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Sep 10, 2008

Wyoming Wild Ones

There's still a lot of the Wild West in Wyoming that, fortunately, no longer extends to shootouts at sundown on Main Street. (The exceptions are in Cheyenne, Jackson and Cody, but they're part of the daily entertainment and don't spill any real blood.)

The authentic wild reveals itself in the blooms of silvery lupine, the splashes of trout and, in a kind of yesteryear mysticism, the gallop of mustangs across the vast landscape.

Used to be, extinction threatened the herds. Abandoned by Spanish explorers, released by ranchers or enticed away from ranches by other wild horses, the creatures became targets for hunters who considered them a nuisance. In the 1950s, Velma B. Johnston of Nevada, later known as "Wild Horse Annie," formed an animal rights group that pushed Congress to pass the "Wild Horse Annie Act," prohibiting the hunting of wild horses and burros on public lands. (Today, over-grazing is the herd's heaviest concern, but the Bureau of Land Management - the BLM - coordinates the adoption and sale of excess animals.)

You can encounter the creatures on the Pilot Butte Wild Horse Scenic Loop Tour, a self-guided meander that begins in Green River or Rock Springs. Follow the markers along the dirt road; the casual drive covers 50 miles and takes about three hours to complete. You can also view antelope, desert elk, deer, rabbits, coyotes, hawks, eagles and sage grouse. Stop for scenic overlooks of Pilot Butte, Boar's Tusk, Killpecker Sand Dunes, Steamboat Mountain, the Overland Trail and the Union Pacific railroad corridors.

Plan your trip for early July and add a day at the annual Wyoming Wild Horse and Burro Festival in Rock Springs. The BLM holds a horse auction; owners of previously wild horses showcase their animals and renowned "Horse Whisperers" conduct training clinics open to the public.

You can also visit an adoption center. In Wheatland, Steve Mantle, a veteran wild horse trainer for the BLM, trains wild horses so they can be sold. At Wild Horses Wyoming, LLC, near Laramie, the animals roam pastures visible from Highway 130. If you're interested in owning a horse but have a small back yard, you can partner with the organization to support one of the animals - they'll take care of the rest.

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