Monday, July 5, 2021

Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep - Rio Grande Gorge near Taos

Most of the information in this post comes from a great article in the Taos News of December 22, 2016, titled, "Meet the bighorn sheep of the Rio Grande Gorge". Bighorn sheep were exterminated in New Mexico around the year 1900. Reintroductions of bighorn sheep into New Mexico started in the 1940s when sheep from Alberta were introduced to the Sandia Mountains east of Albuquerque. Later, bighorn sheep were introduced to the Pecos Mountains, east of Santa Fe, using Alberta sheep and Sandia Mountain sheep. In 1993 bighorn sheep from the Pecos were introduced to the Wheeler Peak Wilderness area north of Taos. In 1996 there were roughly 600 Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep (north of I-25, just south of Santa Fe) and 166 desert bighorn sheep (south of I-25) in New Mexico. In 2006 bighorn sheep were taken from the Wheeler Peak Wilderness and introduced to the Rio Grande Gorge near Taos. In 2007 more bighorns from Pecos supplemented the transplanted sheep in the Rio Grande Gorge.  In 2016 the Rio Grande herd was estimated at 330 to 350 animals and was one of 15 bighorn sheep herds in New Mexico. 

The Rio Grande Gorge is approximately 50 miles long and starts near the Colorado/New Mexico border and runs southeast past Taos. It is 800 feet deep, at its deepest, just south of the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, which is ten miles northwest of Taos. The depth of the canyon is 650 feet at the bridge which was completed in 1965. The bighorn sheep can traverse the canyon walls and can wade the Rio Grande when it is low, or  hop from rock to rock across it. 
The Rio Grande Gorge from the north side of the bridge. 

The Rio Grande Gorge from the south side of the bridge. 

The Rio Grande River looking down from the bridge. 
We drove out to view the gorge and bridge as part of our visit to Taos last week and were rewarded with a very close view of 15 bighorn sheep rams on the west side of the gorge near the bridge. 

From there we drove Hwy 64 east to visit Taos Ski Valley and in a span of less than 3.8 miles between the gorge and the Taos airport, we saw two additional groups of bighorn sheep in the sagebrush on the south side of Hwy 64. The first group had 11 sheep.
9 of the 11 bighorn sheep we saw in the second group. 

The back-ends of 5 of them all revealing them to be rams. 

The second group had 10 sheep. 
6 of the 10 rams in the third group. 

So overall, in a span of 30 minutes, we saw 36 bighorn sheep, all rams. 

1 comment:

  1. This was one of those never-to-be-forgotten "WOW!" experiences. Weren't we lucky? However, I wonder where all the ewes are?