‘Desert Chrome’

2 05 2021

‘Water, a Woman, and Wild Horses in the West’

(Photo courtesy of Kathryn Wilder)

Kathryn Wilder‘s debut book, “Desert Chrome,” will be published in mid-May by Torrey House Press!

Longtime readers will recognize Kat’s name as an advocate for Spring Creek Basin mustangs. In this vulnerable, deeply touching and wide-ranging memoir, she recounts her life’s journey that eventually led her to Disappointment Valley and Spring Creek Basin – among earlier and parallel events that shaped her among heartbreak, water and wilderness. About the mustangs, she writes about getting to know them and the great strides we’ve made in the management of our herd with the use of PZP.

Kirkus Reviews calls it “testimony to the healing power of wildness” and “a spirited and impassioned chronicle.” And it is, without a doubt, all of that.

Suzanne Roy, fierce director of the American Wild Horse Campaign, wrote: “Kat Wilder’s beautifully written memoir takes us on a journey of a life lived on the move, full of love, loss and searching, finally finding peace among a herd of mustangs in Colorado’s magnificent Disappointment Valley. Wilder’s insight into the wild horses, why they’re worth saving and how to save them, will be of interest to anyone concerned with preserving the West’s last remaining wild spaces and the wild animals that inhabit them. A must read.”

Pre-order the book from Torrey House Press, your local independent bookstore or from Amazon.

Kat will be doing numerous readings, both virtual – Garcia Street Books in Santa Fe, and Maria’s Bookshop and Cortez Public Library here in Southwest Colorado – and in person at Sherbino Theater in Ridgway and Entrada Institute in Torrey, Utah.

Here are some particular deets:

Maria’s virtual event for “Desert Chrome” will start at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 20, on Zoom and Facebook Live. Check Maria’s events calendar page for details.

Kat’s first live reading will be from about 6 to about 7:45 p.m. Saturday, May 22, at The Livery in Norwood. This is basically our backyard! Head over to Between the Covers’ Facebook page to find out more.

The Cortez Public Library will have an online reading with Kat starting at 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 26.

On Thursday, June 10, Ridgway’s Sherbino Theater will host Kat for a live reading from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Visit the website for tickets, on sale 30 days before the event. Ridgway’s also fairly local to us, and several mustang friends call it home.

If you’re in Torrey, Utah, on Saturday, June 26, stop by the Entrada Institute for a live reading.

Be sure to find and follow Kat on Facebook to keep up with other events as they’re scheduled, and I’ll post reminders about the above readings close to their happening dates.

(Kathryn Wilder’s “Desert Chrome” with Chrome’s newest grandson, Jasper, with Brumley Point and Temple Butte in the background; Spring Creek Basin Herd Management Area, Disappointment Valley, Southwest Colorado)

Quiet returns

7 04 2021

And so does the wildlife. 🙂

Up, up they go.

As the elk disappeared over the ridge, some other visitors made a fly-by appearance.

They paused for a quick family portrait … then went on up and over and were gone with the wind.

(The WIND! It has been BRUTAL the last two days, especially.)

Wide berth

10 03 2021

Shadow is another little old lady of the basin (though not nearly as old as Houdini) who’d rather not bother with two-legged interlopers, thank you very much. Just because the rest of the band doesn’t seem to be bothered, Shadow knows what she knows, and no one will convince her otherwise … even during lovely naps on lovely, sunny, not-quite-spring days. 🙂

Snow all the way to Utah

19 02 2021

The snow is still deep, still awesome.

12 from 2020

30 12 2020

It seems to be a *thing* for people to highlight memories from the year as the year comes to a close. It’s natural to want to remember those beautiful times, which our photos are particularly primed to help us do. That’s the ultimate goodness of *pictures*.

Over the years, I’ve gotten away from long, rambling explanations and photo-heavy blog posts in favor of single photos and a sprinkling of words – every day – to highlight a moment in a day on the range with the mustangs. So today’s post, at the end of a long year that challenged our endurance, is a way to give a little better explanation of what was happening in the instant the shutter snapped on that moment. They also serve as a challenge to find ways to show my beloved mustangs in their natural beauty … and all the infinite reasons why they should be valued and preserved (in general), in addition to explaining why I do what I do to protect this herd in Spring Creek Basin (in particular).

What follows is one photo for each month. Some have been on the blog previously; others have not. Onward.


