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Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Onaqui Mountains Wild Horse Management Area

Winter was in full force over the weekend.  Temperatures between the 20's and the 30's, and snow flurries and storms all weekend.  Paired with some crazy winds, hiking and outdoor activities were looking chilly.  Instead of hiking, we decided to do some driving and exploring around some less popular areas of Utah. 

First, I started researching the historic Pony Express Trail that ran through Utah.  During that research, I read that a lot of these roads were dirt, and the snow was falling outside heavy enough to convince me this was not a good idea.  

While poking around various sites, I read about wild horse populations that exist in Utah.  I have had horses for a while and the thought of finding a herd of wild horses sounded like a great weekend adventure to me.  We packed up the car, filled up the gas tank, and headed west into Tooele county.  
Map of the Onaqui Mountains Wild Horse Management Area (HMA)
Image from KBRhorse has some great information on the herd, 
and how to access the area.  The following information is from the site.

"The Onaqui Herd Management Area (HMA) is located 40 air miles southwest of Salt Lake City. The HMA extends from Johnson's Pass south to Lookout Pass. Wild horses can be seen on the bench and flat areas along the east and west side of the mountain range. The HMA contains 43,880 acres of Federal, State, and privately owned land.

The vegetation on the upper elevations of the Onaqui Mountains is comprised of mountain brush and scattered stands of conifers. The foothill area is vegetated by stands of juniper trees. Areas that have burned or have been mechanically revegetated contain bunch grass. The valley areas are comprised of sagebrush and annual cheatgrass.  Wild horses have occupied the Onaqul Mountains since the late 1800s. Most of the horses are descendants of horses that escaped from local ranches.

The dominant colors within the herd area are brown and bay. Other colors found include sorrel, roan, buckskin, black, and white with some pinto sprinkled in.  The wild horses on the Onaqul's are classified as below average in size. Although they appear to be larger, a 1991 winter round up discovered the mares to average around 700 pounds and the stallions, around 900.  The horses are good to average in composition and generally remain healthy even during periods of drought.A survey in November 1991 counted 169 wild horses in the Onaqui's. Of these, 158 were adults and 11 were foals. 

VIEWING/Directions 1:  From Salt Lake City take I-80 west approximately 20 miles to the Lake Point / Tooele exit. Travel south on State Highway 36 through Tooele and Stockton. Turn south on State Highway 199 through Rush Valley and Johnson's Pass to Terra. Turn south at the BLM sign marked "Onaqui Mountains." Horses may be viewed south along this road to Lookout Pass and the Pony Express Trail.

VIEWING/Directions 2: Follow directions above.  When you reach Terra, continue on to the Dugway Proving Ground (US Army grounds).  Take a left before the Proving Grounds, and follow the dirt road between the LDS church and the fenceline.  Horses should be spotted on either side of this road towards the Pony Express Trail. 

NOTESRoad conditions along Onaqui Mountains are influenced by moisture. When wet they are slick, and very dusty during extended dry periods. Due to these conditions, the roads remain rough and should be traveled by high profile vehicles. (Check with the Salt Lake District Office at (801) 977-4300 for up to date access and road conditions.) Wild horses are naturally wary. They are best viewed with binoculars at a distance. When approached, they will normally spook and run for cover".  Source 
(Rick Egan) | The Salt Lake Tribune- Onaqui Herd Source
This herd is famous in Utah for being the easiest to view, and because of the new fertility dart program. "Sometime this year, federal land managers plan to shoot a "fertility vaccine" into the haunches of wild horses in Tooele County's Onaqui herd. Using dart guns instead of helicopters, wranglers and biologists hope to cut horse numbers among Utah's most photographed herd." -- Read more about the program here

Our Trip to the Onaqui HMA

We left Salt Lake City, headed west on I-80, past the Great Salt Lake and the Salt Palace, and took the Grantsville exit.  We headed south, and cut across west over 196 to Johnson's Pass.  Johnsons pass was a beautiful area,  a winding road between the snowy mountains.  While we didnt spot the Onaqui herd, we found these horses while traveling along 196. 

Eventually, we reached  Terra and the end of the road at the Dugway Proving Ground for the US Army, and took a left down the dirt road by the LDS church and the army fence.  Warning, this area is a little creepy.  An abandoned church and a US Army Base will give you the heeby jeebies real quick.  Once you take a left onto the dirt road, look for this sign and continue on.

This time of year (November to spring), the area is overtaken by cows.  According to my research, you should be able to see horses on either side of this road on your way to the Pony Express route.  However, this was another dirt road, in the snow, and after traveling a few miles down this road, and already a ways from home, we decided to turn around.     

We did manage to spot some adorable antelope grazing in the fields.  

Although the trip was a bust in the horse department, we were able to explore a part of Utah that no one ever talks about.  A little gem tucked away in western Utah, where mail was delivered on horseback, and wild horses still roam.  A trip to the wild west just an hour and twenty minutes outside of the city.  We will be back in the summer to spot this famous herd. 

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