Things To Do in Utah: See Elk by Horse-Drawn Sleigh at Hardware Ranch

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It’s a well-known not-secret that I’ll go out of my way to take a picture of a horse. If it’s a draft horse working in harness, I’ll go even farther out of my way. Which is how I end up every few years driving about two hours through a canyon in the winter time to take a twenty-minute horse-drawn wagon ride at the Hardware Ranch Wildlife Management Area.

It’s a great activity especially for lovers of wildlife and rural tradition; visitors can take a horse-drawn tour through a peacefully grazing herd of wild elk and get a much closer look at the animals than they usually will in the wilderness. There’s also an interpretive center for visitors with displays on the local native wildlife, pelts to touch, and other exhibits, along with a beautiful view out over the wildlife viewing area.

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Utah Department of Wildlife Resources administer the programs at Hardware Ranch, including tagging, testing, and research centered around the elk and other wildlife. The animals are fed in this area when they come down from the higher elevations in the winter, and the feeding program helps to keep them from wandering into town where they’d be at risk of coming into conflict with people. It also ensures that they’ll have adequate feed to get them through the winter, even though the lower elevations that have traditionally been their wintering grounds have been crowded by human development.

You’ll have a chance to visit with the horses who’ll give you your ride out among the elk — by sleigh when the snow is deep enough, and wheeled cart when it’s not — and the drivers are very knowledgeable about the elk, the horses, and the area. In early December, there are also a few special events, including the annual Elk Festival, and a biathalon where the competitors run on snowshoes and shoot muzzleloaders. (I didn’t know about that. I think I know what I’m going to be going to watch next winter. That sounds amazing.)

It might not be a quick trip, but the beautiful snowy drive into Blacksmith Fork Canyon, the beautiful draft horses pulling the sledges and carts, and getting to see elk up close, all make it more than worth the drive. The exhibit in the visitor center are a great added bonus. The scenery can’t be beat and the photo opportunities are wonderful, and if you’re interested in wildlife there’s a lot to learn. If you’re looking to get a little closer to the wild without any off-roading, this is a great day trip.

The horse-drawn vehicle seats about 20 people, and rides are first come first served, with no reservations. Tickets can be purchased in the visitor center. (The cost is $5 for people 9 and older, $3 for kids 4-8, and kids under 4 ride free.) In addition to the actual ride, you may need to wait outside for a little while before your ride (particularly if you go on a very busy day, like a Saturday or holiday), so be sure to dress warm and make sure the kids have their mittens. There is no food or fuel available at the visitor center and it’s a pretty good drive to the nearest service stations and restaurants, so make sure you’re all fueled up on gas and snacks before you leave Hyrum and get on Highway 101. (From Hyrum, it’s about 15 more miles into the canyon to Hardware Ranch.)

For the 2016-2017 season, elk viewing rides opened in early December and will be going until the end of February. They’re closed Tues-Thurs, with Mondays and Fridays typically being the slower days if you’re hoping to avoid doing any waiting in line.

GETTING THERE

Access to Hardware Ranch is along a paved state highway, and it is regularly plowed, but be sure to check weather conditions and the forecast before heading out. (You can call the Hardware Ranch visitor center at 435-753-6206 or 435-753-6168 to check in on conditions, sleigh rides, and any other info you might need.) Chains and 4-wheel drive aren’t really necessary as long as the weather isn’t bad, and the highway back to the WMA is curvy but not winding, for anybody else out there who gets motion sickness. (Holla!)

Unfortunately, plugging the Hardware Ranch visitor center into your GPS doesn’t generally work. I’ve just tracked down the actual visitor center building on Google Maps and added it as a marked place, so hopefully in the future it’ll be easier to find, but as of this writing it isn’t up yet. You can try plugging in the numeric coordinates (41.602161, -111.562611), or use the map below. (Hit the “more options” link to plug in your own address or send the GPS directions to your phone.)

You’ve arrived basically when you reach the end of the paved highway. You’ll likely see the horses and wagons, as well as a large open field with elk, on your left. There are a few pull-out parking areas off the main highway where you can park, but you might want to drive past them to take the driveway that leads up and to the right to park in the lot at the visitor center, where you’ll need to purchase your tickets. (If you run out of paved road, you’ve gone just barely too far.)

The drive is about two hours from central Salt Lake, and more detailed directions can be found on the Hardware Ranch website, as well as FAQs, event information, and probably any other info you’re looking for.

Things To Do In Utah: The Power of Poison at NHMU

Yeah, I did take a picture of the elevator. The graphic design for this exhibit is just as outstanding as the rest of it.

Yeah, I did take a picture of the elevator. The graphic design for this exhibit is just as outstanding as the rest of it.

