A Magical Encounter – July, 2012

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.

Thanks Tom (and all the firefighters)!

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.

Some of the Little Duck burn area to the north of us.

You can see the hot spots in this image.

We’d never gone up to the Bluffs from this direction, so the route seemed all new to us.

Wee – looks like we’re going to go right over the edge of the world!

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?

My first sighting of an elk while up there. He quickly disappeared into the trees.

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.

I saw these tracks in the mud as I walked through. I’m guessing coyote, but I don’t know for sure. There were deer, elk, horse and cow tracks as well.

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.

There’s a little one. A cute little colt.

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.

They got pretty relaxed with me. The little one might even have been a bit bored. 🙂

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.

Can you see them? The tiny horse dots?

I could see 2 different groups of horses.

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 spotted a couple of colorful Western Sheep moths along the way.

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.

This bachelor spots us so we stop where we are.

He’s not sure what we are, so he starts to make his way towards us.

He’s joined by 2 more bachelor stallions and now all 3 are coming towards us.

And they keep coming.

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. 🙂

And then they suddenly veered off.

So beautifully graceful running across the uneven ground.

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.

HA! And they turn away again. We’re upwind of them, so they can’t smell us to make a decision about us.

Going the other direction again.

This group is in front of us and they watch the 3 bachelors run back and forth, waiting for an indication of whether to run or not. As long as the bachelors stay curious about us, we’ll have a chance to photograph some of the other horses.

Back to our left.

Pausing and snorting trying to catch some sort of scent.

Hi boy. I try to keep my body language unthreatening and relaxed in hopes they’ll continue to stick around. If they only knew – my heart is beating pretty fast too. 🙂

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! 🙂

I glance back to the other horses. More have come up from a lower area of the small mesa.

Once again on the run.

Curiosity.

I don’t know how many times these 3 went back and forth, but they were amazing to watch and photograph.

This time, they head for the larger group of horses.

Almost like a changing of the guards, another stallion and his family approach us.

As the gray band stallion stops his advance, more horses are coming forward to investigate.

And then another band stallion starts to trot towards us with his family.

You have a beautiful family boy.

And another family checks us out.

Moving closer.

And yet another band decides to see what all the fuss is about.

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.

Photos are for viewing purposes only. Most images available for purchase at: http://www.NickolesPhotography.com. Images by Pam Nickoles Photography, along with all site content are copyright protected and owned solely by Pam Nickoles Photography. Photos and/or text may not be used, downloaded or reproduced in any form without express written permission from Pam Nickoles Photography. Feel free to share, but please respect my copyright.

28 Responses to “A Magical Encounter – July, 2012”


  1. WOW, WOW, WOW!!!! How incredible!! SO glad you two decided to hike out!!!!! What a blessing!!!!!!!!! Thanks for sharing!!!!

  2. pnickoles Says:

    Oh so am I Robin. What both of us would have missed! It was just so special. Good to hear from you. 🙂

  3. Jim Westin Says:

    Chance favors the prepared mind. You guys rock. What a magical encounter and such beautiful photos. Memories are made of this…….

  4. pnickoles Says:

    Hi Jim! We were so lucky. It really was a perfect way to end our trip. The horses were so good to us. Hope you’re doing well. Will you be back soon?

  5. Diane Wagner Says:

    What a fabulous trip! I am envious! You got some awesome shots (as always 🙂


  6. Oh WOW! Pam!! How exciting that had to have been! What a beautiful group of horses. wow!!

  7. pnickoles Says:

    I thought of you Diane. You would have loved it of course. You need to get out there again.

  8. pnickoles Says:

    Such a wonderful encounter Billie. Sigh. 🙂

  9. Celeste Gerber (Celeste_in_TX) Says:

    Wow! That was just such an amazing, awesome experience and how wonderful you captured the photos to share such an event with others. Thank you so much!! It reassures me also to see how they are surviving in spite of all the fires in the area.

  10. Amy Says:

    Wow! What a wonderful feeling that must have been! Just to be so close & feel accepted by them. They all look so healthy & happy at peace. How lovely to know that these particular horses are living free! Thank you for sharing this experience with us, Pam! I could almost feel the excitement as I read. Beautiful! Magical! AWESOME!

  11. katrine pett Says:

    What a magical encounter Pam the pure energy bouncing off these beautiful beings is heartfelt – thankyou so much these are some of the finest moments I’ve ever seen!


