The House Mouse, common throughout all of North America, is sure enough common to both Zion as well as Bryce Canyon National Parks. Dull, grayish brown in color, the House Mouse is 3-3 ½ inches long in the body and has a long, scaly tail of about 3-4 inches.
Most often found around buildings, this uninvited guest survives on all manner of man-made things- not only foods such as bread crumbs and crackers, but even on things like soap and glue. When it comes to nest-building, the House Mouse is known to help himself to anything he can find, from newspapers to pillow feathers and any other soft thing.
Considered a pest species, the House Mouse does not originate in North America, but comes from Asia and reached the New World in the 1500’s stowed away in the cargo of European ships. They breed at an enormous rate, bearing up to 8 litters each year, with as many as a dozen young in a single litter. Though they due not hibernate, they typically will not bred in the colder months if they are living in an area that does get much of a cold winter. Zion and Bryce Canyon National Park both qualify as having such colder winters (especially Bryce Canyon.)
Due to their many predators, the House Mouse rarely lives longer than a year; though in captivity they can live up to 3 years.
If you visit Rising K Ranch to take one of our horseback rides, you will be sure to meet at least a few of our many outdoor farm cats roaming around. The House Mouse is their primary food and is also the primary reason we have the cats on our ranch.
The Deer Mouse lives all over North America, and is plentiful in both Zion as well as Bryce Canyon National Parks. Some have said that it would require quite a lively imagination to see much similarity between a deer mouse and an actual deer; with the only blatantly obvious similarity being the pattern of the fur which is dark brown above and light below (though they can be quite diverse in their coloring.) I do believe, however, that it may also be called the “Deer Mouse” because of its general thriving all across the continent, even as deer thrive. The Deer Mouse is about 3-4 inches long in the body with a 2-5 inch tail.
Rather than seasonal changes, the Deer Mouse’s breeding season is more directly determined by the availability of food (though this, of course, is very often affected by the changes of seasons.) They use many kinds of plants and grasses to build nests and often use the nest, not only to raise their young, but also to huddle together with other adult mice for warmth. The typical female Deer Mouse will bear 3-4 litters per year, with each litter having as many as 9 young (though usually 3-5 young.) This makes the Deer Mouse one of the most rapidly breeding mammals in North America.
In the winter, the Deer Mouse, which is quite social and does not hibernate, huddles together to keep warm in bundles of over a dozen mice together. Since they do not hibernate, they survive on seeds which they have stored. Like many mice, the Deer Mouse is nocturnal and usually finds a place to rest during the day such as a building, log, burrow, or even a bird’s nest. Because of the great diversity of their climate, and the fact that there are over 50 subspecies, it is rather difficult to determine their life-span. However, it does seem that the usual life span for a Deer Mouse in the wild is less than one year (though they have lived up to 8 years in a lab.)
The Western Jumping Mouse, somewhat like the Kangaroo Rat, has larger hind feet and smaller forefeet, which gives him a greater ability to spring into the air, using its extremely long tail for balance. Though he has only a 3 inch body, he has a 5-6 inch tail and has been seen jumping distances in excess of 5 feet! His coloring is quite plain, being dark grey or brown above and pale beneath, with coarse fur. Since he prefers a somewhat more humid climate in the mountains and meadows, the Western Jumping Mouse is more likely to be found in Bryce Canyon than Zion National Park. He prefers to live close to a source of fresh water and loves dense vegetation and plenty of aspen trees.
Most of the Western Jumping Mouse’s diet consists of seeds from various types of grass and herbs, though he will not turn down the occasional insect. A close observer of nature can always tell where a Weatern Jumping Mouse has been feeding by the tiny runways that are left as well as the grass stems whose seeds have been harvested and the tiny grass clippings that will be upon the ground. The nests will be built primarily from such grass clippings and are usually found underneath a log or inside a tussock.
As you might expect, the Western Jumping Mouse is nocturnal, which makes its primary enemies owls, weasels, racoons, skunks and bobcats. Its primary method of escape from such predators is its ability to make a series of zigzagging jumps across the meadows and fields until it finds a safe shelter. They are active only in the summer months, hibernating for as long as 8-10 months depending on the year and the exact location. Though they do awake about once each month during their long hibernation, they do not cache their food as you might expect, but rely solely on their fat reserves built up during the few months of summer. Unlike many mice, the Western Jumping Mouse does not make use of a burrow for daily shelter during its active summer months; but only uses a burrow for the purpose of hibernation.
