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Backpacker Magazine – October 2010

Natural Wonders: Sparring Bighorn Sheep

Witness bighorn rams' skull-bashing attempts to win a date.

by: Sarah L. Stewart

The Wonder Bighorn sheep’s namesake spirals of bone and protein can surpass two feet in length and constitute 10 percent of a ram’s body weight, or up to 30 pounds. Shielded by a honeycombed skull that can absorb 20-mph impacts, rams clash their mighty horns to establish dominance and mating rights to females during the late-autumn rut.

The Way Pack 10x30 binoculars and park at the 8,500-foot base of Saxon Mountain Road on the northernmost end of Main Street in Georgetown, Colorado. Hike up 1,300 vertical feet of switchbacks on an unnamed trail through lodgepole pine and aspen. At four miles, stop at a west-facing overlook to glass the 330-member Georgetown herd—one of the largest and oldest in the state—which often grazes on the opposite slope, about a mile away. Look for the sheep’s white “long johns,” or rump patches that extend down their legs, and listen for the gunshot-bang of rams clashing horns. Return for an eight-mile out-and-back, or continue three more miles to the summit of 11,546-foot Saxon Mountain.

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