Thursday, July 14, 2011

Wild Horses in New Mexico

Wild horses in Tonque Arroyo - San Felipe Pueblo

Last week I took a visitor from Indiana to see the wild horses that range near my home. We sometimes see these beautiful wild creatures grazing near the San Pedro Creek on the Campbell Ranch alongside the Turquoise Trail (NM 14 North) .

Views of San Pedro Creek area east of NM 14 North

I take the Puertecito Road (a dirt road that is drivable by a 2WD vehicle, but impassable in bad weather even for many 4WD's) through the Diamond Tail Ranch, ending at the San Felipe Pueblo at I-25 (Exit 252), about 16 miles north of Placitas

You will drive over high desert mesas here with fantastic panoramic views as far as the eye can see.  The Sandia Mountains are to the south, the Ortiz Mountains are to the north, the San Pedro Mountains are to the east, and the Jemez Mountains are to the west.

You reach the village of Puertecito about 4 miles west of NM 14 North.  Just before you get to Puertecitio,  you will go down into a deep arroyo, there will be a side road called Camino Ruidoso to the the right up a steep canyon to a number of houses.  This arroyo has beautiful layered rock walls of mudstone and sandstone and are part of a geological feature called the Diamond Tail Formation in the coal rich Hagan Basin. 
Puertecito Rd.

The houses here range from ramshackle cabins to pricey, custom "off-the-grid" homes. 

Diamond Tail Formation of mudstone and sandstone layers have layers of coal and lignite below the formation

Ortiz Mountains

Juniper-studded mesas
Keep on the main road until you come to the junction of La Madera Rd.  Keep right and enter the Diamond Tail Ranch where truly beautiful arroyos and rock formations await you.  Learn more about the geology of this area here.

Striking views of "hogback" outcroppings of basal lava flow appear along the road

Hagan Rd. is well maintained and very scenic. The land on both sides is private so do not go "off road" here.

Looking west toward the Jemez Mountains, we could see the smoke from the massive Las Conchas Fire
The road proceeding west is called the Hagan Rd. A few miles to the west, after you enter the Diamond Tail Ranch, you come upon the ruins of Hagan, a former coal mining town, now a ghost town. The ruins are just to the north of the road where you cross a large wash. The ruins are located on private land and there is no trespassing allowed.  Here is a topographical map of the area.  After passing Hagan, in a few more miles you will see the ruins of rock buildings on the northside of the road that are the remnants of another ghost town, Coyote.

Coyote ruins

Although you may see wild horses anywhere along this road, they favor the tree-lined arroyos and large washes along the road.  Look closely below to see a brown mare with her foal walking along the wash below.

Mare and foal bring up the rear of this band led by a white stallion

They may also be seen in the rolling hills to the south toward Placitas.  Although we didn't encounter any wild horses on this July day, here are more pictures I have taken of wild horse encounters in previous years in the Arroyo Tonque:

Gray Stallion and one of its mares

Many organizations advocate for a Wild Horse Sanctuary in this area.  Some Placitas residents regularly feed the horses, especially during winter, causing some ire from neighbors who have no fences to keep them out of their gardens.  After many citizens lobbied for a Horse Sanctuary, former Governor Bill Richardson proposed a Wild Horse Preserve adjacent to the Ortiz Mountains, using federal stimulus funds. However, due to the politics of 2010, the Plan died.  The Wild Horses of Placitas organization wants the corridor between NM 14 North and I-25 designated a Wild Horse State Park (see a proposed map below).  They are coming up against the developers of high-end communities along the Turquoise Highway who want a developed road linking them to I-25. Other detractors of a wild horse preserve make an argument that these horses are not "wild" but feral escapees from ranches and Pueblos.
For more information about the wild horses of New Mexico and the federal law protecting wild horses, please look at these links:

Great recent photos and narrative of visits by the Placitas wild horses at: The Mustang Blog 

More than a hundred of photos of Placitas wildhorses at: The Shutter from the Sun Photography

Please see the beautiful photos of Wild Horses by Placitas photographer David Cramer (1951-2010) at:


  1. great post

    loved all the scenic pics & the horses

  2. I know this has been a few years ago, but do you know if these horses are still in this area? We have been to Placitas and would like to explore here too. We moved here from Colorado last year and have spent the last 5 years photographing wild horse in Sand Wash Basin in NW Colorado. Please let me know at your earliest chance. Thankfully, Debby Peters