When we left Cedarville, heading East, we felt like we were going back into the West that we love so much. The green Surprise Valley was behind us and the Sheldon Range, home of the Sheldon Antelope Refuge, Where the antelope play, where seldom is heard a discouraging word and the skies are not cloudy all day was ahead of us. The Refuge is in a High Lava Plains ecoregion, ranging from 4,000 to 7,300 feet, cold in the winter and hot in the summer. It is dryer than neighboring areas that have more farming and is just as desolate as it must have been in 1931 when it was a nice Leftover place to turn into a Refuge.
Just before we started climbing into the mountains, Michele said Stop the car, look it’s Another Enigma of the Sheldon Range and then we saw another Another Enigma and we stopped again. When we got home, however, we were not so sure that we saw the real Another Enigma of the Sheldon Range (of course there might not even be a real Enigma).
Michele and Mike Moore with “Another Enigma of the Sheldon Range” (by Mike Moore)
When we entered the actual Refuge, I was surprised that a Federal facility would have such an amateur sign. Maybe it was the result of a school contest or maybe the Feds were trying to save money because Congress voted for the Refuge in 1931 but stopped voting for any money to run it. Either way, it was a low-key operation and Antelopes are pretty strange-looking animals anyway.
Climbing up into the Range, we got great view back from where we came.
We did see some Antelopes – this is an Antelope Preserve after all – but we saw alot more wild horses.
As long as we were driving, both the Antelopes and the horses would ignore us, going about their daily business, but, when we stopped, the horses would move away. This is not surprising, the horses are the center of a controversy out here. Like wild burros, the horses are not native, being a mix of escaped Conquistador horses, Indian ponies, left over Cavalry horses, and probably stray ranch horses and, in the past, they have been rounded up and put in horse jails. Like any other invasive species, they have no natural predators and are eating the native species, like Antelope, out of house and home (they also compete with cattle, another invasive species brought in by invasive ranchers, for food). The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has cut back on rounding up the horses because they no longer have the money to store them – as you can imagine, killing horses draws protesters – and there are actually more wild horses in storage areas than on the range. I am ambivalent on this, it is exhilarating to round a corner and see a group of wild horses and, I know, they don’t belong here.
Mike had suggested a place to camp that was just off of the road we were on and he said that when we got to the Dufurrena Rim we will have gone too far. We all knew that we would recognize Dufurrena Rim because we have two of his paintings showing the Rim from the road and sure enough, as we started down a grade, there was our picture. It was kind of thrilling.
Dufurrena 4 by Mike Moore
Dufurrena 10A by Mike Moore
When we doubled back to Mike’s secret – secret in about 1976, that is – campsite we found that it is now an official campsite and even has outhouses and a camp Welcomer (just like Walmart). The campsite also has a hot spring that has been tamed and is now a pool (although it is a pool with a sandy bottom and fish). Our first thought was to look for a place camp that was more private but there were signs everywhere saying No camping except in campgrounds, so – being good citizens – we camped in the authorized campground. Our campsite was perfectly fine, private and quiet. It was also near water and had thousands of bugs. Michele and I are used to drycamping and the bugs were a big surprise (we had no bug repellent and our ever-increasing bug-bites became a major source of conversation for the next week).
We were rewarded however with an outstanding sunset including just the sliver of a moon which went down early giving us the best night sky I can remember seeing in years. In Death Valley, the light pollution from both Los Angeles and Los Vegas have washed out the night sky, sure, we can see the Milky Way in Death Valley, but here, it was more like looking into infinite space. The stars were bright enough to cast shadows.
While Michele slept in, I went over to the hot-spring for a look and to fill up our water jugs. The hot spring was packed but still looked very inviting and I hoped we would get a chance to use it. We were also visited by a flock of Yellow-headed Blackbirds – Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus, try saying that fast five times – which we encouraged by tossing out crumbs.
By the time we were ready to leave, surprisingly enough, the hot spring was empty giving us a chance to enjoy a short swim like it was our private pool (with little fish nibbling at us).
After the swim and after a shower – from the same water; somebody told us not use the shower water to fill our canteens because the shower water was from the pool although it looked to be the other way around – we started out for the Steen Mountains.