In Search of the Elusive Kiger Mustangs
Friday 8 June 2012 — Category: Outings
Eastern Oregon in April 2012, I headed out first thing in the morning in search of the elusive Kiger Mustangs. The previous day I had had a nice outing to the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge, where I had gotten some good photos of the protected pronghorn. Would I be as fortunate with the mustangs?
The turnoff for the protected Kiger Mustang area is about three-and-a-half miles northeast of the hamlet of Diamond — a 175-mile, four-hour trip southeast from Bend, Oregon’s largest city east of the Cascades. I had already made that part of the journey across Oregon a few days before.
Because I was already in the area, I had to drive only 34 miles from my “base camp“ at the Frenchglen Hotel to the beginning of the jeep trail that would take me 11 more miles to the Kiger Wild Horse Viewing Area. Still, it took me an hour to make that short trip, mostly because I was taking photos along the way, four of which you can see in the Blitzen Valley 2012 photo album.
In their literature, the Bureau of Land Management states that “access roads are recommended for high clearance vehicles and during dry weather only.” I felt that they were probably exaggerating the poor quality of the road. Even though it was a somewhat rainy week, I figured the road would be fine. After all, they had such a nice sign at the beginning of the jeep trail, how bad could it get? In my ignorance and naïveté, I was about to find out!
At first the road wasn’t too bad, and I was able to cruise along in second gear up to 30 MPH or so. But after a couple of miles, things rapidly deteriorated. The jeep trail became much more rough, with rocks, ruts, crevices, puddles, and even a bit of running water. I put my truck into four wheel drive, and for the rest of the long drive I had to pretty much stay in first gear the entire time. I definitely found out through experience that the BLM was right to warn about attempting this road in wet weather or without a high-clearance 4x4! The road wasn’t exactly dangerous, but let’s say it might cure you of constipation!
After a tense, white-knuckle, exhausting hour of driving, I finally arrived at the Viewing Area, located at the top of a steep, rocky climb to the top of a small hill. When I got to the herd observation point, how many Kiger Mustangs do you think I saw? Nary a one! Zero, zilch, nada! A two-hour drive in my mud-bespattered truck, and not even a welcoming committee?! Well, seeing that the Kiger HMA is 37,000 acres for not more than 80 horses, I suppose it’s actually pretty slim odds that you’ll ever see a horse! There’s a sucker born every minute — and I guess I’m one!
Well, because the adrenaline-stimulating road cured me of my constipation, I had to leave a little present for the Mustangs under a tree. I guess that’s an appropriate symbolism for how I felt after driving all that way, on such a bad road, for nothing! In my disappointment and disgust I dubbed them “the invisible mustangs!” And I still had to make the hour-long, 11-mile, nerve-wracking trip back to the “main road.” On top of all that, I was starting to feel under the weather, and was wishing I were at home resting.
Even though I didn’t catch even a glimpse of the Kiger Mustangs, I did get some interesting shots in this remote wilderness, particularly of Steens Mountain just to the south. In all, I took 116 photos, which I have distilled down to the best 23, including two panoramas. You can see them all in the Kiger Mustang 2012 photo album.
By the time I got back to the “main road” (Happy Valley Road), it was only 11:15 AM — the day was still young, and even though I felt drained, I was off to my next adventure!
For a complete list of all the blog entries and photo albums resulting from my trip to Eastern Oregon, be sure to check out the April 2012 Eastern Oregon Photo Outing Recap