Salt Wells, WY Wild Horses – July 2010

August 14, 2010

I didn’t know quite what to expect when we decided to go out to this HMA. A year or so ago, I was advised (by a BLM employee) that this area was extremely rough and remote and I’d better be very well prepared to spend a night or two in the event of a vehicle breakdown or rain (roads would be impassable) as it wasn’t a well travelled area. Well, that pretty much discouraged us from planning an immediate trip until I heard that these horses were to be rounded up this Fall. I hated the thought that these horses would disappear and few would know that they had even been a beautiful part of the environment since certainly the ruggedness would be a factor in how many people would have actually seen them.

So imagine my surprise when we arrived to find wide, graded roads within a lush, expansive landscape shared by all kinds of animals with abundant water sources and lots of forage. It was incredible and I felt cheated that I wouldn’t know these horses longer and better through what I can only interpret as misinformation designed to keep me from doing just that. Grrr.

Click on the images for larger/sharper views.

Some of the abundant wildlife we saw.

Antelope families were everywhere

We observed many raptors such as this Golden Eagle

Sage Grouse

While I was absolutley elated by the conditions of the range and the animals, there was a disturbing aspect as well. These signs were posted throughout and they made me cringe – they were in several locations where we stopped to photograph horses.

Though the area is rarely visited (sarcasm), we stopped one of the natural gas guys on the road and asked him about the signs. He explained that everything was shut down at the moment since the processing plant didn’t have the capability of separating natural gas from the H2S (hydrogen sulfide). This is also known as “sour gas.” I asked what would happen in the event of a leak and was told that most of the gas would just dissipate into the atmosphere. And if someone or something was standing close by? It’s only a problem if you’re in a direct stream was the response. Though I wanted to continue, I quit asking questions at that point since the answer had created some obvious uneasiness. I decided I’d Google it when I got home. (This HMA is utilized by oil and gas developers as well as livestock interests. It is also checkerboarded with private land.) To break the tension, I mentioned that we were there looking for wild horses. I could tell he was relieved by my new line of questioning and he was more than happy to tell us where we could find some.

In this post, I’m going to highlight just one area of horses that we came across. I call them the big meadow horses (just as a reference to their location).

Following a horse trail along a water source

And there's a lot of water

A little killdeer watches me closely

And then decides I'm too close!

Turning a corner into another large meadow


They’re a ways off so I decide to find a place to cross and make my way to them. As I jump a shallow area, I notice something scurry off to my right. I’m a bit uncomfortable now (Tom is back at the Jeep) as I recognize the slinking, wave-like movement – it belongs to the very aggressive badger. I saw at least two. Didn’t like my odds much, but decided to give them a wide berth in hopes they’d let me pass without feeling threatened.

These guys are not to be messed with!

Take a look at those claws!!

Maybe they think I’m just a very strange looking horse. In any case, I’m allowed to go by without incident and I’m grateful. I’ve heard stories about the damage an angry badger can inflict. No personal experience required!

I continue to work my way towards the horses when suddenly the band stallion pushes his mares in my direction. They kind of scatter out in front of me in confusion (which I share).

The band stallion pushes his mares forward

Birds fly everywhere as well

They finally veer off, but I still wonder what prompted the stallion's actions

Slowing down and giving me a look over

Ah - the girls are curious and turn to face me. Hi lovely ladies.

Love this

The horses move off and I start back for the Jeep. I have to trespass on badger turf again, but I’m not as worried. If you just leave things alone, they’ll generally do the same.

The badger resides by this platform. Not a great location – I don’t like its proximity to the water source…

We’re run out of the area by a very nasty storm that closes in on us quickly. Despite the approaching thunder and lightning, I can’t resist taking just a couple more shots as Tom turns the Jeep around.

More horses coming from the west and we’re forced to leave!

The roads are graded, but they’re still made up of clay and that stuff is miserable when it rains. We don’t know the area, but we know we need to head east…and fast. We just barely make it to a paved road when the downpour hits. It rained so hard, we just pulled over onto a side road and took a nap. Hey, we’re not old (well, not too). The hours are long – up early and out late – so some forced shut-eye can be welcome. Of course I couldn’t get the horses that we’d missed out of my mind.

The rain never really let up so we ended up driving back into Rock Springs for a snack and I jotted down notes in my wild horse journal. I still had hopes that we could get back to the HMA later that day – and we did.

It was still overcast, but I like that light and was excited about going back to where we’d seen the big meadow horses. The new horses had been coming from the west. What was over there? I just had to see.

I’m barely out of the vehicle when I take this picture.

Looking west

I don’t even realize until it’s too late, that there is a ridge and another valley below the one I can see. I startle some horses.

A stallion comes to check me out.

