Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Sand Wash Herd Management Area in Moffat County, Colorado

          "Did you see Picasso?"  The question comes from a portly middle-aged man sporting a long-lens camera around his neck.  Unsure exactly what he's asking Tim and I answer with a short "Uh, no," and move on.

           Reflecting on his question later I realized that today we have seen irregular patterns of black and brown, a not-quite-pink combination of cream and beige, black mixed with roan to create a speckled blue.  I refer though, not to paintings by famous artists, but to wild horses.

           Native wild horses disappeared from North America thousands of years ago.  The horses we're viewing today are descendants of horses which escaped during the Spanish conquest of our continent in the 1500s.  The controversy surrounding wild horses is this:  Are they truly wild, or are they an invasive species?  Biologists tell us that domesticated horses revert quickly to their ancient behavioral patterns if lost or abandoned.  Considering that these horses have been roaming free on the land for 500 years, I would say they're more native than I am.

Several of the horses we saw while driving
the "Wild Horse Loop" displayed a healthy
interest in us.  This horse watched us for
several minutes before slowly turning away.

This small group of wild horses grazes the sage-covered high plains of
northwestern Colorado.

We were fortunate to encounter this little filly and her mother
by the side of the road.

           Human settlements in the west—and endless miles of fencing—are now the biggest obstacles to free-ranging wild horses.  Even in sparsely populated Moffat County, Colorado the wild herd is managed by the Bureau of Land Management to keep their numbers from overwhelming the designated habitat.  But, fortunately for these horses, the 156,500 acres of the herd management area in Sand Wash Basin sustains a healthy population.  And that population is filled with animals sporting every possible color combination.

          Now we get it.  The gentleman with the camera was asking about a horse named "Picasso",  most likely one exhibiting Picasso-esque colors.   So did we see him?  A Google search reveals multiple photos of the famed wild stallion and our question is answered.

Picasso (the painter) used shades of brown and black
in his "cubist" paintings.  You can see how this wild stallion
got his name.
Photo by John Wagner, from the website:

          No, we didn't see "Picasso" this day in the basin.  But it was an excellent day on the range, in the company of wild horses.

This mare trotted by the truck, her snorts and
whinnies singing to the sky as she passed by.

Lookout Mountain (straight ahead in center of photo)
defines the northern boundary of the Sand Wash Herd
Management Area.

"Mom" and her baby share a tender moment on the ridge.

            Plan your wild horse-viewing get-away in the wild country of northwestern Colorado by visiting this website:http://www.blm.gov/co/st/en/fo/lsfo/programs/wild_horse.html
Note:  This is a remote and rugged region with the nearest services (limited) 25-30 miles away.  Be prepared when traveling in this area.

Our truck is a mere blip on the landscape.
We saw one other person (mentioned above) during
our three hours in Sand Wash Basin.

The dark green line delineates the Wild Horse Management Area.
The dark red lines are the County roads of the Wild Horse Loop.
We saw groupings of horses along each of the loops.



  1. Hi Rita,

    Very nice report on a very interesting topic. The closest thing I've experienced to the Sand Wash Herd Management Area was a trip to see the wild ponies on Assateague Island on the Maryland-Virginia border.

    I can certainly understand the point about the horses in the Sand Wash Herd not TECNICALLY being a native species. However, as you imply in your narrative, these horses have earned "native status" since they have been roaming free on the land for 500 years.

    In addition to the wild horses, were there other animal species that you saw during your visit to Sand Wash Basin?


    1. Hi John,

      I've seen the wild ponies of Assateague Island as well. It's quite a different environment from Colorado but also an impressive wild herd.

      We only saw a few other animal species during our visit—prairie dogs and several different bird species. But I've read that the Sand Wash Basin also supports migrating herds of antelope, and also mule deer, sage grouse, raptors and owls.

      We'd like to return to take more photographs of the horses and, hopefully, to see some of the other wildlife in the basin.

      Thanks for your comments!

  2. So very precise and informative descriptions, Rita.
    Remember reading about the Camargue horses and the Andean horses somewhere sometime back, but this fact of domesticated horses running wild and that too for so many hundreds of years, is definitely a different study.
    That makes me think, if domesticated humans get lost or abandoned, not that there is much of a chance these days for the entire planet seems to have been colonised, planted, irrigated or mined, would they revert back to the wild and caveman habits and instincts ..

    1. Ha! I like your speculation about what might happen to lost or abandoned humans. While I agree with you that there are virtually no truly wild places left on earth, I think that perhaps humans would revert to a caveman-like existence in the absence of all civilization. Interesting…

      Thanks, as always, for commenting Soumyendu!

  3. Hi Rita,

    What an interesting post! I feel like you use your descriptions and photos the way Picasso used paint to reveal these beautiful places to us.

    I loved seeing the wild horses, and your image of Lookout Mtn is truly stunning.

    Can't wait for your next trip!

    1. Gee, Vickie, first I guess I should say "Thanks" for comparing my work with Picasso's! Didn't one of his paintings just sell for 179 million? If only I could get that much for one of my stories!

      The Sand Wash Basin was a great find. We drive through NW Colorado every month and had never stopped there. I think we'll be going back.

      Thanks for reading. Enjoy your holiday weekend, Vickie!

  4. What a fine advertisement for Moffat County this is. Joel and I plan to go to Sand Wash Basin again this summer. The horses fascinate us. As always your blog was informative, contained historical background, offered detailed information on finding the site, and clear, captivating photographs. Your blog is a treasure for those who travel. I'm so glad your shoulder has healed enough that you have resumed your wandering ways.

    1. Janet, I figured that you and Joel had most likely visited this magical place. I heard that there's a wild horse photography exhibit at the downtown museum in Craig. Have you seen it?

      You're right - maybe this post will put Moffat County on people's radar?

      Thanks, as always for your kind words!

  5. I haven't seen it, Rita. Maybe I'll walk downtown today and check it out.