I accept my first mission to find and count sage grouse. I’ll warn you that there are no sage grouse photos. It’s hard enough to spy on them through binoculars.
I do learn a few things about my home region. I knew it was big and rough, but hoped we’d be able to drive to Wall canyon reservoir before sunset. You gotta drive like you live for it out here. Every road we turn onto gets smaller, until we’re charging through creeks, mud puddles, and over steep rocky obstacles. Luckily there are no squeezes smaller than our camper, and we reach the reservoir just as stars are coming out.
Saturday we figure the tough road trend will continue so we take the camper off the truck. It’s the right decision – huge sage bushes squeeze the road until we can barely get the truck through. Several miles of that brings us to an obsidian-strewn plateau where the grouse reportedly party. I find some old-looking grouse poop, but start to think we’re in the wrong place.
We take turns driving and running back to camp, then do some lounging and bird watching. There are several birds on this lake that I haven’t seen elsewhere recently: cinnamon teal, sandpipers, and american avocets.
Sage grouse always party at dawn, so we rise at 3:30am and grind back up to the plateau. It’s still dark when we arrive, and I see nothing. But rolling down the window reveals a low gurgle-like sound. I drive closer and see a few faint blobs in the darkness. As the light grows it becomes clear that there are many, many sage grouse strutting their stuff out here. I get to counting. Like most amateurs, I’ve been told, I have to resist the temptation to just gape at the crazy birds and concentrate on getting a good count.
That done we buckle up for the long bouncy roads home, where I plan to run a little 5k this afternoon…