Camping in the Pryor’s. Respecting the Horses and the Land.

It is a cold snowy weekend here in  western Montana.  So I thought I would take myself back to warmer days and write a post about camping in the Pryor’s.

I am giving camping tours.  Please click on CAMPING, to go to that post and see the dates that are available.

Campsite, July 2011

Camping in the Pryor’s with the wild horses is  one of my favorite things to do.  Hearing the horses whinny and munch grass right outside my tent at night,  is really an experience that I won’t get tired of.   Each time that I have camped up there, I find that I am almost if not the only the only one, on the mountain top (human).

I  have heard that the BLM is thinking of establishing a campground up there.  I am going to be pretty sad if that happens.  I love being able to pick my campsite and camp where ever I want.  Having an established campground would bring a whole list of problems.  Mostly I am thinking, bear problems.  With an established campground, the more people, the more mess left behind.  That is an invitation for bears.  Also, I am not seeing a need for an established campground.  There just are not that many people camping up there.   But if an established campground was made…well I see a lot more people coming up and camping, and I personally don’t want to see that happen.  It is not good for the horses or the land.  They need to leave it more primitive.

Sunset in the Pryor’s, August 2011

I am going to share with you a few simple rules about camping in the Pryor’s, or any land for that matter.  My hope is that those that do camp, will remember these things, and those that just do day trips will also remember some of these.  Then maybe, just maybe the BLM will not put in an established campground.

I have lived in Montana for 20 years.  In those twenty years I have camped quite a bit.  So these things just come naturally to me.  I realize though, that some people may not camp very much, so I will just tell you a few things to remember.

1.  Stay on the road.  In the Pryor’s you are not allowed to drive off the road. That includes all vehicles, 4- wheelers, dirt bikes, etc..  You must stay on the designated road.  That includes setting up camp.  I usually find a wider place in the road where I can pull my truck to the side and still let other cars get by.  Then I carry all of my gear back to where I want to camp (usually not that far).

Last summer I witnessed someone  parked and camping about 1/2 mile off the road, just above Mystic Pond.    You can camp there, you just can’t drive your vehicle there.

2. PACK IN, PACK OUT.  I don’t think a lot of people know what that means.  I have seen tissue, plastic water bottles, etc lying around.  Tissue will probably go away in time, but it is pretty gross to see it lying around until then.  So please just pick it up.  The water bottles won’t go away.   So pack in, pack out means just that.  What ever you bring in with you must go back with you.  That includes EVERYTHING.  There are not bathrooms in the Pryor’s.  I won’t go into too much detail on that, but I hope you get the idea.

3.  Don’t Leave your Food out.  I put all of my food items, including coolers, back in the truck at night.  Leaving it out will attract critters.  Bears, etc..and please do not take any food in the tent with you!   I had heard that there were quite a few black bears up there, but I did not see one until my October 2011 trip.  I do take bear spray with me.

A Black Bear just above Mystic Pond, October 2011
Same Black Bear not too far from Penn’s Cabin, October 2011

4. Leave your campsite how you found it.  Please leave your campsite just how you found it.  When I take down my tent, I try to fluff up the grass where the tent was.  I am really pleased when I come back the next time and it looks just like it did before I was there.  When I see that, I know I did a good job.  Also, look around and make sure you are leaving nothing behind.

5.  Keep your dog on a leash.  That is for their safety and of course the horses.  Last summer I witness a huge German Shepard off leash.  It went within feet (yes feet!!) to the horses, including a very young foal. ( these were actually the same people who were parked 1/2 mile off the road to camp too!)

6. Respect the Horses.  Please try to stay at least 50-100 feet away from the horses.  That is not always possible. Sometimes they are right by your car, sometimes they walk by you when you are eating breakfast, lunch or dinner. Waking up and finding a band of horses right outside your tent is a very good possibility.  When I find that happening, I get out of my tent slowly and move away.  I have a 70×300 lens.  I wish I had a bigger one, but I feel I get some really good photos with that.   I won’t put myself or the horses in danger by trying to get closer for a really good  shot.  I would rather take the photo at a respected distance and crop it.  So when you can,  please stay your distance.  It is just out of respect for the horses and for your safety.

