Sandwash Basin After Action Report

Band of wild horses in Sandwash Basin, Colorado
Colorado Wild Mustang Horses At Sandwash Basin

I’ve returned from my first trip to Sandwash Basin in Moffat County, Colorado.

My first trip out to photograph the wild mustangs was an exciting and productive trip, if not dusty.

Working with Jonathan Steele of Connecticut, we had planned to make this trip last year in late May when the pandemic squashed out hopes.

Sandwash Basin is a very popular photography spot. There is a very strong and dedicated following of these wild horses. People come from all corners of the United States and elsewhere to photograph them. Myself, I had never been there before so this was a great opportunity to get some nice shots of a staple subject here in Colorado.

We began our trip from my cabin in Red Feather Lakes, driving west on Highway 14 to Highway 40 and on to Craig, Colorado. We based our Sandwash photography out of Craig, a small town in Northwest Colorado with good infrastructure. It’s a pretty desolate place up there and having a good base of operations where we could get fuel, food and lodging would be our driving motivation, but it did require that we drive quite a bit to get to our photography locations. All in all, we drove about 1,800 miles over a period of 5 days, including excursions to Dinosaur National Monument, which straddles the Utah/Colorado border to the west of Sandwash. I’ll have another blog post about Dinosaur in the near future.

We arrived in Craig about mid-day on Sunday, May 23rd. After getting checked in at the hotel in Craig, we made our first run through Sandwash, which is just north of the hole-in-the-wall town of Maybell, 30 miles west. We were able to make a total of 5 runs through the basin, a run being either a morning or afternoon session. I ended up taking about 3,500 photos of the horses and have already started editing and uploading them to the stock agencies.

Most of the trip was cool and sunny, but high winds kicked up a lot of dirt and my Ford Explorer was a filthy mess inside and out. I’ll get that cleaned up and detailed later this week. As for the camera gear, it’s a mess too, covered with fine dirt. I tried to keep it clean but it only took moments after wiping down to collect a fresh coat of dirt on just about everything.

I minimized contaminating the camera sensors by using three cameras with different lenses attached so I wouldn’t have to swap lenses in the field. The Nikon D850 had the 24-70mm, the D810 had the 70-200mm and The D500 had the 200-500mm. It worked out perfect. I simply grabbed the best camera for any given shot without having to fiddle around with lens swaps. Most of my shots were taken with the D500/200-500mm combo and it performed flawlessly. I didn’t miss many shots.

Dining in the area was pretty tough. There was virtually no food between Dinosaur and Craig, with the best culinary selection being at a gas station in Dinosaur, serving microwave treats. Virtually no cell phone coverage out there too, so we didn’t spend a lot of time staring at our phones, which kept us from being too distracted during the lulls in action.

We headed back to Denver on Thursday afternoon and enjoyed a nice evening sitting on our deck here at my home and telling our war stories from the trip.

A wonderful time was had by all.