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A day on the Winter Range: 1-6-23


It is snowing. The sheep can’t handle much more of it. It is already covering everything. All of the grass, all of the salt sage, all of the bushes they survive on through the winter. The only thing that isn’t completely covered yet is the tops of the sagebrush, barely. Our pickups can’t handle much more snow either. The roads are drifted in, the ditches we must cross are filled, and there’s two feet of snow everywhere else. For this reason we travel in two’s, in case one of us gets stuck we can pull each other out. My mom leads the way in her red flatbed Ford, loaded down with 28 sacs of corn, 8 bales of hay, and a blue 55 gallon barrel of water. I am following behind with 14 sacs of corn, 2 sacks of dog food, wood, and my 3 dogs.



While still on the paved gas plant road, we pass a neighboring outfit's sheep camp. The herd is surrounding the pickup and flatbed trailer full of hay that is getting fed to them. They have succumbed to Mother Nature. I pray that we don’t have to as well, although it is not looking promising. We come to a stop not far after passing the “lucky” herd. It’s the end of our easy travels. I pull on my coveralls and coat, grab a set of heavy duty tire chains from the back of the pickup, and hook them around my two back tires. My mom does the same.


For some time we are on a decent two- track road, which eventually turns into a very buried road, which you can’t tell is a road except for the snow is deeper in it than out of it. We drive through the sagebrush to the side of the road, crossing through the deeper snow of the road to avoid even deeper drifts on the previous side. As we get further into the snowy tundra, I can no longer see any resemblance of a road. I cannot see anything. How can my mom even tell where we are! Everything is blindingly white. The white is like a blanket, like a wall. There is no way through it or around it. It encompasses everything, making me feel claustrophobic. The only things I can see are the tops of the sagebrush surrounding me, my mom’s pickup in front of me, and the barely visible tire tracks of my mom’s that I am trying to follow with much concentration.

I see an old yellow barrel that appears to be on a bit of a ridge. We begin a descent down the hill from the barrel, and I can tell where the road is because of the tall yellow bunch grass peeking out of the snow on either side of it. I can finally tell exactly where we are! As my mom finds our way down the gradual slope, she blindly finds a gully that engulfs her tires and brings her to an immediate stop. I pull up close enough to reach the tow strap from her pickup to mine. After a few hard tugs, her pickup pops up out of it, and we begin on a different route.



We finally make it to the bottom where I can see the large sagebrush that grows along the length of the creek. We cross the dry creek with surprising ease, and continue driving alongside it until we see yellow signs signifying a pipeline. My mom turns right and we drive with the signs all the way to the top of the hill. I know there is a road along these signs somewhere, but neither of us can tell where it is or if we are on it. As we reach the top, I faintly see two men horseback with a third horse on the ridge to my right. The snow must be clearing a little because I can actually see the next ridge over now! Where they wait is where we will move their camp, we continue driving along the ridge in the opposite direction. Another descent, and one last climb until I can see the blue of the commissary and the outline of the camp. When we get out to hook up, my mom informs me that her back left tire is low. We pray to make it to the next camp spot where we will air it up with our portable air compressor. Who gets a flat tire in 2 feet of snow?


With my mom hooked onto the camp, and the commissary behind me, we make our way back towards where we saw the guys. As I am climbing up on the ridge, I see my left tire chain fly off my tire! I keep going until I make it to more level ground, run back for my very essential piece of equipment, strap it back on, and continue on my way.


We finally make it to where the sheep, dogs, and men are awaiting our arrival. As soon as we unhook, the work begins. Mequias takes care of the horses at the commissary and cleans out the inside of the wagon for the incoming 28 corn sacs and bales of hay. David hastily begins tossing his 5 gallon water jugs out of the camp for me to fill with water from the siphoned hose, and organizing the contents that were packed for the move. My mom begins putting air in her low tire, before helping David set up his camp. In the meantime, the herd of sheep is making its way to the camp, ready for their daily corn. My mom drives the pickup around the open area of the camp, while David and I fill the tire tracks on both sides with corn. We feed 14 sacs to the excited ewes, who still look good and healthy despite the harsh conditions.


It’s about 4:00 when we finish with everything and begin our trek back out of there. Thankfully the snow has subsided and the setting sun is lighting our previously blind way. We make it to the bottom of the pipeline road when my mom’s tire is too low to continue driving on it anymore. We take the chain off, find the broken leaf spring that likely put the hole in the tire, put the spare on, and rechain it up. We make it the rest of the way out with no problems, other than the fact that I don’t have an ice cold beer for after our long, stressful day.



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