During September 2019 I visited the United States to attend the 7th World Mountain Ungulate Conference. Before and after I had a total of 10 days to look for wildlife. This time was mainly dedicated for the search and documentation of caprinae species. But I wanted to make a compromise between finding my target species / subspecies – Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, Desert Bighorn Sheep, Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep – and visit some of the most famous National Parks in the US Southwest. 

The main places I came through were Grand Teton National Park (NP), Yellowstone NP, Yosemite NP, Cottonwood Lakes / Southern Sierra Nevada, Mojave National Preserve, Grand Canyon NP, Arches NP, Canyonland NP. During the 10-day-loop I covered around 5.000 kilometres.

Grand Teton National Park

Coming from Salt Lake City I arrive in the afternoon. I get some information in the visitor center and buy bear spray. Only a few hours are left for observing wildlife. I run into two Mule Deer stags at Gros Ventre campground and several Pronghorns on Mormon Row Road. At the end of that road are the remains of a homestead. Some Mountain Bluebirds use the property today.

Mountain Bluebird
Sialia currucoides

Night time is mammal time:

Erethizon dorsatum
Nordamerikanischer Baumstachler
A really uncooperative Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) – Sumpfohreule. It is not willing to let me have a closer look at the mouse it is having for dinner. Besides some other id features I can see that the tail is bicoloured. So it is probably the same species as the fellow below …
Deer Mouse
Peromyscus maniculatus 

There are several of these mice, all very shy. This one doesn’t pay attention to my presence, because it is busily gnawing on a dead frog.

Along a small creek near the homestead I notice striped sedges and eventually a rodent. Going by its dark colour, short tail, large size, habitat and distribution, I believe it is a Water Vole.

Antilocapra americana

Early next morning I take a short walk around String Lake.

String Lake (I think it was this lake …), Grand Teton NP: What a morning!
Red Squirrel 
Tamasciurus hudsonicus
Gemeines Rothörnchen

According to distribution it can only be that species, but upperparts appear pretty greyish – as in a Chickaree.

White-tailed Deer
Odocoileus virginianus 

I see this species (lower left corner) during breakfast at Jackson Lake Lodge. When it suddenly runs off, its waving tail makes it determinable. Sandhill Cranes are also around in these meadows.

Sandhill Crane
Antigone canadensis

Yellowstone National Park

Soon after breakfast I arrive in the world’s first National Park. I have one day to explore it and discover its great wildlife.

 Bison bison
Amerikanischer Bison
Brewer’s Blackbird
Euphagus cyanocephalus
Red Squirrel 
Tamasciurus hudsonicus
Gemeines Rothörnchen
Yellowstone forest, canyon and hot springs

For Mount Washburn I have scheduled a bit more time – enough to hike to the top. It is probably the best place to see Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep in Yellowstone NP. And in September the alpine meadows are supposed to be also good for Grizzly.

Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep
Ovis canadensis canadensis
Rocky Mountain-Dickhornschaf 

More images and info concerning this subspecies are included in my Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep chapter.

And what the Grizzly concerns I really try hard and scan the slopes repeatedly with my binoculars. And eventually it pays off:

Ursus arctos horribilis 

And then, just minutes after being on the road again after Mt. Washburn, there’s a Black Bear crossing the road, giving me just enough time for a click.

Black Bear
 Ursus americanus
Rocky Mountain Mule Deer 
Odocoileus hemionus hemionus
Cervus canadensis

The last mammals of the day is a herd of elk in Mammoth in somebody’s backyard. The next morning I arrive in Bozeman, Montana, to attend the conference. Great folks there (Homo sapiens), but rather domesticated. No wildlife. But on the forth day we go on a field trip, again to Yellowstone. I add Mountain Coyote and Mountain Goat on my trip list. After our return to Bozeman and a shandy I set out for a 1400-km-trip to California. Next evening I reach Lee Vining on the eastern foot of the Sierras.

Sierra Nevada

Approaching the Sierra Nevada from the East
Least Chipmunk
Neotamias minimus 
Kleines Streifenhörnchen
White-crowned Sparrow
Zonotrichia leucophrys

The next day is planned for a day trip to Mono Pass: Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep habitat! And there is lots to discover on the way:

Mearns‘ Coyote
Canis latrans mearnsi
Lodgepole Chipmunk
Neotamias speciosus 
Clark’s nutcracker 
Nucifraga columbiana
Belding’s Ground Squirrel
Urocitellus beldingiSpermophilus beldingi
Belding’s Ground Squirrel
Douglas‘ Squirrel
Tamiasciurus douglasii 
Douglas‘ Squirrel
Inyo Mule Deer
O. h. inyoensis

… and eventually it is not difficult to find the sheep.

Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep
Ovis canadensis sierrae 
Sierra Nevada-Dickhornschaf 

I photograph these three females in a herd of 14 around Mono Pass (3231 m). Mostly it is difficult to see subspeciesspecific differences in caprinae females in the field. It is different with Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep: The wide flaring horns (tip-to-tip distance) are conspicuous. Compare with Rocky Mountain Sheep above! More photos and info.

… and after the hike there is just enough time to get a glimpse of famous Half Dome …

Half Dome, north side, seen from Olmsted Point

Next morning I am on my way to Cottonwood Lakes via Bishop, further south in the Sierras.

Sunrise on the east side of the Sierra Nevada, south of Lee Vining
The Great Basin, east of the Sierra Nevada, near Lone Pine

Cottonwood Lakes / Sierra Nevada

I choose this site because it is supposed to be good for male Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep during the summer. I plan three days: One to hike in from Cottonwood Lakes Walk in Campground. One to explore the area. One to get out. It’s worth staying much longer.

Cottonwood Lakes: an incredibly beautiful place!
Golden-manteled Ground Squirrel
Callospermophilus lateralis
Yellow-bellied Marmot 
 (Marmota flaviventris)
Yellow-bellied Marmot
American Pika
Ochotona princeps
Amerikanischer Pfeifhase
Mearns‘ Coyote
C. l. mearnsi

This big male from west of Cottonwood Lakes has a very wolfish head!

Inyo Mule Deer
O. h. inyoensis
unidentified chipmunk from the Cottonwood Lakes area

I contact Mark Chappell, Professor (Emeritus), who did his phd on chipmunks. He believes it’s either Lodgepole Chipmunk or Yellow-pine Chipmunk.

Mountain Chickadee 
Poecile gambeli
American Pipit
Anthus rubescens
Pazifischer Wasserpieper
Gray-crowned Rosy-finch
Leucosticte tephrocotis
Sage Thrasher 
Oreoscoptes montanus
Me enjoying to be a guest in Bighorn country – above Cottonwood Lakes

On the second day I climb up to New Army Pass, hike to Soldier Lake and come down again via Old Army Pass. A spectacular day, but unfortunately I miss my sheep. Later I am told by Sierra Bighorn field biologist John Wehausen that he „also saw no live sheep on his route (through the Cottonwood Lakes area / about the same time), which is probably the first time that has ever occurred“.

On the third day I take down my tent early and rush to the parking lot, where I arrive around 10 am. In the afternoon I stand amidst Joshua Trees in the desert.

Mojave National Preserve

The Mojave Desert is one of the places, where I expect to find Desert Bighorn Sheep.

Typical Mojave Desert landscape with Joshua Trees: a heaven. Photo: Jim

I enter the preserve and it literally takes me one minute to have an encounter with the bird of my tv-childhood: the roadrunner.

Greater Roadrunner
Geococcyx californianus

A first one behaves like I expected it: … meep meep – and gone. But a second specimen that comes trotting along is very cooperative and photogenic …

Greater Roadrunner

And there are mammals too:

Black-tailed Jackrabbit
Lepus californicus
Desert Cottontail
 Sylvilagus audubonii
White-tailed Antelope Squirrel
Ammospermophilus leucurus
Rock Wren
Salpinctes obsoletus
Gambel’s quail
Callipepla gambelii
Dirt road through the preserve

At night I observe Kangaroo Rats crossing the road. I see more on the dirt road sections – be it that they resemble more natural Kangaroo Rat habitat or because I drive slower and therefore see more.

Panamint Kangaroo Rat
Dipodomys panamintinus 

I think it is this species. I go by large size and distribution. Desert Kangaroo Rat is paler.

After sunset I go on a half-hour night walk near Hole-in-the-Wall information center. The only animal I encounter is a Tarantula.

