Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Wildlife Sightings in Southeastern Utah

         A billion prairie dogs scurrying through dry-grass meadows; forty million antelope thundering across the plains; two million desert bighorn sheep prancing from boulder to boulder in the red rock desert.  What a sight to behold . . .  in the year 1812.  But it’s 2012, two hundred years later, and I consider myself fortunate to have seen the two prairie dogs, ten pronghorn antelope and two bighorn sheep my family and I spotted on a recent trip to southern Utah.   
      The above species are now all-but-gone from the deserts, mountains and meadows of the southwestern United States, victims of America’s westward expansion and—for the prairie dog—of federally funded extermination programs.
      Enough sermonizing; I suppose we should be happy that any wildlife exists at all in the midst of our settled and developed world.  For examples of the species we encountered in southern Utah in July, see the photos below.  Then picture yourself in the west as it existed in 1812 . . .

Two pronghorn antelope near Goblin Valley State Park.
They blend in well with their surroundings; it's habitat loss—not hunting—
which has greatly reduced their numbers.

A kit fox steals away from our Goblin Valley campsite
in the early morning light.

Sagebrush Lizard.  As far as we can tell, lizards are
still abundant in the desert.

A prairie dog peeks out from the rocks.  I believe this may be a
highly threatened Gunnison Prairie Dog—its numbers
have declined over 98% in the last 100 years.

This desert bighorn sheep was foraging near Grand Wash Trail
 in Capitol Reef National Park.
We were delighted to see she had a tiny lamb with her!

        In addition to the animals shown in the photos above we spotted a desert cottontail, a jackrabbit, several other species of lizard, and Johnny Depp—on the outskirts of Moab while filming The Lone Ranger.  (That counts as a wildlife sighting, doesn't it?)
        For more information on the wildlife of southern Utah (minus Johnny Depp), visit this website:  http://www.utah.com/wildlife/southern.htm


  1. Rita, the wildlife that you spotted and photographed is amazing to me!

    This report is one of many that makes me happy to have discovered your Blog. The flora and fauna in your reports is so vastly different from what I experience in my adventures here in New England. I always enjoy seeing and reading about things that are new to me, especially when I don't have the opportunity to personally experience them.

    I'm undecided if I'd actually like to go back and live in the early 1800s, but I'm certain that it would be truly awesome to somehow become a "time-traveler" and be able to take a peek at how things actually were at various locations at various points in history.

    Regarding your comment about a Johnny Depp sighting, is a modern-day film being made about The Lone Ranger? He was one of my childhood idols!


  2. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have wanted to live in the early 1800's—my life as a woman during that time period probably would have been filled with hardship!
    But I AM sorry that wildlife populations have had to suffer along with all the progress we've made. Sometimes I wish I could travel back in time for just a short while—to see what the United States looked like when it was a veritable "Garden of Eden" teeming with wildlife and old-growth forests.

    Yes, a new Lone Ranger film is being made! Johnny Depp is playing the part of "Tonto". I think it will be in theaters sometime in 2013.

    As always, thanks for reading and commenting, John!

  3. Yes, I think a Johnny Depp sighting does count as "wildlife." His natural habitat is more my neighborhood here in Hollywood, so a rare sighting indeed!

    I loved these photos, but must add that it was the combination of your images and wonderful prose that made my imagination soar this time. I tried to conjure herds of thousands of pronghorns moving through the valleys. It's such a shame that diminishing habitat has reduced these populations. (Although I'll add that imagining a herd of lizards galloping toward me doesn't elicit the same feeling...)

    What a great idea to feature wildlife from your recent adventures in its own post. A great read with lovely photos! Thanks for sharing these.

  4. Thanks so much for your comments and compliments, Vickie! They're greatly appreciated.

    I once read an 1800's account of a woman's journey through New Mexico and Arizona. She described the herds of antelope as "rushing like a river through the hills and valleys, as far as one's eye could see". It's hard to even imagine, or conjure, that image today.

    I agree with your statement about the herd of lizards! Although, after years of hiking through the desert and watching lizards scurrying to and fro, I must admit they kind of "grew" on me—and some of them are awfully cute!

    1. It's true, the little gekkos are fun to watch. I don't see many here in the city, but when I visit the Huntington Gardens, they are plentiful among the cacti, zipping across pathways and basking in the sun.