Slice of Life – Classical Conditioning Wildlife Quest

2 April 2024

Today’s slice was born yesterday on a trip to Palm Springs. It’s a 45-minute jaunt down into the lower desert. We do it about every week or two for one appointment or shopping trip or another.

Part of the trip includes going through the Morongo grade, which is a mountainous section, just three miles or so long. There is no cell service, and a sign along the road tells us that there are desert bighorn sheep possibly crossing the road.

I’ve been coming to the desert, driving through this grade my whole life (first to visit grandparents, then my mom, and now because I live here), but I had never seen a big horn sheep in the wild until last month when I saw one, not on the grade, but in Joshua Tree National Park . I wrote about it for my Slice of Life on March 5 here.

Over the years, driving through the grade I have always glanced around the hills (when I’m not driving, of course), thinking I might really see one.

Then, lo and behold, for the first time, ever just a week after I saw one in the park, I saw more. This time there were two or three scrawny, thin, probably young sheep on one a cliff on the grade. I was so excited, but of course, my phone was way elsewhere, so I couldn’t get a picture.

Now, like Pavlov’s dog, I know those sheep are there, so on the last two trips down the grade, I have my phone zoomed in three times, and lying ready in my lap. Then I scan the mountains like a detective. I have yet to see another bighorn, but I keep looking for the reward of seeing these creatures in the wild. Yesterday, I wondered how long this classical conditioning reward would last in my wildlife spotting quest.

I took this picture to show you what the hills look like. No sheep yesterday!
Here are some bighorn sheep I saw at the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in Palm Desert

9 thoughts on “Slice of Life – Classical Conditioning Wildlife Quest

  1. Denise, sometimes it doesn’t take much to condition us and why is it our phone is never handy when we want it?

  2. Denise,
    That conditioning will last a long time. I saw a bighorn sheep in Jackson Hold in the late 90s. And I still watch for those critters. They are majestic. I’ve seen them in Banff, too. Be careful as you watch.

  3. Denise, we were in Colorado in November and tried how to spy some sheep in the mountains, but no luck. I love your line “Now like Pavlov’s dog”…what a perfect descriptive line. What a fun thing to do though, right? Great photos, too!

  4. I enjoyed how you described you hunt over those scary roads I once upon a time traveled ONE time! That is a very scary section of the universe and I admire your ability to hold onto hope and a camera when all I held onto was the door handle!

  5. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for you; may that “Pavlov’s dog response live long and prosper. Hopefully you’ll have your phone at-the-ready, too. The post you shared was such a thrill, vicarious perhaps, but awesome!

  6. “I know those sheep are there,” – I would be riveted, too, Denise. I remember when you had that fateful, wonderful day of seeing so many, early in March. I hope you see many more!

  7. The setting is just breathtaking here, Denise. That last image reminds me of Habakkuk 3:19: “The LORD God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places…” of course, there’s a difference in that it is deer, but the the power and awe remain. Your story – so well-told – reminds me of the times I’ve seen hawks while driving and couldn’t get to my phone to take photos. “Now like Pavlov’s dog’…lol! I see you there with your phone in your lap! I hope you will be able to get photos of the bighorns soon.

  8. Denise, this sounds so amazing! I have seen a Doll Sheep once in the wild, but Never a Bighorn sheep. I would jump out of my wool if I ever did! So exciting, and I’m hoping that you will see more and post them for us. I get excited about wildlife. I spent two hours today chasing two donkeys (not mine) who’d escaped (a blog for another day), and thankfully they are almost home but safe in someone else’s fence for now. Sheep in the wild would be a quest I would be on, too, if I lived close enough to see them.

  9. Denise, I enjoyed your slice about the desert since it is so different than what I see on the East Coast. I can imagine how majestic the sheep and their surroundings look. Your photos are gorgeous.

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