Bare Bones, Skulls & Skeletons

Fencepost Vertebrae, Sapphire Mountains, Montana

Of all the treasures I find on my hikes, my favorites are skulls and skeletons. I love the way bare bones stand out stark against any landscape. After years of seeking, I can spot them in tall grass, in woods, in brush. I love lifting them off the ground, shaking out the debris from the cracks and crevasses and studying their contours. Bare bones have such gravity; they demand respect and I handle them carefully, looking and listening, while they tell me their stories. I can tell prey from predator, ungulate from bovine, canine from feline. As far as I know I’ve never found a human bone.

Bare bones are the ultimate offerings, left behind by those who have come before me. I find them most often off trail, where I’m likely to be the first person to have passed since the animal laid down to die, or was killed and eaten. I have no right to claim such sacred objects as my own. They belong to the land, to any enterprising animal who might come along and carry them away. After admiring the bones, recreating the animal’s life and death, and photographing them thoroughly, I leave the offerings in a safe spot where I can revisit them, someday, if I’m lucky enough to pass that way again.

Snake Skeleton, Shenandoah, Virginia

Kansas Cow Skull & D.O.G.

Kansas Cow Skull & D.O.G.

Big Horned Sheep, Collegiate Peaks, Colorado


Coyote! Wild Rivers, New Mexico



Elk & D.O.G.

Elk & D.O.G., San Antonio Dome, New Mexico

Bowie & Nebraska Bone

Old Cow Bone, Cerrillos, New Mexico

5-point Deer Antler from a 10-point Buck

5-point Antler from a 10-point Buck, Northern New Mexico

The Blonde Coyote & Goat Skull, Cerrillos, New Mexico

Coyote Skull, Juniper Tree, Cerrillos, New Mexico

Bowie’s Treasure, Cerrillos, New Mexico

About theblondecoyote

Mary Caperton Morton is a freelance science and travel writer with degrees in biology and geology and a master’s in science writing. A regular contributor to EARTH magazine, where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for the anthologies Best Women's Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently based in western Colorado. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, skiing, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at
This entry was posted in Appalachian Trail, Bowie & D.O.G., Hiking!, New Mexico, Photography, Road tripping!, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Bare Bones, Skulls & Skeletons

  1. heidikins says:

    This reminds me so much of a biography on Georgia O’Keeffe who LOVED to collect, study, and paint bleached white bones from the deserts in New Mexico. Excellent post.


  2. Wow the pictures are great! Your dogs are beautiful!

  3. Andy says:

    That’s it I give up-I can’t compete with your Blog for my kids attention, what with spiders and snakes, dinosaur footprints and bones.
    “Take your black bird off Dad, and put that desert woman on.”

  4. Bea Pludow says:

    The Snake was my fav. At first sight I thought it was a millipede/or centipede bc of the ribs. You see skins all the time, but not too often whole skeletons! Thanks for these pic, and your respect of your subjects.

  5. cozybegone says:

    Who finds this stuff!!!!! You are unbelievable! I love your posts and wish I could ride along with you!

  6. Your dogs are the luckiest dogs in the world, what a great life they have at your side (and you at their side)! I want to come back as one of your dogs:)

  7. mspinguu says:

    Your pictures are amazing! Thank you for sharing them with us!

  8. Mark Routt says:

    Wow, such incredible finds!

  9. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. I love seeing that there is a new post on your blog. Each time I visit I’m reminded of many things. Simplicity. Attention. Focus. Passion. Thanks for your beautiful words and equally beautiful images.

    I have never seen an intact snake skeleton like this.

    May I ask a technical question? How do you archive your images? What tool do you use? Lightroom? I am especially intrigued because I know you are mobile and work on a laptop. I am currently working across three laptops and need to organize my work; thought you might have some good tips.

    Thanks so much for all the beauty.


  10. Neat photos; I especially liked the snake skeleton. Carol


  12. I love that you put your bone pics together in a collection. You have a great eye. While looking through your post I couldn’t help but think about all the bones I have passed by without taking a picture. Inspirational post, thanks!

  13. smashley says:

    the picture of Freckles is so endearing. Her ears look like an extra super peak in the hills, ha. We went to a friends the other night and she had 5 tiny little bird skulls she had found out hiking in Cerrillos. Wished you were there looking at them with me. Wanted to bandit those skulls and make a shrine to Gaia, but nobody likes a thief. ❤

  14. Isn’t a bovine also an ungulate: a hoofed animal?

    That snake skeleton is way cool. Never seen one so complete like that one.

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