Yakity-Yak – My Wild and Wooly Visit to the Sierra Valley Yaks Ranch
May 2022. For as many years as I can remember, my husband, Jim, and I vacationed in the Sierra Nevada where his family had a cedar cabin summer home near a small, mountain village called Graeagle whose history goes back into the 20’s when the town was the epicenter of a lumber and gold mining boom.
It’s sometimes hard to imagine there was ever a time when this rustic village with a grocery store with a sign that claims it’s the “World’s Greatest Market,” a former schoolhouse transformed into a huge “antique” store with a sign (that for years) has featured an ongoing liquidation sale and at least three gated communities named, Nakoma, Valley Ranch and Whitehawk, where many former residents of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Sacramento have built multi-million dollar second homes. The contrast between the lifestyles and recreational pursuits could not be more divergent.
But I digress.
I can’t remember the year or even the season when I looked out the passenger window onto a grassy field on the outskirts of Calpine (another mountain town) and saw my first Yak. Jim and I were on the home stretch of our two-week vacation on the log cabin we owned in the Lakes basin, tired from a ten-hour drive with our five furry passengers who’d been grumbling and growling into and out of my lap, thirsty and hungry and generally miserable for all that time.
Suddenly, I forgot all about the flying fur, the throw-up in the back seat, and the tedium.
A close-by Yak (and many more of these wild-looking creatures just like him/her) were grazing in a grassy field like a herd of small buffalo from a time long ago when cowboys ruled the Wild West.
“Jim!” I yelped. “What are those?” He slowed down, rolled down the window, and stared.
“I don’t know what they are,” he said. “Horns like a steer. Thick fur like a Buffalo. Hmmm.”
On our next visit, we planned to meet the folks who owned the Sierra Valley Yak Ranch by first making an appointment with the owners, Jenna and Greg Gatto, for a tour. We headed into our wine cellar to pick out the most appropriate wine for the Yak owners. The day was overcast. The drive took longer than we expected, and we had to hunt for the road that led to the ranch house. But this time, we’d get close to the furry creatures and learn the Yak story.
I saw my first Yak almost the minute we turned onto the dusty road. He stood by the wire fence – an enormous slab of shaggy black fur with horns and slobber dripping from his thick lips, nostrils pink as baby skin, and a metal tag with three numbers attached to his ear. I stepped out of our car and went to the fence and got as close as I could to the Furry Creature. The Yak snorted. Paid no attention to me. Looked at the grass. I looked into his eyes, remembering what our National Geographic guide told us about taking photos of animals.
“Get as close as you can to an animal’s eyes,” he said. “The eyes are the animal’s soul.”
Apparently, this Yak’s soul was preoccupied with his own deep thoughts because I might just as well have been a manikin. He seemed much more interested in the fence. Maybe the next Yak and I will connect, I thought, getting back into the car with Jim. The Yak adventure had begun.