In January, we had fresh snow, and I was happy to find Hollywood’s band in the scenic eastern part of the basin, a short hike from the road (I may even have strapped on my snowshoes). McKenna Peak and Temple Butte are iconic landmarks, and I love to feature them in photos behind/above the horses. Because of the way they were standing, however, Brumley Point, seen here, made the obvious background (the peak and butte are farther to the left). Even though Shane had her rear toward me, the horses were so relaxed, their winter coats so velvety thick and glowing in the low winter sunshine, their demeanor so peaceful, this became one of my favorite images of the day (and month).



We knew we were in trouble early in the winter when Mother Nature simply didn’t give us the amount of snow – aka moisture – we would need for the rest of the year. … For plants to grow, for ponds to fill, for creeks to flow (for very long). Sure, it made getting around – driving and hiking – a piece of cake, but in the case of Colorado (and much of the Rocky Mountain West), where we absolutely depend on winter white for summer green, it was looking bleak. I had hiked out to an area where a couple of bands were grazing, and later, as they started to line out toward a pond, back toward the road, I meandered along with them. … And then the sky exploded. When that happens, you’re a) glad you’re with mustangs, b) ecstatic to see Mother Nature’s art come to life and c) uber-aware of time and how it flies. The horses were following a trail, so I picked a likely spot and left the trail and set up the shot. As the horses trotted by – following some and followed by others – I hoped I remembered everything about photography that I’d ever learned … and then I hoped the computer would reveal that everything had literally trotted into place in even one rectangular, finite image. … Voila. 🙂



Most people know that, as a volunteer for BLM, I dart (some of) the mares of Spring Creek Basin every spring with fertility-control vaccine PZP. Does it work? In September, we will celebrate a full decade of NO ROUNDUPS in Spring Creek Basin. Do we still have foals? Yes, a handful or so every year. I have my own reasons for not showing them on the blog. PZP figures into this explanation because Sundance is the band stallion of the mare I darted the day I took this photo. It’s worth slowing down, even in the face of a job to be done, to appreciate peace … and the mustangs who bring so much peace to me.



Speaking of foals, this is our first of the year. Born on Easter Sunday, she is mother Mariah’s second foal. I moseyed about with them for a fair amount of time as they grazed. As the sun was nudging the far western rim of our little world, the horses paused on a ridge trail on their way to water, and Mariah checked that all was well with her baby girl. The most fleeting moment in time. The most beautiful. The most treasured. … The most natural that goes on around the world with mothers and babies of every hue and color and species. Because I know this mother and this baby, that one moment seemed super, ultra, amazingly special.



This – THIS! – was one of those astounding moments when you literally are in the most best place at the very most bestest time, and you cannot believe your luck and goodness and that karma is smiling on you. … And then the horses won’t cooperate. 🙂 There was not one but TWO utterly spectacular rainbows against a sky promising even more rain (the second arch was out of the frame to the right). It was windy, and the horses were edgy. There were (and are) a couple of bachelors with the band, and that energy, combined with the storm, meant that they really weren’t in the mood to line up with ears up showing perfect conformation stances against the wild wonder of Spring Creek Basin and a rare rainfall. … So I “caught” them as they were walking on, and it was enough to remember the day and their wildness and their freedom to move under the magic.



This is an image that happened almost without me being there to see it, let alone capture it on digital media. I was with a couple of bachelors on a hill far, far (enough) away, thinking they were my last quiet visit of the evening. But one of the bachelors was interested in something besides me (ah, the story of my single life!), and as he focused on *it*, I heard a sudden, sharp whinny in the distance. One whinny, three bands – plus a bachelor after my guy trotted out to meet them. I had to hustle back to the Jeep and drive closer, and then hurry out to them as the sun was sinking (neither planetary roll nor mustang waits for the photographer to get her act together – or close the gap in distance). And although it was terribly dry in June (as it had been and would be), it’s not often (almost never) that enough horses are together – and moving enough – to cause enough dust to rise for a shot like this to even be possible in the basin. So, even from drought, something beautiful.