  12. I love the photo of the moths. Also I think the pawprints may belong to a fox. Thanks for sharing your amazing experience and photography with us.

  13. Maggie Frazier Says:

    Oh Pam – what a great day for both of you. Amazes me that with all the roundups & helicopters = that all of these horses would be so curious & then relaxed around humans.
    On the other hand – your attitude & calmness must have reassured them.
    What a day – I envy you so
    Maggie

  14. kate bremer Says:

    Thank you for making my day! Those beautiful ones sure made your day on that trip too. :o)

  15. Arlene Says:

    Dear Pam Many encounters of the AWESOME KIND, I know you Know how lucky all of that was, WOW, Im sitting here with my heart beating fast with envy, some will live a lifetime never witnessing what you did, , I remember my trips to the desert in Nevada , many years I would go there just to see them thundering across the desert , I was never disappointed by the Wild Mustangs,they were always there , to impress me, thrill me, and absolutely mesmerize me with their Beauty….I always felt so Honored by them, I would stand in amazement just to be so lucky …..They say the ground shakes and it does my entire body would vibrate with wonder…..The sight , sound was captivating………………..The Mustangs are forever in my mind !!!! As the most beautiful gift I have ever received…………….

  16. Lyn McCormicK Says:

    Great story, such amazing creatures.


  17. What nice shots, Pam! Leave them alone and let them live free, they know what to do much better than people! Think the large canine tracks might be a wolf. See too big for a coyote. What is the proportion of livestock grazing vis a vis wild horse grazing in these herd mgnt. areas?


  18. Fabulous adventure Pam!! I am continuously amazed at how curious and accepting wild horses are of us humans. Even the horses in BLM pens have generally been extremely accepting of humans.

  19. Susan King Says:

    I’ve been online for hours trying to identify a butterfly I saw last week on the top of the cliffs going through Unaweep Canyon to Gateway. It turned out to be the Western Sheep Moth. Yours was the first picture I found that matched so I clicked on the image and ended up here. What a treat to see the horse photography since I spent all my youth with horses and always had a love for the wild horses. I emailed this to my dad since he was with me when I spotted this moth. What’s a little strange is that although I am sure ours was this moth in your picture, the one we found was such a brilliant, bright yellow orange – almost hurt your eyes to look at. And yet your picture and even mine just don’t show how bright the color was. Also surprising was that the fat, pudgy body was yellow orange and black striped and I would have guessed it would be all black. It may have just recently hatched as it was quite sluggish and acted like it was trying to figure out how to fly. With such a heavy body I even wondered if it would be able to. It was still there when we came back down the trail 45 minutes later and still never acted like it was ready to fly. Thank goodness for your picture – I thought I’d never identify it.

  20. Laura Says:

    So awesome! Lucky you to have such a treat and thank you so much for sharing these fabulous photos with us!

  21. Stephanie Says:

    Amazing to read! I love to read you posts, you are a good story teller! thank you for sharing, what an amazing experience! your photos are fantastic.

  22. Arlene Says:

    Had to comment again Pam, I pray they will live on forever their incredible beauty, combined with shear wonderment is amazing and magical ….. I am so envious of your encounters and also so happy that you were so incredibility blessed with experiencing them ……………………………right up close and personal !!!! Thank You for sharing this fantastic Journey !!!!!

  23. ellieroo Says:

    The picture from 8/14 of the red mare glowing in the light took my breath away! I have her look a like brother he has been my friend for 10 yrs now! Don’t think you could tell them apart.

    I can’t get over after all we have done to the horses they still come in to check us out??!!

  24. Dona Hilkey Says:

    What a great experience, Pam. I always enjoy your blog. Thank you for posting these Piceance horses, I know they are not easy to find and photograph. I recognize a few of the horses but many are new to me and not on the ID lists.

  25. stephanie Says:

    “one” photo just never feels like enough 🙂 Thank you for sharing these privileged experiences.


  26. […] He was with 2 bachelor stallions who obviously took pretty good care of him. (See that story here: “A Magical Encounter”). He’s still with one of the bachelor stallions – an older gray that I can always find […]


  27. […] seen this played out before in Piceance; stallions raising an orphan foal (https://nickolesphotography.wordpress.com/2012/08/03/piceance-creek-hma-july-2012/) and the little guy grew up just fine under the stallion’s care. At least this filly had […]

  28. Wendy Says:

    Incredible. Amazing. Awesome. I don’t know what to say!


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