In The Beginning – Part III

Here we go, Part III:

Now leap forward to the year 2012. My first visit back to Medora since 2006 and my whole purpose was to photograph the wild horses. It was the fall of that year, late November, and lo and behold it was also the same time there was a huge elk reduction going on in TRNP and the back country was mostly inaccessible, and I was having no luck finding horses.

Disheartened I took a drive to the Petrified Forest. There was a truck and horse trailer parked in the lot at the entrance to Petrified Forest, with three horses and a mule tied to it and a cowboy tacking them up. Feeling uncomfortable I was just going to drive through and not stop when a little voice said, “Deb, you need to stop and chat with this guy.” So, I did, my stomach in knots, in the anticipation of talking to a stranger. This cowboy’s name was Al and he explained that he was one of the outfitters hired by the park to pack out the elk meat after the elk had been harvested.

I thanked him, got in my car and drove away. That darn, nagging voice popped in my ear again, this time it said, “Deb, you dork, you need to ask him if you can take his picture.” Geez….”Nope”. Voice, “Yes!” Me, “No.” Voice wins…so I go back. Al graciously agrees and handed me the key to unlock the gate to the park for him to ride his string in. Of course, I photograph him with his string, those three horses and a mule, coming toward me with the moon hanging in the late morning sky behind them.

Handing him the key back, as he leans down from that pretty bay gelding, he drawls as only a Montana cowboy can do, “You know, you should go in with me sometime and take pictures.” “What…you mean ride in with you to pack out elk meat?” “Yes”, he drawls. “Ahhhh….okay…I’ll leave my card and number under your windshield wiper,” and he rode away.

This time when I got in my car there was no more arguing, just the long drive east to Minnesota and home. It was Sunday and that voice and I had a lot of conversations on that ten hour drive (640 miles) back to Minnesota. Getting in late, I unloaded the car, kissed the hubby and the animals, hit the hay.

Monday morning arrived, the unpacking routine had started, when the land line rang. Yep, it was Al! He drawled, “I am going back in on Wednesday if you want to ride along.” That inner voice and I fought all day! We argued about how to present the possibility to my husband of riding in with a complete stranger, a cowboy no less, for two days. I left Tuesday morning (640 miles), we were riding on Wednesday!

The first day was fairly warm and sunny. I would ride his bay gelding, capturing images as we rode along of scenes that unfolded in front of us. Al worked his way to the cache of harvested and quartered elk meat via GPS coordinates provided by the park and then meticulously distribute the meat in his packs, leaving me no choice but to follow the string on foot, and walk back out.

Capturing moments, while riding Al’s steadfast gelding, on the first day.

The second day was a gift! The weather had changed, it was cold and heavy freezing fog. We rode by bison bulls knocking each other about with their massive heads and we were in the north end of the wilderness area of the park which has the most unbelievable views and vistas. Nineteen miles we covered that second day.

The packs are loaded with harvested elk that will be given to Native American tribes in North Dakota.

Al would share stories of his experiences in the park on our rides in! This was his third year working with the park on a massive elk reduction project. There are two that are profound and one that still haunts me, and I keep in my mind’s eye.

The first story is about his mule. Al had to cross the semi frozen Little Missouri, and his gelding was having nothing to do with that idea. So, Al asked the mule to try. Without hesitating, the mule did the work for the rest of the string to cross. His mule would rear up and come down on the ice to break it and repeat until they were safely across.

The second story — on a tall butte above Al and his string, in the cold, early morning light, stood a regal and animated black and white stallion snorting and pawing the ground. The stallion’s nostrils flaring, his breath backlit by the light, tossing his mane — now tell me how you will ever unseen that vivid picture in your mind!

It was an experience I will never forget, but wait….what does Al have to do with Fly Without Wings and Blaze?

Well, you will have to come back to find out!

The vastness and beauty of Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s Wilderness area!

Have a beautiful day in your part of the world! Thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking a moment to read and share this journey to Blaze, which ultimately has a lot to do with each of you!

Hugs! Deb