My Auntie Linda is pretty cool.
She’s been pretty cool for quite a long time now, and when I tell people about her, the response I get usually goes something like “Wow, your Aunt is pretty cool.”
So there you have it. A general consensus.
What makes her so special, you ask? Why the high praise? The answer mostly lies in that my Auntie Linda, my Mother’s older sister, lives at, owns and operates one of my favorite places in the world. A place called Blue Moon Ranch in Woodland, UT.
Located around 50 miles outside of Salt Lake City, Blue Moon Ranch is home to much more than just my Auntie Linda and Uncle Ed. Over 60 alpacas, 6 dogs, about a dozen chickens, and 2 cats roam her 7 total acres, which for the urban-accustomed like myself, makes for a pretty magical place.
But in order to truly understand the wonder of Blue Moon Ranch, you have to dig deeper than the at-a-glance statistics. Which is exactly what I was able to do this past August, when Theresa and I made Blue Moon Ranch the second stop on a 10-day road trip through Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming and South Dakota.
To try and capture a bit more of what an afternoon at Blue Moon Ranch feels like I’ve built the song to the right around some of its most memorable sounds: rooster crows, birds chirping, hay crunching, and in particular - the stream that acts the property’s southern border. The sound of the stream has been recorded from one of Linda’s favorite places, sitting behind “Yaya’s Yarn Barn” on a bench placed for enjoying exactly what you’ll hear. Musically I added some guitar and ukulele, which I happened to buy just after leaving the ranch in Idaho Falls, ID. 9 out of 10 dentists recommend hitting play to listen as you continue to read...
Fresh off a two-day stay in Denver with friends, we arrived at Blue Moon Ranch on a Sunday night after one of the most spectacular drives I’ve ever experienced. If you ever find yourself heading from Denver to the Salt Lake City, take the long way down I-70 through the Rockies. It’s an extra 30 minutes that will have you swearing like a sailor. In a good way. Swearing due to beauty.
It had been several years since my last visit, so after some pitch dark navigating, we had arrived. We hugged. First people, then dogs. We talked. Here’s your bed. Remember we have roosters. How was the drive? We talked some more. We slept. Like babies.
Waking up at Blue Moon Ranch is a special thing. The roosters are very real and very consistent. And while perhaps earlier risers than our travel tested bodies were that morning, the rooster’s calls were still a welcomed replacement for the sirens, horns, planes, trains, automobiles and John Candy movies that we grow accustomed to back home.
Crossing the threshold between the upstairs and downstairs means first having a few words with the real queen of Blue Moon Ranch, the 140 lb, ever-curious and ultra-if-not-dangerously-friendly Newfoundland Matilda. When Matilda sees a new face, at first she looks something like this:
Which usually gives way to this:
She’s a lover. And a slobberer. A quick investigation of the kitchen ceiling quickly confirmed that yes, she’s powerful enough to shake one of her glorious globs of Newfie love all the way up there. Matilda is quite impressive.
That morning was likely one of the most peaceful we’ve had in years. It was roughly 10am, and as Theresa and I stretched ourselves fully awake, we learned that effectively the day’s work on the ranch was complete. Linda had been at it since 5am. The animals were fed. The hay stacked. The poop scooped, t’s crossed and i’s dotted. Perfect timing for the morning’s second fresh pot of coffee. As we sat, the warm baritone sounds of folk singer Greg Brown filled the room, quietly matching each sip of the hot, nutty coffee between our palms. Harmony. A common feeling at Blue Moon Ranch.
It rained. We sat and talked with Linda. For a while. The stories pour out of Linda like water. We heard about the baby alpaca she helped deliver just the day prior, its body positioned dangerously backwards requiring significant and literal elbow-deep assistance. Yikes. We heard about how this recent experience confirmed her calling desire to become an animal Doula. I learned what a Doula was.
We heard about Bodhi the yellow lab, originally was my cousin Noah (her son) and wife Miki’s dog, who arrived at Blue Moon Ranch in 2014 in the midst of chemotherapy treatments for his ongoing lymphoma. Noah works for the U.S. State Department and was moving from Fiji to Laos with his family (he’s really cool too but a different story for a different day), and Bodhi was simply too sick to travel. As time went on, his outlook was not good. Noah brought him to Blue Moon Ranch thinking he was making his final goodbyes to the dog that had brought him, Miki and at the time only child Leokai so much joy.
After a tumor removal procedure, Linda and Ed elected to take Bodhi off of chemotherapy in favor of alternative strategies. They put him on a simple recovery plan: a healthy probiotic-rich diet, a stress-free environment and a whole lot of love. Within months, Bodhi’s symptoms subsided, his energy returned and a year later was sitting next to Theresa and I trying to figure out if he could score a scratch behind the ears AND a piece of my banana. You know, dog things.
