Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Sand Wash Basin Mustangs

Since Mom was a Chincoteaguer and horse crazy, I grew up in love with all wild horses.  Mom was a big reader, and had a huge personal library of Zane Grey westerns, which I avidly read.  Of course, we also had all of Marguerite Henry's books, including Brighty of the Grand Canyon and Mustang, Wild Spirit of the West.  Besides my relatives on Chincoteague, I really loved Annie Johnston - "Wild Horse Annie" - and her fight to protect the wild horses of the western United States.
   I now live in Colorado, and there is a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) area about a 4 and 1/2 hour drive from my current home. The area is located in Moffat County, and is known as the Sand Wash Basin. Sand Wash Basin is the home of one of the few remaining herds of free-roaming wild mustangs in the United States.  It's location is 45 miles west of Craig, past Maybell, and can be entered on County Road 75.
    The Sand Wash Herd Management Area (HMA) is managed by the BLM and includes 154,940 acres of public land; 1,960 acres of private land; and 840 acres of state school section lands; for a total of 157,730 acres. Sand Wash Basin is surrounded by ridges and mesas; the boundary is fenced, except along State Highway 318.  There are no fences within the Herd Management Area. Vegetation includes sagebrush, bunchgrass, saltbush, and pinyon-juniper woodlands.
    Genetic analysis indicates the highest matches to Iberian-derived Spanish breeds, followed by Gaited breeds, then North American breeds, and, finally, Arabian breeds. Coats colors are greatly varied, and the pintos can be dramatic in color  and white placements. Grey and sorrel abound, but one can also see buckskins, duns, bays, and palominos, along with a few roans.
     The original population of mustangs within Sand Wash Basin was 65 head in 1971.  The managed population range is recommended to be between 163 to 363 equines.  The herds had a high population of 455 in 1998.  The BLM has gathered and removed mustangs from Sand Wash Basin in 1989, 1995, 2001, 2005, and, most recently, 2014. They generally try to entice younger horses (aged 1 to 3) to enter corrals baited with sweet feed. The group size is generally kept around 300 head.  There are many herds throughout the Basin - some with as many as 60 members, and a few young stallions with a single mare.
    Camping is allowed in Sand Wash Basin, and there are no fees, but it is primitive, and visitors are limited to a 14 day stay.  Be aware that the area is about 1 hour away from a hospital, and that there is at least a 30 minute travel time to reach basic supplies and fuel for your vehicle.  -  Off road vehicles are currently allowed; BLM is in the process of evaluating the usage of ATVs, etc.
    One basic rule applies:  Do NOT harass the horses.

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