Despite growing up in Colorado, I had never used snowshoes before...but today was the day! A long-time Dubois local generously invited us out, despite the -10 degree F weather (a record low, even for me). We bundled up and started driving toward Togwotee Pass, which I hear pronounced around town as TOE-guh-dee.
Our destination was Brooks Lake Creek Falls, and after buckling into our snowshoes, which function just like snowboard bindings over your boots, we started our sub-zero trek into the powdery landscape. I was quite surprised and pleased to find that the snowshoes were insanely lightweight - besides having magical properties that keep you suspended on top of snow that would otherwise leave you hip-deep. Amazing! We zipped across the meadow in no time, and the view of the pine trees across from us was postcard-status.
As we headed uphill, I was grateful not to be blazing the trail...but this short jaunt through the woods was a perfect introduction to a new sport, and before we reached the top, I had already decided I wanted snowshoes of my own.
Though the waterfall that tempted us here was completely obscured by the aftermath of the recent storm, it was still a lovely view across the canyon. With sound buffered by the fresh blanket of snow, the quiet was fabulous, even so close to Highway 26.
We went off-trail on the way back, including a few waist-deep steps off the packed snow...a moment when you realize that what feels like six inches of snow is actually taller than you are...and the whole experience was a perfect taste for all the snowy goodness and exhilarating risks these mountains have to offer.
Not ready to call it a day just yet, we pressed on in search of Bighorn Sheep, which I had yet to see in the two weeks that had blown by since our arrival. Our friendly guide knowingly lead us to the Painted Hills community, where it wasn't long before I spotted the first of our quarry...and after a little more searching, we came across the rest of the herd. Most of them were settled down in the snow, calmly chewing their cud as if they hadn't a care in the world.
I marveled at what it must be like as a wild animal, dealing with such bitter weather out of the blue. Without the privilege of weather apps, adjustable thermostats, and cozy comforters, I can't imagine what it would be like to jerk awake in the midst of a winter storm and have nothing but your own skin to protect you. I presume these bighorns have a winter coat similar to horses that actually insulates them even with snow covering their backs, and animals also seem to have a sense about the weather, so maybe it doesn't shock them when a storm blows in, overnight. Either way, the manner in which these mountain creatures handle the weather with such resilience is impressive, and I was happy to have finally caught a glimpse of their quiet stoicism.
To top the day off, I caught sight of a huge raptor circling overhead, and while it obviously wasn't a bald eagle, it looked too big to be a hawk. After doing some research on the unique pattern beneath its wings, I believe it was a juvenile Golden Eagle. I look forward to capturing a clear picture of one in the future - I'm sure there will be plenty of opportunities, as we are just beginning to explore all that Dubois and the surrounding mountains have to offer!