Tarantula playing with my wedding ring. Occasionally I use my ring for size comparisons (diameter: 2 cm). The Tarantula was the first animal to show interest in my ring and pick it up. I am glad I did not have to wrestle with the spider to get it back. 🙂

I am very happy with my encounters in the desert – although I don’t get to see Bighorns. Locals tell me they are very rare in the area. Then I have to hurry, because I want to be at Grand Canyon the next morning.

Grand Canyon National Park

… and it is really worth to have only three hours of sleep. I arrive at Grand Canyon village, get one of the last parking lots (later you have to take a shuttle bus to reach the village) and hike just a few meters down Bright Angel Trail. And here they are: Desert Bighorn Sheep – in front of a backdrop that can’t be topped:

Desert Bighorn Sheep
Ovis canadensis nelsoni 
Desert Bighorn Sheep, young male
Rock Squirrel
Citellus variegatus 
Rock Squirrel

If you go by distribution, it can only be that species. But the salt-and-pepper structure of the back in this specimem reminds of California Ground Squirrel (Citellus beecheyi).

Cliff Chipmunk
Tamias dorsalis

Grand Canyon harbours 4 chipmunk species

Cliff ChipmunkTamias dorsalis
  Eutamias dorsalis
Least ChipmunkTamias minimus
  Eutamias minimus
Colorado ChipmunkTamias quadrivittatus
Uinta ChipmunkTamias umbrinus
  Eutamias umbrinus

According to Peterson Fuild Guides / mammals the Cliff Chipmunk has „indistinct dark stripes down middle of back along sides“. 

In the Least Chipmunk stripes continue to base of tail. The Colorado Chipmunk has bright colours and ears are blackish in front. Uinta C. is similar to Colorado C. 

American Robin 
Turdus migratorius
American Bushtit 
Psaltriparus minimus

It is the only species in the family Aegithalidae found in the New World, and the only member of the genus Psaltriparus. In North America, it is referred to simply as „bushtit“.

Turkey Vulture 
Cathartes aura
Turkey Vulture

At dusk I enjoy sitting at the rim, listening to crickets and watching bats.

According to the National Park Service Grand Canyon National Park is home to one of the highest bat diversities anywhere in the United States, providing habitat to 22 species of bats.

Along the canyon’s rim, the Western Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus hesperus) is known to occur. Just going by „small size“ and „pale coloration“ (Peterson Field Guide / mammals) I dare to tie myself down to this species.

Eventually I have to move on. A small lagomorph appears at the road side. Going by the very small size, short ears and distribution, I reckon it to be a Mountain Cottontail (Sylvilagus nuttallii).

According to The National Park Service Desert Cottontail occur also in Grand Canyon National Park, but there ears are longer.

The next morning I arrive at:

Arches National Park

Road through the park: simply stunning
White-tailed Antelope Squirrel
Ammospermophilus leucurus
White-tailed Antelope Squirrel
Scrub Jay
Aphelocoma coerulescens
Humans: enjoying the sunrise at Delicate Arch near Wolfe Ranch
Bighorn Sheep habitat along Colorado River, Arches NP

I try to find more sheep: At the location shown above in Arches NP, also in Canyonlands National Park and on the way to Salt Lake City at Green River. The subspecies seems to avoid me at these locations. But never mind, I got all I wanted and can enjoy the landscapes and various other wildlife species. A few more hours and I am back in Salt Lake City to get my flight back to Germany.


Burt, William H. and Grossenheider, Richard P., 1980: A Field Guide to the Mammals. North America, north of Mexico. Peterson Field Guides. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts.

Water Vole: https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5181939.pdf

Beldings Ground Squirrel: http://climate.calcommons.org/dmp/beldings-ground-squirrel-yosemite-national-park-surveys

Mule Deer from Yosemite: Odocoileus hemionus hemionus www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/grpo/mammals75.htm

Kangaroo rats: https://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2008/1167/of2008-1167.pdf

Western Pipistrelle: www.mygrandcanyonpark.com/things-to-do/western-pipistrelle-bats

