A valley full of wild horses

One of the shots I posted on Facebook recently got me thinking about the story that goes with it. It’s still one of my strongest memories of the 18 months we were lucky enough to spend in North America.

That day we’d crossed into Nevada from California.

‘We’d just stopped to fill up with fuel and were wondering how the day was going to end, when a man in a work-worn dull brown pick-up pulled up alongside us. He wore a battered beige cowboy hat above a pair of twinkling blue eyes, a close-clipped moustache and a flash of healthy white teeth. “Where are you guys going t’day?” he questioned. Normally I would be instinctively cautious when asked this question by a complete stranger at this stage of a day’s ride, but this guy had something genuine about him. Every ounce of his body language said that he was a nice guy and no threat at all. So I answered, “Las Vegas, but we are going to try to find somewhere to camp beforehand so we don’t arrive in the dark.”

“Then I’ve got just the place for you. I can see you guys don’t mind riding on the dirt. If you ride a couple of miles towards Vegas, you’ll find a dirt road that heads up into the hills. It’ll be just on your right. Follow this for about five miles and then you’ll come to a fork in the road by an old house. Go to the right there until you get to the next fork – you’ll know it from the burnt tree. Go right again and that trail will take you down to a valley with a stream running through it.

It’s a great spot and wild horses sometimes roam through the valley.” Amazing. That would do very nicely. We smiled our thanks and he drove off in the opposite direction, tipping his hat a little in Birgit’s direction before he left. “Ma’am” he said with a nod at her as he did so.

Nevada Wild Camping

Nevada Wild Camping

His directions were perfect, though he hadn’t mentioned that the final trail was rough enough to be more suitable for lightweight dirt bikes than a pair of heavily laden BMW twins. But the stream he’d mentioned tumbled down through the rolling grassy sides of the valley, and there were plenty of level places where we could put the tent. We found a great spot tucked out of sight behind a small clump of trees and pitched camp. An hour or so later, as the sun was beginning to fall over the end of the valley, turning the violets, sages and greens of the hills into shadowy dusty reds and oranges, a group of horses appeared.

The lead horse, a black, white and brown ‘paint’, pawed the ground and sniffed the air. We were downwind but perhaps he thought he’d heard us talking to each other. I doubt he could see us but he was on his guard as the other horses, a couple of which were wobbly-legged foals, set to grazing the stream’s banks, or to drinking from the gently flowing water. We held our breath. This sight felt like a pure gift. Never had I imagined that we would be sitting in a place such as this, surrounded by wild horses. The now brilliant orange sun made the perfect backdrop as the milling horses kicked up small clouds of dust as they fed and drank. This was the real Wild West as far as I was concerned. The horses did their thing and we sat silently watching their peaceful movements. It was almost as if, to the horses, we weren’t there at all.

Slowly they began to head downstream, feeding as they went and before long they disappeared into the deep red that the last of the sun had cast over the land. Then suddenly it was night and the stars were appearing above us. We didn’t need anything else at that moment. Life was pretty much as perfect as it could get…’

Would you like to read more tales of the North American road like this. Have a look at my 4th book Tortillas to Totems.

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