Wednesday, July 5, 2017


…on the road from the Jackson Hole Writers Conference…

I’m not a horse person.  I can’t imagine one totin’ me around or feeding one or scoopin’ up after one.  Nope. Horses, I think, are not for me.

But when I’m riding some ribbon of asphalt across a sweeping section of backcountry plains when, over a rise or around a bend, maybe a quarter mile away from the pavement, one of ‘em stands silhouetted against a ridge line and involuntarily, a tape of something composed by Elmer Bernstein starts playing in my head.

I love the west, I know, and horses, roaming these expanses, are the west.

On a recent run through Oregon, I happened to visit the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse corrals, just south of Burns on US 395.  The following collection of shots, hopefully, will convey the good work these public servants are engaged in.  (Click on any photo to enlarge it, but consider expanding those photos of text in order to understand the whole story.)

Of the three-day trip from Jackson Hole to home, this day was going to be the shortest, clocking in at about 325 miles.  The variable weather created a cloudscape as dramatic as the land.

I knew I had time to visit places I might otherwise pass by, something too easily done in the high desert.  It’s one thing to fly over this country in a 737.  It’s inexcusable to do so on a motorcycle, I’m thinking.

Gingerly, I guide the big Triumph up the gravel road and into the parking area.

A well-appointed kiosk contains signs that tell the story.

Mustangs and Burros, being non-native to the area, have few natural predators.  Thus, they can breed and soon over populate the delicate dry reaches of the basin and range.  The BLM makes efforts to control the population by rounding ‘em up and making them available for adoption to highly qualified applicants.  But fewer than 25% of these animals ever find adoptive ‘parents.’

A self-guided auto tour rings the expanse of the operation.  Not being in an auto, I choose to hoof a good portion of the route.

A series of chutes and corrals allow BLM wranglers to herd and sort the mustangs retrieved from the wild.  As I fumbled for my camera, a group was coaxed through this raceway.

Beyond, a complex of fence lines cordoned off areas.  Not sure I understand the sorting process…

Back at the kiosk, we are told that the colors of the wild mustangs are as varied as the colors of the landscape from which they come. 

Not being a horse person, I was surprised at the emotions I felt observing these beautiful creatures. 

Can I take this one home?


There’s a spirit or culture that exists in our west – a relationship that cleaves humankind to the land.  Integral to that relationship, I come to believe, are the horses - wild or otherwise - of the high desert.

Perhaps this poem says it best...

And like so many other times when I stop to check something out on the open road, when I leave, a new tune is stuck in my head…


More about the BLM’s efforts in this regard:

A little on-line research shows that there is some controversy surrounding this program related both to the herding practices (the use of helicopters) and some of the sterilization efforts.  I, myself, had harbored some concerns about restricting the freedom of these wild beauties, but, with consideration to their non-native status, I begin to understand the rationale for the program.  All that said, a visit to this BLM facility is engaging and informative and worth an hour’s respite from the road, offering a fine opportunity for one to form his or her own opinion on the matter.

© 2017
Church of the Open Road Press


  1. I didn't realize that they were non-native. It always saddens me whenever I read an article in the news about how they are rounding up the free spirited animals. They never asked to get domesticated, or run loose, but it would be hard to be corralled after being free for so long.

    1. I agree with your perspective on this. The issue - make that "any issue" - I've discovered, becomes a bit more thorny when we're exposed to an additional bit of information that challenges the assumptions and foundations upon which we base our opinions. I'm glad these steeds are being cared for and that the efforts are aimed at both protecting the delicate desert environment and ensuring that these critters don't starve to death (a natural function of over-population), but seeing them range free across the open spaces brings forth romantic notions of the west that I hope we never lose.

    2. Always good to read your replies. Thanks, so much, for reading!

  2. I like Elk, I like Deer, I like antelope. Wild horses, and even worse free-range cattle like the Bundy clan run on Federal Lands, damage the range and make it less able to support all of this. The horses are, as I understand it, a drop in the bucket compared to "legal" cattle ranching.

    1. That's certainly true. Interesting how dollars impact our stewardship of the land, ain't it? (Interesting how dollars impact damn-near everything, for that matter.)