Spring was showing signs of coming to Palo Duro Canyon. The year-long bird populations of cardinals and flickers were welcoming back the three-season regulars of meadowlarks, mountain bluebirds,and towhees. Tom turkeys were gathering their harems with showy displays of pouffy feathers, fanned tails, and pulsing red waddles bouncing off their chests. And best of all, the aoudads were coming down from their lofty cliffs in search of spring herbs and other greenery.
It was my good fortune to be in the park when one of the rangers radioed that a small herd of aoudads had just crossed the switchback road onto the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) mountain trail. I grabbed my camera and took off in the car for the one chance in a thousand to see them.
Driving up the canyon road at legal speed was not an easy thing to do. Here was an opportunity to view and possibly interact with the elusive aoudads. They’d been imported here from Africa in the 1950s and now thrived in the canyon but they lived so high up in the hidden crags of the canyon that few people ever got to see them. They’re also called Barbary sheep and are considered a species of goat antelope. How cool is that!
Halfway up the mountainside I did an abrupt u-turn and parked at the trailhead. Looking around I saw no sign of my quarry. When I got out of the car I got a strong whiff of goat. I quickly turned on my camera and closed the car door quietly.
On the trail I walked the well-trod path, my eyes and ears straining for sight or sound of aoudad. Around the first hillside, I stopped abruptly. Not more than thirty feet away stood the herd leader. Behind him were four or five others still browsing; as yet, unaware of my presence.
The big male just stared at me and I stared back, with camera clicking silently away. We were both unsure of what to do next. Clearly I was in his way; the direction he wanted to go. He made to turn and run so I took a chance, “Hey, big guy, how you doing?” He turned and actually looked stunned. Maybe it was the first time a two-legger had ever spoken to him.
A moment later, his instincts told him to err on the side of caution; he decided to distance himself and his family from the strange and foreboding creature: me. He led them at a slow trot up a small knoll with me behind them pattering and blathering soft words of awe and wonder.
At the top of the knoll, they turned for a last look at their persistent follower. I got one final photo before they disappeared down the other side. I was one happy lady.
(aka Tin Can Traveler)