Nature photography, political rants, and Martyman laughs from the ten-time award-winning author Marty Essen

The bluff on the prairie

Marty’s photo of the day #4081: Deb, Nellie, and I just spent six days in the American Prairie of central Montana. On Sunday, we enjoyed a spectacular high prairie hike that climbed to an outcrop, which overlooked an entire valley. Nellie raced to the edge of the bluff and started barking and growling at something below. My first thought was that a range cow or perhaps a bear was on a spit of land a little below her that I couldn’t see from my vantage point.

I ran toward her as I snapped this photo, yelling, “Nellie, No!”

Nellie lunged partway over the edge as I screamed again. She turned and ran back to me. “Good dog!”

I grabbed Nellie’s collar and hurried to the edge to see what was upsetting her. Way down at the bottom of the valley, barely visible, was a mule deer bounding away.

The drop to the deer wasn’t quite a sheer cliff, but it would be slow and difficult for a human to navigate. Near where Nellie and I were standing was a large wolf poop. My guess is that the bluff is used by wolves for spotting, similar to how Nellie had used it. The difference is that a wolf would know the proper route down to catch the mule deer. But Nellie? She was ready to charge headfirst over the edge to protect us from the vicious deer, or more likely—because she’s one-half Australian cattle dog—to herd the deer up to me so I could get a close-up picture.

No matter what, it was a memorable hike and the view of the valley—despite a little smoke in the air—was absolutely stunning.

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