Road: Salt River Wild Horses

Art Journal, The Road

There is still joy to be found in the world.

This was a heavy year, 2020. It is 8:06 pm on New Year’s Eve, here in these last glowing embers of the year I’ve shrugged off the worst of my grief. I’ve pulled myself back together (for now), remembered how to find joy and magic in the world. A heavy year indeed, but I’d rather not talk about the year or our collective struggles. I want to talk about feeling magic again.
Where is the magic in this world? Everywhere. I thought my overgrown black tomcat Mister was magic. As was our bond. Finding a little ginger kitten (born near the time Mister died) with a giant personality: magic. My marriage to someone who compliments my personality: magic. The chance to spend so much time being right where I want to be: also magic.
That brings me to when we (my husband and I) were both getting the blues. Social distancing has its price. That price is culture. Many places we wanted to see are closed to us. Many we avoided out of social responsibility. Some states we drove through were lax in their handling of masking and we didn’t want to linger. Some states had too many restrictions for convenient rv traveling.
Without adventures… we were feeling… lost.


Which brings me to the Salt River Wild Horses, but all I knew about them were:

a. Wild

b. Lived on a river

One day I thought we were packing up to refill the water tank, but my very talkative spouse had really decided it was time to drive north to check out the horses. Except. He was piecing information from a random blog?
Look. We made this entirely harder than it needed to be. We attempted to enter at two different points as far from the Salt River as you can. Slowly. Because the roads were not good for truck pulling a trailer. What could of been a one day drive from outside of Tucson, we made a two day event.
I’d love to say I took the camping advice I received from an Instagrammer, but no. We camped in the Bulldog Canyon ohv area (fee and code required).
First impressions… We arrived Christmas Day. Just in time for ALL the new motorized toys. (Things have settled since).

What was I expecting: We’d walk down to the river from our campsite and I’d take amazing photographs of wild horses playing in the water at dawn and dusk. Because. That. Is. What. I. Read.
What I found out was the walk “to” the river was fine. The walk “back” was steep and I should’ve brought my stick and also, *maybe* walked a few times this fall. Which was all extra disappointing when there were zero horses. It was pretty though.



First Encounter:

2020. Area along Salt River


How did I get to see my first band of wild horses, you ask? They sauntered by the camper. And I went out there. Then they sorta started to follow me. And I kept backing up. And I was trying to maintain that space (50 ft I read) between us… because I’m honestly a little afraid of them. (ok a lot afraid of them).

2020. Eel Grass covering river rock.



Second encounter:

Just one. One horse on a mission. Walked by the camper. I followed him hoping to get a good, clear shot. He turned and looked at me once, then headed off to do horse business. Now, I thought for sure he was heading for that river. I had them this time. I went to gather things, as one does, before rushing gleefully down the trail to the river. First, you must be so excited your ankle folds, and you sprawl out in the dirt in front of the camper. Then! Then you get yourself down to that disappointingly horseless river.

2020. Salt River Wild Horse


Third encounter:

We checked out the Coon Bluff area of the Salt River and met a member of the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group. They were a fountain of information about the Horses and tipped us off where a band was that morning. I do recommend checking out their social media. They are doing great work keeping the Horses free.
After my quick lesson on wild horses we moved on to locate the band. Seventeen. They weren’t interacting with each other as much as the previous band. All business. Eating. But then I learned on the Management Group’s social media the drought is hitting the area hard and they are supplementing their feed. Not that lay people should because they are using weed free feed and horses are mysteriously delicate creatures. Good intentions can turn deadly with well intentioned food. (Hint: Donate money to the Management Group)

They may be scrappy little mustangs that have survived on this land for centuries or they may be feral horses occupying land that could be used for steer (yes, many people want to squash what is beautiful, wild and free for possible profits) but to me they may as well be unicorns for the magic they bring into the world.

2021. Reflections.


Fourth encounter:

After a week we needed to have a business day. Dump the camper, fill the camper, supply run… etc… Had this idea we’d try out a different camping location. Coon Bluff was only open to camping on Friday’s and Saturday’s so we looked into a different dispersed camping area. This was not going to work. We found this area to be even busier with orv traffic. And then there was the apocalyptic landscape. This area burned recently. Back to Bulldog Canyon ohv.
The next evening we took our cue from the sun and headed to the river. We started following a path starting at the Goldfield Recreation Area heading towards the Coon Bluff Recreation Area.
The path followed the cliff above the river, more or less. We were able to see see up and down the river well. Soon enough we found fresh signs of horse activity. Fresh tracks and dung. Then a band appeared from the desert and headed gingerly down the path to the river.

2021. Great Egret.
2021. Salt River

My husband held my impulsive self back to let them do their thing. Then we followed them down and settled on the bank of the Salt River to watch wild horses be wild.
I’m going to say right now, this was certainly one of my favorite experiences. The light, the innocence. Perfect.

2021. Unshod hoof prints.

Then a buzzing. Louder. I couldn’t see where the noise came from. The horses became agitated, then behind me I heard my husband say they didn’t like the drone. Drone. Drone? DRONE? Sassy tails and plucky footwork. Those horses headed for the cover of the trees while the drone hovered over us. Waiting. I may have popped out of the tree line to use an ancient Americana symbol to communicate all of our communal displeasure.
At least that wasn’t the end of the day right there. While walking back we caught sight of the band again. And in the glowing light of the setting sun.


Final encounter:

One last go at a chance for river magic. We headed for the same stretch of river as yesterday. Odds seemed good we’d catch a band there. We hiked in further than previously, but ended up following the sounds of hooves on rocks. We arrived in time to see a scuffle of dust and hooves peeking under the thick tree branches. Then the band appeared one by one out of the trees and headed into the desert at a brisk pace. We had no hope of following their pace. We walked the horse trails back to our truck. No further sightings.

Thoughts from the Road: Part 5.1

Art Journal, The Road, Thoughts

Arizona

The southeast corner of Arizona leans into New Mexico as one land. There is no river or natural boundary to exclaim a new State of the Union. As muddled as the line was, so were we in deciding our destination. Where do we stay here? What do we see here? Earlier we had a clear idea in purpose: go south, if something interested us on the way we’d stop, and we were definitely seeing New Orleans. Then the Texas State Parks were interesting in themselves. New Mexico was easy. Arizona a mystery to be solved. (And we were not going north to the Grand Canyon).

Cochise County

White Water Draw

Our first stay was with the birds. From the time we arrived until we left, we were bathed in the electricity of thousands of Sandhill Cranes calling. First thing in the morning there were (I hope) cannon shots to scare the birds off of crops. Yes. Crops. The area is hopping in agriculture and Sandhill Cranes.

In the afternoon we watched the cranes return by the dozens. At one time something startled them across the lake and hundreds of cranes took flight at the same time. Crying their displeasure.

Sandhill Cranes, Whitewater Draw, Arizona

Erie St. & Bisbee

Erie St. classic cars, Lowell, Arizona
Abandoned Lowell, Arizona

We settled for the week of Christmas outside of Bisbee in a quiet RV park. The first evening we ventured out for a meal and found Erie St., Lowell. The semi-ghost town left after the pit mine swallowed the residential area. Today it is set up with classic cars lining Erie street. When you wander in you don’t know what exactly is going on. A mostly empty town with interesting facades, original gas pumps, and classic cars lining the streets. You are transported in time. Then we read the article that the end is coming January 1, 2020 for the cars because of a couple people who want to be able to park. I say put in place a new ordinance for Erie St. and only classic cars can enter. Preserve the nostalgic magic.

Bisbee is fly tape for artists. It has a colorful history. Colorful buildings. Colorful businesses. Colorful People. Galleries for everyone. Street murals. A Free Store where items are left outside in an abandoned graffitied lot and other people go shopping. I purchased killer bee honey from a tiny little shop with a fast taking woman in a cowboy hat. There was a seance house and a brewery in the old stock exchange building with relics from the early 1900’s era it was built.

Back Roads

We drove so many dusty back roads they are tangled in my brain. There was High Lonesome a straight, but treacherous road that followed an old rail line since relived of its rails. There was also Geronimo Trail with no apparent public access to Skeleton Canyon where Geronimo surrendered: we tried. There was Ghost Town Trail with long abandoned Courtland and other near abandoned towns.

Tuscon

Saguaros

Cacti. Cacti. Cacti. There are so many saguaros soaring, barreling towards the sky. You think desert. Empty and devoid of life. That’s not so. There is so much life. So much. I photographed the saguaros in every shape and form I could. Little to ancient to skeleton. Some looked ready to fight. Others swaying to the rhythms of an unheard music. One arm. A dozen arms. No arms. They are a magical life form. I thought of them as old men in the desert.

Old Tucson Studios

A fairy tale western town with cowboys and can-can dancers. John Wayne and Clint Eastwood walked there. Movies like Tombstone and Three Amigos were filmed there. Movies are still filmed there. You walk through the entrance and are adrift in the movie version of a nineteenth century western town. Stage coaches ride through. People are dressed up and in character.

Biosphere 2

A campus in the desert straight out of science fiction… except it is real life. Paid for by a billionaire philanthropist with an interest in science and now donated to the University of Arizona to continue experiments (after a hiatus when it lived merely as a tourist attraction). We weren’t even able to tour the rain forest area because they were putting it through a drought with sensitive measurements being taken and perfumes could throw the numbers.

Biosphere 2 campus

The tour was interesting enough, focusing on the the campus. They didn’t get into the social instability of the two groups of people they locked in for two years at a time. Seriously. People are not meant for that close of contact for that long. They didn’t mention Steve Bannon’s role during the second team’s term, or the break in. No one explained the deep royal purple carpet (that was replaced but visible on spiral staircases and in videos). A big mystery in interior decorating.

University of Arizona: Center for Creative Photography

I brought my husband to the Light exhibit at the Center for Creative Photography considering his new enthusiasm for photography. (I highly recommend traveling with someone whom you can share the joy of your interests). We were able to look through flat files of photographs (what?!? yes!) on display as well as books.

Light was the highly influential gallery dedicated to photographers. Artists like Ansel Adams were associated with Light. The first thing you see at this exhibit is a web of artist names tangled together by their involvement with Light. Light promoted photography the same as fine art.

Signal Hill

This is of those times you need to let yours eyes adjust. At first we didn’t notice anything and took the steps to the top of the hill with everyone else. Once at the top the petroglyphs popped off the rocks. How could you miss that? On the way back down we began to notice they were visible from the path the entire time. A quick, but fascinating visit. I’m hooked on seeing more petroglyphs.

Petroglyphs at Signal Hill, Arizona
Petroglyphs at Signal Hill, Arizona

Mt. Lemmon

We drove up Mt. Lemmon listening to the informative app put together by the Arizona State University. Sky Islands. This is what sticks with me the most. As you drive up in elevation the saguaros disappear and the pines slowly appear and get bigger with the heavier precipitation, and they call these desert mountains sky islands because of this. In the desert below the sun was hot even on a tolerable 70 degree day and at the top I was walking through snow in my sandals.

Come back for Arizona Thoughts From the Road 5.2

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