When P and I were in Utah, I knew I wanted to try and see some mustangs in the wild. You may not think of Utah when you think of mustangs, but there are a good number of herd management areas (HMAs) in the state. We spent the morning driving and hiking in Goblin Valley State Park. Tip: Go there! Pro tip: Do not hike there at midday because it’s hot as balls because it is a desert.
As we left we asked a park ranger about a place nearby that was labeled “Wild Horse Canyon” on our map. Could we go there to see wild horses? He said no and that he wasn’t sure why it was called that, but that we could take Temple Mountain Road to get through the San Rafael Swell and out to the McKay Flat. Our directions were to stay on that road and “stay to the left.” Don’t turn right. Ever. Also to be careful because they’d had rain the day before, and storms were in the area, meaning typically dry creek beds and washes could be full of water and/or mud, and that flash floods were possible.
So we did what anyone would do and totally went for it.
Mind you, we were in the middle of nowhere. Perhaps the most in-the-middle-of-nowhere I’ve ever been. For most of the trip we had no phone reception and thus I navigated based on a paper map (this is actually one of my little-known talents). This is either the Muddy Creek HMA or the Sinbad HMA. It’s not super clear based on the different descriptions and maps I’ve found online. It sort of doesn’t matter because the two HMAs are directly next to one another.
It took a long time. Like, a couple hours and we drove maybe 20 miles total? I don’t think we drove more than 15mph. The road started out all right and slowly became more and more of a dirt track.
Notice those scrubby bushes. Those were everywhere. Which is, you know, cool, except that once we got to the part where we figured we should be scouting for horses, I kept mistaking bushes for mustangs. Many, many times I’d jolt in my seat because I thought I saw them in the distance, only to realize it was another clump of bushes.
In the end, it was P who spotted them, right along the horizon.
The herd was very obligingly hanging out in an open, generally flat area near an unmarked road/dirt track that is probably used by utility vehicles or something. We were able to drive up it and get really close. I presume this was the McKay Flat, but…that’s not a place on our paper map so I cannot confirm this.
The herd was spread out in several groups. I’d estimate at least 70 horses in total. Maybe 12-15 really near to us. They were beautiful. I wasn’t sure what we’d find, given that we were still in the desert. Some of the photos make it look like there is a lot of grass/vegetation, but there is not; it is a lot of bare dirt covered in sparse, dry plants. But these horses looked well fed and happy.
I cried a little from excitement and happiness and awe. It was kind of overwhelming.
The weather was both perfect and not ideal. The incoming storm added real drama to the scenery and the cloud cover made it cool enough to be comfortable. We also watched a dust devil spin across the plain. They horses weren’t worried about it so we didn’t either. But, the storm was coming and we didn’t really have the proper vehicle to deal with the roads if they were to become muddy. I could’ve sat there all day. We ended up having to leave after only 10 or 15 minutes.
I would love to know for sure which herd we found. I’ve found some information about each herd that ends up being…not particularly helpful. I looked at the BLM online resources along with a pretty neat site called Wild Horse Tourist. Some of the information is contradictory.
There’s a piece on Wild Horse Tourist that mentions the HMA lines were redrawn in 2011. Perhaps what we saw was a band within the Muddy Creek HMA, which used to be in the Sinbad area and are different than the ones pictured on Wild Horse Tourist. (we saw no paints or roans, only brown, black, bay, buckskin and grulla), and the BLM info about horses in that area is just out of date. Who knows.
I tell you what, though. Definitely on the top 5 list of coolest things I’ve ever done/seen. Utah is unbelievable. Go there. I highly recommend it, should you ever get the opportunity. I already want to plan another trip. Next time we’ll get a better vehicle and plan at least a day around finding and watching the horses. It was amazing.