Salt River Wild Horses

Submitted by Jean Loney, Cohort 1

Taking a trip to the lower Salt River to see the wild horses was a dream come true. Leaving early on a Sunday morning in late March from Tucson we drove onto Power Road from Loop 202 which turned into N Bush Highway. At Tonto National Forest we paid our fee for parking so that we would be able to pull out and stop at the various areas to search for the wild horses. Being told that we shouldn’t be disappointed if we didn’t see them on our first excursion, we kept our hopes in check.

At each stopping point along the way we would get out and wander down to the Salt River and walk along in search of these majestic beauties. Our first 3 stops were unsuccessful and we were wondering if this may have been a long trip for nothing. But it was a beautiful day, slightly overcast at times and the wildflowers were in bloom so it didn’t seem like a total loss. Once we passed Saguaro Lake we discovered cars parked along the highway and off to our left we saw a small band of horses! We quickly found a place to pull off and wandered back to observe with our binoculars and cameras with telephoto lens. This was a small band of approximately 30 horses – mostly grazing on grasses with a few laying down and resting in the wildflowers. It felt like we hit the lottery.

These horses are a symbol of the wild west and the pride of Arizona. Keeping our distance of at least 50 feet (although some individuals seemed to think it was OK to wander out into the fields trying to get as close as they could to these horses and disturb them) we enjoyed watching them in their natural habitat. Leaving this area it wasn’t much further along the road that we found another band of wild horses – at least another 30+ and again enjoyed just watching them from a distance.

Most people kept their distance and just enjoyed the privilege of being in the presence of these wild animals. Prying ourselves away from this sight we continued on down the highway and pulled off in a small dirt parking lot that was full of cars. Watching people walk through the gate and down into the valley we followed along to see if there were any more horses behind the hills. We were greeted by at least 40+ horses in this band with staff from the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group providing information to the visitors and making sure that they kept their distance from the horses so they would not be disturbed.

We observed several horses sparring with each other, some horses just grazing and others resting – but keeping a watchful eye on the humans that took in their beauty. The combination of these wild horses and the wildflowers was almost overwhelming. In our wildest dreams we never thought we would be so lucky to see over 100+ wild horses in one day – much less within a 2 hour drive from Tucson.

To think that these horses were once considered a nuisance and that people wanted to round them up and get rid of them is incomprehensible. Back in 2015 the Forest Service put out an impound notice to remove the horses from the Tonto National Forest. Fortunately with public input and the help of politicians they are now protected pursuant to Arizona Revised Statute 3-1491 (aka The Salt River Horse Act). The horses are now overseen and protected by the federal government, state government and a non governmental organization (NGO) to humanely monitor as part of our national heritage.

Should you decide to check them out – be prepared to walk over uneven ground, get wet and if you are lucky to find them take time to enjoy them from a safe distance.

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