One lovely morning as I was clambering around the desert - and feeling pretty comfortable because I was back in Coon Bluff - I found myself caught between two bands. I'd been doing my thing, keeping a safe distance of 30-50 feet, and tucking myself away behind the foliage so I wouldn't disturb the horses, when the stallion in the image above trotted towards me. He was so beautiful in the morning light! I kept kept shooting, not paying much attention to the fact that most of the time, wild horses move away from people, not towards them. As I rotated and stepped back to keep the stallion in the frame, he paused for a majestic second, with a fierce glance at his band.
And then, as he kept trotting forward, I realized that I was caught between two bands of horses. My safety zone of 30-50 feet had eroded to 15. The stallion, a faded chestnut with dun-colored hind quarters, headed right towards the stallion of the other band. This potential marauder was creamy white with a luxurious charcoal mane. I had a brief internal struggle at this point but personal safety trumped artistic vision. I relocated - out of harm's way but with a direct line of sight to the stallions.
The muscular chestnut stallion sent the white stallion on his way with barely a nip, and the confrontation was over in seconds. I can't say that I wanted them to rear up on their hind legs and clash violently but if it had happened, I certainly wouldn't have minded capturing a few images of it...!
A little while later, the chestnut stallion sent me on my merry way too, clacking his jaw and braying. It was clear that he was done with me and I headed back to the car for a snack.
Planning a trip to photograph the Salt River horses?
Here's a bit of planning advice:
- Book a cabin at the Saguaro Lake Ranch. It's the most centrally located place to stay near the horses, plus the staff is friendly and there are no phones or TVs. WiFi is available but spotty. There's really nothing to do but enjoy nature. You'll LOVE it.
- The Ranch will provide breakfast and if you let them know you'll be out photographing the horses, they'll keep a plate warm for you, just in case you don't make it back before breakfast ends. I often didn't so it was nice that they were watching out for me.
- The Ranch will also pack you a lunch if you like. You can eat dinner there as well, but that needs to be booked when you reserve your room.
- On your way to the ranch, before you leave Mesa, stop at Basha's to pick up fruits, cheese, jerky, crackers, wine etc. It's 30 minutes to the Ranch from this point, so you'll want to have some quick meals that are easy to carry in your pockets. There's a fridge in your cabin to keep everything cold.
- Buy your Tonto Passes. A Tonto Pass enables you to park in the Tonto National Forest recreation areas. If you're not a local with a yearly pass, pick up a $6 pass for each day that you'll be in the area. Leave it in your car on your dash while you're shooting and remember to put out a new one every morning. The passes are good for 24 hours. You validate them by scratching off the date and time of your arrival day.
- If you're going in the winter, like I did, pack long-sleeved shirts, a light-weight fleece, hiking pants, cowboy boots or hiking boots, wool socks and a light-weight jacket with lots of pockets. In the early morning chill, you might want a hat, half gloves and a scarf but as the sun rises, the air warms up quickly.
- You could bring a small, light-weight camera bag with you but keep in mind that you'll be squeezing through fences and between cholla. A bag might just get in the way while capacious jacket pockets will keep everything you need at your fingertips. I stashed my big camera bag in the trunk of my car so that extra camera bodies and lenses were available as a back up if I needed them.
- Carry a few of your photography business cards. You'll probably meet other photogs in the desert but you probably won't have a notebook and pen with you. Having a card stashed in one of your pockets so you can share your contact info and stay in touch after you head home.