(July 14, 2020) With the end of the Range Creek roundup, we at AWHC thought this would be a good time to share the stories of the horses who live in our public lands in this remote and rugged region of southeast Utah. Read on to learn the fascinating history of the Range Creek horses, many of whom just lost their freedom, forever.
About the Horses
Deep in a forested plateau, where the light sparkles through the trees, towering golden rock formations rise and petroglyphs line the rock walls, the Range Creek wild horses roam free.
These horses have been documented on the land now designated as the Range Creek Herd Management Area (HMA) since the late 1880s when the Preston Nutter Ranch in Carbon County, Utah was established. Preston Nutter was one of Utah’s major founding cattle ranches, and its lasting effects are still written about in the state’s history books. Preston Nutter, known as “Utah’s last great cattle king,” liked to keep a herd of wild horses that roamed the land freely, capturing and branding them as needed for his ranch operations. Nutter’s last roundup of these wild horses took place in the 1930s. The offspring of these wild horses were protected under federal law after passage of the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act.
The Range Creek HMA spans a total of 43,235 acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land and 11,788 acres of other federal, state, and private lands, totaling 55,023 acres. Nestled in a dramatic landscape located approximately 28 miles east of the town of Price, the Range Creek wild horses have adapted to a varied landscape, ranging from extremely rough, steep terrain to smooth sandstone flats. The Range Creek HMA also serves as crucial winter habitat for Rocky Mountain elk and Mule deer, and is also an important resting stop for several migratory birds including, but not limited to, the Bald Eagle, Blue Grouse, and the Mexican Spotted Owl!
The land in the Range Creek HMA is healthy and supports several undeveloped springs and seeps that are used by the horses. The BLM manages these horses at an appropriate management level (AML) of a mere 75-125 horses. The Range Creek wild ones are mostly a stunning black color mixed with bays. There are a few chestnuts, points, and palominos as well.
The Preston Nutter Ranch -- now owned by Hunt Oil Company -- still plays a major role in the lives of the Range Creek horses. The ranch holds a permit to graze privately-owned cattle on the public lands within the Green River Allotment, which overlaps the Range Creek HMA. The BLM has cited “competition for forage and water resources” between horses and livestock and horses “reducing forage availability for livestock” as reasons for the brutal wild horse roundups that have routinely taken place in the HMA since 1994.
Despite a healthy range with several working springs, these horses have been the target of annual roundups for the last three years:
- 2018: the BLM captured and removed 91 Range Creek horses, using bait traps. The agency set up panels and used hay or water as an incentive to entice wild horses to enter the traps. One horse died during this operation. The BLM did not state the cause of death.
- 2019: 154 iconic Range Creek mustangs lost their families and their freedom in a seven-day roundup operation. The BLM had aimed to remove 200 wild horses from the population of 282 horses estimated to be living in the HMA at the time. One filly was so severely injured during the terrifying operation, she had to be euthanized.
- 2020: The BLM used helicopters to capture and remove 148 of the estimated 220 horses (including projected foal crop) from the HMA. (The agency says that some of the captured mares will be returned to the HMA after being treated with PZP fertility control. The roundup took place over Independence Day weekend, at a time when many young foals were on the ground. AWHC’s onsite observer captured many heartbreaking scenes of young foals being stampeded by helicopter.
Where to find the horses
Despite the BLM’s multi-year siege on the Range Creek horses, there are still horses left, and if you find yourself in Carbon County, a day-trip to visit the herd would be worth your while.
Make sure to check the weather because when it has been rainy or snowy, the road is untraversable. During spring and summer, the plateau is teeming with green leaves, blooming plants. In the fall, the autumn reds, yellows, and oranges roll in through the trees, creating unforgettable scenery.
There are a couple of ways to drive the Range Creek loop to see the horses. One way is to head north on Highway 123 from Sunnyside Junction on Highway 10 ten miles east of Wellington. Follow the paved road up through East Carbon and Sunnyside to Water Canyon. From there, you can drive up Water Canyon to Bruin Point. Next, Drive down the ridge to Twin Hollow. Once you emerge from the trees, you have a good chance of seeing not only horses but bears, elk, and other wildlife. Make sure to pack some binoculars since the horses can be far off and it's essential to practice safe wild horse viewing.
This area is particularly beautiful and inspirational to visit not only for the wild horses and incredible landscape but also for history buffs. The jutting rocky formations are adorned with petroglyphs from the time of the Fremont ingenious peoples. Some of the art in this area shows depictions of the Great Hunt and images of the Big Buffalo that roamed the area. It is an incredible place to immerse yourself in American history -- from indigenous art to American icons, the wild mustangs.
To learn more details about traveling to see the Range Creek horses and some great viewing tips, check out the Wild Horse Tourist’s page on Range Creek.