This tour was a special one...it started where it all began, The Sand Wash Basin in Colorado. This was the 'birthplace' for me as an artist to find the passion that has fueled what I have come to consider my 'lifes work', Painting and advocating on behalf of our Living Legends, the American Mustang. And...my husband joined me on this trip, and had his first visit ever to public rangelands to see the Wild Ones...special indeed for me in so many ways. We spent the prior days getting loaded and prepared, I wanted a full set up to showcase and share the beat of my heart, and so we loaded till we could fit no more.
As we made our way north through Abiquiu we stopped to gas a bit at Bode's general store, a historic little 'everything' place that was founded in the late 1800s and still flourishing in this quaint little stretch of colorful highway. I have made it the 'stop' as we begin our road tours, turning heads at the pump and causing a bit of commotion as Mustangs painted on the sides eagerly await their next tour destination.
Seatbelts buckled we began the trip over the Chama pass as I listened to my husbands groanings as I wiped the drool off his face gleaning at the streams and rivers that we passed along the highway...an avid fisherman he is, and a true appreciation for the wilderness, it is one of the things I fell in love with upon our meeting over 33 years ago. I smiled inside as his continual pleadings to stop just for 5 minutes to toss his ginger line upon the waters, knowing we would be camped on the roadside all day as I watched him hike downstream...so reluctantly...I said a firm 'no'...he whined...and I prevailed in hopes we would make our destination somewhat timely, besides...there were wild horses waiting for us and the first arrival of the Mustang Mansion on the range!
We were just short of making it into Craig Colorado and so stopped at a roadside campground just short in Hayden and plugged in the Mansion, hit the bathroom and brewed that favorite beverage we have on board at all times, java. I cooked up some Raman soup, an easy cheap fix for the belly growls and we subsided at the table to dine. It was quiet and we slept well dreaming of wild ones dancing in the fields. Up early the next morning before the sun had fully arrived we made our way to the local BLM office in Craig to show off the glory of the Mustang Mansion, they glanced out the window and I even got a great compliment of its 'cuteness'. We loaded some of the BLM maps on board to share with the public to encourage rangeland visits and made our way to the range well before noon. We took the low road in near the old corrals and continued northbound until we found a side road watering hole, and to our joy spotted two large bands, this was the spot, we parked and set up camp...I grabbed the camera and started shooting! It was wonderful to see The Wild Ones before we barely drove in, we met Gail, an enthusiastic photographer who frequents the range to snap away at their beauty. We invited her down to visit after we talked and she shared of John Wagner telling her about the Mansion and artwork I do of our mustangs.
I got some wonderful pics so early on and as the sun began to set we lit the gas lantern and I cooked us up some dinner while we watched the mustangs on the range. The winds picked up and the cradle rocks began as we settled in anxious for the morning to come so we could see more mustangs!
Morning came early and we were greeted with the same band the evening before, and the new foal and his family as well along with the smell of fresh coffee...Camera in hand I headed for the watering hole to see whom I might find. One of the larger bands of the Sand Wash, totalling 11 and getting some great pics of the bachelors practicing their skills as they mature to stallions who will eventually fight for their own bands, stealing mares and gaining the famous battle scars that the seasoned stallions wear like badges of honor.
We were greeted by the photographers on the range as they like us were seeking that perfect picture that speaks freedom and beauty. As we shared and made acquaintances I spoke of the need for their preservation, and Craig Downers new book 'Wild Horse Conspiracy' that is a wonderful and educational read around the dilemma and solutions that face our wild mustangs. Enthusiasm for their preservation won out as we sold two of Craig's books right there on the range, winning two more voices of advocacy on their behalf. It was wonderful to see the Mustang Mansion vision coming alive right there on the range, with mustangs in the view, and advocates being won...sitting at the vintage dining table talking about our Wild Ones...truly a vision coming to pass before our eyes. It was wonderful.
The next morning we were joined by Craig Downer and painter and mustang enthusiast Karen McLain, she was thrilled to see the nearby bands and with camera and paints in hand to do some plain air painting along with Craig getting shots on his camera. Another night for Cip and I came to a close on the range as we pulled in from a day of driving dirt roads looking for more mustangs. Sightings were rare, and not many were spotted through the remains of what little forage was left in much of the range from overgrazed sheep only days before. It is frustrating to see the lack of care and management when the terrain is a 'shared' terrain, and the mustang is continually judged as the destructive one...As we figured from the range acreage and wild horses with Craig, there were one mustang for every 740 acres...not nearly enough to desecrate the land, another myth to be countered as we photographed and documented the range land.
Friday we head out to the Centennial Mall for setting up in preparation the art show along with photographers including local advocate Nancy Roberts and others. It was a slow evening and so we along with Craig decided to take the Mustang Mansion back to the range and take advantage of the early morning hours to view mustangs.
We all three camped in the Mansion, Craig was the first 'overnight visitor' to bunk with us, he took the sofa bed, and Cip and I folded down the dining room table and cozied up as the winds died down and we had a great night of discussion and spagetti on the range. Early rise in the morning as we drove for miles hoping to see wild mustangs...to our dissapointment we saw only two outside of the bands that were mingled around the Mansion and the wateringhole during our stay on the range. Craig showed great concern for the lack of, and abuse of the range...and will be offering his input to local BLM management in hopes for range improvement and standing as he submits his professional 'ecological' input. As we headed back Craig spotted a favorite, 'Ranger' a wonderfully marked pinto whom was the first mustang that I ever painted...so for me especially, a wonderfully special sighting. He graced us with his presence offering us camera poses and the time to drink in his spirit and bask upon his beauty and countenance before we loaded into the truck to head to the mall, late...the mustangs won out on the clock that morning, but well worth staying late for!
The mall event was wonderful to see the collaborative efforts of artists, photographers, book auther, the local BLM's new director 'Jerome' and a true enthusiasm from the general public as they walked through the end of the mall showcasing the areas wild mustangs. I was surprised how few had not been on the range, and the value the public held for their local herds, it was wonderful to see and hear that Craig residents have a real love for their mustangs. we stayed until things closed down, packed up and made our way to the next leg of the journey, Maybell...the little sleepy community that would be wakened by the thundering of hundreds of domestic horses being driven through town as they were rallied back to work on riding camps and dude ranches for the spring and summer. But the first order of business, taking a shower...after three days on the range...it was well needed.
We parked on the corner to be sure to draw the eye to the Mustang Mansion as the horses would run past down the highway. With coffee brewing on the stove I set up a small display, and Craig stacked up a pile of his book and we greeted and 'meeted' folks sharing the message of the Mustang to passer-bys as they waited for the arrival of the horses to come. With great interest we drew a crowd through the morning and handed out great reading material, sold a few books, and I played a few songs with a nip in the air and snappy cold fingers, ouch...but all worth it to share the story around the mustangs.
For now...this is where the story will end as the night is late...but the ride doesnt end here, Cip leaves with the Mustang Mansion for home, as I ride with Craig Downer to Nevada for our next collaborative tour date...so check back in after your morning coffee to read up on the rest of the weeks tour...and enjoy the pictures!