Road Warrior

Mustang Monument's wild horses ready to welcome luxury travelers

A. Pawlowski NBC News contributor
Philanthropist Madeleine Pickens adopted 600 mustangs and purchased 900 square miles of land outside Wells, Nevada, as a sanctuary for the animals.
Source: Mustang Monument | Jo Danehy

Make your way to the sun-soaked, rugged corner of northeast Nevada and you can vacation among the fast and the beautiful in the state's newest tourist attraction.

Mustang Monument, an eco-resort where guests share the land with the legendary horses of the West, officially opens this month, the brainchild of Madeleine Pickens, the glamorous, 60-something philanthropist and former wife of energy tycoon T. Boone Pickens.

It's a labor of love years in the making.

In 2008, when the Bureau of Land Management announced it was considering euthanizing some of the wild horses held in federal pens, Pickens adopted 600 of the mustangs and purchased 900 square miles of land outside Wells, Nevada, as a sanctuary for the animals. She considers it one of the greatest and most massive animal rescues ever.

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"It's wonderful to see them out here in the open," Pickens told NBC News. "When some of them arrived here, they had babies by their sides. They've all grown up now and they're living healthy lives."

Next, she wanted to create a resort where guests could immerse themselves in the culture of the West—including Native American and cowboy experiences—and get closer to the wild horses in their natural habitat.

Guests at Mustang Monument can stay in Tepees or cottages.
Source: Mustang Monument | Michael Parteno

Some of the animals on the reserve have been tamed, so guests can brag about riding on a mustang. Other horses have more limited exposure to humans, but are still approachable. About 500 are fed each morning—a spectacle visitors can take a part in.

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"They're so wonderful—they wait at the gate," Pickens said. "If you had 500 dogs waiting for you, they'd all be barking, screaming and jumping up and down. But the horses are so patient."

Some 120 horses run wild in another part of the huge ranch and they're harder to spot, but when they suddenly come thundering by, "it's just beautiful," Pickens said.

Jeeps and Range Rovers take visitors all over the property as part of "wild mustang adventure safaris." There are also horse-drawn wagon trips, roping lessons, Native American beading and moccasin classes and hikes.

Madeleine Pickens shares a moment with a horse at Mustang Monument.
Source: Mustang Monument | Michael Parteno

Despite the rustic environment, the accommodations are posh and the prices reflect what the resort calls "a luxury camping experience." Guests can stay in one of 10 tipis—comfortably furnished, though they don't have electricity and the bathroom is outside—for $1,000 a night for double occupancy.

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Or you can rent one of 10 "safari cottages" for $1,500 a night. Both options include meals and come with 24-hour butler service.

"The price point is certainly not for the average family traveler, but I think that it opens up a whole new market to discover in Nevada," said Bethany Drysdale, a spokeswoman for Travel Nevada, the state's official tourism agency.

"There's a certain elite traveler who may have thought that the only luxury experience they can get was in Las Vegas."

The location, near the town of Elko—which Drysdale described as "the heart of cowboy country"—already draws visitors eager to witness the annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering and explore nearby Lamoille Canyon in the Ruby Mountains.

Interest in Mustang Monument has come from all over the world, including China, Europe and Australia, Drysdale noted.

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Despite the steep prices, Pickens doesn't think her nonprofit organization, Saving America's Mustangs, will break even on the project for quite some time. Still, she calls it a dream come true.

"I got into this business to rescue animals and to share the American story," Pickens said. "I don't think I ever thought I was going to be a hotelier. But it's opened up a whole new world for me and I've enjoyed it."

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—By NBC News contributor A. Pawlowski