Usually the Western Jumping Mouse only breeds once per year, about a week after awaking from hibernation, and bears a litter of 4-8, with a gestation period of 18 days. Their life span is about 3-4 years, and most Western Jumping Mice (roughly 60%) wait a full year before reproducing.
Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks are home to all sorts of beautiful wildlife, from the majestic bull elk, bugling in the evening breeze, to the ever social Black-Tailed Prairie Dog burrowing his way across the meadow (and leaving many a hole for a horse to break his leg in).
Among some of the meeker animals here in Utah is the Northern Grasshopper Mouse, about 7 inches long if you include the tail, and dwelling primarily in the prairies and deserts. The Northern Grasshopper Mouse is uniquely proportioned. While most mice have a very long tail, the Northern Grasshopper Mouse’s tail is only about 30% of the total body length. They are grey or even cinnamon in color above, and white beneath, with white covering their feet and the tips of their tail.
When it comes to mice, the Northern Grasshopper is a sure-enough tiger! Unlike the common House Mouse who feeds on household crumbs, the Northern Grasshopper Mouse is 75% carnivorous and preys upon grasshoppers, spiders, crickets, beetles, caterpillars, small mammals such as other mice, and even scorpions! In fact, scorpions make up such a large part of the Northern Grasshopper Mouse’s diet that they are often called the Scorpion Mouse.
The Northern Grasshopper mouse is a burrowing animal, dwelling in burrows they made for themselves as well as left-over burrows from other rodents such as Black-Tailed Prairie Dogs. Because of this, the Northern Grasshopper Mouse is often found making friends with the Black-Tailed Prairie Dog. The Northern Grasshopper Mouse is even known to mimic the Black-Tailed Prairie Dog, standing upright on his hind feet and chirping loudly to claim his territory with his nose pointed up into the air. The Northern Grasshopper Mouse has specific purposes in mind for each of his burrows. The Nest Burrow is used for his primary residence and, since he is a nocturnal animal, he spends most daylight hours inside the Nest Burrow. The Nest Burrow is typically around 10 inches deep and is built at a 45 degree angle. He will usually close up the burrow’s opening each day in order to keep safe and to keep a little moisture inside his burrow in the dry Utah climate. The Cache Burrow is where he stores seeds- even though most of his diet is meat and insects, about 25% of his diet is still seeds and vegetation. There is a possibility that the Northern Grasshopper Mouse even uses some small burrows filled with scent from his own natural oils as Signpost Burrows in order to mark the boundaries of his rather large territory.
The Southern Grasshopper Mouse is generally born between September and February in litters ranging from 2-7. Although they are altricial species, with a gestation period of 32-47 days, and are not able to reproduce until around 3 months, their average lifespan is only about two months.
Nature can be rather cruel, at least in the eyes of us human ones, and it would seem that the primary purpose of the Northern Grasshopper Mouse is a perfect example of such, for that purpose is to carry the plague by means of 57 species of fleas. The plague is transmitted to their friend, the Black-Tailed Prairie Dog, and is a means of keeping the Prairie Dog population in check. Because of their common association with the Plague, or Black Death, it is strongly recommended that you never stick your hand inside any burrows and see to it that your children do not do so either. A bite from either the Northern Grasshopper Mouse or the Black-Tailed Prairie Dog could very easily be fatal or at least send you to the hospital for several months. In fact, due to the Plague, it could very well be argued that rodents such as mice and prairie dogs are the deadliest animals in Zion or Bryce Canyon National Park.
As I said in the last article, you will notice that here in the Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park area of Southern Utah, the country from around 5,000- 8,000 feet above sea level tends to be a “Juniper-Pinyon Woodland” and everything from around 8,000 feet and above tends to be a “Coniferous Forest.” However, as you descend into Zion National Park, there is plenty of country around that is below 5,000 feet and will tend to be a “Sagebrush Desert.”
The “Sagebrush Desert” I am describing is the United State’s largest, highest in elevation and most frigid desert and is known as the “Great Basin.” This desert covers the vast majority of Nevada, the entire western half of Utah, much of Southern Oregon, as well as small parts of Southwestern Wyoming, Southeastern Idaho, and the eastern border of California.
