Author: Aaron

The Horses in the Mojave

The Horses in the Mojave

California’s Mojave desert tortoises move toward extinction. Why saving them is so hard

It’s difficult to get across the Mojave Desert, the largest contiguous desert in the country, in one day. So we drove south, through the empty, treeless landscape, past the dry, cracked earth where tumbleweeds are caught in the mosh pits of windstorms. I have experienced some of the worst, windiest weather in the Mojave — a combination of high heat, low clouds, and, occasionally, severe high winds — and that’s not even all the time. Even in the driest and hottest months, it feels like winter. The temperature can reach 120 degrees in July, and we’ve had heavy fog. We stop by a roadside corral — cattle and small horses in a field, grazing and shivering in the hot wind — and listen to the horses’ frantic, angry whinnies. It’s a strange experience to listen to an animal’s cries while driving. I’ve always found them soothing, and I wonder, if it’s as weird to me as it sounds, why there are no horses in the Mojave. And then I realize, perhaps I’m imagining them, imagining a whole different animal than I see.

The horses are desert-dwelling mustangs. To put it in a little more detail, if you visit the wild horse corrals all over southern California, you’ll notice the animals that you see are the same color and pattern as horses in the wild. But the corrals are usually enclosed to keep them contained. So, you see them in the corrals, but there is no connection between them and the wild horses.

As the wind picks up, the horses’ panicked whinnies become more frantic. The heat, the fog, and the cold can cause them to freeze, sometimes with a deathly grip around a horse’s head or neck. They are no good to anyone if they freeze

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