Legacy Equines of Colorado

Powerful, Graceful and Free to Roam - The Wild Horses of Grand Junction

 

Few things are more iconic and symbolic of the American West than Colorado wild horses. And to see them in their natural habitat, roaming free, is a sight that leaves a lasting impression. It’s truly an emotional experience and the horses are not overly skittish as they are used to people visiting them.  

  

There are only a few places in the country where you can see wild horses roaming free, on protected land. In Grand Junction, the Book Cliffs are where these majestic creatures roam. The Book Cliffs is the largest continuous cliff face in the world, so the scenery, aside from the equines, is magical. 

Photo: @db_outdoorsaddict

 

At Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Area in Grand Junction, Colorado, visitors trek on foot, mountain bike, or horseback. The 36,000 acres of striking desert plateaus provide the perfect open range for the horses. During the spring, they can often be found close to the trailhead at Coal Canyon. Palominos, paints, bays, sorrels, blue, and even appaloosas fill the landscape of this rugged terrain. In addition to the wild mustangs, other wildlife such as elk, turkey, quail, bighorn sheep, mule deer, and eagles roam this land.

 

The Legacy

Wild mustangs are a beautiful reminder of American history and a gift that provides us a glimpse into the true legacy they represent. Horses are marvelous creatures, and while it is common to see domesticated horses, it is much rarer to view them roaming wild and free in their serene and peaceful natural habitat. They have become an image synonymous with the adventurous spirit that lives on in Grand Junction.

 
 
 
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The Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Area is managed for multiple uses, but wild horse habitat is the primary reason. It is one of only three wild horse reserves in the nation set aside specifically to protect wild and free-roaming horses. This 36,113-acre range protects over 100 wild horses who roam the rugged landscape just eight miles northeast of Grand Junction.

Traveling in bands of up to a dozen horses, they traverse the high plateaus lush with sagebrush and pinon-juniper, which provides perfect pastures for grazing in Grand Junction’s pleasantly temperate climate. The area is undeveloped, so it will greet you with a sense of solitude and a peaceful silence only interrupted by the sounds of nature.

 
 
 
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You can view palominos, Copper Bays, blacks, paints, bays, grays, sorrels, blue and red roans, and even a few speckled Appaloosas. The horses are not overly skittish as they are used to people visiting them.  In addition to the wild mustangs, elk, turkey, quail, bighorn sheep, mule deer, eagles, and other wildlife roam this land.   

 

History of Grand Junction's Wild Horses

During the ice age, ancestors of the modern horse roamed the North American continent. They were smaller than today's horses and became extinct more than 10,000 years ago. Spaniards who explored and settled this area reintroduced horses to the continent in the 1500s. These horses were known as mustanos, and those who escaped formed the early wild herds that were later called mustangs.

 
 
 
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In the mid-1980s, a group called Friends of the Mustangs began working with the BLM to ensure that both the range and the horses were protected and kept healthy. They track horse population, locations, and range conditions. For more information about Friends of the Mustangs, click here. 

 

Tips for Spotting Wild Horses 

The conservation area is open year-round. Of course, there is no way of guaranteeing you will see any wild animal in nature, but we do have some tips to improve your chances of success. 

 

Spring and early summer is an ideal time to visit Grand Junction in search of these spirited giants. They tend to roam at the lower elevation, near the flowing streams, as the temperatures are still mild this time of year. This is when the mares give birth, so seeing young foals is another benefit of visiting during spring. After seeking higher ground during the summer months, they return back down to lower elevations, once again, in the fall. The best place to see the horses is usually at the BLM Coal Canyon Trail, accessed off I-70 via the Cameo exit, #46.

 

Getting to the Little Book Cliffs

 

From Grand Junction, travel east on Interstate 70 to the Cameo Exit (No. 46). Turn off the freeway and travel under the interstate, then east for a short way before crossing the Colorado River in front of the Cameo Shooting and Education Complex. Continue past the complex and follow the Bureau of Land Management signs to the Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Area and Coal Canyon Trailhead. It’s 2.2 miles from the interstate on a dirt road that leads behind Mount Garfield. Though hikers and horseback riders are welcome year-round, the gate is locked from December 1 through May 1 to protect wintering wildlife and foaling areas.

 

Where to Stay 

There are 38 affordable hotels in Grand Junction to suit a variety of travel budgets, plus vacation rentals and campgrounds. You’ll find exceptional dining and activities during your visit and beautiful weather year-round!

 

For more ways to enjoy the public land around Grand Junction, check out page 26 of the Grand Junction Adventure Guide