Visiting Texas’ Last Frontier

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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.

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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.

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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

surrounding mountains.

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.

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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.

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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

Wildlife Department.

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

mountain peaks.

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.


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