For so many hundreds of miles the desert extends, with its sagebrush and nearly barren ground. It is not uncommon for the cattle ranchers to require 20-40 acres of country per single head of beef for grazing, which is the reason the cattle ranches must be so vast in order to keep in business and keep America fed. This is not to say that there is no diversity of plants and wildlife within the Great Basin’s Sagebrush Desert. There are plenty of areas where the seemingly endless sagebrush will yield to a stream with its long line of cottonwood trees following the water, or to a mountain ridge full of snow in the winter and full of pine trees and aspen, or to a Joshua Tree Forest.
For some small animals, the endless sagebrush provides both food and shelter. So dependent upon the sagebrush are some animals that they are even named after it, such as the Sage Grouse, the Sagebrush Lizard, or the Sagebrush Vole.
Due to the heat, most animals in this terrain are most easily found in the early morning or at dusk, though in the winter the mammals will be out during the entire day. If you ride here at Rising K Ranch enough times, particularly if you take ongoing horseback riding lessons, we will very likely end up loading the horses into the trailer and taking you down into the Great Basin area at least a few times during the winter to explore some of the ancient, and almost entirely unused trails that are all over the desert. The wildlife most likely to be seen while horseback riding through the Sagebrush Desert are Jackrabbits, Kangaroo Rats, Badgers, Foxes, Coyotes, Pronghorn Antelope, Mule Deer, Hawks, Falcons, Eagles (especially Golden Eagles), Sage Grouse, Burrowing Owls, and many small reptiles, birds and rodents.
While visiting Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, you will notice that while the elevations of approximately 6,000-8,000 feet above sea level tend to be a "Juniper-Pinyon Woodland," the areas from 8,000 feet and above tend to be a "Coniferous Forest," with such vegetation as Ponderosa, Douglas Fir, White Pine, Quaking Aspen, Scrub Oak, Maple and Manzanita. Living their peaceful lives within these densely grown forests are Mule Deer, Wild Turkey, Elk, Porcupine, Squirrels (including Flying Squirrels), Snowshoe Hares, Black Bears, Golden and Bald Eagles, Grouse, Owls, Black-Tailed Prairie Dogs and many other small birds and rodents.
It seems around here that, for the most part, the fir trees will grow more heavily in the malpais (lava rock) areas and it is this type of country that is very difficult to ride a horse through due to the usual steepness of the terrain, the abundance of boulders and lava rocks, and the very density of the timber and fallen logs and brush in such areas. The quaking aspen and ponderosa, on the other hand, seem to favour a more pleasant and grassy terrain which is my favorite type of country to ride through. In the “Coniferous Forest” areas of Utah’s Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks, you will find several beautiful meadows, which the herds of deer and elk love to frequent in the early morning and evenings.
Here near Zion and Bryce Canyon, the red cliffs stand out in amazing contrast to the green pine and aspen, making this some of the most beautiful country in the entire world, especially when the sunset lighting blazes across the already red cliffs, or in late September-early October when the Maple and Scrub Oak turn a blazing red and the Quaking Aspen a Molten Gold.
If you are the type of person who feels up to spending about 5 hours in the saddle, and another hour or two learning about horses, I hope you will join us on our “Mountain Ride” and see some of this beautiful “Coniferous Forest” for yourself from horseback!
Because of Utah's drastic change of elevation, there are several types of countryside- from the "Sagebrush Desert" as found near St. George, to the "Pinyon-Juniper Woodland" common throughout much of Utah, to the "Coniferous Forests" similar to the Rocky Mountains as you head into the Utah mountain ranges like the Dixie National Forest between Cedar City and Bryce Canyon, to the high "Alpine Meadow and Tundra" of the High Uintas Wilderness Area in Northern Utah.
Rising K Ranch itself lies within the "Pinyon-Juniper Woodland" country a few miles south of Cedar City, Utah and our "Mountain Ride" takes you high up into the "Rocky Mountain Coniferous Forest" countryside. The change of countryside is due to the elevation change from 6,000 feet above sea level at Rising K Ranch to the 9,000-10,000 feet elevation on the mountain.
