As promised, I wanted to continue the blogging from my Sand Wash Basin trip, but I have been busy with painting and music...finally, I am making the time to get posting #2 of the three I will post from my trip. Outside of the incredible experience of viewing mustangs wild and on the range, there was another event over the mothers day weekend trip, The Sombrero Horse Drive. This is an event that has been happening for well over 40 years in a little community called 'Maybell' just outside of the SWB area. The Sombrero horses are domestic, though we did see a few 'tatooed' BLM mustangs in the herd also carrying the 'Sombrero brand' which typically looks like a sombrero hat on the left rear hip of each horse owned by this ranching organization. The Sombrero horses are 'wintered' on land adjacent to the the SWB HMA (Herd Management Area). For over 40 years every spring the Sombrero horses are rounded up by horseback and driven through the town of Maybell about 20 miles to land owned by the Sombrero Ranch, to be counted, sorted and seperated and put back to work at riding stables all across the west until the next winter season of rest. In our lifetime, I dont think there will be another place to see the number of horses rounded up all at one time, unless of course you attend a BLM wild horse round up over this summer as they will be 'gathering' well over 1200 wild mustangs in Wyoming alone this July. Unfortunately the wild mustangs will be rounded up by helicopter. Quiet a controversial event as it is foaling season and the stress related to helicopter roundups will cause much damage to many of these young foals during this time of year. It was quiet the adreniline rush to see between 600-800 horses running along the street with cowboys ahead and behind on horseback. As they were passing us, with mane and tails flying, the sounds of whinnies as they were trying to stay collected with thier 'pasture mates' just increased the hype of emotion. My eyes felt like they were absorbed in a candyshow beyond all others! Color, shape, sizes, of all kinds...and mustangs, yep, Once in a few running by I would notice the BLM tatoo on the left neck of several of the horses. Cheryl and I were beside ourselves! We drove several miles down to get ahead of the horses, and parked. Before we knew it the cowboys were breaking for lunch and had the horses in a roadside ravine where they could rest and graze for the next treck of thier destination. We sat on the roadside for over an hour and snapped away on the cameras. Horses everywhere...calling for each other...displaying thier pecking order behavior...and the colors, my oh my, color everywhere! And then, we saw the mustang tatoo! With the permission of a cowboy eating what looked to be a cheese sandwhich on white bread, we headed down the ravine, cameras in hand. Searching for the branded mustangs! And to our delight we found them, we saw 4 or 5, I can almost be sure there were more. On occasion....during the winter season, the wild mustangs occasionally jump the fences and 'gather' a mare or two to their side...so come spring, there are some offspring of domestic + mustang babies. The Sombrero Ranch usually puts some of these up for adoption...unmarked by the BLM tatoo, but obviously carrying the mustang gene adding to the stature of the domestic breed in their offspring. I recently did a benenfit show at a horse rescue organization in LaPorte Colorado. They had several of these SandWash Sombrero babies, and they are beautiful horses, half mustang, half quarterhorse more than likely. 'Halfbreeds' many would call them, but a hardy horse carrying the durable mustang traits. The more I am learning of the mustang, the more I am learning what a valuable resource they are to the horse industry. A hardy, sturdy, intelligent horse, and when 'adopted' and trained...makes an incredible mount and companion, but more on that later when the Extreme Mustang Makeover comes to town in Fort Collins in just a few weeks. For now, enjoy the pictures...If your wondering where to go on your summer vacation this year...How about one of the 4 herd management areas here in Colorado, or the other states in the west that still have wild horses. Its important to see them...they are hard to find on the range, thier numbers are decreasing every year. This year alone 5000 are on the schedule to be rounded up, few will get adopted, some will go to the prison in Canon City to be trained, adopted out and sent to our 'Borders' as Border Patrol mounts, and the other huge numbers will end up in long term holding facilities for years, if not the remainder of thier lives. Make visiting the range and viewing the mustangs one of your summer vacation plans. For now, enjoy the pictures below from the Sombrero Horse Drive.
as always, running with the horses! Melody
Part of Picasso's band,
his domestic mare, and yearling.
One of Picassos longtime mustang mares, she lost her filly only two days after birth to a genetic disorder, she is a beautiful mare.
Wow, where do I start!? First off, I learned why they call the 'Sand Wash Basin' what they do...at the end of the day you feel like you literally took a 'sand bath', lol! The landscape rolls on the horizon forever with rolling landscape and mounds of color that will take your breath away. We began the journey traveling from Red Feather Lakes Colorado thru Walden, Steamboat Springs, Craig and finally arriving at The Sand Wash. Our state of Colorado is one of visual delight passing thru the canyons and Cameron snowfilled passes to a vast landscape called The Sand Wash Basin. Good friend Cheryl joined me on this trip, her first visit as well to the Sand Wash and to meet the mustangs that have called this region thier home for generations.
Our first visit was made joining the ranks with Vic and Linda Hannick, and Joe and Kim Zamudio. The masses of sheep had just been removed from thier 'wintering' season on the range, so the grasses were not as lush as normal for this time of year as they had an 'extended' stay on the range. This was one of the harsher winters on the SWB this year and spring made a late arrival, so we didnt enjoy too much of the normal flowering that is usually seen this time of year. Nonetheless, the Basin of its 160,000 acres is a sight to behold, you can see for miles.
As we drove in early saturday afternoon looking for our first sightings of mustangs, I could see it would be a real challenge with the rolling landscape and ravines for the mustangs to hide in as they graze the early grasses. 'Picasso' and his band were our first to see coming across the range from the northern ridge. I have been enamored by this mustang from the first photos I have ever painted of him. So to see him up and close, first hand with his band of mares and foals was nearly undescribable! We slowly approached at a comfortable distance to snap all our cameras with great delight! Probably one of the most photographed of all the mustangs on our western rangeland, Picasso was very kind to give us some great shots and allow us the opportunity to have a great visit with him and his band.
Upon Picasso and his band moving on, the next band we came across on the ridge was Corona, and his gorgeous long time companion mare Cheyenne, along with several other mares, yearlings and a new foal who almost blended in the with the clouds that framed the ridge they grazed. A new beginning for such a little one, with an uncertain future as the Sand Wash Basin herd will be due for a round up next spring.
From there, we drove thru miles of the basin to numerous areas continuing to find a few scattered and small bands on the range. You have to look hard on the land, thier numbers are not great, and they are difficult to find. Most of the few bands we saw number in range from 3 to 9. Not many new foals, out of the predicted herd on the SWB presently there are only 5 new babies. A few pregnant mares still waiting for thier divine moment to bring new life to the Basin.
They move slow and peaceful across the range in thier family structures. The winds blow and its all you can do at times to focus the camera between wind bellows to keep them captured in your frame. We hit most of the watering holes as this is a more confirmed way to hopefully view the mustangs as they travel from watering hole to watering hole. The time they spend there is swift as other bands travel thru pressing them back on the range.
We checked one last road before dark embarked on us and discovered 'Tripod' an albino/cremello looking 2 year old, whom we had all thought had passed on due to an early injury to his rear hock as a baby foal. He looked wonderful, full and round, white and gorgeous, and moved incredibly considering he is lame on his rear leg, its amazing how resiliant these mustangs are in the harshest of conditions on the range. He made it through winter, looking very well! He was sharing his little corner of the Basin with creeks and grasses with a bachelor, black and tall, full of scars from obvious battles with other young bachelors. They made a unique pair with the contrast of black and white together. A symbol of the contrast of the beauty and the beast of the Basin.
We arrived back at the 'Inn' around 8pm saturday night to join with newfound mustang enthusiasts and photographers around a small table and queen size bed in our room for a spagetti dinner, wine and chocolate, sharing our stories and excitement between us from the days events! We were all covered with a fine coating of sand bringing a sweet reminder of our days fortune, though taking a shower was most refreshing before the midnight hour.
Sunday morning, mothers day, we rose at 4am to pack up and check out of our room and hit the range before sun up. Its amazing how passion fuels crazy desires to get you out of bed long before the birds sing thier morning worship. We loaded in the car with our packed lunches and coolers, camera batteries charged and ready to shoot! We met up with Kim and Joe for morning Starbucks (camping style) and watched the sun rise on the range in the cool of the morning awaiting the arrival of mustang sillouettes greeting our coffee gathering.
