"What do you do with all those horses?"

That's a question Bureau of Land Management officials involved in the agency's wild-horse operations face every day. And the answer's a simple one.

Put them up for adoption.

For a mere $125, you too can own "a living symbol of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West" (as the animals were identified by Congress in the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971) -- a genuine American mustang.

If you're interested in visiting a permanent BLM adoption center, you can do so in nine western states: Nevada and Wyoming have the largest herds and therefore the best selections, but centers also run year-round in Idaho, California, Arizona and Oregon -- and on a more limited basis in Colorado, Montana and Utah.sw sk

"We used to charge people for transportation" of adopted horses to local centers, BLM Wyoming official Jack Steinbrech says. "But this year we're trying something else for the first time -- satellite adoption centers."sw sk

The satellite centers are set up in a variety of areas, but locations and schedules will vary from year to year in line with BLM's efforts to make adoption easier for Americans who live in different sections of the country. From 50 to 250 animals will be available at each site. Instead of having to travel to one of the permanent facilities, people interested in owning a wild horse will be able to adopt directly from a temporary facility perhaps closer to home. If they meet the requirements.

Since the BLM launched its Adopt a Horse (or burro) program in 1973, adoption standards have become increasingly rigorous. Adopters must be at least 18, free of any legal conviction for inhumane treatment of animals and able to demonstrate their physical and financial ability to care for the animals: You can't keep your mustang in the back yard. An enthusiast can adopt up to four animals a year, but final title is not granted until a year after delivery -- at which time the owner must provide certificates signed by a veterinarian that all the animals are in good health.

*ahead if they want to tour a holding facility," BLM-Rock Springs public information officer Joe Zilincar said.

"The horses are always there, but staff aren't."

Those interested in touring a roundup site in the Red Desert can do so if they can find one -- but for safety reasons the BLM does not conduct guided trips for the public. It is possible, however, to view the herds in the wild. In any case, caution is advised. The Red Desert is a desert and like all deserts can be dangerous.

Let someone know where you're going and when you expect to return. Carry water (at least a gallon per person) in your vehicle and maps; if you can't read a map, hire a guide or don't go. The Red Desert is enormously large: If your car breaks down or you injure yourself, you could be there a very long time before help arrives. GETTING THERE: You can fly nonstop from Washington to Denver on United or Continental, then fly Trans-Colorado Airlines to Rock Springs in Sweetwater County. Pick up a rental car and ask directions to the turn-off at Point of Rocks (an old stage station), where you follow the signs for the Jim Bridge Power Plant. Continue past the plant on the dirt road and turn right at the sign for 12-Mile Well. Drive another 40 or so miles and you're at a site used often for Rock Springs-area roundups. WHERE TO STAY: Rock Springs is well stocked with hotels and motels to suit almost any taste. For those interested in visiting the mustang facility, Best Western's Outlaw Inn is probably the best choice since it's pleasant and the closest. Located on the western edge of town, the inn is about a half mile from the BLM holding facility. Rates are $40 single, $46 double.

Backpackers and campers, of course, have their pick of mountains or desert in Wyoming. WHAT TO DO: Mustangs aren't Sweetwater County's only attractions.

To the north lies the river that gave the county its name -- and provided water and forage for pioneers going overland on the Oregon Trail. The Green Mountains it flows through are rich in artifacts and remains of the early 19th century: stagecoach stations, Pony Express stops, old ghost towns and exhausted mines.

*About 38 miles south of Rock Springs is the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, a boater's paradise with thousands of acres of warm western water to play in. Boat and ski rentals are available. FT,FGOTHC PS,8 LD,8.5 INFORMATION: ft,ngoth rr The Rock Springs Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 398, Rock Springs, Wyo. 82902-0398, (307) 362-3771; Bureau of Land Management, Rock Springs District, Box 1869, Rock Springs, Wyo. 82901 (307) 382-5350; or the Green River Chamber of Commerce, 1450 Uinta Dr., Green River, Wyo. 82935, (307) 875-5711.

* For further information on permanent centers, and for specific areas, dates and times when satellite centers will be operating, contact the BLM local office or call BLM headquarters in Washington -- 343-5717.