The junipers and pinyon pine grow well here at the Rising K Ranch because of paucity of water and abundace of volcanic rock and soil. Most of the mammals and larger birds migrate so that they are here at the ranch from around December- May and higher up on the mountain from June-November, depending upon the weather of the particular year. As the weather grows colder, the deer descend to the lower elevations with less snow and more vegetation upon which to browse. Since deer are the primary food supply of most of Utah's carnivores, the mountain lions follow right along with the deer. Not only do mammals such as mule deer migrate to Rising K Ranch for the winter, but also several birds such as Bald Eagles, which feast upon the carcasses of mule deer killed by mountain lions, Clark's Nutcrackers, which eat the nuts from pinyon pine and Robins, which feed off the junipers and off the early spring's supply of seeds from wild vegetation.
Since most mammals such as mule deer or elk are higher on the mountain during the summer, you will have to take our "Mountain Ride" for a real chance to see them. As for our "Cedar Trail Ride" or our "Half Day Ride" the animals you are most likely to see on a summer-time horseback ride are mule deer, coyotes, foxes, squirrels, wild turkey, jackrabbits and cottontail rabbits and red-tailed hawks along with many other smaller birds, lizards and possible snakes. To have a good chance of seeing any of the larger mammals, it would be necessary to begin your ride right at sunrise or right at sunset, as most mammals, during the summer at least, are rather noctournal. During the winter, especially if there is a fair bit of snow on the ground, these mammals will be much more active during the daylight hours than they ever are during summer afternoons.
If you are ever out here visiting Zion or Bryce Canyon National Parks, or just in the Southern Utah area, I hope you will drop in and take an unforgettable horseback ride with us!
If you take one of our horseback trail rides, using our horses and saddles, you will perhaps notice that many of our saddles have a front cinch, but no back cinch. This is because of the purpose of the back cinch. For the most part (at least as far as I am concerned personally) the back cinch is useful for primarily two things- for keeping the saddle in place while roping cattle and for keeping the saddle in place on a bucking bronc.
1. For Roping. Whenever you dally the rope around your saddle horn with a live cow on the other end. the saddle will be pulled forward and the back of the saddle will be lifted up. The back cinch will greatly help keep your saddle from pulling forward over the horse's neck and will also keep the back of the saddle down on the horse's back where it belongs rather than lifting up in the air and putting pressure on the horse's whithers.
2. For Riding Broncs. When a horse truly goes to bucking, not just a crowhop or two but true bucking with the hind feet perpendicular and the front feet in the bit, the back cinch will keep the saddle secure so that, as in the case of roping, the back end of the saddle does not come up in the air.
Since we will not be roping cattle or (hopefully) riding bucking broncos here at Rising K Ranch, we are left with only two reasons why we might, at times, use a back cinch for a trail ride in the Utah Mountains.
1. Your horse has a rather round back with little whithers to hold the saddle in place. In this case the back cinch adds just a little more support to keep your saddle from sliding around forward, backward, or to either side. When a saddle is able to slip around very much, not only does the rider risk falling off, but more importantly a horse may get sores, just like if you were to wear a poorly-fitted pair of shoes.
2. Your saddle is one that we use quite often for roping or on a round horse and we simply saw no need to take it off- after all, it doesn;t hurt to have a back cinch on your horse, even if you don't particularly need it.
Whenever you find yourself looking for adventure out here in Utah in the Zion National Park/ Bryce Canyon National Park area, I hope you will drop in for an unforgettable horseback riding adventure!
Here on the Utah trails, we often take horseback rides that last all day or maybe even several days. Of course, that does not mean that we stay in the saddle the entire time. Since we aren’t riding for the Pony Express or trying to outrun the Apache, but are just out here to enjoy God’s creation, we like to rest every few hours and of course that means the horse gets to rest too.
Whenever we stop for a rest, you will likely want to tie your horse up rather than hold onto his lead rope or reins the entire time. It is important that the horse be either held, hobbled, or tied up while he is not ridden because otherwise he may very well decide to just run home without you, leaving you to take a long walk back down the steep Utah mountainside until you finally get back to the ranch. Not only might a horse decide to go home without you, but he also might find some way to get into trouble by getting into some old piece of barbed wire fence or sharp logs, he might get his leg caught in a hole or get bogged down in the mud, or any other thing might happen. One thing a lot of people do not realize is that, while horses are incredibly built for speed and strength, they are also strangely vulnerable in many ways. On the one hand, having a horse grow up in the wild mountain and desert country does help a horse to understand how to move and how to be somewhat cautious; but on the other hand, just throwing a horse out into the wild and letting him fend for himself is by no means a sure way to help him live a long and healthy life. Even the wild mustangs generally have a shorter (and much rougher) life than a horse that is cared for by a decent man, At any rate, you can’t just treat your horse like he were a dog and just expect him to hang around you up in the mountains- you need to make sure he is safely tied up or hobbled.