Okay, listen. I’m a nerd. Let’s get that right out of the way, just in case you haven’t noticed yet, because I want you to understand that I love the Natural History Museum of Utah. (And am now finally a member! Hell yes!) In the last few years they’ve been host to some seriously remarkable special exhibits. The one about the history of horses? Transcendent, even if I wanted to carry on a spirited argument with that one placard about horse shoes. The one that was entirely about geckos? Life-changing. I literally own four geckos now and my life is profoundly enriched and I would possibly kill a man to be able to go see that particular exhibit again. (It’s cool, I went to the poisons exhibit, I totally know how to kill a man now.)

But I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced the kind of profound museum-related disappointment that I felt when I reached the end of the Power of Poisons exhibit that’s currently on display at NHMU. How had I reached the end? Why, and wherefore? Surely there was more I needed to learn about poisons. SURELY.

Alas, it was the end, which doesn’t diminish the fact that the entire exhibit, from beginning to end, was an absolutely fascinating, fact-packed thrill ride of myth, legend, and science, live reptiles and interactive screens, taking us from the forests of Colombia, to poisons in literature, to modern medicine and forensics. There’s a book whose pages seem to ink themselves before your eyes, illustrated scenes from mythology playing out on pottery, a video presentation on early forensic science, a series of interactive whodunnits, and plenty to see everywhere you look.

Between my interests in history and mysteries, and my slight addiction to forensic shows on TV, I was already a little bit of a poison enthusiast. But I learned so much about poison from this exhibit that I almost couldn’t pack it all into my brain-hole. I need to go back and visit the exhibit again just to take it all in a second time. (Which I can. Because I’m a member now. AMAZING.)

Here are a few of my favorite factoids from the exhibit:

  • There’s a tree so poisonous to human life that even standing beneath its leaves during a rainstorm will cause your skin to blister. No thank you.
  • There are places where ants, to assist the plants they like to live in, have basically killed off every other sort of plant in the vicinity; these are called Devil’s Gardens, presumably because they’re a lush hellscape of ants.
  • When history’s writers like Shakespeare talk about witches’ brews containing ingredients like “tooth of wolf” and “tongue of hound,” they likely weren’t just referring to random gross spell ingredients, but to actual known poisons like Wolfsbane and Houndstongue.
  • There’s evidence to suggest that early warfare might have included things like throwing pots filled with venomous insects or scorpions at your enemies. Bad. Ass.
  • Documents containing specific ingredients for “flying potions” made by historical witches included ingredients that would definitely induce a drug trip that would make the user feel like they were flying. A researcher in 1927 actually made one of those flying potions and got high off his ass. It doesn’t sound like the greatest thing, though… with ingredients like wolfsbane, mandrake, and belladonna, those mixtures would have been highly toxic; another researcher who decided to try one out actually poisoned himself and died.
  • In the early days of anesthesiology, doctors used curare to immobilize patients during surgery, not realizing that while it did keep their patients still, they were still awake during their surgery. Yiiiikes. (Interestingly enough, curare can also be used as an antidote to strychnine.)
  • Radium (yeah the actual radioactive kind) was considered a miracle cure in the 20s and you could buy everything from cigarettes to butter with radium in it, like it was a health product. Same with mercury and a lot of other toxic substances… you used to be able to buy teething powders with mercury in them to put in your kid’s mouth. That is super not recommended today, obviously.
  • Marie Curie not only unlocked many of the secrets of radiation, she also set up mobile x-ray vehicles in France during WWI and freaking drove them herself. Hero goals.

And those are just a few of the incredible collection of fascinating facts. I can’t even list them all because then I’d just be reading you every sign from the exhibit. Yeah, I did take cell phone pictures of them all so I could re-read them later.

This cool interactive book responded to pages being turned and touched. You can also play with it online here!

The Power of Poison is a traveling exhibit from the American Museum of Natural History, so if you’re not in Salt Lake and you can’t see it at NHMU, all hope is not lost; maybe it’ll wind up in a city near you! It’ll be on display at the Natural History Museum of Utah through April 16, 2017; you can find more information and purchase tickets here. There’s also a live theatrical performance connected to the exhibit, the Extreme Plants Traveling Sideshow, so make sure to check it out while you’re there!

A Ride on the Heber Valley Railroad

I can’t say I’ve ever been a railroad enthusiast, but I’ve always meant to take a ride on one of those tourist-style historic railway tours. I lived near the Skunk Train and the Narrow Gauge Railroad without ever riding either one, so when my brother and his wife were visiting this week, and he suggested we go for a trip on the Heber Creeper, it seemed my time for a train ride had come at last.

