I was lucky to have my Nikon D40 camera on hand as I took a hike on one of Agua Caliente County Park’s many trails when I had my first glimpse and extended photo session with Peninsular Bighorn sheep during our last camping trip here. Up until this trip, we have never seen firsthand the famous Bighorn sheep of the Anza-Borrego Desert. (“Borrego” is Spanish for lamb or sheep.) “Bighorn sheep tend to keep a safe distance from human activity, but sometimes seem possessed of a kind of curiosity about humans,” writes Jerry Schad in his Afoot & Afield in San Diego County, 3rd edition, Wilderness Press, 1998, page 13.
Peninsular Bighorn Sheep, Ovis canadensis cremnobates, live in the Peninsular Mountain Ranges of California and Baja California. Wikipedia states that Bighorn sheep originally crossed to North America over the Bering land bridge from Siberia during the Pleistocene (about 750,00 years ago). Bighorn sheep population once peaked in the millions, but decreased to several thousand by 1900. Threats to this endangered species include drought, disease, mountain lions, coyotes, feral cattle, off-road vehicles, and reductions in their natural habitat by encroachments of “civilization” (golf courses and housing developments). Bighorn sheep prefer steep rocky slopes where they can graze on plants while avoiding predators.
After I spotted the first one, I walked ahead very slowly, quietly, gently with camera ready and heard above me hoof-steps and rocks moving and saw an ewe gazing down at me. It was love at first sight.
This pregnant ewe accepted my peaceful company and grazed on plants. “Favorite food is jojoba, mesquite, white ratany, bee sage, desert agave, and barrel cactus,” writes Diana Lindsay in her book Anza-Borrego A to Z: People, Places, and Things, Sunbelt Publications, 2001.
She grazed and gazed.
Other sheep gradually accepted me, while this ram came down with a clattering noise of sliding rocks to investigate.
An older and larger ram kept watch as a younger ram and ewes grazed towards me.
These were very special, magical moments with the great ram…
and pregnant ewe…
After 40 minutes, we said our gentle goodbyes and I walked ahead with a warm glow and beautiful memories.
Such beautiful and precarious creatures… may we be good shepherds to all of nature.
Grazing, gazing, this is amazing.
Right up there with Animal Planet, National Geographic, and Bert Gildart.
The ewe should name her offspring after you.
Bert Gildart says
Beautiful shots of bighorns, and, wow, do you make me envious being down there in Anza Borrego!
Just got back from Anza Borrego desert and had the pleasure of seeing 6 male bighorns!!!! What a surprise..as we’ve camped out there for a few years now and I’ve always been on the look-out for them!
We camped near Bow Willow..and were out exploring with the jeep on some back trails when we spotted them! BIG guys.. who let us wander up to take a photo..and then slowly moved up the hill from us. I was so excited!!
Bill D. says
Thanks Dr. C. (insightout), Bert, and Sandy for your comments, which are very much appreciated.
Perhaps our weather here in Southern California this past year will result in increased sightings of Bighorn sheep this year.
A special thank you to Bert, who knows how to wait quietly for that special magical moment of interaction with wildlife.
Bert Gildart, once a ranger in Glacier National Park, has been working full-time as a writer/photographer since 1975. His stories with beautiful photography have appeared in most issues of Airstream Life magazine since it began in 2004. See Bert’s Career Profile.
Bert’s book, Bighorn Sheep: Mountain Monarchs was published by Northword Press in 1997 and is available here.
See Bert’s blog posting: “Anza Borrego’s Endangered Peninsular Bighorn Sheep“.
Bill D. says
“Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is one of the last refuges of the Peninsular bighorn sheep,” writes Mark Jorgensen, State Resource Ecologist, California State Parks, in his article, “Last Refuge of the Bighorn”: