I had decided early spring that it was time to make a trip to wild horse range areas throughout Colorado. Much of my traveling over the last couple of years had been through Arizona, Nevada and Wyoming to build a host of reference photos for future paintings. I hadn't been to the Sand Wash Basin in over 5 years, so it was time to revisit once again where it all started. The 'little red roan' vintage RV was packed and ready to roll and I had a full schedule of stops for the next 12 days of our trip. I invested in some much needed new camera gear, snake gators and plenty of 'range' ready drinks, bug repellant and more. Along the way we would be showcasing fine art originals, and playing some music. The truck and RV were loaded to the ceiling with all the gear, clothes, food, artwork etc.
We launched early the next morning making our way to Dalores where we would bunk for our first night. We pulled out the instruments and hit the center lawn surrounded by RV Campers and swatted mosquitoes while we strummed guitars and sung, its possible I inhaled more than one mosquito that evening, haha! Our following day we would be on the road making our way up the northwest cooridor of Colorado to make a stop at Spring Creek Basin HMA (Horse Management Area) I had done my homework in planning, and we met up with a facebook contact, TJ Holmes who has worked for 10 years along side of the BLM to manage this small herd of mustangs in this area. She is very knowledgeable and making great strides working in tandem with the BLM in preserving and protecting this herd. The terrain in Spring Creek Basin is very dry, but the long range views are beautiful that surround this small herd of wild mustangs. TJ also oversees a small wild horse sanctuary in Dissapointment Valley that borders the wild herd area, an affiliate of The Engler Canyon Ranch where I had released my two colonial spanish mustangs just a year ago.
We spent a good part of the morning photographing this small herd before hitting the road to make our way to Rangely Colorado where we would spend the night before hitting the West Douglas and Piceance HMA in search for more wild mustangs. We had a gorgeous sunset to cook under at the RV spot that night and the breeze was just wild enough to keep the mosquitoes at bay. We sorted through our gear to prep for the next morning and hit the bunk with an early wake up to hit the range.
The West Douglas and Piceance herd area terrain is almost impossible at times to find wild horses. With recent foals on the ground, the wild mustangs tend to find safe harbor in the tree lines and ridges and valleys. We spent a couple of hours driving with only finding a small band of bachelors at the highest peaks of the terrain. By noon, we made the decision to head back down the mountains and pack up and head out to the Sand Wash Basin.
We pulled the 'little red roan' into the Sand Wash Basin early afternoon. I think the truck stayed in low gear pretty much the entire drive until we hit the plains, haha! But we made it with a steady push northeast. As we drove through the Basin we left a trail of dust as we found our spot to set up camp. We were on a nice ridge line facing the sunset and before nightfall had a beautiful band making their way across the valley floor to one of the nearby watering holes. We decided to load our gear and hit one of the ponds, one of my favorites, Copper Springs' in hopes to catch some bands coming through before nightfall for water.
We weren't dissapointed on our first attempt out! As the sun began to set there were several bands a mile or so out, you could see dust trails across the range as the bands were making their way in. The sunlight hitting the dust made a perfect backdrop for photographing band after band as they approached. I got some great pics that night and by the time we made our drive back to the RV the sun was setting and the horizon was just gorgeous. I continued clicking the camera as a band was on the ridge on the horizon. It was a great evening and Karl was just thrilled as this was one of his first wild horse range trips. I sat in the dark that evening scrolling through pictures on the computer thrilled with what I had gotten just that night. I have a great season of painting coming this winter, with some really awesome reference photos to work with.
Being on 160,000 acres with well over 800 wild mustangs does something to you inside. Until you have spent the time in raw wild country its hard to understand the long term impact it can make on your emotions and drive. I am in my tenth year of traveling, photographing, painting and writing songs about the wild mustang. I have never bored of it, and I don't think I ever will.
I have lived over the last 10 years in a way to afford me the outdoor lifestyle and solice that comes with being on large land parcels surrounded by incredible views and wildlife, and of course my own horses as well to add to the landscape.
We spent the next two days hiking through knee high sage in hot summer temps. But we came across band after band across the vast landscape. I have always loved the SWB for the long range vistas, the flora and the colors in the soil from the mineral content that brings a richness to the land. Foaling season was pretty much over with just a few mares that looked as though they would foal yet. Normally the stallion activity slows down a bit as summer progresses, mares have foaled and the heat sets in. But I was thrilled to have captured numerous confrontations and 'dances' among stallions while on the range.
For the most part, the ranges all looked really well, there has been a lot of snowpack and moisture and its evident when you see the general health of the wild horses. They are round and full from plenty of forage and with this in mind, should fair well through the winter. Though with the SWB, there are concerns with water availabilty year round as wild horse advocates work to maintain springs in certain areas across the range. Another concern, the AML of this herd is far above its recommended number. With a rough count of more than 800 in this herd, it is nearly double. Bait trapping and PZP has not been consistant with this herd and the reproduction has caused the numbers to soar. Unsure where the fault lies in the mismanagement of this herd is unfortunate as there will be a gather and most of the recent years of foal crop removed with many of these wild horses ending up in feedlots for the remainder of their lives, or being deemed unadoptable and thus sold for less than $25 ending up at risk of being sent to slaughter. Its a serious problem with our wild horses. With proper management from the governing agency and advocate groups that work in tandem with the BLM these are problems that have answers. Where the neglect is pointed is hard to know, but it saddens me to know that a gather is inevitable for this herd. The last helicopter round up was well over 8 to 10 years ago, and it was brutal.
The wild horse management has many issues and controvercies that surround it. The mismanagement will cost the horses in the end. My hope is that advocate and nonprofit organizations can see the greater goal and work along side of the BLM, holding them accountable, but also supporting a good and fair work for the wild horses in the end.
As I filter through the 2500 photos taken on just this trip alone, I know that some of the wild horses I choose to paint, will not be on the range in years to come. I continue to hope and believe for the greater good to prevail, our western landscape is so grand, so vast, so beautiful...but without the wild mustang gracing it, its just land. The spirit of the wild mustang should have the right to lay claim to that which they have spent thousands of years on. One can hope....
We ended our 11 day Colorado tour in Livermore. We had a weekend of live music, wild mustang fine art, the little red roan vintage rv was on site and got alot of attention in the parking lot...along with, wild mustang demonstrations. I always enjoy the opportunity to share 'the life' I have created around the wild mustang, with a mix of travel, art, music and having my own four legged equine to come home to when the travels are over. Its an unconventional life full of adventure, and sometimes some pretty wild rides! But I am ever thankful and grateful for the opportunity to share my adventures, art, music and the legacy of our west, the wild mustang with each and every one of You!
As always the enthusiasm I experience when meeting people during my travels is a continuing confirmation to keep painting this rich part of our western heritage. As our world continues to turn and spin, the outcome for our land and wild is always at risk of surviving this ever growing planet. I would hope, we always make room for them.
Summer is swinging down, and with that, I will pack away my traveling gear and gear up for a productive winter of painting the wild mustangs, the lands, and the incredible skies that I have witnessed over the last several months. Spring will bring new work, new travels...but for now, its time to paint! Enjoy the slideshow of just a small portion of photos taken from Colorado ranges...and as always, you can always follow my shenanigans and posts of facebook on my personal page and the business page as well.