by Rick Ridgeway
The best way to get a sense of what the world is like for wildlife that
migrate is to migrate with them. Last fall I set out with Joe Riis, a
24-year-old photographer from South Dakota, to walk the celebrated Path of the Pronghorn. Starting in Grand Teton National Park and ending 150 miles or more southeast in Wyoming’s Red Desert, this particular population of these endearing antelope – with their protuberant eyes, black, white and fawn coats, and narrow-boned legs designed for running up to 60 miles an hour – each fall and spring go on the longest documented terrestrial migration of any mammals between Argentina and Canada.
For the last two years, the Path of the Pronghorn has been the focus of Joe’s life. By normal yardsticks, it would qualify as an obsession. He lives in the back of his beater pickup, which he drives from one pronghorn area to another, and under the foam mattress he has a life-size cutout of an antelope that he uses as cover to get close-ups. Potentially, the more effective tools in his pickup are his infrared-triggered camera traps. No one has successfully made close-up photographs of the pronghorn during migration, and Joe feels these images could bring broader awareness to the vulnerabilities that threaten the migration corridor.
For Joe to get his photographs, our trek needs to coincide with the migration that begins each year between late September and early November – it seems to be triggered by cold weather. But my very “un-wild” life as an executive at Patagonia means I had to schedule our nine-day walk in advance. We start in early October, following game trails across the sage flats on the east side of Jackson Hole, and even though it’s morning, we’re comfortable wearing T-shirts. The sky is blue, and our sweat is glistening. We pass several groups of pronghorn grazing alongside a herd of at least 300 bison; from my human’s eye view, the pronghorn look very content doing what they’re doing.