Maybe readers know (or maybe they don’t) that Storm is one of my very best most absolute favoritest stallions in the basin. From the time he appeared with his curled ear tips, big blaze, stockings almost to his hocks and shining like a polished penny next to his mother, still with the blood of his birth on her hocks and tail, he has had my heart curled around his perfect hooves. … Which means that – of course – Storm’s band is one of, if not THE, most elusive bands in the basin (!). Every sighting of them is like a dream. That said, I spent a fair amount of time with them this summer, and they led me into some heretofore rarely visited areas and showed me seeps I never knew existed. Though there are few of our iconic landmarks in the great expanse of background in this photo (Filly Peak and Flat Top are there), the soft light (we did have some smoke this summer …) and Storm’s handsome face alert as he checked on his band members, already at the top of a ridge that he was grazing his way up, seem to represent everything that I love about Spring Creek Basin and its wildest back of beyond.



Did someone mention smoke? Haze from wildfires burning, burning, burning in Colorado and across the West was the story of our summer in some (many) ways. The drought that allowed (caused!) the fires to start and burn was unrelenting and brutal (and is ongoing). Still, the mustangs persevered and continued to show their resilience and beauty. Piedra, loveliest of mares, is a goddess of grace. Another image of beauty plucked from a reality not so pretty.



In September, the heat starts to relent, the angle of light starts its descent, and still we pray for rain. The band I was with this day was grazing their way across a hillside, above an arroyo. The stallion had descended to the arroyo, and a couple of mares had followed and were already across. I looked up to check on this mare and her yearling, and though I couldn’t see beyond the scree of rock where they stood, apparently she didn’t like the look of what SHE could see. Here, she’s turning around, so after I took this shot, I went farther down the hill with the others to encourage her to find a path she liked better. Not long after this, that ol’ sun disappeared behind the long ridge on the other side of this narrow valley, and the golden light was dimmed at the close of another day.



In October, we got a heavy, wet snowstorm that lasted roughly half a second. … OK, maybe a liiiiitttttttttttlllle longer than that (but not by much). The ponies did as the ponies do, and soon, they were grazing about in mud, not snow, and I like to think none of us minded one little bit. Although it makes the camera hunt for auto-focus, I love to be out with the horses while it’s snowing because in addition to the flakes in the air and on the horses’ noses and eyelashes, it’s just plain beautiful.



Lingering snow, lengthening drought, a mature stallion and an up-n-comer. Life goes on, even as the calendar’s days get shorter. In all these years of photographing the mustangs, it is the late – and late-in-the-year – light that I love the best. If I worry and fret (and I do) about lack of moisture and what the coming days and seasons and year will bring, still, I seek that beauty and these amazing horses that allow me brief visits and journeys along their paths – even, sometimes, while they are making the tracks. In my fortunate gratitude, I even find it.



We might even close out 2020 with (a little) snow on the ground, and how wonderful would that be? I like to start the year with the things I hope to fill/find/expand on in the coming year, so horses, and snow, and love, and beauty, and days in Spring Creek Basin surely are on my agenda (which I try not to make!). As the soft light filtered through a smokeless sky on this day in December, the horses browsed for the dry stuff palatable enough to eat through the thin blanket of snow. They didn’t seem to mind the cold, or that maybe there was a bit less than in some previous years, or that a human being moseyed along with them, steadying a clicking black box on a black stick, sometimes talking, sometimes singing, mostly wondering how I could be so blessed in this life.



Because who doesn’t like – or need – a little extra? And to leave you with a hopeful thought: Just when you think it can’t get any better … maybe it can. 🙂


Thank you *all* for reading along and following the mustangs of Spring Creek Basin. Together, we are a community of people who value wild life and all the beauty that unfolds within it.

A little Christmas magic

26 12 2020

Early Christmas morning, we had a faint little sundog keeping company with the rising sun, just above Temple Butte.

Day of giving thanks

26 11 2020

On this day of thanksgiving, I thought I’d share some images from the other day when I hiked to the top of Flat Top in Spring Creek Basin. Among the many objects of my gratitude: moisture. And these pix show it in most obvious form. 🙂

Starting about halfway up one of the western fins, this is looking west-northwestish across part of the western part of the basin. Filly Peak is the prominent hill at left. Part of Spring Creek canyon is visible on the right side of the image. Lingering clouds obscure most of Utah’s La Sal Mountains in the far distance. Note how much snow has already melted in the lower regions of Spring Creek Basin and far lower Disappointment Valley.

This is looking to the north-northwest.

And looking to the west-southwest. That’s Filly Peak again at far right. The already-meltedness is obvious in this image.

