Drive through the upper east-side of Zion National Park and it is not uncommon to come across one or two bighorn sheep. In some cases you may get lucky and find a larger group of them foraging along the cliff-faces or within the confines of a lush alcove where the dining is best.
Bighorn sheep were re-introduced to Zion National Park in the 1970′s. Their is plenty of evidence that the desert bighorn sheep inhabited this area anciently but for many reasons the species did not survive. Just 12 bighorn sheep were brought into the park and now their numbers range over 150.
The picture to the left shows several bighorn sheep at the top of a cliff. This picture was taken with a zoom lens of these animals that were sitting 500+ feet above the main road in the park. These animals frequently move up and down the cliff-faces in Zion National Park to spend time on the upper plateaus or down in the canyons foraging for food.
They are often hard to spot since they will frequently stand very still. Their color helps them to blend in with the rocks, so in order to spot bighorn sheep you’ll either want to spend some time scanning the cliffs and looking for the tell-tale shapes of these animals. You may get lucky and find them close to the road on the upper east-side of Zion.
If you happen to catch the bighorn sheep moving up or down a cliff-face, count yourself lucky. Stop your vehicle or pause on your hike and spend some time watching them. You’ll be amazed at their ability to negotiate what often appears to be a sheer vertical face on one of the formations within Zion. Not only are these animals agile, but they are also very fast and, when necessary, they can travel at significant speeds across the rocky terrain of the park.
These animals cover a lot of ground in any given day and range inside and outside the boundaries of the park. If you are able to view the animals at a closer distance (often with zoom lens or binoculars) you will see that their hind-quarters protrude significantly beyond their rear legs. This appears to act as a counter balance to their body movement and allows them to sit back on their haunches as they move down a cliff.
One friend of mine indicated that, while hiking in the park, he came across a mother and baby on a narrow ledge trail. The mother realized that she and the baby had no course but to go down a steep rocky face to a larger ledge 30 feet below. The mother sat back on her haunches and slid down the face with hooves clattering until she reached the larger ledge. The baby sat hesitantly calling out to mom for reassurance and finally followed suit. I imagine it was the first time the baby had done that and, like many youngsters, may have wanted to try it again.
So now that you know a little more about the bighorn sheep in Zion National Park, grab your long-lens camera or binoculars and enjoy some time spotting these magnificent creatures.