Twice I had to stop and tighten the leather cinch on my saddle. It kept sliding to the right and I felt like I was riding on a slant about to fall off. Each time I dismounted to make the adjustment my horse, named Charlie, would take a deep breath filling his lungs with air.
When I remounted he would exhale and loosen the saddle again. He thought he was tricky but I got him the third time, stalling long enough to get those straps tight and my saddle straight.
This was my first photo assignment that covered a cattle drive. I had been on many pack trips into the wilderness and photographed more than a dozen rodeos, but this was my first real working cowboy experience.
The Centennial Mountains in Southwest Montana cover a swathe of some 28,000 acres and has some of Montana’s best wild and very rugged country. They connect the northern Rocky Mountains with the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
This rough range runs along the Idaho-Montana border south east of Dillon, Montana with prime vistas and a notable wildlife population. http://www.dillonmontana.net
Native American tribes, especially the Shoshone-Bannock and the Nez Perce knew the Centennial Valley very well as it was a favored travel route between the headwaters of Big Hole River and Yellowstone country to the east.
At the base of the Centennial Mountains on the north side is the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. Red Rock Lakes is designated a National Natural Landmark, (http://www.redrocks.fws.gov/) as well as one of the few marshland Wilderness Areas in the United States.
Its diverse natural habitat provides an ideal nesting environment not only for swans, Sandhill cranes and other waterfowl but numerous hawks, eagles and peregrine falcons. The massive Centennial Range protects the valley and dominates the southern skyline blocking any view of Idaho.
Some years ago I taught Wilderness Photography Workshops through a local guest ranch that borders the Refuge so I was very familiar with the geology and terrain we were working the cattle into. Our ride was slow and very dusty as we moved 250 head of cattle from the Matador Ranch into the broad picturesque Centennial valley.
Although there were a dozen riders it was really the Australian Shepherd and Blue Healer dogs that did most of the work. Just a few barks and nips kept the cows bunched as they herded them in the right direction.
Three of the drovers chased down the strays that would take off running into the sage bellowing and crying out as if a bug had just bit them in the butt.
The quarter horses we rode knew just what to do. They could turn on a dime nosing the cows around not letting any steer get ahead of them. Actually, those of us ridding drag just took in the sights and occasionally cracked a bullwhip, more for the fun of it then a disciplinary tactic against a steer.
Two of my fellow riders were writers on this project so I just worked on some action shots of wranglers, faces and expressions. Only once was I able to get in front of the herd to photograph the oncoming steers and cows.
This was a bit disappointing to me. At times when on an assignment you have to accept what is offered, when you are a guest, even after you try to explain why you are there and the kind of imagery you want to expose for, to tell your story. Sometimes, you just can’t push the issue. You have to make the best of it.
I accepted the issue at hand and still enjoyed the day. I photographed the basics for the story and played cowboy working on my horsemanship.
In the distance from the hills behinds us in the west, just barely above pine tree level, we could hear honking. Even above the constant moos and bellows of calves and cows, it grew louder. Then perhaps fifty or more Trumpeter Swans flying in a tight V formation zoomed overhead soaring toward the Red Rock marshes. Honking was so loud even the steers and horses looked up to see what was going on.
It was as if the world stopped, the entire herd, horses and riders were suddenly silent and a vortex opened allowing the flight of trumpeting white swans to pass through, channeled directly to the lakes just below us.
A whip crack snapped in the air, the vortex closed and the cattle drive was back on.
Photographs used in this post are copyrighted by Wayne Scherr, Range of Vision Photography, 2009, All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in any manner is prohibited without the written permission of Wayne Scherr, Range of Vision Photography. My image catalog can be viewed at http://www.rangeofvisionphotos.com. You can contact me through this blog or through email at: firstname.lastname@example.org