Bighorn Sheep! / by Brian Beck

That was the call from the backseat as we meandered slowly through Zion National Park.  I insist that when we’re in a national park, the kids need to put the books and iPads away and help me look for wildlife.  We made a contest out of it in Yellowstone and it had the desired effect.  Most of the time Parker is a less-than-reliable spotter but something in his voice this time caused me to immediately pull over and scan the surrounding hills.  The fact that he’d managed to spot a female, so high up the mountain and lacking the signature curled horns was nothing short of miraculous.  But he did, and he was right about it being a bighorn.  I didn’t even realize he knew what they were.

We all alighted from the old Indian and I grabbed my telephoto lens from the trunk, figuring I might be able to pull in a distant shot of one of these elusive animals from high on a rocky outcrop.  As we waited, a second appeared, then a third, and then a whole herd began to descend the mountain towards the road.  Within a few minutes, we had wandered with them almost a quarter mile down the road and as they eyed us cautiously, I had a problem that I rarely have photographing wildlife—they were almost too close for my 300mm lens.  I snapped away as they posed patiently for pictures from nearly every angle, finally crossing the road to the shock of passing motorists.  Then, almost as soon as they had appeared, they vanished into the canyon below and the relative safety of the underbrush.  Parker won the overall award on this trip for wildlife spotting and I got the shot.  Bighorn sheep are his new favorite animal and it’s easy to see why.  They’re powerful, majestic and confident.  They’re hard not to admire.

Like our last day on Man vs Machine III in Mesa Verde, our last day in Zion was rainy, but it didn’t matter.  When the grand scenic photos don’t present themselves, it’s best to look closer.  Sometimes it can be so alluring to capture the expansiveness of these parks that one forgets what is up close—streams, small waterfalls, formations of rock and birds.  Near the end of the day, as the rain retreated, I spotted a Blue Heron in the Virgin River and that capped off the last hours of our last national park whistle stop on Man vs Machine IV.  From here we have a short drive to Las Vegas for some needed R&R and then on Sunday we drive the last leg through the scorching desert back to Los Angeles… and home. 

 A ram poses confidently for photos in Zion National Park.  Nikon D800, Nikkor 300mm lens, ISO 250, f4.5, 1/2000 sec.

A ram poses confidently for photos in Zion National Park.  Nikon D800, Nikkor 300mm lens, ISO 250, f4.5, 1/2000 sec.

 Tree roots reach for nourishment around waterfall above Middle Emerald Pool in Zion National Park.  Nikon D800, Nikkor 24-120mm lens @ 24mm, ISO 100, f13, 1.3 seconds.

Tree roots reach for nourishment around waterfall above Middle Emerald Pool in Zion National Park.  Nikon D800, Nikkor 24-120mm lens @ 24mm, ISO 100, f13, 1.3 seconds.

 The Grotto, Zion National Park.  Nikon D800, Nikkor 24-120mm lens @ 24mm, ISO 400, f8, 1/30 sec, -2/3 stop exposure adjustment.

The Grotto, Zion National Park.  Nikon D800, Nikkor 24-120mm lens @ 24mm, ISO 400, f8, 1/30 sec, -2/3 stop exposure adjustment.

 Rain shower recedes over Watchman Peak in Zion National Park.  Nikon D800, Nikkor 24-120mm lens @ 48mm, ISO 200, f6.3, 1/400 sec, +1/3 stop exposure adjustment.

Rain shower recedes over Watchman Peak in Zion National Park.  Nikon D800, Nikkor 24-120mm lens @ 48mm, ISO 200, f6.3, 1/400 sec, +1/3 stop exposure adjustment.

 A blue heron hunts for fish in the Virgin River, Zion National Park.  Nikon D800, Nikkor 24-120mm lens @ 120mm, ISO 200, f8, 1/500 sec, -1/3 stop exposure adjustment.  This shot would have been better at f4, but in the heat of the moment I was glad just to bag it.

A blue heron hunts for fish in the Virgin River, Zion National Park.  Nikon D800, Nikkor 24-120mm lens @ 120mm, ISO 200, f8, 1/500 sec, -1/3 stop exposure adjustment.  This shot would have been better at f4, but in the heat of the moment I was glad just to bag it.