He's not taking any chances and he moves his herd away

Naturally curious, when they think they're at a safe distance, they stop to give me a better look

What a gorgeous line-up of wild horses!

And off they go

The horses stop and watch intently. Stallions coming from different directions are about to “discuss” boundaries.

I wish I was able to handle a still camera and a video camera simultaneously. There was so much activity and so many beautiful horses. It was big meadow magic. I wish I could’ve recorded it. What luck that we were able to make it back to this location.

A beautifully peaceful parting shot…

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40 Responses to “Salt Wells, WY Wild Horses – July 2010”

  1. Susan Emory Says:

    “Big meadow magic” …I guess SO! Pam, these captures are beyond beautiful! You were blessed with abundance … what a literally Divine shoot! Thank you for sharing all of this with us!



  3. Karen B. Strawbridge Says:

    Thank you for posting their story…….the grey in the bottom photos looks like my 1666 Diamond mare……so in hopes that they do not get rounded up. They are so beautiful and free…..God made them this way and man is trying to deplete it. Wish God would interven some how…..prayers for all HMA……horses tho’ the ones I have from Onaqui HMA Utah, their band has been depleted. I am sick over it…..Thank you again……<3 Karen

  4. Karen B. Strawbridge Says:

    P.s. my 1666 mare is from Salt Wells HMA….<3 Karen

  5. Thank you, dear Pam. May all of your work one day reside in the Library of Congress for future generations to view the treasures that are so recklessly being destroyed in the name of greed.

  6. Barbara Warner Says:

    What GORGEOUS horses! The roundup will destroy these bands forever. THe war against our wild horses must be stopped some way.

  7. Gerri Kier Says:

    Beautiful shots Pam…love the variety of animals you captured on this outing. I appreicate all that you and your friends are doing to protect and save the wild horses.

  8. Jim Westin Says:

    Before the sky, there are no fences facing. I really couldn’t see where the horses were bothering anyone. What an adventure it must have been. The photographs are magnificent. Your dedication is palpable. These images are so bittersweet. If only you weren’t documenting the disappearance of “our” Wild Horses from “our” Wild West.
    β€œWhat is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, man would die from a great loneliness of spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts, soon happens to man. All things are connected.”
    Chief Seattle

  9. Janet Ferguson Says:

    I hope your work is eventually gathered by The Smithsonian Institution as your record of these herds becomes more and more valuable. Since I know nothing about how to go about this or anything, you may want to just write to them. Maybe there is someone there who has ears!

  10. Janet Ferguson Says:

    Sharon: I hadn’t read your comment before I posted mine! We both see “the handwriting on the wall.”

  11. Pam, I am so glad you got out here to find this. What a beautiful horse range and the horses are grand. I will send this to folks because they love to see what you are doing. Wyoming has wild horse magic for certain. If we can stop BLM then folks may see these horses in the future. You have been my eyes in many places I cannot get to. thanks, mar

  12. sandra longley Says:

    There is a man in Wyo. who should see your pictures of his states wild horses and hear their story-he could be of great help.

  13. sandra longley Says:

    I find my spirit lifted when I see your photos that so capture the wildness of the horses and the beautiful country they reside is a comfort to me, as mostly these days I pour over pictures of the roundups, looking for evidence of pain and suffering and wrongdoing..I need this to be the last image in my mind, instead of a palamino mare battered and clinging to a shelf on a cliff shortly before being shot or pushed to her death by a helicopter…those are hard images to live with-these are wonderful!

  14. Deborah Williams Says:

    I can’t stop saying WOW when I see your photos, Pam!
    Such beauty….how can one help but love these animals. Thank you for your dedication!

  15. Joanne K. Says:

    Thank you once again for sharing a stunning array of photos so all of us not close by can see what you see in person. Your heart melts and breaks wondering if this band will be wild forever. The colors, the honesty in their eyes, as if they knew you were on the friendly side of humans, documenting their story. You are doing a great service to these horses. I hope the round ups stop. I hope some sense of sanity starts to take over for their sake.

  16. sandra longley Says:

    The funny and sad part of this story, is that BLM employee -who like many of them.. say..its too rugged out there and no roads so those horses don’t get checked-we just can’t get out there..sure can’t if you don’t leave the building..LOL

  17. Sandy Says:

    Pam, love the photo’s! So real and beautiful. Thank you.

  18. Puller Says:

    Such gorgeous photos!!! As for the badger, if cattle graze on those lands, you can be sure the badger will be trapped or shot before too long. I know they can be territorial, but only if they feel threatened. If you come in peace, they will normally let you leave/pass in peace. πŸ˜‰

    Your photos truly mock all that Interior/BLM says about starving and drought stricken wild horses. Their lies make me ill. It’s all about oil and natural gas, cattle and development.

