First a snap, then a pop pierces the frigid air at Hardware Ranch outside Hyrum, Utah, as a draft horse team lurches into motion, pulling a steel sleigh of blanket-shrouded riders toward a herd of 650 Rocky Mountain elk feeding in a snowy meadow. Harness chains clank as the sleigh runners crunch through the layer of crisp snow formed earlier at 20 degrees below zero.
"We tell people to hold on, especially when we're getting the sled moving again," says Dan Christensen, the wildlife management area's superintendent. "You've got two tons of horse interacting with four tons of people." The 30-minute rides, offered Friday to Monday through mid-March, bring visitors within yards of mooing cows, mewling calves, and on rare occasions bugling bulls.
Weighing as much as 1,100 pounds and standing up to six feet tall at the shoulder, the elk are part of a growing herd diverted from populated areas nearby. Guides can tell you what the elk eat (10 pounds of alfalfa and meadow hay a day), when calves are born (late spring), and when adults shed their antlers (March or April).
The 14,000-acre ranch is 92 miles north of Salt Lake City and 27 miles south of Franklin, Idaho. Rides are $4, $3 for kids ages 4 to 8; reservations aren't needed. (435) 753-6206, hardwareranch.com
Photography by Alan Huestis
This article was first published in January 2010. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.