Niobrara Wildlife Gets Real Close

A day of Surprises

Niobrara National Scenic River

It was a big surprise to discover a National Park practically at our hotel\’s doorstep. I wasn\’t aware it existed and didn\’t expect to find anything when I woke up Sunday morning. And I certainly wasn\’t expecting a horse to walk up to my car and pop his head inside for a look-around! #Wildlife

I had just completed a two day drive from Philadelphia, PA to Valentine, NE. It was a difficult drive and we arrived in Valentine very late at time and during a thunderstorm. We could hardly see anything but the lighted signs of various shops and our tiny motel.

We only had approximately 400 miles left to drive before reaching Casper, WY.  Compared to the previous two days, this was a breeze. So we slept in until 8am and enjoyed a relaxing breakfast.  On a whim, I checked my National Passport application on the phone and was completely surprised to find a National Park a few miles from our hotel driveway.  There was no way I was going to miss this opportunity!

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Wildlife

I\’m all about seeing the wildlife. So when the Information Center advised that I might see bison and elk, I was thrilled.  The refuge is full of barking prairie dogs as well.  My mother and I meandered along the trails keeping an eye out for anything larger than a prairie dog. There were none. The day was filled with stunning scenery and very little wildlife diversity.

As we crested a small hill, we saw wild horses grazing the grasslands. Finally, a critter larger than a dog!  The horses were on the move, and I stopped the car to snap a photo of them as they grazed along the fields.

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As my luck would run, the animals and the road made for difficult photography; the sun was in the wrong place. While snapping really crappy photos, I noticed one of the horses turning around.  I was excited to see something besides butts-and-behinds! Then the horse started to walk towards the car. I was legitimately confused. It appeared as if the horse was walking directly to my car.  Wild horses don\’t do that – so what was happening here?

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I was shocked to find the horse walking directly towards my mother\’s car window – and calmly shoving his giant head into the car and standing there.  We were stunned and just stared, our minds racing. But my mom just reached up and pet his muzzle and the horse just relaxed and stayed in place.  This was not a wild horse, and she apparently fully expected to hang out with us in our car.

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Luckily we had an apple in the front of the car.  Mom cut off a piece of apple and hand fed the horse.  We thought she would take the treat and leave. Instead she just sat there eating the apple slice on my mother\’s lap, drooling and slobbering all over her.  We laughed and I videoed this adventure with our new best friend.

After some time passed, we realized we had a small problem. The horse was clearly not moving out from the car and I couldn\’t drive off with her head inside the window.  Seeing that we still had an apple in the car, we assumed she was waiting for more food. We wanted to leave, so my mother gave the entire apple to the horse and then tried to guide her head outside of our car.  The horse was not having it! She decided she was going to eat the entire apple inside the car.  We should have learned our lesson from the first time!

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She was really drooling and slobbering now. Mom was catching the drool globs in her hand and flicking it out the window while I stared in disbelief. What do you do when there\’s a giant horse in your car and won\’t leave?  Mom and I are laughing, drool is everywhere, bits of apple and apple juice are spattering the inside of the car – and our new friend is camping out by the window and not moving. #ThatsInteresting

To make matter worse, I see a truck coming up the road. I hoped it was another meandering tourist following the trail.  If we were lucky, the new tourist car would attract our new best friend and she would voluntarily leave our car.

Nope. It was the park ranger. Of course it was.  #MyLuck  :/

And here we are with a giant horse happily chewing on the last bit of apple and I\’m not 100% sure we should be feeding the wildlife – not that this guy is wild. Are we about to be caught red-apple-handed?

With luck, the horse was done chewing and was just hanging out in the car as the ranger pulled up along side by window. Then he asks, \”Are you feeling the wildlife?\” in a friendly manner.  But erring on the side of caution, my mother and I both parrot, \”No! No, we would never!  Not us. No way.\” and tried not to look guilty.  I\’m not sure we succeeded.

So we chatted with the ranger while the horse stood there in my car, watching our entire engagement and refusing to leave.  How do things like this happen?

We asked how to get the horse out, and he told us to just shove her head out of the car.  So it was left to my mother to gently push her giant head out of the car, which she was able to do. Then I gently moved the car a bit further along and the horse turned and walked away.

My mother and I made our escape before the ranger could see the passenger side of the car, which was full of evidence of apple snacking. 🙂

I need to get a \’Do Not Feed the Wildlife\’ sign for my house.