We gathered some general information at a local visitor center about where to view the wild mustangs that roam free in Wyoming and Montana. We absolutely wanted to check that out (especially Sylvie who is a big horse lover). We were told the best and easiest way to see them was to drive a local road where it was almost guaranteed we would see some. But Sylvie had heard about a famous palomino mustang stallion that lived in the area with a big herd and started inquiring about where to find him. As we started talking more to the people at the visitor center and asking more questions, it became clear that the main herd of mustangs, including that stallion, were high up on the mountains. We were told to get there you needed either a very good 4X4 or engage in a fairly long strenuous hike. We didn’t get very good information about the mileage nor the elevation gain of the hike thinking we would probably not go there and stick to the easily viewable road. That afternoon, we drove that road and saw some mustangs but it did not fully satisfy us.
So we were decided – we packed the next morning for a 1 to 2 night backcountry stay on the mountain. Armed with only general information and a basic map, we drove as far as the ol’ van would take us on a very bad rock & gravel road meant for 4X4 vehicles, parked off the side, threw the backpacks on and started up the steep road. We weren’t sure of the mileage (8 or 17 miles) since the map was so bad, but figured we’d give it a shot to make it to the top.
By the time we started our hike, it was around 11:00 and already getting really hot. There was not much shade to speak of and it wasn’t long before we were cooking. After a couple of hours hiking, we sat in a rare spot of shade for lunch when some ATV riders came by. They were astounded we were hiking to the top and asked if we needed water. The look on the guy’s face when we told where we were hiking to should have been our first clue! We were still feeling good about our supply so we turned them down. They told us we had a long way to go (no specific mileage) and wished us good luck. We were starting to get a bit worried about what we were getting ourselves into, but pressed on. After 4 more grueling hours of steep, hot, & rocky climb, we still could not see the top of the mountain we were aiming for, just never-ending switch backs, and horses nowhere to be seen. Our water supply had also depleted quite a bit and we were now worried about making it to the top at all and whether we could find a water source.
There was supposedly a pond near the top where the horses hung out where we had hoped to filter water from. Absolutely exhausted and disheartened, we set up camp on a sloped ridge near the road/trail thinking we would have to head back down the next day unless we could find water. We felt so stupid for being so unprepared – just a vague idea of where the horses might be and how long it would take to get there – how foolish! After a windy sleepless night, we set out in the morning as a last attempt to find a water source. We left most of our gear behind and packed just a water filter pump and empty bottles. We had given up on finding the horses. We searched many valleys just to find dried-out creeks, horse poop, and a horse skull (nice).
As we crested a hill, we spotted a white car parked and headed over to talk to the people to ask if they knew where a water source might be. There were two ladies, Kim and Marilyn, who turned our day and whole experience around! Not only did they give us water and food (which we were also running low on), but they told us the horses were right in the area (including the stallion we were looking for) and had camped there to photograph and watch them. We had reached the top of the mountain! We talked with them for a while, thanked them up & down, and also learned of a pond just down the road where we could filter more water if needed. They offered their camp spot to us as they were leaving, so we set off to retrieve our tent & gear. We had been about 2 miles short of our final destination. We set up our final camp, ate lunch, and it wasn’t too long before horses started showing up in the meadows next to us. Finally, our luck had turned! We also spotted the stallion we had been looking for!
Over the next few hours, we watched the horses and filled up our memories and memory card! They all looked so beautiful and healthy. Our goal is someday to adopt a couple of them as BLM rounds them up every 2 to 3 years to “manage”their numbers. That evening we took a stroll and ran into a very nice couple from Santa Barbara, CA – Reeve and Carole-who were camped about a mile away and also shared food and great stories with us. They had been visiting the area for many years and are very active in protecting what’s left of our wilderness. We watched the mustangs together as they were literally going wild and snapped the pictures below.
The horses gave us a show all night, galloping and whining passed our tent. Some of the stallions we were told were trying to steal the mares away from other harems. More beautiful horses pictures below (sorry we had a very hard time selecting just a few!)
When we got up the next day, we decided to stay another night .Our food supply was getting low but we could scrape by, we needed more water though, so we headed out to pump water from the pond. In doing so, we passed another camp of people who were from the NW- Seattle and Beaverton-who were on their way out. We told them we were headed to the pond to pump water and they offered to give us all their leftover water and even some snacks! We felt like such mooching homeless idiots but were thankful as it would allow us to stay longer. How serendipitous at the same time!
We headed down the trail to check out an old cabin and ended up spending more time with Reeve and Carole who treated us to lunch at the back of their 4 runner SUV/camper while we waited for a storm to pass. After the rain had passed, we all walked to the cabin and snapped some photos.
That evening we had a trail mix and snacks dinner but decided to stay yet another night! We witnessed a great sunset and sunrise.
The next morning, our gas ran out while trying to heat up some water for breakfast so we had to make do with boiling water over a fire, not easy!
We had a quieter day horse wise but did see a few. Reeve called Sylvie the happy snapper as she couldn’t stop taking pictures of any horse.
We also enjoyed more of the company of Reeve and Carole who continued to share more great stories with us and educate us about the area’s politics and history. The next morning they let us use their stove to heat up water for breakfast and we told them we were going to hike back down the mountain. They had had a flat tire going up the road on their SUV so decided they would leave as well and offered to take us down through their route to retrieve our van. We crammed our gear and ourselves into the back of their bedroom” and started gingerly down the road picking our way through ruts and rocks. It took several hours to get down the mountain but we enjoyed great company, beautiful scenery and even a cute black bear cub we spotted on the side of the road. We took a few stops to stretch our legs.
Despite our best group effort to find the road where we had parked our van, it was clear we were in no man’s land and very lost! By now, we were sure Reeve and Carole regretted offering us a ride 🙂
We finally flagged a local (who was drinking and driving -so true local :)) who was kind and sober enough to lead us to the right intersection where we should have turned. We felt we were on the right track and the landscape started to look more familiar but soon all roads looked the same and we started to doubt ourselves. But coming towards us was an official BLM truck who stopped and confirmed he had seen a green Sienna van from Oregon, ditched on the side of the road, and had called local law enforcement to inform them there may be some lost hikers in the area!! We told him where we had been and he replied that in his 15 years we had never seen or heard of anything like this. We were not sure whether to feel proud or stupid! He also mentioned that if we would have seen the van earlier, it would have been already towed! Whoa!! We didn’t realize really how lucky we had been, in so many ways.
We finally found the dusty green van and celebrated. We learned later that the hike we did was 8.5 miles and 4000ft elevation gain. Good thing we didn’t know in some ways as we would have not attempted it!
This has been the highlight of our trip so far, we saw some beautiful wild horses and met some really wonderful, generous and kind people!