bighorn Sheep ram.