Waking up to horses, July 2011
My daughter Amber, moving away from the horses, July 2011

7.  Don’t Feed or Touch the Horses.  I wasn’t even going to post this.  But, unfortunately I have seen people do both.    The horses digestive systems are not used to eating other things then what they get on the range.  They are wild animals, so trying to touch them may put yourself in danger.  Enough said about this.  Just don’t do it.

All of the photos below were taken from my campsite just around 6:00 am.  The horses visit me often! 🙂

Jenny and Knight, July 2011
Lakota, July 2011
Polaris, Isadora, Lemhi and Rosarita, July 2011
Lakota, July 2011
Lakota and Grijala, July 2011
Grijala, July 2011

I love camping in the Pryor’s with the horses.  I wish everyone could experience it.   If you do, let’s do it by respecting the Horses and the Land.


Sunset with the horses, July 2011

12 thoughts on “Camping in the Pryor’s. Respecting the Horses and the Land.

  • Hi Sandy~That was another awesome trip to the Pryors via you….Love all the pictures of the horses and especially love the pic of Jenny (looking at you) ….What a great pic of Amber peaking out the tent to see the horses all around. Do they ever paw at the tent or nuzzle it?
    I really hope that they DO NOT make a camp site there. Just not fair to the horses. There are enough camp sites…I hope people can petition it if need be. Camping advice well said and hopefully people for the most part follow it. So enjoying all of these, keep them coming..:D

  • Fantastic topic Sandy! I had not realized that the BLM is considering creating a campground up there….. That would be a sad day for me. Like you, I am happiest camping up on the Pryors when there is no one else up there.

    When ever I take someone with me camping up on the Pryors, I have them read and agree to two different documents that I have: Leave No Trace and Camping in Bear Country. They are simple rules to follow and they are essential for everyone’s safety. The horses included!

    I have seen people get way too close to the horses and try to touch them as well. That makes me very sad and angry at the same time. Let’s all do our part to keep the wild horses wild.

    If I could add a few things to your already fantastic list? In addition to not taking food in your tent, please don’t take any drinks other than water in your tent either. Please do not have your toiletries in your tent. A lot of the toiletries people carry have a lot of scented items in them. Keep them in the car. I always brush my teeth at the car, never-ever anywhere near the tent. If you are cooking, do not cook anywhere near your tent where the fabric of the tent can absorb the cooking smells. I tend to do any cooking of food in the middle of the day so that cooked food smells have time to dissipate before night time hours when critters are on the prowl.

    Also, Please please please slow down! I have seen way too many people fly down the roads in their ATV’s and trucks on the roads up top. And they sometimes get way too close to the horses. If you are up on the Pryors, please slow down, enjoy the life around you. If you have taken the time to get to the top, slow down and enjoy the view! And of course, if you are down in the Dryhead area, PLEASE slow down as well. It is harder to see when the horses on that paved road. We do not want a repeat of last years horse fatality’s due to the carelessness of drivers.

    Again, thank you Sandy for posting this!

  • If only “John Q. Public” could be trusted to go by the rules and use common sense. The ones who leave their trash, etc., after camping are the same ones who leave gates open even when they are posted with signs saying “Keep Gate Closed” contributing to horses being where they aren’t supposed to be. And they are the same ones who think it’s fun to chase the horses with their 4-wheelers and motor bikes, while they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, more often than not. Oh, but don’t take it upon yourself to try to enforce the rules that were posted about conduct on the Range, because like is true in most every legal situation in this country anymore, the perpetrators will be “protected to the fullest extent of the law”. Seems to me like that’s just backwards of how things should be, but that’s the way it is.

    The only way I would feel good about a campground being established is if it would mean there would be more of a presence of law enforcement as a result. At this time, enforcement of the rules is nonexistent. Most of the government personnel involved consider the trip “too hard”, to make very often, and the rule breakers know that.