The Heber Valley Railroad offers a variety of trip options, including packages with horseback riding and rafting, but we opted for the shortest trip, a half-hour ride through Heber Valley farm country, along some marshy wetlands and creeks, to the banks of the Deer Creek Reservoir. There were some beautiful views, and we were lucky enough to choose a day that was lovely and overcast.

Overall it was a nice trip, though being confined to a single car full of families with young children — one of the hazards of living in Utah — meant the noise level got a little unbearable at times. Part of the ride is entertainment, which includes a stop for a “train robbery” at Soldier Hollow, and a singing train robber through  most of the remainder of the ride, and though I personally had less than zero interest in any of those things, the kids sure seemed to enjoy it. (The singer had a lovely voice, but the train car acoustics and noisy audience weren’t doing her any favors.) For more curmudgeonly passengers like myself, the views were certainly enough to make the ride worth the price of admission.

Things Seen While Walking the Dog

Seen this week while walking the dog in our strange neighborhood, where completely urban developments give way rather abruptly to a strip of wetlands and a weed-choked river most popularly known locally as an ideal spot for the disposal of dead bodies:

  • A single horse, pastured in a field right next to a baseball diamond, very intently watching the game in progress with a look on his face that implied a certain nostalgia. It was as if he was thinking of the long-ago days of his foalhood, when he’d believed he truly could do anything, be anything, before he’d realized that it is, in fact, impossible to play baseball if you are a horse.
  • A beaver swimming in the river. The water was a milky blue and every time the beaver dived it disappeared almost instantly. (Our third beaver sighting, but the second one was dead, so the dog and I argue about whether that one counts. Trudeau likes dead things and wants to eat and/or roll around in them, so I’m sure you can figure out which side of the argument he’s on.)
  • A mother duck and sizable collection of ducklings, who couldn’t decide whether to be more scared of me and my dog or the horse rider coming from the opposite direction. If they hadn’t moved in the first place, we wouldn’t have ever known they were there, but ducks are apparently very loud when alarmed. Everybody stopped for a moment, just to see what the ducks were going to do, because it’s an unspoken rule of the wetlands path that waterfowl have the right of way. Thankfully, the ducks realized they were ducks and therefore didn’t have to actually linger right next to the paved pathway when there were quite a few acres of wetlands at their disposal instead. You couldn’t have thought of that earlier, ducks? Come on.
  • A stately doe, walking unhurriedly down from the parking lot of a performing arts center, as if she was just leaving the evening’s show, beating the crowds on her way back into the woods. She was there and then abruptly gone, and if the dog had not enthusiastically indicated his desire to chase her, I might have thought I’d imagined her completely.
  • A small snake, sunning itself in the middle of a walkway in the middle of the night, apparently unfazed by the lack of actual sun. The darkness also made it impossible to tell whether this was, in fact, a common garter snake as its size and location implied, or some other more exotic form of highly venomous but unknown-because-I’m-just-not-into-herpetology species. I suspect that might be why it goes out at night, that it gets a rush from watching larger, more deadly life forms walk slowly and carefully around it, giving it the space and respect it deserves, because they just aren’t sure whether it’s actually deadly or not. I’m onto you, snake.
  • A very happy dog, who seems to think that all the world is a back-scratcher, and everything looks more interesting when it’s upside down.
Don't ever change, dog.

Don’t ever change, dog.

Natural History Museum of Utah: Because Dinosaurs, That’s Why

I love museums. I sort of have a museum situation, which is a way of saying that I have a museum problem without admitting that it’s a problem. I can spend the whole day in a museum and never get bored, and it’s more than just the exhibits. I cherish fine art museums and embrace my puzzlement at modern art museums and I even enjoy bizarre little local history museums and roadside attraction museums. I’m pretty sure I’d even enjoy that museum with the cavemen riding dinosaurs, if only to bask in our obvious mutual love for Dino-Riders. (I even had a good time with the “museum” section of that Dino-Riders fan site. That is how seriously I take this, you guys.)

I geek out over the brilliance of the exhibit design and how engaging some particular attraction must be for little children (ignoring of course the fact that I myself am usually behaving like a little child by this point) and the mix of kid-sized and grown-up attractions and the interactivity of the exhibits and the sheer mind-blowing majesty of the dinosaur bones and… I could go on, but I won’t. Frankly, when you get me into the proper museum frame of mind I tend to become a little sub-verbal and start gesticulating wildly rather than using my words.

So it’s probably obvious to you by now that one of the things I missed the most, when I was living the last handful of years in very small-town rural America, was having a proper museum at my disposal. When I moved back to Salt Lake last year, I was overwhelmingly delighted to learn that the Natural History Museum of Utah — easily my favorite kind of museum — was brand new and improved. I loved the old museum, which was kind of musty and dark and in my memory possessed nothing but endless halls of taxidermy and shelves full of pinned insects. But the new museum just about made me lose my shit with joy. My photos didn’t do the building’s architecture justice, but if you check out their website they’ve got some great pictures of what the building looks like. I have brought you instead a lot of pictures of dinosaurs. Because dinosaurs, that’s why.