In tying up a horse, there are several things you must keep in mind:
Tie Short. 18-24 inches is plenty of slack for your horse, and if you give him much more than this, he may very well get his feet caught in it by stepping over it and then he will get scared, pull back with all his might, and may very well injure himself or even kill himself.
Tie High. Make sure the lead rope is at or above the horse’s eye level. If lower than that, he may well step over it as spoken of above. He also may very well get scared because of the way the lead rope pulls on him when it is tied low, and when he pulls back on it, he may permanently damage his neck.
Tie with the Lead Rope- NOT the Reins. If a horse pulls back on a good lead rope he will not break the rope and will not hurt himself, and will likely learn to simply never pull back on the rope anyway. However, if a horse is tied by the reins, he will very likely break the reins or the bride, and he may also hurt or permanently damage his teeth.
Tie to an unbreakable object. A horse must be tied to an unbreakable object such as a good hitching post or stout tree. He must never be tied to a porch or a wooden fence rail or any other thing that cannot bear the thousands of pounds of force that a horse can exert when he pulls back. If you tie to something breakable, not only will the horse get away, but he will very likely injure or kill himself due to the fact that he will still be tied to whatever it is he just broke. As he runs, he will feel that the object to which he is tied is chasing him, causing him to panic and run even faster, crashing through trees and fences and any other thing that might be in his way until eventually he stops from being too injured to move or is dead.
Just be responsible. Your horse depends on you. You are making your horse do all kinds of things that are very unnatural to him- wearing a saddle and bit, carrying a human, standing tied up etc. He does not understand, nor can he possibly understand, all the potential hazards that things like ropes and fences can create. Don’t be lazy and just leave your horse tied to junk or tied by the reins. Take the time it takes to keep him safe.
If you are ever out here in Utah, I hope you will drop in for a great horseback riding adventure right here at Rising K Ranch!
In Zion National Park, that is, inside the National Park itself, there is only one horseback trail ride and it is run by an outfit called "Canyon Trail Rides." This is a very beautiful ride that follows the riverside up a trail, then makes a figure-9 and comes back down the river. You will get a great view of "The Patriarchs" inside Zion National Park and have a relaxing, easy going nose to tail ride on your horse or mule. Because of the tourist-like nature of this ride, you will only be allowed to follow the horse in front of you at a walk. If you are looking for a ride that will teach you to trot or gallop and take steep hills, there is no such ride open to the public within the National Park itself.
If you have your own horse, there are trails you can ride inside Zion National Park such as Cassidy Trail, the Casto Canyon Trail, Losee Canyon Trail, Rich Trail and Thunder Mountain Trail. There are certain rules that apply if you bring your own horse inside the National Park (such as using only certified weed free hay and hobbling your horse when you are not riding him) so be sure to read up on what you need to do.
As far as Rising K Ranch is concerned, we are between Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park. We are about forty miles from Zion National Park by horse (50 miles if you take the interstate) and about 60 miles from Bryce Canyon National Park by horse (80 when you drive a vehicle following the roads and such.) The countryside where we ride at Rising K Ranch is very much like a mix between Zion and Bryce Canyon, with the tall red cliffs and red rock peaks such as you find in Zion and with the ponderosa pine and high country such as you find at the higher elevations of Bryce Canyon.
Zion National Park receives about 5 million visitors per year, and Bryce Canyon National Park receives over 1 million visitors per year. Each of the National Parks are large enough that they are not too crowded to have fun (at least not if you start early in the morning). Here at Rising K Ranch, we receive only a very small percentage of these tourists, so we are much more free to ride as we please without being crowded (probably not even seeing another person actually.) If you would like to know for yourself what kind of countryside we ride in, take a look through our “Photographs” page on the website, as well as our Facebook Page & Youtube Channel.
If you should ever find yourself visiting Bryce Canyon or Zion National Park, or are just in Southern Utah, I hope you will drop in for some great horseback adventures!