Prior Mountain, located in extreme southern Montana is home to a herd of wild mustangs. This is a vast wilderness, but the arid climate can sustain only about 160 horses. The Bureau of Land Management has a round-up and adoption program to keep the herd in check, where for $25 you can have your own mustang – plus transportation costs of course. The horses graze at lower elevations in the winter, but in the summer, they can be found only on the mountain top, in an area that is extremely difficult to reach by vehicle.
Our access to Prior Mountain was through Steve & Nancy Cerroni of PriorWild Tours who operate The Prior Mountain Wild Mustang Center, located in Lovell, Wyoming. Lovell is a small farming town of about 2,500 located about 20 miles from the mountain peak. Steve loaded us and two other adventurers into his big high-clearance Dodge pickup truck and we began the trek over 8 miles or so of paved and gravel roads before we began our two and one-half hour ascent along an incredibly steep, treacherous and boulder-strewn incline. The 12-mile “road” to the top of mountain covers US Bureau of Land Management property that was reportedly built in the very early 40’s by a mysterious government crew searching for uranium. Our guide said that it has not been touched by improvements in the almost 80 years since. Our travel along that route had to be the closest thing to enemy torture that I can think of – Marcy has some bruises from banging around in the vehicle, but nevertheless, all that agony was so worth it.
The top of Prior Mountain was absolutely magical in the season we visited. The steep, rocky incline opened to a rolling mesa-like area – just covered with beautiful wildflowers, a wonderfully cool, sweet breeze and a sweeping view of the Big Horn River Valley below. Steve guided us on foot into the meadow where we visited various groups of horses. There were the four bachelors, the small band with the three-day-old colt, and various other groups, but the highlight was when we sat gazing across the meadow to the valley below and one of the young horses came right within a few feet to visit us. I think the horse was curious about the camera tripod that I had left sitting a few yards away. Steve told us to sit still and not reach out to them. The horse and his band of friends came just within a few feet. Someone from a separate private group had brought a Shofar that he purchased in Israel. He asked Steve it would be OK to blow a worship call and Steve said to go for it – The entire band of Mustangs raised their heads in unison having never heard such a sound.
Who would not be a fan of beautiful wild mustangs? However, one of my favorite shots of the days is this ancient Minneapolis Moline Tractor – Twin Cities model seen below. We passed it on the way to the top of Prior Mountain and our host, Steve said that it had been sitting here since 1957. They only get about 6 inches of rain here, so the dry weather kept it in arguably good shape for its 62 years of idleness. It made me wonder what in the world someone would be doing with a row-crop style tractor here, to begin with. But this is a place where one might image very strange things might happen.
We were supposed to stay until sundown when the mustangs were most active, but our trip was cut short by a sudden intense thunderstorm, complete with ground covering small hail, buffeting winds and intense lightning. The storm run-off cascading along the trail made our trip down even more interesting, and Steve expertly guided us though dangerous slipperiness. But once we descended past the rough parts and passed the Bureau of Land Management cattle guard, we were treated to the view below. It was a great ending to a memorable day. Steve Cerroni treated us so well – We enjoyed a wonderful picnic supper, courtesy of his wife Nancy and despite the bad weather, our trip down was made complete by stories of Steve’s early days as a cowboy on the huge ranches of Wyoming as we listened to some of his favorite cowboy songs on the truck’s entertainment system.
There are plenty of adventures to be had in this old world, but I am pretty sure there is nothing quite like this one. I give it 5 stars all the way around. If you are interested in giving it a try, be advised that Steve and Nancy are the only ones who operate such a tour and they are booked solid months in advance. We just happened to get an opening on the Saturday we wanted.