If I were a Dino-Rider, I would use one of these things as my epic cavalry mount. With lasers.

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There Is A Time To Every Purpose Under Heaven, Including Shaking Your Money-Maker

Sometimes I worry about my fellow Utahns. Do you think it’s possible to die of being too uptight?

I went out tonight even though “going out” is not really my forte. One of my favorite bands of ever, Hey Rosetta!, was opening a show at In the Venue, and although that’s not exactly my favorite place in the world, I figured if one of my favorite bands could come all the way from Newfoundland, I could probably drag myself out of the house to see them. I was pretty excited about this excursion, even though I was going out by myself and would end up texting half the night just to appear slightly less forever alone. (This strategy doesn’t work, by the way. Everybody totally knows you’re forever alone, and texting your friends in Canada only reminds you of how lame it is that you don’t live in Canada.) I spent my workday humming “Welcome” to myself and chair-dancing. I’m not proud. Hopefully nobody saw me.

The band’s set was awesome, in case you were wondering. The club was absurdly hot, the sound system was slightly embarrassing, but if there’s one thing that Hey Rosetta! knows how to do, it’s very gently rocking your face off. (In the best way, though. Like, they blow your mind in a totally considerate fashion.)

It’s entirely possible I was the only person there just to see the opening act, and entirely possible I was the only one there who had ever heard Hey Rosetta! before, and for awhile as I watched the stone-still crowd I was kind of worried that maybe none of these people were going to appreciate the native songs of Newfoundland… it’s always more fun when you can share the things you love with others. Of course, the awesomeness of Hey Rosetta! is an unstoppable juggernaut of truth that cannot be denied; the crowd seemed to be digging it, and between songs their enthusiasm and appreciation was evident. But they still were not moving. I am familiar with this phenomenon because I’ve been to a few other shows since moving back to Utah, but I still can’t get used to it. For awhile there, I was worried that I’d unwittingly stumbled into some sort of theme night. Like maybe we were all supposed to be pretending to be exhibits at a wax museum, or possibly we were playing a game of red light green light and nobody was in charge to give us a green light. A couple times I saw one or two people bobbing their heads. (Solidarity, brothers!) Otherwise, as far as I could tell, I was the only almost-dancer in the room, and I wasn’t doing much more than swaying and giving my hips an undoubtedly embarrassing shimmy. (By Utah standards, I believe this is the equivalent of being drunk, high and godless all at the same time.)

Look, I know what it’s like. I’m a native, and in my time away from the beehive state I came to embrace the place that my heritage has given me in the greater social scheme of things, which generally consisted of being the most unhip, uncoordinated person in any given room. Utah is all about repression, and you can’t help but absorb that shit like a sponge when you grow up here. I’ve come to terms with it. But I feel like every time I go out to see a show around here, the entire audience steals my gig by being very Utahn and very white and refusing to move at all, ever. And then I feel pressured to set an example somehow — look! Dancing is allowed! — but I don’t actually know how to dance so then I just get insecure and what I’m saying is, your refusal to dance is bad for my self-esteem.

I know it’s rough, you guys. I know there’s not a lot of space. I know dancing can be awkward and weird. You can start small. Bob your head. Tap your foot. Let your hips get in on the action. I know it seems a little sinful but that kid in Footloose had some pretty convincing arguments about why God would be down with you dancing, and personally I trust Kevin Bacon’s research and believe it to be impeccable. Nobody’s going to judge you for getting your groove on. When I go full plaid, I kind of look like this guy:


Guy starts dance party

That guy danced like an idiot and look how well it turned out for him! He made a ton of friends and started a movement and was even the subject of a TED Talk. Just think: cut loose and you could become famous on the Internet! Nobody’s expecting you to be Channing Tatum. (You were expecting that to be a stripper video, weren’t you? Admit it.) Just start with being the flailing guy on the hill, and go from there.

Maybe we should all learn to dance together. There are resources out there for people like us, my fellow unhipnicks. We can learn. I believe this is a reliable educational source, and once we’ve mastered those moves we can go on to the advanced seminar. When you’re done with that, you can study this video of Tim dancing with a tambourine. (It’s not homework, it’s just awesome.) I believe in my heart that if we all work on unwinding our spines, extracting our broomsticks, and letting the devil into our pelvises (that’s totally going to be the name of a new dance I’m going to invent), we’ll all have a much better time.

Sincerely,

me

P.S. I love you all, even though I find your lack of dancing disturbing. And you really ought to go buy some Hey Rosetta! CDs or something.