I sleep harder in a tent than anywhere else, and if the dog isn’t there to whine until I unzip the tent so he can pee, I’ll sleep into the late morning. Travis is exactly the opposite. So this morning at 5:20, he poked me and reminded me that the night before, I’d committed to getting some pre-dawn shots.

I tried to deflect.

“I’m cold.”

“I’ll get you my jacket.”

As he left the tent, I cracked a single eyelid, and through the millimeter of clearance, saw a stunning pre-dawn sky. I had to get up. I pulled on my boots and stuck my head into my tie-died floppy hat, and stumbled to the car.

“I’m still asleep, but I’m trying to be endearing so you’ll do things for me,” I grunted. I was awake by the time we made it to the top of Sage Creek Basin and found our way blocked by a herd of jaywalking bison, who apparently also get up early. They parted for the car slowly and with obvious disdain.

Jaywalking bison.
Jaywalking bison.

We settled on an overlook a short distance away with lots of vistas for me to shoot and a place for Travis to set up the backpacking stove and make coffee. As the sun crept over the edge of the Badlands, I hopped happily around taking photographs. I had just gotten this one…


…when I heard Travis say, “Jen, you need to come back up here. Now.”

I looked over at the adjacent game trail and saw this:


Surely, I thought, he isn’t coming all the way up to the overlook.

He came all the way up to the overlook.

Travis had just finished the coffee, so I hopped back up and helped him pick up the steaming cups, stove and associated equipment and stuff it back into the car before the lone bull arrived.

We moved the car to a safe distance and watched as the bull approached the posts near the overlook and used them to scratch various parts of his body, including his butt. He scratched his behind for awhile, and after several long minutes, worked his way around to his neck.


I respect that the life of a bison is probably an itchy one, and we were almost certainly interrupting his regular morning routine, rather than the other way around. Still, it’s not every day I have my morning coffee interrupted by a butt-scratching buffalo.


2 thoughts on “Pre-dawn shots and the butt-scratching buffalo

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