Visit an eco-resort in Nevada that aims to save the West’s wild mustangs.
My tipi glows golden orange in the early morning sunlight. It’s the kind of hour that’s dreaded in the city, but treasured in the wild. A translucent haze hangs over the range and the earth hisses as the sun laps up last night’s rain.
I join the small group of guests on the terrace of Madeleine Pickens’s home. Pickens is the owner of Mustang Monument Eco-Resort and Preserve and she shares the mood, glamorous in jeans and a checkered shirt. “Are you ready to feed the horses?” she purrs, and I nod enthusiastically. “Good. We’ll leave in a few minutes.” Here that could mean a few minutes or an hour. The days are long and giving; timekeeping is made redundant.
When we do leave, it’s by 4×4 down the road, then a track and onto a horse-drawn wagon into the vast openness. Pickens owns over 900 square miles, further than the eye can see, and we’re in search of wild horses. The farm dogs run alongside and we spot the outline of a coyote frozen on the horizon. It’s America’s version of a safari.
Ahead we spot the herd, hundreds of faces lifted and ears pointed in anticipation. The mustangs are wild, rescued from the cruel fate of slaughter by Madeline’s charitable organization, Saving America’s Mustang, and brought to the preserve here in Wells, Nevada. All profits generated by the resort are invested back into the colossal project, which aims to reinstate the romantic and historic heart of the Western lands with no fat skimmed off the top, putting an altruistic spin on the allure of indulgence – luxury for the kind-hearted.
Driving the wagon into the mist, Clay, the ranch’s number one cowboy (we’re talking leather chaps, denim shirt and straw-chewing), starts shaking out hay in a circle around us, tempting the animals inwards. We sit still as they tentatively close in. The sky is a startling blue, scattered with puffs of white cloud, the grass green and the mountains behind it sprinkled with snow. A foal suddenly scatters, galloping in circles in a desperate attempt to find its mother.
The herd, however, remains unperturbed and the foal soon quiets alongside a bay mare, rubbing its head against her flanks in relief. It’s a scene so cinematic it would feel imagined if it weren’t for the stomping of restless hooves, neighing and smell of hot horse hair.
Later, fuelled by oatmeal, eggs and smoothies, we saddle up, Western style, and scramble up Spruce Mountain. The terrain is jagged, steep and in some places a little ropey, but these horses are sure-footed enough to guide the most nervous of riders, and with a pack instinct deeply ingrained, they never stray far from the tail in front.
The staggering views also provide distraction from any nerves. For more confident riders, there’s the opportunity to push forward at pace as we do for the final 100 meters, arriving panting and giddy at the picnic spot.
Elegant rugs and deck chairs are laid out near the cliff ’s edge, which drops into the rolling valley below. We sit silenced by the view for some moments, experiencing a sense of natural peace that’s hard to find.
That night, we learn to lasso against a peach sky. We eat hungrily in the dining tipi, packed cozily around a single candlelit table, and sip cocktails in the saloon. Then, we huddle in thick fur blankets by the campfire, listening to a cowboy strumming his guitar.
Visit Steppes Travel, tel. 0843.778.9926,