And so I loaded my guitar, few paintings and bag into Craig Downers Chevy Cavalier for the two day drive that was ahead of us. Craig is a wildlife ecologist with a new book out titled 'Wild Horse Conspiracy', it is a wonderful read, I am about 3/4 the way through it and can't read it fast enough! He has been presenting the 'Reserve' design to our public management of the wild horses, the BLM. So far, he has had incredible feedback on the book, it is an educational read for sure as Craig has been in the wild horse movement for well over 40 years working as an intern under Thelma Johnson, more known as 'Wild Horse Annie' who was instrumental in the passing of the 1971 Wild Horse and Burro Act. She accomplished this incredible bill by having children flood the congress with letters. Don't think for a moment we can't make a difference.
Craig and I got connected via facebook several months ago, and I have so enjoyed our discussions via phone and so we have established a commradity of freindship, so it was wonderful to have finally met him in person and start our collaborative tour through the season together, not to mention, he and my husband Cip totally hit it off, makes for great travel company in the Mustang Mansion!
We left Maybell shortly after the Sombrero Horse Drive and began making our way through the back roads of Colorado from the Sand Wash Basin towards Wyoming...I think we made it about 20 minutes out when we made our first of many stops at 'Irish Canyon'. A beautiful red rock canyon with ancient petroglyphs. we spent a bit of time there reading up and taking pictures before heading through the canyon and making our way into Wyoming. We traveled through the Salt Wells and Adobe Town public rangelands, but did not see any wild mustangs. This is a herd management area (HMA) that has been continually cut, and yet you drive through and see oil and mining that is unreal. I counted well over 65 oil drills within just a few miles of range, oh, and lots of cattle. You know you have entered Wyoming when you see the oil drills.
We crossed through Rock Springs Wyoming making our way into Utah. The landscape beautiful as always, though littered with oil, coal and mining scabbing mountain sides where miles of earth have been removed, excavated and left the interior on the mountain range raw like a huge sore, exposed for all humanity to see.
But not one mustang. Not a one. Craig shared as we drove through Utah that in Nevada we would see lots of mustangs being Nevada has the largest HMA's in the nation. So I calmed my frustrations as we crossed over miles and miles of land in hopes to reach Nevada. We made a quick stop in Utah at Salt Lake, it reminded me of the smell of the Oceoan's bay growing up in Florida, very humid and salty smelling. But I did see where the little 'Morton' girl works, hills of white salt that is harvested, it must be really hard scooping all that salt into those little Morton cardboard containers, hehe.
As we left Utah, we entered Nevada, finally I thought to myself...we will begin to see some mustangs! It was about a three hour drive before sundown, so my camera was perched in my lap for sightings. We drove for a couple of hours, and nothing. We were on the Salt flats area, very surreal to see such white flat lands with the mountains just at the edge curling up to meet the sun, which was fading fast, along with my hopes of seeing any wild horses for the day.
The sunset was spectacular as we drove into the west, chasing the sun to meet its end before it dissapeared on us until next dawn. No mustangs, my heart was sad. we passed through hundreds of miles of open range. and not one mustang, even though we crossed right through the areas they call home.
We pulled into Windover, a lovely expression of the gambling scene. Tired and looking for a cheap room, Craig pulled into the 'Red Garter' Hotel and Casino...wow. I was chuckling under my breath, I don't think I ever had been to a casino in my entire life. And from the look on my face Craig seemed to get it too, lol. He said I looked like a deer with headlights shining in my eyes, haha. We booked the room and got our ticket, a free drink and slots along with the room key. I had to laugh as Craig in all innocence remarked, 'we'll, were not going to have a drink at the bar, and were not gonna gamble, so guess we will just go to bed!'. It made the heart light and full of laughter as we 'chewed' on that one through the evening.
Early rise and on the road, winds blowing full throttle as we closed the car doors and headed out of Windover and back on the road through the rangelands. Today, I thought, today were going to see hundreds of Mustangs! After all there are a proposed 7-800 alone in one HMA. We made our way to Cherry Creek, a small sleepy mining town with a once prominent history of bringing in 3 million dollars in mining revenue. A rich history now sinking into the earth as the town crumbles beneath its foundations. We made an unannounced stop at Arla Ruggles, a wonderful wild horse supporter and great photographer. She gave us a tour of her unique and quaint studio nestled in this little mining town. Another facebook connection for me, and I was thrilled once again to put a face to the computer screen. Craig shared his book and me a music Cd as she shared with us where to look for wild horses as we would take the dirt roads through the HMA to spot wild ones on our way to Carson City.
I will say, after driving for hours...nature calls...I had to go so bad...Craig and I found a 'real' outhouse...I mean, REAL outhouse. I did use it, and it was great, haha. I posted pics of it just to prove it.
And so, over the hill and through the woods of Cherry Hill we went to travel homeward to Craigs, and to spot mustangs as we traveled. For hours we watched dust fly in the rear view mirror as I scanned the mountains and the meadows for those shining glimmering spirits of promise. It was nearly three hours before I spotted a few. Craig pulled the car over, they were more than a half mile away and the moment Craig pulled over they scattered and ran into the trees. There have been numerous reports of harrasment and shooting of wild horses of recent, obviously this was a band that was experiencing just that. We took a couple of quick pics and were on the road again. Several miles down we saw another small band on the mountain side, more restful these were, but wary with thier heads popped up and tuned in like antennas until we drove off.
