Two Girls, One Very Battered Tent, and a Herd of Wild Horses
(A.K.A. How I Spent My St. Patrick’s Day Weekend – A note from Lauryn)
Dear Wild Horse & Burro Friends;
Some of you may remember my first trip to the Sand Wash Basin herd back in June, 2011. We didn’t see very many horses, but we were also clueless where to go. That’s why we got the low-down ahead of time—before St. Patrick’s Day weekend rolled around. With detailed instructions from Sand Wash expert Nancy Roberts, I drove up to Denver to meet fellow wild horse advocate and enthusiast Rachel Reeves. We loaded up Rachel’s dad’s pickup on Friday evening (complete with instructions), and drove the winding roads to Craig, arriving at the little motel just shy of midnight.
Our instructions from Rachel's dad
The next morning we drove the 40 or so miles to Sand Wash. After crossing the Little Snake River, we left the pavement behind. Twenty minutes later, when we crested a hill, we spotted our first horses. After that the spotting got easier. The basin is largely open sage country, though I was a little appalled by the amount of sheep sign I saw on the range—poop and tracks all over, especially around the waterholes.
The first band we spotted
Sand Wash Basin
There was sheep sign all over the place
We drove on, spotting many bands from afar. Rachel is more familiar with the bands than I am (but I have her beat on the Pryor horses!). We dropped down off the tableland and found a few bachelors around a waterhole just off the road.
Bachelors play in the water
The distant sage offered no more horses, so we turned around to go back up to see if any of the horses had moved closer to the road. We took a two-track out to another waterhole when all of the sudden two bands came streaking over the hill and down to get a drink. One band left as soon as they finished drinking, but the smaller band led by a stallion named Voo Doo, who had two beautiful mares with him—a red dun and a pregnant-looking sabino—stuck around a little longer.
One band galloped to water
The linebacked palomino band stallion, Corona (not to be confused with the dark bay Pryor band stallion of the same name!) and his family moved closer to the road where we got a great look at them. But all too soon, we had to leave for a meeting in Craig held by Nancy and a few other locals who are working to establish an organization for the Sand Wash horses. It was great to see people coming together because of their interest in one of Colorado’s last wild horse herds. There are probably fewer than 600 wild horses left in all of Colorado. Sand Wash Basin is home to the largest herd, even though they number only a couple hundred on over 150,000 or so acres.
Corona with two of his mares
After the meeting, we hurried back out to the horse range as the sun was setting. In the fading light, we quickly set up camp amongst some junipers that we hoped would shield us from the brisk wind. Patchy clouds gave way to stars as we went to bed. Around three o’clock in the morning, Rachel and I were awakened by a howling wind slapping at the tent, sometimes trying to lift it off the ground. We eventually succeeded in going back to sleep amid the commotion, only to be awakened by our 6 AM alarm.
Not even bothering to get out of our PJ’s, we broke camp and set out in the darkness to find some horses. In the beautiful, early morning light, the sage began to glow, but we were feeling really discouraged. Where did everybody go?
Many thanks to Rachel taking that while I was still wearing my headlamp!
Then, when we drove around a bend, right on the road only a quarter of a mile away was a band of horses, led by the flashy stallion, Picasso. Rachel hit the brakes and we set up our cameras. The impressive, tri-colored pinto (guess how he got his name?) walked toward us with his two mares, the buckskin Monet and a pregnant Medicine Hat paint named Mingo. Rachel and I were practically giddy with our good luck.
With his mares Mingo and Monet
Pregnant-looking Mingo with Picasso
When Picasso and his band moved over the hill, we moved on too. We’d driven only a half-mile when twenty or so horses came roaring up a slope to our left. Corona’s band was leading the way, followed by another large band. Jumping out of the pickup, we watched as Corona faced off with the buckskin stallion and a dark bachelor who was dogging both bands. Quickly Corona swirled and ran off to follow his band, leaving the other two stallions to confront each other.
Corona and the buckskin face off
The dark bachelor challenges the buckskin
Corona catches up to his band
After everyone galloped off, we followed them over the hill on foot. The buckskin stallion, named Bugs, caught up to his band at a hidden waterhole. Corona’s band was standing above them, waiting their turn. Clearly, the buckskin was the more dominant stallion.
Bugs watches as his band leaves the waterhole
Corona's band waits their turn
Part of Corona's band at the waterhole
Rachel and I decided to hang out by the waterhole to see who else might come. It was a wise decision. Within minutes, more horses crested the hill and came down to drink, including a group of bachelors led by an older grey stallion named White-Out. The other bachelors were much younger than this guy, who was clearly the babysitter of the group. Rachel was quick to rename him the handsome grey “Stud Muffin.”
Two bachelors goof around while White-Out looks on
White-Out (A.K.A "Stud Muffin)
Our day on the range was cut short when the skies grew darker and so threatening that we left rather than get stuck in a rainstorm (those dirt roads turn to mud very fast). As we were driving off, we spotted Tripod—a three year-old bachelor with an unusual condition. I was told that Tripod had been severely injured as a foal and no one thought he’d make it through his first year. Well, a few years down the road this little guy is hanging on, despite his club foot and soccer-sized hock. I know he’s stolen the hearts of many who’ve visited the range just because of his perseverance. But, I know if they ever have another helicopter roundup, he’ll be in serious trouble—he could die trying to run from the helicopter. However, because the herd is currently being managed with PZP, I hope this herd will never endure another helicopter roundup (their last one was in 2008).
Tripod's injured leg - see his hoof?
With spring comes renewal, and new grass popping up under the sagebrush. I hope the wild horses of the Sand Wash Basin enjoy the coming season. I know I’ll be back to see how they’re doing.
New grass popping up
Tags: colorado, craig, maybell, mustangs, sand wash basin, western slope, wild horses