August 3, 2012
We spent three days in the Piceance Creek/East Douglas wild horse range a couple of weekends ago. What a wonderful trip. I’m going to start off backwards and share our last day with you first.
We left Meeker early and got to the range just as the sun was coming up. Just the best way to start any day.
Click on the photos for larger/sharper images
We travelled over Pinto Gulch enroute to the horses of Cathedral Bluffs. Wildfires had made us pretty unsure about venturing that way, so we first stopped to check in with a firefighter we’d met the day before who was stationed with his water tanker/tender near the Little Duck fire.
Tom Sexton had been recruited from the Weber (pronounced Weeber) County, Utah Fire District to help Rio Blanco County and other agencies fight approximately eight active wildfires in the area. Most from lightning strikes which I can certainly understand given the incredible light shows produced each evening we were there. Firefighter Tom said he’s only seen one other display of lightning like those near Meeker in all his years in the field (20+). The thunder shook the windows of our motel and the rapid-fire flashes of light were both powerful and blinding! The drives to town from the range were pretty intense let me tell you.
Tom pulled out a map and told us that he thought we’d be fine going up to Cathedral Bluffs and that the Little Duck fire was almost out. Crews were still working on some hot spots, but it should not affect our travel. So after talking more about the wild horses in the area (he was impressed by the wild ones he saw so we gave him directions to where he’d see more on his way out), we said our good-byes and started up the mountain.
We’d never gone up to the Bluffs from this direction, so the route seemed all new to us.
Well, it is a pretty steep drop off.
We worried a little about the condition of the road due to all the rain (always a good thing in a horse range!), especially in the low spots, but I guess that’s part of the adventure, right?
And we passed this little guy along the way – an American Kestrel. Love the raptors.
And then there it was. Our first muddy crossing. I got out to walk across to see if it was easily passable.
Tom waits to see if I’m going to wave him off or forward.
We made it through this muddy washout without too much trouble and the next few that we encountered. Always best to check them out though.
Finally, our first sighting of horses. (We didn’t get up there until around 11:30, so the lighting is not great, but the sightings always make up for it). I figured this was the same couple of bachelor stallions I always see towards the top, but not so. The gray stud is the same, but he has new companions – a mare with a foal. Good for him I thought to myself.
As I studied the horses through my lens, I was a bit surprised to discover that all three were actually male. Hmmm. No other horses around that I could see. I had to assume that this was either an orphaned or abandoned little guy that took up with the bachelors…and good thing. He seemed a bit young, but in pretty good condition overall and the older boys were protective of him.
I stayed with them for about 20 minutes and when they seemed the least worried about me, I backed away. As I turned around towards the truck, I noticed something way off into the distance to the east.
As it always happens, Tom and I had planned to leave by noon or one to drive home, but we were already past that deadline. I kept looking at this large gathering of horses and then at the distance. And then at the time. Finally, we both decided to see if we could find a road, 2-track or path that got us even a little closer before heading on out as planned.
There was a 2-track, but it was really wet and muddy. Not a good choice. We sat on the main road for a minute before I looked at Tom and said I was game to walk on out as far as they’d let me if the further delay in our departure was okay with him. He replied with, “that is a lot of horses” and said he’d go with me. Yay! We parked the truck on the main road, packed some water and started walking.
We were doing well. Getting closer, and the horses weren’t running off. We deliberately stayed in sight until we came to a valley that would eventually take us up to a small mesa relatively close to where we’d seen the horses.
We didn’t hear running hooves as we descended out of view, so we continued on. As we topped the rise, we realized we were right on the mark. A few horses were to the left, but most were right in front of where we’d come up.
Now they are able to hear the click of the camera. I thought they’d probably turn around and take off and that would be it, but that’s not exactly what happened. They continued to come forward.
They’re off to our right now and stop to size us up before starting towards us again. So cool. Tom and I never moved from our original position.
Tom and I whispered occasionally about how very, very cool this encounter was, otherwise, we were quiet. Sometimes Tom would also let me know that I was going to have a lot of images to go through!
Can I just say how incredibly lucky I felt to be so “accepted” as just a curiosity and not a threat?
We’ve been with them over an hour now. The black band stallion has his back to us and they’re pretty relaxed. None of the 25+ horses ran off. With all of the horses settled down, Tom and I finally leave our spot (that we never moved from) and start the hike back to the truck. We wave and they watch. I was so glad Tom had decided to walk out with me. What he would have missed! Instead, we had this amazing experience to talk about all the way home.
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