Utah Great Basin Desert/Onaqui HMA: At the Water Hole

Wild horses of the Great Basin Desert in Utah after visiting one of the two water holes in use this past June.

After I left Idaho, I spent four days photographing wild horses in the Great Basin Desert of Utah on the Onaqui HMA (Herd Management Area).

I stayed in Tooele, Utah. Tooele is pronounced Too-illuh. Tooele is located south west of Salt Lake City. It is also located about 45 minutes to an hour to the horse range. My introduction to Tooele was stopping in the local large chain grocery store where a woman walked in and started screaming at her ex-boyfriend/husband and threatening to kill him for taking all her stuff in storage. The screaming and threats went of for quite sometime and spilled over into the parking lot when the manager of the store kicked both individuals involved in the argument out of the store. Then I went to my hotel, which was just okay, and realized that I had landed in the kingdom of fast food restaurants as that was what was visible as far as the eye could see. There is a good Thai restaurant and good Mexican restaurant if you look hard enough (I can't remember their names though).

To get out to the horse range you drive west toward Dugway. When you reach the intersection with Skull Valley Road, turn left after the church. This will now be a dirt road. Drive until you hit the Pony Express Road and keep going heading in the general direction of the Simpson Springs Pony Express station. Keep your eye out. Drive slowly. Keep your vehicle on marked roads. Don't harass the horses. Do not use drones. Don't get that close to the horses. Do not get near mares with newborns or between stallions and their harem/young or interfere with horses trying to get to water. These ARE wild animals. Remember you are in the desert. Bring water. Wear a hat. Watch out for gopher holes. Watch out for snakes. Watch out for snakes in gopher holes. Follow these rules and you'll be treated to one of the most amazing experiences you'll ever have. But know that these horses live a tenuous existence here. At any time the decision for a round up could come and some of these magnificent animals will no longer live free. Think about that as you look at these photos. Think about it as you visit their world, if you are so lucky.

Below are photos taken as the horses came to water. It is fascinating to watch the horses come into a water hole. Some signal is given and they all come all at once. And just as quickly another signal, one this human can't interpret, is given and the horses move on to graze, to nap, to play, to just be a horse.

When I was there at the beginning of June there were two main watering holes being used by two different groups of horses. The vegetation around the two areas was very different in color and it caused either a red or more neutral color cast. I much preferred the light down near the second watering hole as it was bluer and more diffuse.

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Coming in to water in the early morning.

A closer look at the herd on the move.

Gathering around the water hole. 

A very sunny morning. 

Yes, its early.


One band contemplating water. 

And in they come kicking up dust.

Surveying the area before taking the plunge. 

And in they go. 

This good looking band was really interesting to watch. The darker buckskin mare in the back is very very pregnant. 

The brown foal belongs to the gray mare.

A closer look at that brown foal.

It's amazing how much the cremello bachelor in the background matches his surroundings. This is one of the "Cremello Brothers" known to this area. This one was pretty beat up. You can see wounds on his chest. 

A closer look at the cremello's sky blue eyes. 

Rolling in the mud of the water hole creates great decorations on some of the horses.