Finding and Photographing the Wild Horses on the Lower Salt River

By Sara Goodnick

Wild horses are beautiful and challenging to photograph, and there are several locations in Arizona where they may be found. By far, the easiest access to them is on the Lower Salt River NE of Phoenix.

To get there, from Hwy 87 going north towards Saguaro Lake, take the Bush Hwy exit and follow the signs. From Apache Junction, take Usery Pass to Bush Highway, and from Mesa it can be reached via Power Road.

The horses tend to be found near water unless it has rained a lot and there is plenty of green grass. The best places to find them are at the Coon Bluff Recreation area, the Phon D. Sutton Recreation Area, the Blue Point Recreation area, which is around the bridge over the river, and the Butcher Jones Recreation area. However, they can sometimes bee seen from the road in other places.

They are not fearful of humans, but do not approach them closely or offer them food! If they get too used to begging it will end badly for them as eventually someone will be kicked or bitten, resulting in their removal or destruction.

Being prey animals, not predators, they will usually run away if frightened. If cornered, those teeth and hooves can be deadly, so please keep a safe distance, and keep your dogs and small children under control. Horses will kill dogs because they are similar to coyotes and wolves, which threaten their young.

They spend a lot of time eating, so take your time to observe them while waiting for some action, or interaction among them. Don’t frighten them or try to get reactions from them-its not ethical. They need their energy and attention for survival.

Best lens to use is a 70-200mm, fast shutter speed of at least 1/800th sec. or faster, and the best ISO and aperture to go with that. Tripods are not needed, but a monopod can be useful.

What to wear: hiking boots, long sleeved shirts, long pants. This is rough country if you leave the roadside. The saying, “Everything out there stings, sticks, or bites”, has truth to it!

Plan ahead. The developed parking areas require a permit that you must purchase outside of the Tonto National Forest Recreation Area. Some of the local stores carry them, so check online. If you are over 62 years of age, you are eligible for a permanent Senior Pass ($80 – new fee as of August 2017) that will get you into all of our National Parks and Monuments, as well as other places.  You just display it on your dashboard when visiting. Theses passes may be purchased online or at certain fish and wildlife offices.

Sara Goodnick is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

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