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Scott D. Pierce: Utah's wild horses star in documentary

Published June 14, 2012 9:03 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A bunch of Utahns star in the National Geographic Channel's rather spectacular nature documentary "Untamed Americas," and there were no divas among them.

These are four-footed Utahns with hooves. Wild horses who live in the Great Basin Desert.

It's astonishing to think that they're fighting for survival right here in our backyard.

"That's exactly the reaction I wanted you to have," producer Karen Bass said with a laugh. "As a Brit, Yellowstone and the deserts of the Southwest are just so exotic to me. We have nothing like that where I come from. I've seen lots of places around the world, but I'm still blown away by the Americas."

The concept behind "Untamed Americas" is right there in the title.

Crews spent two years shooting footage in 20 countries, from Alaska to the southernmost region of South America.

The series is broken down into four parts — "Mountains," "Deserts," "Coasts" and "Forests." All of them are beautifully photographed, and each has captured things that have never been caught on film before.

Things like an Ecuadorian bat discovered in 2005. Filmmakers placed a tiny camera inside a flower and waited 10 days to get footage of the bat extending its tongue — which is longer than the rest of its body.

"If it were you or I with a tongue like that, it would be 9 feet long," Bass said. "So we thought, 'We've got to find a way to film that bit of action, which is going to make people's jaws drop.' "

Absolutely.

"Untamed Americas" is more than just beautiful nature photography. Different segments within each episode tell tales that are unique.

One of those stories is of an aging wild mustang in Utah who battles a couple of younger horses to win a place with their herd.

"What's great is that it's a story about life and death," Bass said. "We're not creating the drama, but we're capturing it on film. We couldn't create that kind of drama if we tried."

And the horse is fighting for his life amid some spectacular, yet clearly inhospitable, scenery. "It's not some nice kind of meadow," Bass said. "They've got to find water and enough food and on the move. It's beautiful, but conditions are pretty harsh."

And the story of Yellowstone grizzlies trying to feed their young while elks try to protect theirs is "every bit as dramatic as anything I've ever seen in the Serengeti," Bass said. "You don't realize what's going on, relatively speaking, in your backyard."

"Untamed America" airs Sunday (7 and 9 p.m., "Mountains"; 8 and 10 p.m., "Deserts") and Monday (7 and 9 p.m., "Coasts"; 8 and 10 p.m., "Forests") on the National Geographic Channel.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce; read his blog at sltrib.com/blogs/tv.