Wild horses

"Could be anything in the West," Matheson said. "Could be someone shooting a rattlesnake. I don't think it's turkey season yet. We've had some poachers lately."

"People shoot snakes?" I asked.

"If there was a snake here I'd shoot it right now," he said. "Rattlesnakes aren't good for anything except dinner."

Soon we came upon a group of about a dozen people who were rumbling across the land in a blue, rickety former school bus. Their tour had just started, and its youngest member, a bright blond 6-year-old, leaned in and said something quietly to her guide.

"This little girl wants a white horse!" the guide bellowed to the group.

"Actually, I think she'd much prefer a pink one," her grandmother said.

"We might be able to do that," Matheson said. "With a can of spray paint."

If you go

Getting there

The Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary (12163 Highland Road, Hot Springs, S.D.; 800-252-6652; wildmustangs.com) is about a 75-mile drive from Rapid City Regional Airport.

The tours

Between May 5 and Oct. 31, it is open for tours 8:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. daily. Two-hour group tours cost $50 for adults, $45 for ages 55 and older, $15 for ages 13-18, $7.50 for 5-12 and free for younger children. A private three-hour tour costs $150 per adult and $75 per child. The private six-hour tour costs $1,000 for as many as three people, including lunch. Also available is a private six-hour tour with a two-night cabin stay on the property for $1,500. Reservations are required for all tours. Costs of the private six-hour tours (and cabin stay) are considered donations and are therefore tax-deductible.

Other sights

The sanctuary is a short drive to Badlands National Park (35 miles to the gravel-road south entrance and 125 miles to the paved north entrance), Mount Rushmore (60 miles) and Deadwood (100 miles), among other notable South Dakota stops.

jbnoel@tribune.com

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