This is Four Peaks as seen from the Phon D. Sutton Recreation Area on the Lower Salt River. This area is less than an hour’s drive from our house so we headed there one day last week. We drove through and hiked around several of the recreation areas along the river, ending at Saguaro Lake.
This is the confluence of the Verde and Salt Rivers, behind those rocks:
Our next stop was Coon Bluff Recreation Area, below, my favorite. This is where we hiked the most, looking for the herd of Salt River Wild Horses, often seen there.
We were fortunate to find a few of them, 4, to be exact.
“The Salt River wild horses are the beloved and majestic mustangs who have been roaming free along the lower Salt River in Arizona, for centuries. Arizona State Archives hold historic evidence of their existence in the Salt River Valley, back in the 1800s. Today, they are the pride of this community, a favorite subject of photographers, and the icon of the wild free spirit of the American West.” (SRWHMG website)
There are over 100 horses in this herd and the herd is growing at 12% per year, according to the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group, over 100 dedicated volunteers who constantly monitor the horses, making sure they are safe and ensuring that the public is safe from them. The horses often cross the Bush Highway so the group works to make these crossings safe for everyone concerned. They sometimes find injured horses or young horses separated from their bands and take them to their sanctuary for treatment, re-releasing them later, if at all possible, or allowing them to live out their lives at the sanctuary, if not.
Wild horses are controversial in the U.S. and these horses were slated for roundup by the U.S. Forest Service in 2015. There was a huge public outcry against this and, “in 2016, through the SRWHMG’s continued work with AZ State Legislators, the Salt River Horse Act (HB2340), was passed and was signed by Governor Doug Ducey, who had been supportive since the very beginning. This bill establishes that the Salt River wild horses are not stray livestock, makes harassing them illegal and requires a codifying of their humane management between the Forest Service, the State Agriculture Department and a private party. The bill paves the way for their humane management protocol that is geared towards achieving a reduced and stabilized population, so that each horse born in the wild can stay in the wild.” (SRWHMG website)
I’ve seen some beautiful photos of bands charging through the river, splashing water everywhere, but these four were intent on eating for the whole hour or so we watched them. No one ever raised their head. They have adapted to eating river grass which must taste really delicious. We were happy to see them at all, though. Not everyone does.
Here’s a short video of them on a recent day at the river:
That bluff in the center is Coon Bluff.
This photo, above, was taken at the last recreation area, Water Users. Next stop is Saguaro Lake, after one last peek at Four Peaks.