By CINDY LOOSE
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.
Summers: 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.
Moseying, waiting: 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.
The Wind Walker ranch lies on more than half a million acres of land, 6,000 feet above sea level. Those acres are surrounded by the Manti-La Sal National Forest, the Horseshoe Mountain wilderness area and other giant ranches. There is nothing but land as far as you can see in any direction.
The homestead includes the original cabin, which we are approaching. It is a stunning reminder of how young we are as a country. I think of Jeff's great-grandfather hewing the beams for the wooden porch and cutting the foot-thick slabs of stone for the cabin walls.
Downstairs is one tiny room, just big enough to hold a wood stove, dish cabinet and round dining table. Up a ladder in the ceiling is a sleeping loft.
We walk around the frozen lake as Jeff points out elk and mountain lion tracks, then head higher into the hills. The land very gradually slopes up to the base of mountains, which suddenly ascend another 6,000 feet.
By the time the horses are unsaddled it is nearly dark. We return to the recreation hall, where Loretta Johnson, the owner, is serving up slabs of salmon and heaps of mashed potatoes. By 6 p.m., dinner is over. Maddie settles in to play pool and Bingo with Loretta's grandchildren.
I go outside and look at the stars. I persuade Squeak to walk with me back to my lodgings. But Squeak is so well-trained about not going inside that I can't coax him into my room, even with a cookie.
When I'd made our reservations, Loretta had said that she'd take us on a truck to go sledding. I'd envisioned someone dropping us and our sleds at the top of a long, steep hill for the day. But Loretta had literally meant that she'd take us sledding on a truck. There are no hills among these mountains and valleys. So Loretta ties plastic toboggans to the back of her four-wheel-drive vehicle with rope and tows us for miles.
Back at the rec hall, we make hot chocolate and eat the fresh-baked cookies that are available 24/7. We spend a few hours alternating between sitting by the fire and throwing sticks for Squeak, who never tires of stick-throwing.
I think I'm starting to mosey.
In fact, once Jeff gives up digging the sleigh out of the ice and decides to hitch the Clydesdales to a wagon, I stay behind, content to sit by the fire. If I get bored, I'll help Loretta with whatever it is she gets up to stir in a big black caldron every half hour or so. Or maybe go outside and listen for the rustle of birds.
Something to do: Yet with the death of daylight in the early evening, I get antsy again. It's with great joy that I learn of a movie theater over in Mount Pleasant, a mere half-hour's drive. The marquee lights and people in ticket lines cheer my soul. It's nearly 9 p.m. when we return; Loretta, her family and Jeff have waited to have dinner with us.
Squeak rides on the back of Jeff's snowmobile, Maddie on the back of mine. I know snowmobiles are considered ecologically incorrect, but I hope they're not too bad because I am loving this.
We turn them off often, just to sit and look down the mountains we have climbed, or to listen to Jeff talk. He's been a wrangler and a logger; he's worked construction and in factories and in Western movies, riding for actors who couldn't.
There was no long interview process for his job with Loretta. "I just came by one day to borrow a cup of sugar and never left."
On our third and last night at the Wind Walker, I somehow find myself content just to sit by the fire. Loretta and I idly chat, with the children sitting next to us, listening. Suddenly, I remember being my daughter's age and spending whole evenings sitting around, listening to the adults talk. With a shock, I realize this is something my daughter has never done before.
Turns out I'd known how to mosey all along. I'd just forgotten how. And now I have a child who is learning how to mosey, too.