From the top, southern edge of Flat Top, this is the view looking across a small part of the southern part of Spring Creek Basin and across Disappointment Road (not visible), where the land rises to the south, encompassing more BLM land (outside the herd management area) before the invisible border where it meets San Juan National Forest.

From the east side of Flat Top, looking east: Round Top across most of the image, McKenna Peak at mid-left and Temple Butte at center-back.

The top of Flat Top isn’t really that big – and it’s also really not that flat, despite its appearance from below-the-top ground level. It’s made up of fins of ridges that stretch out and down, mostly to the northwestish and north on the north and west sides. In one little drainage, there’s a random little cluster of pinon-juniper trees – evidence of the collection, at least at one time, of moisture needed to grow trees.

The top of Round Top also really isn’t that big. I’ve been on top of that hill many, many times; the top of Flat Top, not so many times.

And here I am, back on the west side of Flat Top, stopping for one more soaking in of the view, even as the snow was soaking into the ground. Even more had melted in the time I was on top.

Those are my tracks from my hike up the ridge-fin. Melty-melty. I followed them back down …

… for one more visit with some of the wild horses for which I am so grateful. Look how the ground around the shadscale and sage already has been slurped by the plants. Yes, it was extraordinarily, sloppily, marvelously muddy. 🙂

Happy Thanksgiving to you all, for whom I’m also grateful! My family, of course, tops my list this day, and though I can’t be with them, we’re together in spirit, as I hope so many of you are with your own families if you’re avoiding travel.

Peaceful wishes and gratitude to you all!

No trails, no problem

2 11 2020

On Halloween, I had great fun hiking with a group from Telluride’s Sheep Mountain Alliance into a part of Spring Creek Basin that is overlapped by McKenna Peak Wilderness Study Area.

Lexi and Mason from SMA brought five interested – and interesting – people to see this area that’s in the same county as Telluride (San Miguel) … and a world away climate- and geology- and geography-wise.

Disclaimer: The pic above of Juniper walking past McKenna Peak was NOT taken during our hike. 🙂

We didn’t see any of our fabulous mustangs during our hike in the far southeastern part of the basin, but we did see a couple of tarantulas and lots of cool fossils (including a couple of faint but awesome nautilus impressions!). I got to talk about my favorite subject ever (I bet none of you can guess what that is … ;)), and Lexi talked to us about McKenna Peak and the CORE Act – the Colorado Recreation and Economy Act.

From the website:

“The CORE Act is the most significant and broadly-supported effort to protect Colorado’s most cherished lands, waters, and forests in a generation. The legislation would protect roughly 400,000 acres of public lands in Colorado, ensuring that future generations can always enjoy our state’s mountains, rivers and wildlife.”

McKenna Peak Wilderness Study Area is proposed for inclusion in the San Juan Mountains area. This link shows the locations of the areas; scroll down to read a little more about McKenna Peak and see where it’s located. The entire WSA isn’t included, just the part in San Miguel County. As with anything else, politics plays a part. Our San Miguel County commissioners are fully supportive of this inclusion, just as they were of the naming of Temple Butte, which is in San Miguel County.

Regular readers know the shape of both McKenna Peak and Temple Butte as icons of our Spring Creek Basin horizon. Given our location and lack of specific trails, I don’t think we’ll be overrun with visitors. But how cool would it be to see the status of even part of this amazing landscape go from wilderness study area to full wilderness area? It’s protected from motorized/mechanized-vehicle use currently, which enables it to feel secluded and protected to the wild horses and other lives that know its wildness (even us humans).

Being able to share it with another few like-minded humans gave me great enjoyment. To see their wonder and appreciation of this landscape I love … well, to be perfectly honest, it made me happy. 🙂


30 10 2020

Not much is left of the snow that blanketed Disappointment Valley early in the week. Here’s to the fervent hope that we’ll have more as winter arrives!

This was taken from Disappointment Road. Visible are corral hill, the south edge of Flat Top, Round Top, McKenna Peak, submarine ridge and Temple Butte.

Color brilliant

21 10 2020

Glorious cottonwoods and blooming rabbitbrush along (dry) Disappointment Creek in Disappointment Valley draw admirers’ eyes toward McKenna Peak and Temple Butte above and beyond Spring Creek Basin. The sky isn’t blue-blue because we’ve had some gauzy, hazy, high “clouds.”