Driving through the Old West on Colorado's Byways
Location: West of DeBeque (off I-70 northeast of Grand Junction). Mesa and Garfield counties.
Highlights: The wild horses of the Little Bookcliffs Wild Horse Area, one of four designated wild horse management areas in Colorado; beautiful canyons and plateaus; the bizarre sandstone figures at The Goblins. Best May 1 Labor Day. Colts and fillies are born in spring. Watch for coyotes, eagles, and other wildlife.
Difficulty: Easy when the roads are dry. They can become impassable, even with four-wheel drive, when wet. Watch out for ATVs.
Time and Distance: 2.5 hours; 46 miles. Exploring side routes will add substantial time and distance.
Maps: Get the brochures Wild Horse Trail; A Visitor's Guide to Wild Horse Herd Management Area; and Little Bookcliffs Wild Horse Area.
Information: BLM, Grand Junction. Town of DeBeque.
Getting there: From I-70, take Exit 62 to DeBeque, about 34 miles northeast of Grand Junction. Drive to DeBeque, and turn left onto Fourth Street at the sign for the Little Bookcliffs Wild Horse Area. Turn left (south) on Minter Street. Cross Third Street, and soon you will angle right, on Second Street. Follow the signs for Deer Park, Winter Flats, and Little Bookcliffs Wild Horse Area. Head west on Road V2.
Rest stops: There are primitive campsites along the way. DeBeque has public restrooms, showers, food, fuel, etc.
The drive: This high-desert drive is gorgeous whether or not you see any wild horses, which, like most wildlife, are most active mornings and evenings.
Spaniards brought the modern horse to the New World in the 1500s. Some escaped into the wild and bred. But today's wild herds are primarily descended from animals that escaped from or were turned loose by Indians, ranchers, and farmers. Human presence in this area goes back thousands of years. In the 1880s, whites began arriving in what had long been important hunting grounds for Ute Indians.
In 1917, the first oil shale distillation plant in the country was located here. An expected oil shale boom in the 1980s never materialized, but you will pass through a natural gas field. The road crosses colorful badlands of sculpted sandstone, ravines, terraced hills, sagebrush flats, and boulder fields.
In about 14 miles it reaches Winter Flats, below South Shale Ridge. Although you will see manure piles, called"stud piles" (which studs deposit to mark their territories) and hoof prints in the road, the official wild horse area is to the south. You can access it via the turnoffs for Indian Park and North Soda, two of the best viewing areas. Upwards of 120 horses roam the 30,261-acre refuge.
They are most often spotted in the "parks," or large meadows. Winter Flats Road climbs some as it bends north at the west end of South Shale Ridge. At mile 25 is The Goblins, where soft sandstone has been eroded into strange shapes. The road edges around a canyon, then becomes South Dry Fork Road on the north side of the ridge. Here it runs along the base of Horse Mountain. By mile 36 it is good two-lane dirt and gravel, and by mile 43 it's paved.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication