UTAH: hitch up the snowmobile

By Cindy Loose
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 27, 2002

The pastures at the foot of the craggy mountains were buried in snow. Peregrine falcons were held aloft by wind blowing between the canyons. Often, the rustle of birds nestled in snow-covered juniper trees was the only sound.

The quiet emptiness of the Wind Walker Guest Ranch in central Utah just about drove me crazy. But only the first day or so. Then I learned how to mosey.

A dude ranch in winter is a perfect place to learn to mosey. You might be able to learn some of the bare rudiments of moseying on a dude ranch during the summer, which is the more typical time to go. But it probably would be a lot harder -- not to mention more expensive.

At the Wind Walker, where I recently was a paying guest, summers are activity-rich. Overnight trail rides, lasso-roping contests, swimming, fishing, hiking, picnicking, sing-alongs around big bonfire pits. A Native American conducts purification rituals in a sweat lodge. At the pond, guests build Huck Finn boats from logs and race them, while nearby towns hold festivals and rodeos.

None of that happens in winter. Distractions are held to a minimum at this particular ranch. You can take short trail rides, but the horses can't go fast or far on snowy trails. Chief wrangler Jeff Allred twice during our stay hitched up a pair of Clydesdales to a wagon so we could take rides (the sleigh was stuck in ice), and we played in the snow.

Other than that, we moseyed. And moseying, I decided by the time I left, is good. Everyone should spend part of their year moseying. Three days at a stretch seemed just about right for me, but there are people who come to Wind Walker and never want to leave.

When I first arrive, though, I am still on city-slicker time, and the two-hour scenic ride from Salt Lake City has me keyed up, ready to roll. I throw my bags inside the door to one of the three nicely decorated guest lodges, then, along with my daughter, Madeline, rush down the short path to the recreation hall, where food is served and a fire is always glowing in the fireplace.

Hopi the dog is the first to greet us. The owner's two grandchildren are about the same age as my 9-year-old daughter, but otherwise, we are the only guests.

Cowboy Jeff says he'll saddle some horses, and Maddie and I wolf down some chili and wait. Maddie goes outside to throw sticks to Hopi and meet Squeak, another ranch herding dog. I fidget as Jeff moseys around.

But the ride is worth the wait. New snow lightly falls on a base sturdy enough to support the horses' hooves. We travel trails begun centuries ago by the Ute -- the Native Americans who inspired the state's name.

A bald eagle circles overhead. White-furred jack rabbits are blurs in the snow as they frantically tear across our trail, Squeak and Hopi in hot pursuit.

"Don't worry, they hardly never catch one," says Jeff.

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