Travel: Riding with the Sundance Kid in Utah

Horses graze at Mustang Monument. Picture: Lisa Young

Horses graze at Mustang Monument. Picture: Lisa Young

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RUB shoulders with a Hollywood legend in Utah and see how the West was won with mustangs in Nevada

Robert Redford appeared sporting a baseball cap, with coffee in hand, and greeted me as he strolled past. Well, I was staying at his Sundance Mountain Resort in Utah and he’s there a lot, but getting this close to an American icon was an unexpected thrill. However, my encounter with the actor was still to come as I headed for Nevada to meet other American legends – wild mustang horses.

Cowboy Clay Nannini. Picture: Lisa Young

Cowboy Clay Nannini. Picture: Lisa Young

Leaving Salt Lake City, passing the pink, saline southern shore of the massive body of water that gives the city its name, I was en route to Wells, Nevada, and Mustang Monument Wild Horse Eco-Resort, a reserve for wild mustangs created by businesswoman and horsewoman Madeleine Pickens.

Trusty mustangs are iconic American frontier horses, without whom exploring the Wild West would have been impossible. Today, mustangs are under threat and their numbers have dwindled from two million in the 1900s to fewer than 30,000 today.

Pickens focuses her energy on fighting for the protection and preservation of wild mustangs through Saving America’s Mustangs (SAM), a charity she set up to raise funds to develop Mustang Monument as a place to secure and sustain the wild horses in future years.

The all-inclusive resort is popular with those passionate about American cowboy culture, horses and the outdoors – and those with deep pockets. Open from 1 June to 30 September each year, it offers Western-style safari adventures over rugged desert land that provides unique riding opportunities across perfect terrain.

Fine dining in the eco-resort. Picture: Lisa Young

Fine dining in the eco-resort. Picture: Lisa Young

The 900 sq mile property is a place of tranquillity where warm days are complemented by refreshing cool nights, and where 650 rescued mustangs roam freely over wild and protected land through which you can ride on well-trained mustangs for hundreds of miles without crossing fences. You don’t have to be an expert rider, and you don’t have to ride to enjoy the property as there is plenty to do for non-riders too.

My en-suite rustic cottage decked out in Ralph Lauren furnishings was a far cry from the discomfort of pioneering days and had a comfortable king-size bed that was most welcome after a day in the saddle. Alternatively, you can opt to sleep in a luxuriously furnished and elaborately painted Native American tepee, sharing bathroom facilities and minus electricity. For an all-round experience you can try both.

There are lots of activities, including horse riding, wagon rides, daily feeding of wild mustang horses and Maverick DPS all-terrain vehicle rides into the back of beyond, as well as lots of walking and hiking trails to explore. Delicious meals are served in Western-themed tepees, with guests gathered around a large table hosted by Pickens to hear mustang tales.

With Clay Nannini, Pickens’ head cowboy, we saddled up our horses and rode into the foothills of the surrounding mountains and dropped into huge plains where hundreds of mustangs grazed freely. With their big hooves and dense bone structure, they can easily manage rugged ground that rises up to altitudes of 11,000 feet. Brushing past wild sage plants whose perfume lingered on the horses’ coats, we passed dilapidated gold mines and ghostly remnants of old pioneering buildings before stopping for a lavish picnic.

Wagons are a good way to get around the eco-resort. Picture: Lisa Young

Wagons are a good way to get around the eco-resort. Picture: Lisa Young

“Local ranchers are not fans of the wild mustangs,” said Nannini. “They feel the horse provides nothing and the grass should be used for grazing cattle and money-making agriculture. I’m not saying their concerns are unwarranted, but the horses get a pretty bad shake in order of importance.”

The following morning, we clambered on top of a horse-drawn hay wagon and travelled a couple of miles to feed the wild mustangs. The large herd spotted us coming and took off towards us, their long manes and tails flowing in the cool morning air. I was in my element standing on the back of the wagon as hundreds of horses gathered around me, some fighting to get more food, while the air filled with dust stirred up by their hooves. Mares with their foals stood further back until the herd settled, then came closer to feed.

After Mustang Monument it was on to Redford’s Sundance Mountain Resort, an hour from Salt Lake City, fuelled en route by the gigantic portions of burgers and ribs on offer at the actor’s Zoom restaurant in the picturesque ski-resort town of Park City. Once at Sundance, I hiked, biked and rode a horse around the mountain trails, and took the chairlift to the top of the mountain for beautiful views. There is also a private ski resort that’s popular with guests during winter months.

With my trip nearing an end, I visited the screening room used in the annual Sundance Film Festival. There the walls are covered in screen stills, many from Redford’s films, including Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid. And on my way out the silver-screen legend himself strolled by. Further proof that Western culture, albeit witnessed in a more luxurious form at Mustang Monument and Sundance Mountain Resort than the rough old pioneering days, is still very much alive and well.

A painted Native American tepee. Picture: Lisa Young

A painted Native American tepee. Picture: Lisa Young

www.visitparkcity.com; www.zoomparkcity.com; www.skyparkcity.com; www.travelnevada.com; www.visitutah.com. The all-inclusive Mustang Monument Wild Horse Eco-Resort opens from 1 June to 30 September each year. Contact Steppes Travel (08437789926/www.steppestravel.com). Costs for a seven-day package include stays at Mustang Monument Wild Horse Eco-Resort (www.mustangmonumnet.com) and Sundance Mountain Resort (www.sundanceresort.com). Seven-night itinerary to Nevada and Utah from £3,295 per person based on two people sharing, inclusive of four nights full-board in a tepee at Mustang Monument, Nevada, and three nights room-only at Sundance Resort, Utah, flights and car hire. Seven-night itinerary to Nevada and Utah from £3,580 per person based on two people sharing, inclusive of four nights full-board at Mustang Monument (two nights in a tepee and two nights in a cottage) and three nights room-only at Sundance Resort, flights and car hire. More options at www.steppestravel.com

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