Arizona, A New Frontier: Day 1

Wild We Roam started as a fascination with wild horse populations simply because of their beauty and the romantic notion that such familiar animals to us could exist as wild creatures, free from the day to day influence of mankind. But the more I researched where they could be found, the more I realized that even wild horses are not as far removed from human influence as I had thought.

This time my curiosities took me to the land of the Grand Canyon, the great state of Arizona.

I landed in Phoenix and turned on my phone to a news alert that hit me harder than the desert heat: “Nearly 200 dead horses found on Navajo land in Arizona“. Victims of extreme heat, they got stuck in the mud at a dried-up watering hole.

My heart sank. I was in Arizona for ‘Wild We Roam,’ my multi-year project photographing wild horses around the world. The project started with a fascination with the animals both for their beauty and the romantic notion that such familiar creatures could exist free from the day-to-day influence of humans. But the more I researched, the more I realized even wild horses are not so far removed from us.

Perhaps no influence is more worrisome than global warming and the extreme weather it creates. When I left New Brunswick, there was historic flooding in my town. Arizona was a striking contrast. With temperatures consistently topping 100, the state was having an intense heatwave and drought.

I set out for Coon Bluff to meet Pam, a volunteer with the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group. The SRWHMG is a private non-profit with over 90 dedicated volunteers who track and help horses and educate the public about them.

When we met, I was alarmed to learn Pam’s shin protectors were rattlesnake guards. I knew there were rattlesnakes in the desert but hadn’t realized just how common they are. Pam told me about the local Mojave rattlesnake, which has the most potent venom of any in North America. Eyes wide, I pulled my socks up as far as they would go.

We hiked along the river in the crippling heat. It slowed us down and kept the horses out of sight. At this point, it was around 109°F and we decided to turn back due to the intensity of the heat. So we drove to Butcher Jones National Park, to wade in the lake and wait for the horses to come to their only water source at day’s end.

That evening we ran into a mare and her foal. Her foal had been born three days earlier the previous year this same mare and stallion had a foal but it had passed away days later after an intoxicated tourist picked her up and was “playing” with her. SRWHMG have since been keeping an eye on the young family making sure that tourists do not bother them so the offspring will have a better chance of survival. This group is so dedicated that a member of their group will open the park every morning at 5 am and another volunteer will close it in after sunset. They monitor the horses throughout the day and educate the public, raising awareness and helping sustain the horse’s wild existence. The scene was a hopeful counterpoint to the sad news of earlier that day.

Mesquite is the most common shrub/small tree of the desert southwest.

Snake tracks in the sand.

Photographing in the Salt River.

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