    The horses sitting in BLM compounds look like refugees from the Trail of Tears compared to their wild breathren. I can’t understand why native people aren’t more supportive of letting the wild horses stay wild. Maybe they too have lost their spirit over the past centuries.

  19. patricia field Says:

    Please know that we marvel at the beauty of the area and the magnificance of the free horses. Shots of the wildlife is also greatly appreciated as many of us may never see them in their own environment. Your photos and comment evolk many feelings of love and spirituality in our hearts, thank you for your time and effort!

  20. pnickoles Says:

    Thanks Susan – Divine describes the “big meadow magic” beautifully. πŸ™‚

    Shirley – I agree. It’s hard to think of these peaceful animals having their lives so uprooted shortly. I try to dwell on the work going on to try to stop it, but it may be very difficult in this HMA due to the amount of private landowners that allow the horses access in exchange for a consistent AML (appropriate management level) number of horses…

    Thank you Karen – the Salt Wells horses appear very healthy (in the area I observed). I saw pictures of your mare. Very pretty girl.

    Sharon – it’s my hope that these amazing horses never become part of our past! We just can’t allow it to happen.

    Barbara – that’s what we’re all working towards and I just have to believe something will come about to save our herds through everyone’s efforts.

    Hi Gerri – I always enjoy all the other critters that live in harmony with the horses.

    Hi Jim – I’m not in denial that our wild horses are in jeaporady, but I just can’t think of my trips as documenting something that will eventually be gone. I just can’t.

  21. pnickoles Says:

    Hi Janet – thanks for your comments, but like I told Sharon and Jim, I can’t imagine a world without wild horses or the need to have images of them preserved for future generations that will never see them. We will figure out a way to save them. I have to believe that.

    Thanks Mar – it’s a privilege to be your eyes and share the horses with your, and everyone else. πŸ™‚

    Sandra – please e-mail about the man in Wyoming you speak of. I know you’re working at the most heartbreaking work that goes on for our horses. I appreciate all that you’re doing and I’m glad that my photos can be a source of comfort for you.

    Thank you so much Deborah. I don’t know why more people can’t fall in love with these horses or at least value what they represent. They’ve completely changed my life. I wish more people could see them in person.

    Thank you Joanne – your hope is also my hope.

    Thanks Sandy! Hope you’re having a great summer with your Mustang girl. πŸ™‚

    Oh Puller, I hate to think that any of the wildlife has to be removed like that. Why does man always have to continue to take? Grrr. I hate the images of horses in holding (so many beautiful horses). It’s a crime and I hope the public reaches the end of their tolerance for it soon for their sake!

    Thank you so much Patricia. Your words recharge me when I wonder if what I’m doing even matters. It can be such a roller-coaster of emotions. Please know that I’m grateful to all of you that read, comment and share the stories/photos as well.

  22. Forest Horse Says:

    Beautiful account and pictures of all of the creatures! Thanks

  23. equus5 Says:

    This place looks like a green paradise and these beautiful wild horses are NOT starving. How does the BLM get away with their lies? Can’t these pictures be used as evidence that these magnificent animals do NOT need to be “saved”? I love the way they look right at you as if they are asking you to tell their story. We must do all we can to let people know that they are there and need our help.

  24. Judith Bishop Says:

    Wonderful pictures. Thank you so much for sharing. I would love to be able to go out and see wild horses. That would be amazing!

  25. Janet Ferguson Says:

    There was a badger that lived on a “farmette” my parents owned “back when.” At the time, I read up and saw something about how if a dog attacks them, they roll over on their backs and tear at the dog’s underside with their very long, sharp, and deadly claws.

    Luckily our dogs never attacked it — they were more into rabbit chasing!

  26. Janet Dufresne Says:

    Just want to thankyou for the beautiful pics of the wild horses and badgers. Keep posting them on facebook so people will know exactly why we fight so valliantly to prevent anymore round ups and suffering of Gods beautiful creatures.I really think with your expertise in photography you will do a great service to these beautiful horses.

  27. Margaret Says:

    Thank you Pam. I wish now I had gone home by way of Rock Springs…ah well. Thanks to you and Ginger–you inspired me to go out and see Cloud while I was in WY. He is so handsome. I saw “gentle” souls. I can tell you that my heart felt at peace once I was with them.