Just as the sun rose we began to see our first bands arriving to visit the watering hole where we warmed our hands on warm coffee mugs. It was wonderful to watch them band at a time making thier arrival, showing off thier new babies, and rousing the mares to move off when the drinking was done. At one point Picasso was challenged by another Stallion thinking he might try to smuggle a mare or two from his band. But the 'mighty Picasso' simply turned his muscled frame with neck arched, showing his years of greatness...and the younger stallion backed off returning back to his small band.
The morning continued as seven other bands continued to come through, quicky approaching and quickly leaving the watering hole making way for the next band following close behind. Besides the sound of cameras clicking and sheer giggles of joy at what we were witnessing, there was a calm and peace as we watched the mustangs make thier way across the Basin one band at a time. Leaving us with a longing for more of thier presence before making thier way down the ridge dissapearing in the horizon.
Just as we thought we might embark to another area of the basin...we saw the last band approaching. My camera doesnt have a great zoom, so I decided to go and sit on the ridge that overlooked the watering hole in hopes to get some better shots of this small band that was approaching us from the distance.
The closer he got, the stallion, named Nomad, the more my little heart pitter pattered in my chest. A remarkable stallion, with only one mare, Feather and one yearling at thier side, Streaker. They could see us from a distance, the mare who normally is the one who leads was behind, while Nomad made his way around us from a distance. We were all sitting on rocks on the ridge hoping they might grace us with thier presence. But they decided to check out the vehicles on the road instead as Vic and Linda sat in their car and watched. We took some long distance shots as they paraded down the road behind the ridge. We sat...we waited...and thier curiosity got the best of them. As we sat quietly with finger on the shutter of cameras, they approached after hitting the watering hole. Streaker, the yearling colt, was a curious fellow, beautiful, looking like he just escaped from a choice barn after a grooming session, shining, eyes bright...walking ever closer as we sat quietly, wondering just how close they might come. I could hear Joe behind me on his rock repeating, 'Don't move, don't move'...haha, like I was going somewhere! I wasnt gonna budge off my seat as this curious one continued coming closer and closer, mother behind him and Nomad keeping a bit more distance, or maybe he was just more seasoned seeing all these crazy photographers waiting for a perfect moment. The pictures you see below of this threesome will be a treasure in my 'heart of moments' for years to come. Streaker and his mother, Feather were mearly feet from us. It was a moment to behold.
After we caught our breath, shared our stories with Vic and Linda, we loaded back in the car and hit another area of the range looking for more mustangs. We ran into only one band, Cosmo's and his mares and new foal. One mare heavily pregnant and in her last days of 'waiting'. We didnt stay long, but the aroma of peace we absorbed from them was wonderful.
All in all this was an incredible trip. But I will say that as much as you experience a sheer joy, there is also a deep sadness that wells in the heart. The fate of our mustangs on this range will be changed in less than a year. The markings of 'human nature' have scarred the Basin as people are 'entertained' by its beauty. The road leading out of the basin on the right is the corral where the round ups take place. A still reminder that the natural design and rythm of the beauty has been and will be interupted and violated once more. Not to leave the blog on a sad note, this was a treasure to behold for me to make this trip, The reminders noted above are a harsh reality of the need for us to continue our intervention to be sure that the mustangs continue to remain on these lands, securing our heritage and reminding us all of the graces of the nature of our Creator.
I encourage all of you reading this blog, make visiting the Basin a priority. Make visiting the mustangs a priority. This is a treasured part of our heritage that enriches us still in present time. We must preserve the land, and those that inhabit it. To lose this, would be a great loss for all.
Stallion Corona, known as the 'Fabio' of the range
Coronas new foal for the season
A unknown future to await this new little one
Beautiful Cheyenne, the light paint mare and some of
Sunday morning sunrise at Sand Wash on the range
Rangeview morning calm
Morning coffee on the range awaiting the arrival of mustangs
One of the mornings first bands leaving the watering hole, beautiful color on the SWB
One band exits, another arrives
At one of the watering holes early morning
The last band for the morning we spot approaches the watering hole
This young yearlings curiosity will be our mornings delight
Stallion and Sire, Nomad, not so curious as his son, Streaker, but this stallions captured my heart, a beautiful example of one of the 'Wild Ones'
I only wonder if heart was beating as hard as mine was...thats his mama glancing from behind
One of the 'jewels' of the Basin
known to his admirers as 'Streaker'
'Tripod' and another bachelor whom we aren't sure of yet...
Basin Range Skies
Beauty of the Basin
Another band, and some long range views