    What I’d really like to see is absolutely NO MOTORIZED RECREATIONAL VEHICLES whatsoever allowed on the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range. There is plenty of room for them to ride in the Custer National Forest (which the horses are no longer allowed on).

    Since the vegetation situation is so critical that horses have to be removed from THEIR HOME to reduce the stress on the land, I don’t understand how they can allow the use of those vehicles when they have to know that their riders DO NOT stay on designated roadways.

    On my last trip out into the red dirt hills in the dryhead area of the Range, I noticed and photographed an illegal “road” made by 4-wheelers riding off-road around the base of the most prominent hill, changing the look of the land completely to resemble a race track rather than undeveloped wilderness. Having encountered drivers of 4-wheelers in that area, I KNOW that many of them don’t give a rip about the horses, even tho they are riding on an area designated as a WILD HORSE RANGE.

    One good thing about visiting the Range in the dryhead is that there are restrooms at the Devil’s Canyon Overlook in the adjacent Bighorn Canyon Recreation Area on Hiway 37 that goes all the way through the Range on that side. You might have to hike a ways to your vehicle and then drive a ways, but the facilities are there.

    Anyway, I will be watching what develops on this subject with interest and will certainly express my opinion when the opportunity presents itself.

    Good post Sandy. Thanks.

  • Just to clarify my position, I know that there are folks who DO respect the wildlife on the Range and follow the rules for recreational vehicle use, etc., but it’s another case of that old saying “one bad apple can ruin the barrel”, and I’ve encountered more than one myself, during my brief time there.

    I’m also aware that it’s not realistic to think of banning rec vehicle use on the Range. Shoot, I may want to use a “mule” to get to the top of the mountain myself one day. I guess we can only make sure we, as individuals, know and follow the rules ourselves and do what we can (like this blog), to educate and influence others to DO THE RIGHT THING. There are a lot of folks, like the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Assoc. and the staff of the Center, lots of “local folks” (like Sandy), the Cloud Foundation and others who use the Range and are dedicated to protecting it and the horses and other wildlife, and I prefer to believe that good will win in the end.

    Thanks again, Sandy.

    • Hi Linda,
      Thank you for your comments.
      To ban the use of all rec. vehicles from the range would not be a good idea. I don’t ride them for fun, they are just a tool for me around my home (to spread manure!! ) But on my next trip I am taking mine to have access to the horses (in just a couple weeks). I figure it is better to dig out a 4-wheeler then it would be to dig out a 350 Truck if I get stuck in the snow. So there is some need for these on the range.
      Like everything else, like you said, there is good and bad. Most of the people driving them that I have encounter are respectful. We just all need to find a balance and try to inform those that may not know. The signs on the top are not very visible. Up until last October there was not any information on the board going into the range about camping or driving. It would be nice if the signage up there would improve.
      Thanks again for your insight Linda, much appreciated! Sandy

  • I agree with you about dont feed or touch the wild horses. I really dont think thats a good idea at all. We should always let these beautiful creatures be in their natural habitat

  • Absolutely wonderful information Sandy, Linda & Deb!
    I hope the BLM reads this blog site…might give them some insight into what they need to pay attention to!

    Yes Jonathan, the wild horses should remain, and be allowed to remain wild and free. People need to respect them for what they are, and feel blessed that those horses allow us to photograph them and share some time with them!
    Great job Sandy!

    • Thank you Lori, I actually sent both Jim Sparks and Jared Bybee a link to my blog. Then thought maybe that would get filtered out by their spam and resent telling them just to type in Unfortunately I have not heard from either of them. Jared has not answered any of my emails since last fall. Again I will say, I spent a day with Jared last summer. I really like him, he has a difficult job to do. I would really like them to read this blog. This is not going to turn into a BLM slamming site. There are plenty of other blogs around to do that. I want this to be a site where we can all get together and try to do what is best for the Pryor Horses. I hope they will consider opening up their communication a bit.

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