  28. Deby Zimmerman Says:

    Just when I think I have seen some of THE MOST BEAUTIFUL photos of God’s creations, you come along with ANOTHER set of photos from your latest adventure into Eden….. NO WHERE and in NONE of your photos, are there STARVING horses, as BLM charges…guess they keep checking on the ones in “holding” and see their lack of spirit… Thank you SO much for again, going above and beyond. It’s a sad note to think that only in the Smithsonian, may these beauties only be found one day, if Salazar has his way…. I hope and pray and continue to send emails for possible changes to end this horror. You provide the proof that BLM is nothing buy lying about their situation and condition…and with these horses living on 1.5 MILLION ACRES….WHERE is the DAMAGE they are supposed to be causing?? I would bet that at this time there are more cows on this land than horses…I seem to remember there being stated that there were around 2000 horses. IF that is the case, what is the damage that they could possibly do on 1.5 MILLION acres????? You continue to amaze with your creative shots, and lightening fast reflexes to capture some of the shots seen here. Thank you ….again!!!

  29. Paul Tompkins Says:

    Hi from England.
    Those pictures are some of the most amazing images I have ever seen. Such beautiful scenery and wonderfully captured images of some of the worlds most amazing creatures.
    I will forever be in debt to my wonderful friend Deby (above) who directed me to your website which has enabled me to share in the majestic splendor of the area and the horses.
    Thanks so much.

  30. Madeleine I. Lapointe Says:

    Your pictures break my heart with their beauty, probably already gone. I don’t understand people in the USA asking WHY? It is so obvious. They simply need to STAND UP to the law-breakers annihilating the horses that are protected by Congressional Law since 1971!!
    None of this is legal or debatable – it is brazen greed, lawlessness and disrespect of the people and Public Lands of the USA. The recent Gulf incident is another perfect example. The President says STOP and they ignore him including the head of the Department of the Interior, Ken Salazar, Bush appointee and now Obama appointee, who seems to have as little regard for the law of the land and protection of life, jobs, etc., in the Gulf as in the ‘Wild Country’. Everyone should go back and see Marilyn Monroe’s last movie (the Wild Ones,I believe) that left her hysterical and unable to continue because of the trapping and killing of Mustangs, for real, 60 years back in time…….

  31. Barbara Warner Says:

    Unfortunately President Obama has not said STOP and he appointed Sec. of Interior Salazar who is over the BLM and is no doubt ordering ths done. THe general public has no idea and the media tells the BLM’s side except for a few brave reporters like George Knapp. Meanwhile our legislators in D.C. do nothing.

  32. Jerry Cook Says:

    I just heard on the local radio news that photographer, Carol Walker, hand delivered 35,000 letters to the BLM office in Rock Springs, Wyoming from opposers of the roundup plan for the Adobe and Salt Wells HMAs.

  33. Jerry Cook Says:

    Don’t know if the reporter got that number right or not, but she sure did that right thing.

  34. pnickoles Says:

    I WISH it had been 35,000, but it was 3,500. Still a good number…

  35. Janet Ferguson Says:

    Madeleine, people outside US seem to think, rightly or wrongly, that all we need to do is put pressure on our elected officials. If it were that easy, there would be no problem. One problem is getting this information OUT to the general public! That is a battle royale in itself.

    You are right – it is obviously reckless disregard of protective measures. I think they feel that by roundin’ up and stuffin’ in holding pens they are covering their as*%s.

  36. connie Says:

    pam, did you happen to see any horses resembling curly horses while your where in salt wells wyoming!

  37. pnickoles Says:

    Thanks for your comment Forest Horse. πŸ™‚

    equus5 – I’ve often felt that way when they look at me. Like they want me to let people know and tell their story, just like you said. I continue to try.

    Judith – they are truly amazing. I hope someday you’re able to go out yourself to see them.

    Dang Janet, I heard badgers were aggressive, but that’s scary. Hope my dogs never meet up with one either! Those claws really are something else.

    Janet Dufresne – thank you so much for your kind words.

    Margaret – I’m so glad you made it to see the horses. Hopefully, you’ll have another opportunity and Salt Wells will be on your itinerary too. πŸ™‚

  38. pnickoles Says:

    Hi Deby – I’ve been photographing the horses for about 6 years now and with the exception of a stallion defending his family in the Spring (they can get a little thin) or an obviously sick/old horse, I have yet to find anything but healthy animals. Admittedly, I’ve only been to Colorado, Wyoming and Montana (North Carolina horses too, but they’re not BLM managed) herds so far. I have seen photos from those areas and note similar body conditions. Just makes no sense. (Many thanks for your kind comments about my photos).

    All the way from England (don’t you love the internet?) – Hi Paul! (Thanks Deby). I very much appreciate that you took the time to read, view and comment. So good to hear that the wild horses have fans all over the world. πŸ™‚

  39. pnickoles Says:

    Madeleine, Barbara and Janet – the frustration of it all can be so very disheartening. Let’s keep trying to get it out there to the public and hope for more reporters like George Knapp to get on board.

    Connie – no curly horses in the photos I’ve gone through so far. πŸ™‚

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