Species / Subspecies found during a 10 day trip through the Southwest United States

 species name englishscientific namegerman namelocation
1Western PipistrellePipistrellus hesperusWestliche Amerikanische ZwergfledermausGrand Canyon village, Rim trail
2GrizzlyUrsus arctos horribilis GrizzlybärYellowstone NP, Mt. Washburn
3Black Bear Ursus americanusSchwarzbärYellowstone NP, along highway north of Mt. Washburn
4Mountain CoyoteCanis latrans lestes (Wyoming: Yellowstone NP)-KojoteYellowstone NP, 1 near north entrance
5Mearns‘ CoyoteC. l. mearnsi (southeastern California: Sierra Nevada, Mojave Desert) -Kojote1 at Mono Pass trailhead; 1 in Mojave desert
6Yellow-bellied Marmot  Marmota flaviventrisGelbbauch-MurmeltierNew Army Pass, Cottonwood Lakes, Sierra Nevada
7Striped SkunkMephitis mephitisStreifenskunk highway sighting at nicht, west of Yellowstone
8Racoon Procyon lotorWaschbärnear Moab, Utah, campsite
9Rock SquirrelCitellus variegatus Felsenziesel Grand Canyon NP, Rim trail
10Belding’s Ground SquirrelUrocitellus beldingi / Spermophilus beldingiBelding-Ziesel  Mono Pass Trail, Yosemite NP 
11Red Squirrel Tamasciurus hudsonicusGemeines Rothörnchen Yellowstone NP, near Jenny Lake
12Douglas‘ SquirrelTamiasciurus douglasii Douglas-Hörnchen Yosemite NP, Mono-Pass trail
13Cliff ChipmunkNeotamias dorsalis– Grand Canyon NP, Bright Angel trail 
14Least ChipmunkNeotamias minimus Kleines StreifenhörnchenGreat Basin – roadside near Lee Vining
15Lodgepole ChipmunkNeotamias speciosus Lodgepole-Streifenhörnchen Yosemite NP, Mono-Pass trail
16White-tailed Antelope SquirrelAmmospermophilus leucurusWeißschwanz-AntilopenzieselMojave National Preserve, Arches NP 
17Golden-manteled Ground SquirrelCallospermophilus lateralisGoldmantel-ZieselSierra Nevada – along trails 
18Panamint Kangaroo RatDipodomys panamintinus Panamint-KängururatteMojave National Preserve – roadside 
19Deer MousePeromyscus maniculatus Hirschmaus Grand Teton National Park, near John Moulton Homestead
20Water VoleMicrotus richardsoni– Grand Teton National Park, near John Moulton Homestead
21Porcupine Erethizon dorsatumNordamerikanischer Baumstachler Grand Teton National Park / sagebrush steppe
22Black-tailed JackrabbitLepus californicusEselhaseMojave National Preserve
23American PikaOchotona princepsAmerikanischer Pfeifhase  New Army Pass, Cottonwood Lakes area, Sierra Nevada
24Mountain CottontailSylvilagus nuttalliiBerg-BaumwollschwanzkaninchenGrand Canyon NP- roadside
25Desert Cottontail Sylvilagus auduboniiAudubon-BaumwollschwanzkaninchenMojave National Preserve – roadside
26ElkCervus canadensis WapitiMammoth, Yellowstone NP – greens in town
27PronghornAntilocapra americanaGabelbock Grand Teton National Park, sagebrush steppe, Antelope Flats Road, Yellowstone NP
28Rocky Mountain Mule Deer Odocoileus hemionus hemionusRocky-Mountain-Maultierhirsch Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone NP – at Gros Ventre Campground
29Inyo Mule DeerO. h. inyoensisInyo-MaultierhirschSierra Nevada: Mono Pass trailhead, Cottonwood Lakes
30California Mule DeerO. h. fulginatus Kalifornischer MaultierhirschesMojave National Preserve – seen from road
31White-tailed DeerOdocoileus virginianus Weißwedelhirsch Grand Teton National Park – seen during breakfast at Jackson Lake lodge
32Mountain GoatOreamnos americanus SchneeziegeYellowstone NP, seen from road at Barronette Peak
33Rocky Mountain Bighorn SheepOvis canadensis canadensisRocky Mountain-Dickhornschaf Yellowstone NP, Mt. Washburn 
34Sierra Nevada Bighorn SheepOvis canadensis sierrae Sierra Nevada-Dickhornschaf Mono Pass, Yosemite NP
35Desert Bighorn SheepOvis canadensis nelsoni Wüsten-Dickhornschaf Grand Canyon NP, Bright angel trailhead 
36Bison Bison bisonAmerikanischer BisonYellowstone NP – unavoidable