Wild Horses in Northwest Colorado

Wild horse photo


Sand Wash  HMA Information

The Sand Wash herd management area (HMA) is generally located 45 miles west of Craig, Colorado, in the Sand Wash Basin. The boundary of the HMA is fenced, except along State Highway 318, generally preventing wild horses from entering or leaving the HMA. There are no fences within the HMA, allowing horses to roam freely within the confines of the basin.
Size/Habitat Characteristics
The Sand Wash HMA includes 154, 940 acres of public land, 1,960 acres of private land, and 840 acres of State school section lands, for a total of 157,730 acres. Sand Wash Basin is surrounded by ridges and mesas. Lookout Mountain on the northeast boundary is the highest point in the HMA at 8,120 feet, and the lowest point is where Sand Wash exits the HMA at an elevation of 5,800 feet. The Sand Wash Basin receives 7 to 12 inches of annual precipitation, and the climate is typical of the cold deserts of the Rocky Mountain Region, with warm summers and very cold winters. Vegetation types within the HMA include sagebrush/bunchgrass, saltbush, and pinyon-juniper woodlands.
The horses within the HMA exhibit many different colors. Among the most common are grey and sorrel, although most colors and color patterns can be found, including buckskins, duns and paint. Genetic analysis indicates the highest similarity for the herd was to the Iberian derived Spanish breeds, followed by Gaited breeds, North American breeds and Arabian breeds.
The original population of horses with the HMA in 1971 was 65 head. The managed population range recommended in 1986 was changed to a maximum of 217 horses in 1995, and again in 2001 to a management range of 163 to 363 horses. The existing horse population has been managed to the most current of these numbers through horse gathers in 1989, 1995, 1998, 2001 and 2005. The herd had a population high of 455 head in 1998. The most recent aerial census conducted in July of 2008 showed a population of 411 head within the HMA.
Habitat Conflicts/Issues
In spite of the ability of the Sand Wash herd to rapidly increase its population, there are factors that affect the herd’s habitat, such as increasing recreation, wildlife winter range use, and livestock grazing. With the last 10 years, late winter recreational OHV use has been increasing the in the HMA, especially during the April and May foaling period, because the area typically has less snow and becomes accessible and hospitable earlier in the year than other areas of publicly managed lands. The increase in numbers of elk in the Sand Wash Basin has increased competition for winter forage, and more recently for summer forage as well.
From Craig, follow US 40 to the town of Maybell, Colorado, approximately 30 miles. At Maybell, turn north onto State Highway 318. Follow 318 for approximately 15 miles. Just after crossing the Little Snake River, turn right, or north, on Moffat County Road 75. This county road traverses the eastern portion of the HMA from south to north. Another option is to stay on State Highway 318 until Moffat County Road 67. This road also traverses the HMA from south to north. There are also several signed BLM roads which take off from the county roads. It is highly recommended that those wishing to the visit the HMA purchase a 1:100,000 scale topographic map of the area. It is also recommended that visitors take a four wheel drive vehicle with good clearance, especially if traveling off of the well maintained county roads. Take along plenty of water and equipment in case of an emergency (such as a flat tire or mechanical failure). Also be sure to let someone know of your travel plans.

Respect the horses. Please view them from a distance and do not chase them. Do not camp at or near their critical water sources.

Questions can be directed to our Wild Horse & Burro Specialist at 970-826-5000 or by email at lsfo_webmail@co.blm.gov
Thank you for your interest in the wild horse program!
Sandwash Basin Map
Sandwash Brochure

 Click here to view the Sandwash Brochure


 Rodger & Margaret Smith with Rocky at the Reno Show


Click here to view a Wild Horse Adoption Success Story


Click here to read about the Sand Wash Clean Up


 Click here to view a story about the Sand Wash Clean Up




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