It would be another couple of hours before we would spot the next three, obviously bachelors, and far off, but from what I could see one a beautiful roan with a dark head and legs. I only wished we could get a little closer, but they had no intention of exploring their curiousity on our behalf.
What we did see, what lots of sheep. Land use that was overgrazed, land that was much like a garbage dump from over use, and ranchers leaving trash and debri scattered for the wind to pound and drag for miles. It was very sad to see such a beautiful expanse of country used up in such a way. As we continued driving towards Hwy 50 through the public lands, we continued to see more and more sheep, the ranchers horses, one a mustang tied to short poles to stand in the heat and dust all day until it was time to work. These were my impressions, not quiet the romantic story of the west we see on the movies or read about.
More an imprint left of exploitation of land and beast...very disheartning. Over 6 hours of driving through some of the most beautiful country, through the largest HMA areas...4 states...and only a small handful of mustangs.
As we made our way to Hwy 50, known as the 'loneliest' road, we passed through small historic towns like Eureka, Austin and Fallon before making our way into Craig's hometown late that night of Carson City, Nevada. We were both wiped out and saddened at the lack of spotting mustangs after passing through 4 states and two days of driving. We ate a quick plate of spagetti and hit the rack, hopeing for a better day in the morning.
Tuesday night we had a collaborative event at a wonderful historic hotel, The Gold Hill Hotel. A building of brick and heavy timbers, you could almost imagine seeing time go back with miners sitting at the bar talking of their find for the day. Another mining town still showing its scars today as mining continues to eat away at the mountain sides. I played a few songs, shared of my early beginnings and involvement in the witness of the mustangs demise, and set the stage for Craig ending with my mustang song, 'My spirit runs wild and free'. At which, Craig got up and shared from his new book, and his 40 years of experience. There was a small but enthusiastic crowd, whom had a great affection for their wild horses in Nevada. It was wonderful to see a community so 'for' their mustangs.
I got to meet another wonderful facebook friend, photographer and advocate, Cat Kindsfather! Our kindred spirits were bound immediately and she has left a wonderful imprint on my heart of friendship, now miles apart, but will anxiously await our next mustang rendevoux. We had our bellies filled by the Hotels graciousness and met lots of other great advocates and folks who were just learning of the wild horses. Lacy J Dalton came along with some others and made for a great night!
Craig, Cat and I spent the next couple of days taking drives into the Virginia Range photographing a small token herd that the community has embraced. Beautiful new foals, and a serene peace on these few mustangs as they have found their acceptance in a small corner of the community there.
Time was coming to a close for my trip in Nevada as I would soon be tagging a ride with Celso Rubio from Las Vegas Nevada, along with 'Headlight'. Finally the mustang bucking horse from tribal lands would be making his way to Monero Mustang Sanctuary in NM! After much travel confusion we won't go into here, and a few lag days, Craig met Rubio midway, I bid Craig a farethewell, and we arrived at 3:30am at Rubio's house...a long day, long night, short sleep! I couldn't wait to get up in the morning and finally meet 'Headlight', this mustang is stunning with his white head, one blue eye, and one brown eye...and he has 'presence'. I was up before I barely brushed my teeth and out the door to make his acquaintance. He moved off the panels quickly, a life of a bucking horse, people are not their favorite companions, they have spent their lives bucking them off, he was no exception. A 14 year work life and this boy had no idea he was en route to retirement as a wild horse, back to his roots from the time of his birth. I was thrilled to be a part of this experience.
Rubio, the transporter, and friend, made the decision we would leave at 6pm, driving straight through the evening and morning hours of the cool, arriving to Monero by mid morning the following day. He loaded, we loaded and off we went. Running on about 4 hours of sleep, it would lend for an interesting evening. We drove through the night and as Rubio switched seats with his other driver, Todd, I was moved from the back seat to the front. Todd was minutes from the coastal town I grew up on, made for great conversation and had a real interest in the welfare of the mustangs...I do think we won another advocate that evening. A long haul, and morning took forever before the sun rose in Alberquerque with a load of weary travelers.
We did a quick drop of two other horses at our place and headed right out to Monero Mustang Sanctuary. As always camera in hand and ready to shoot, I wanted to get some great pics of this moment...the moment of a mustangs captivity, to its moment of release. Within only a few minutes, his eye softened and you could see 'he got it'...a white/gray gelding immediately bonded with Headlight, and since they are still 'range buddies' as they are becoming grafted in to the 5000 acres and over 100 mustangs there on the sanctuary. I caught the glimmer in Sandi's eye, the force behind the sanctuary, developer and president...worker, lover of mustangs and all equine. Finally, the time had come, he was here. It was a good feeling...and will continue to be. And I will hope to express that in my paintings of this stunning mustang named 'Headlight'.
And this is where this leg of the tour ends, after 4 states and a mustang. There will be more stories to tell, more pictures to share, and a book to follow all these short insights, that will elaborate more of the full impact each of these moments have made. There is great faith at work as I move forward, great dissapointments, but also wonderful glimmers of hope and promise for the future of our mustangs. For me, Headlight represents that hope. The promise of a future of freedom deserved.