We heard about her job selling copiers when she first moved to the Salt Lake City area from Chicago. We heard about how she was actually pretty damn good at it. “I was pretty damn good at,” she told us. We heard about how her initial exposure to the world of alpacas from an in-flight magazine advertisement quickly evolved into a curiosity, and soon after a calling.
We heard about her lifelong passion for animals. As my Mom remembers, “she always wanted that Snow White moment where she’s surrounded by the forest animals.”
We heard about her humble beginnings back in the early 2000s, eager to learn as much as possible from what she discovered was a thriving industry all around her. She bought a few alpacas, housed at other ranches, began to learn the ins and outs of shearing, developing and selling their fleece. She kept working and learning, working and learning until she was ready to take the plunge. Their first ranch property was modest but very effective, nestled in the hills overlooking the twinkling lights of downtown Salt Lake City. Over 15 years, a couple hundred alpacas, about a dozen dogs and thousands of hay barrels later, she’s living the dream.
I told you she was cool.
That afternoon it finally dried up, giving us an opportunity to roam what some might call the main attraction: the girl’s pasture. Stepping through the gate from the backyard, you might initially feel as though you’re trespassing; disturbing the peace in some way. Only it couldn’t be farther from the truth.
As we strolled through the grass, nibbled down so finely that it feels like the green of a golf course, Abby, one of three Great Pyrenees guard dogs approached us for a “Can I see your credentials?” turned “I’ll take a belly rub too please.” Abby, who in August was ‘getting ready to retire,’ is part of a team of incredibly loyal and effective team of guard dogs. Led by Chief, the alpha in charge, these dogs are remarkable in their own right. They receive no human-training. They live to protect. And whether it’s fending off trespassing cougars and raccoons, or instinctively trying to help my Aunt when she fell and twisted her knee, their sole purpose is to guard and help, and they’d have it no other way.
The pasture and barn are home to 30-40 female alpacas and their babies, called crias. Each with a fleece pattern as unique as their personality. Some are old, like Goldie Hawn born in Peru and awaiting her 25th birthday. Others are young, like Marigold, who at the time was just weeks old. Every one of them isn't scared. They’re not even shy. For the most part they’re curious, not intimidated by visitors. If you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you.
The sun was setting, which at Blue Moon Ranch means one thing: the cria twilight run. Which not only sounds like the name of an obscure 80’s new wave band, but is one of the most consistent and simplest pleasures at Blue Moon Ranch. Just before the sun sets, the crias – some of them just days if not hours old, run and chase each other as if they’re children playing tag. If alpacas could laugh, this is when you’d hear their cackles echo off the nearby mountains.
That night we enjoyed dinner and a few beers with my cousin Nate and retired for the night. The next morning saw the arrival of two things: 1 – beautiful August weather, and 2 – Mesa John Rabke, my cousin Erin’s son, which makes him my second cousin? First cousin once removed? Second cousin twice baked potato? I've never understood these things. He’s my cousin. That’s easy. Every Tuesday Mesa comes to spend the day with Yaya (Linda), which because we were in town meant he had a couple extra friends to play with in Theresa and I.
We gave Mesa full reins to show us his favorite parts of the ranch. We went to Leo Kai’s fishing bridge, where we sailed to France and back. He reminded us that he was the Captain, Theresa was the Queen, and Maxx you’re our servant so keep rowing. Fair enough, Captain, I’m just glad to be here.
Watching Mesa interact with the extraordinary environment around him, letting every stream, rock, critter and crevice play a role in his imagination, I began to realize what childhood memories Tuesdays with Yaya at Blue Moon Ranch will forever hold. How lucky he is. Because there’s a sense of personality, community and harmony to Blue Moon Ranch that’s truly hard to describe.
Every alpaca, every dog, every cat, every chicken and every human – everyone’s doing their part and right where they ought to be. And particularly between Linda and the alpacas, it’s not just that they have relationships – it’s as if they have inside jokes. She thinks they’re funny and they think she’s funny. They’re friends, companions, and no matter how you slice, so much more than livestock.
Blue Moon Ranch is an extraordinary place because it's home to so much. It's home to family and to nature. It's home to hot coffee and cold beer. It's home to hay stacks and chicken coops; to inside dogs and outside dogs. It's home to the wonder of healing and the grief of companions who have passed. And if nothing else, its home to many remarkable creatures who have touched the lives of so many - both human and non-human.