Temple Butte

A wild horse grazes in Spring Creek Basin under the gaze of the newly named Temple Butte. The landmark was named after Pati Temple. (Photo by TJ Holmes)

Pati Temple was small in stature but big in determination, a skilled communicator, tactful advocate and, most of all, passionate animal lover who devoted years of her life to the Spring Creek Basin herd of wild mustangs.

Before her death in 2013 to cancer, she worked tirelessly to improve the range, habitat and health of the herd. And now, her legacy will live on in the sparse, wild basin in western San Miguel County’s Disappointment Valley. The U.S. Board of Geographic Names has officially named a promontory that overlooks the valley Temple Butte.

“I think it’s just wonderful,” said Pati’s husband, David Temple. “A lot of people have really supported this effort and pushed it forward. She had this indomitable spirit, and it’s a great honor.”

The butte sits a mile southeast of McKenna Peak. The 8,600-foot promontory is one of the most distinct landmarks in the valley, but had never been named. A few years ago, friends of Pati’s christened it Temple Butte in honor of Pati and David. The name stuck. And they decided to try to make it official.

Ann Bond spearheaded the process, which entailed submitting a formal proposal to the Board of Geographic Names. In order to have an unnamed landmark named after a person, several conditions must be met. The person must have been deceased five years, had direct or long-term association with the area, and there must be local support.

“We believe Pati’s long-term association and significant contributions in the past have played a large part in protecting the land for public benefit now and into the future,” Bond wrote in her proposal. “We strongly believe it is appropriate that this beautiful landmark carry the name of a beautiful lady who was herself a force of nature.”

Among those who voiced their support was the San Miguel County Board of Commissioners. After watching a presentation from Pati’s friends and fellow volunteers, Commissioner Kris Holstrom said it was an easy decision.

“Having heard from them about her work, it made absolute sense to us to support the effort,” Holstrom said.

Pati and David first encountered the Spring Creek Basin herd about 25 years ago. David recalled their first visit. As soon as they laid eyes on the herd, which was led by a snorting white stallion named Mr. Ed, the Temples fell in love.

But the herd’s situation wasn’t great. The land had been depleted by overgrazing of horses and cattle, and management entailed round-ups by helicopter to cull the herd — which advocates like the Temples see as a cruel and unnecessary measure.

The Temples wanted to improve the herd’s situation. They teamed up with the National Mustang Association to launch a Colorado chapter, and through that organization worked extensively with the BLM to shape its management of the herd. They bought land in Disappointment Valley, and even adopted mustangs from the herd.

The work is paying off. Those involved say the volunteers and BLM have forged a great partnership and, more importantly, the herd’s situation has improved vastly.

“We’ve been able to really turn things around,” David Temple said. “It’s a dramatically different place.

Previous cattle allotments have been bought to eliminate competition for food, the herd numbers are kept in check using birth control known as PZP, and the horses haven’t been rounded up for years. Today, the herd of some 65 horses is happy and healthy, Temple said, and the biological diversity of their home has rebounded in astounding ways.

It’s something his wife would have loved to see.

“It would be just joyous to see these beautiful healthy horses in their family groups, content, and just being horses,” he said.

Fellow mustang advocate TJ Holmes, who documents the Spring Creek Basin herd in a blog, said Pati was a mentor to young animal activists like herself and an integral part of the effort to protect the mustangs in a way that sustains both the horses and the range upon which they depend. She was, Holmes said, an extraordinary individual.

“She always thought of other people and how to make the world better, and how to make situations better especially for animals,” Holmes said.

Holmes said the official naming of Temple Butte is well deserved.

“To know that other people recognize her accomplishments along with those of us who knew her … to have Pati be recognized for the amazing, positive helping-the-world things she did, that’s pretty awesome.”

Plus, she said, “it’s another reminder that the butte named after her is literally watching over us.”