Wild and Free: Where to see wild horses in Colorado

As a child in upstate New York in the 1950s, Marty Felix relished Sunday drives through the country with her dad. “Take us by some horses,” went her request.

“I was a horse-loving girl,” she says. And so she remained, all the way through college graduation in 1969, when she moved to Colorado upon learning the horses ran wild here. She moved to Grand Junction, drawn to what is now Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Area.

Wild horses at Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Area outside Grand Junction. Renee Edel

Felix recalls one fateful Jeep drive up the rugged roads through folding canyons. “It took me from 1969 to 1973 to find them,” she says. “We saw a band of seven. Then we screamed so loud they ran off.”

That can be one response to the sight around the state’s four herd management areas, as listed by the Bureau of Land Management.

“It really impacts” people, says Cindy Day, speaking of those who visit Piceance-East Douglas Area outside of Meeker. “It makes them think of the Wild West. It’s the romanticism. It’s the wild horse.”

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A horse grazes at Piceance-East Douglas Herd Management Area in western Colorado.

Felix and Day are volunteers representing “friends” groups that have partnered with the BLM at Colorado’s herd management areas. The others are at Sand Wash Basin beyond Craig and Spring Creek Basin in the state’s southwest corner—like Little Book Cliffs and Piceance-East Douglas, sprawling swaths of public land to behold the nostalgic scene.

The impact of the horses is hard for Cindy Wright to pinpoint. She represents Wild Horse Warriors for Sand Wash Basin.

“Everything from tears to screams of joy to very subtle, serene kind of … I don’t know how to explain it,” Wright says. “It really just grabs your heart. It does something to our souls.”

That’s for those bold and savvy enough to venture potentially long hours to see the horses. Four-wheel-drive, high-clearance vehicles are recommended across all herd management areas, with some also requiring navigation skills and an awareness of rains that make roads quickly impassable.

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Wild horses at the Little Book Cliffs area outside Grand Junction. Photo courtesy {span}Renee Edel{/span}

“It is not for everyone,” Wright says.

She drives visitors in a Jeep across those 225 square miles of northwest Colorado, the high mountain desert that rises to Lookout Mountain. Ideally the tours get there, for a view that’s “like a mini Grand Canyon,” Wright says. And, ideally, horses are spotted.

Day considers Piceance to be relatively accessible compared with the state’s other herd management areas. Chances of seeing the horses are good too, she says.

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Horses at Piceance-East Douglas Herd Management Area in western Colorado. Cindy Day

At Little Book Cliffs in the summer, the horses aren’t as readily seen off the exit from Interstate 70.

Many from the herd of about 170 venture to higher ground in the hot months, Felix says.

With the right vehicle and preparedness, she recommends plotting a course to the Indian Park and North Soda areas from DeBaque/Winter Park Road. The areas are “heaven on earth,” Felix says.

It’s country she has toured for the better part of 50 years. These days, her miles and hours in the backcountry aren’t as long.

“Now I’m 74,” Felix says. “But I have an Xterra with big, 10-ply tires. I’m not throwing in the towel yet.”

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