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The wild horses of Surprise Valley | Bartell's Backroads

Wild horses and wide open spaces make a remote corner of California a slice of paradise for photographers.

CEDARVILLE, Calif. — Just outside the little town of Cedarville, Calif., in Modoc County is a unique band of wild mustangs. 

Jean Bilodeaux is a photographer and journalist who spends her free time tracking the herd as they meander back and forth over the California-Nevada state line. The horses live in an area known at Surprise Valley. 

Back in the 1800's, pioneers on wagon trains would enter Northern California via the Applegate Trail. After a treacherous journey though Nevada's deserts, travelers were surprised to see water and fertile land. 

"You are going back 150 years ago, and these are the ghosts of the past. They are the real animals past, the remnants," Bilodeaux said.

Credit: KXTV
Two wild mustangs graze in Surprise Valley, just outside of Cedarville, California.

The black stripes on the horses legs are unique to this herd. Jean has been documenting the family for generations. Her photographs highlight not only the animal but, landscape they live in.

"The horses are primarily duns," says Bilodeaux. "They are made for the high desert, the grassy hills, and open skies." The Surprise Valley is a wild landscape and the first Californians to settle here chose to keep it that way. There are few to no fences to confine the settlers' livestock or the mustangs, for that matter.

Much of land around here is open range--open to the cattle, to the deer, to the wild horse. Open to the photographer to enjoy what Surprise Valley has to offer. 

"This is the most beautiful place on earth. I, every time I come out here, think this: "I am going to take the best picture," says Bilodeaux. "The pictures always get better."

The wild horses are visible to anyone who wants to venture out to the Applegate Trail in Modoc County.

Continue the conversation with John on Facebook.


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