Occupying 21,932 acres of San Miguel County, Spring Creek Basin HMA is a federally owned herd management area west of Telluride, Colorado. Controlled by the Bureau of Land Management, Spring Creek Basin HMA is found in Disappointment Valley between the towns of Norwood and Dove Creek.
Across its rolling hills and rugged mountainous terrain, the HMA is home to free-roaming horses and many local wildlife species. Ranging from 6,200 to 7,400 feet above sea level, the HMA’s landscape is a mix of desert shrubs and pinyon-juniper forests, with the eponymous Spring Creek running seasonally into Disappointment Creek.
A southern portion of the Spring Creek Basin HMA shares approximately 3,000 acres with the McKenna Peak Wilderness Study Area, which is famous for its prominent sandstone cliffs.
According to local legend, the wild horse population in Spring Creek Basin HMA can be traced back to an outlaw from Montana. The former rancher allegedly arrived in southwestern Colorado at the turn of the 20th century, with a pack of stolen horses he hoped to sell to the U.S. Cavalry and other wild west bidders.
As the law began to catch up with the conman, the horses were left behind when he fled the state, and local ranchers were forced to tend to the herd. The horse population is now controlled by the BLM under the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act, with an animal management limit (AML) between 35 and 65.
Genetic testing of the horses living in Spring Creek Basin has shown Morgan and Thoroughbred lineage. Some of the herd may also be related to Jim Douglas, a world record winning horse that was put out to stud nearby in the early 1900s.
Spring Creek Basin HMA Accessibility
Spring Creek Basin HMA is accessible with any passenger vehicle, although visitors should be prepared for rough conditions. Roads throughout the HMA are primitive with several dead ends and unmaintained routes. Four-wheel drive and high clearance vehicles are recommended to access the entire area, and off-road driving is strictly prohibited.
The main entrance to the HMA can be found just off of US Highway 141, about 23 miles northeast of Egnar or 25 miles south of Naturita, Colorado. Turn off of the highway at San Miguel County Rd.19Q (Gypsum Gap), continue south for about 5 miles, and take a left onto County Rd. K20. Here, there is a cattle guard and signs with information about the area.
Spring Creek Basin HMA Activities
A land of many uses, the Spring Creek Basin HMA is a primitive destination without any recreational facilities. The HMA is free to access, open 24/7, and visitors should be prepared to pack in and pack out everything they need for the duration of their stay.
Camping: Overnight camping is permitted in the Spring Creek Basin HMA anywhere further than ¼ of a mile from a water source. Campers are encouraged to utilize any sites that have already been established and to always refrain from setting up equipment near the wild horses.
Read about the camping near Naturita, Norwood, Nucla and Gateway.
Hiking: Although there are no designated hiking trails, foot traffic is permitted on the HMA’s network of county roads and the open desert can be used for careful wandering with the right navigational tools.
Hunting: Big and small game seasonal hunting is permitted in the Spring Creek Basin HMA. All hunters 16 years and older must be licensed and permitted with Colorado Parks and Wildlife within the specific dates of their trip.
Wild horse viewing: In the summer and fall, Spring Creek Basin HMA’s wild horse population can typically be seen in the large open spaces of Disappointment Valley. In the winter and spring, spectators may find more success on the north and east sides of the HMA.
With a wide range of colors, the area is home to bays, blacks, duns, sorrels, grays, pintos, and more. Herds can often be seen near the area’s natural creeks and springs, as well as the water tanks that have been built in the HMA specifically for the horses.
Other wildlife: Besides horses and seasonally grazing cattle, the Spring Creek HMA is full of wildlife species, with opportunities to see mule deer, elk, coyotes, prairie dogs, tarantulas, rattlesnakes, mountain lions, black bears, and more. In the skies, birdwatchers may be able to spot golden eagles, bald eagles, and peregrine falcons.
For the protection of the native wildlife, Spring Creek Basin HMA visitors are asked to please keep pets leashed at all times, and to never feed or approach a wild animal for any reason.
Coordinates: 37°56’17.4″N 108°40’33.6″W
Phone: 970-882-7296 (Bureau of Land Management Tres Rios Office)