As Dewey Stockbridge, area manager on Elephant Mountain Wildlife
Management Area, negotiated his pickup up the narrow, windy, rocky, road to the
mountain top, we constantly scanned the boulder-laden slopes for its principal
inhabitant—desert bighorn sheep.
For the second year in a row, I was privileged to spend time with some of our
wildlife students at Southwest Texas Junior College in what I refer to as the last frontier
in Texas—the vast Trans-Pecos region.
The trip started in the predawn hours of April 13 when I along with fellow
instructor Steven Evans and three of our students made the 273-mile trip to Sul Ross
State University in Alpine.
Following a mid-day arrival, we enjoyed lunch with my friend, Dr. Robert
Kinucan, Dean of Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, and Dr. Bonnie Wornock,
Department Chair and Associate Professor of Range Science, providing students the
opportunity to ask questions pertaining to the college and their future there.
Following lunch we purchased some essentials and headed south to our temporary
residence at the base of Elephant Mountain. Thanks to the Texas Parks and Wildlife
Department, we occupied a spacious camp house providing a panoramic view of the
Later that evening doctoral student Carlos Gonzalez came out for a visit and to
present his recent findings on movement and survival of translocated bighorns. His work
may facilitate the reintroduction of wild sheep based on habitat, even slope desirable to
this iconic species.
Day two, Tuesday morning started out with a trip to the top of the igneous
mountain with Dewey Stockbridge to investigate the diversity of plant life as well as a
chance to observe mule deer and possibly sheep. While traversing the rock-laden upper
slope and just before leveling off on the grassy, 2,000-acre plateau, we drove up on a
large herd of rams not 40 yards from our rig, and before I could get my tripod-mounted
camera out of the truck, they dashed across the two-track road only a few yards from us.
But once they calmed down, we gathered some unique images of an animal once declared
extinct in Texas.
After making a short round on the grassy plain on top identifying some of its
unique flora, it was time to return to camp, then back to Sul Ross where Texas Parks and
Wildlife assistant district leader Mike Yanich delivered an informative presentation on
employment possibilities with the TPWD. Following a question and answer period, we
returned to Elephant Mountain.
At daylight the following morning we were glassing a heavy-horned ram on the
north side of the mountain when I spotted a small herd composed of four mature, heavy-
horned rams. Accompanied by Justin Mondrik, one of our students, I ascended the
mountain, but the sheep high above us never took their eyes off of us, forcing us to
remain stationary until they slowly fed their way over the pinnacle and disappeared.
Assuming they would settle down and feed on the other side of the ridge, we climbed
higher and upon reaching the crest, the sheep were calmly feeding 60 yards from us,
providing us ample opportunity to film the mountain denizens.
Later in the afternoon we met up with graduate student Taylor Garrison on one of
his ranch study sites near Marathon, affording our students an opportunity to learn about
the ongoing antelope restoration program being conducted by the Texas Parks and
As a result of recent rainfall, the plains had erupted into every color of the
spectrum as flowers inundated the normally barren ground. It was truly a spectacle to
witness as we learned what plants were favored over others by the fastest land mammal
on the North American continent—the pronghorn antelope. We also observed several
large colonies of prairie dogs on the vast prairie overshadowed only by the surrounding
The following day we returned to Uvalde, but not before stopping at Langtry to
visit the Judge Roy Bean visitor center, which sustains a herbarium displaying many of
the desert plants occupying the Trans-Pecos.
Following an educational yet enjoyable tour of the herbarium, we headed home,
completing one of the most visually rewarding field trips a student could take.