Venture out from Moab around to the Colorado side of the La Sal Mountains, 14 miles from Utah Highway 191 on Utah Route 46, to discover the untrammeled side of the La Sal Mountains and a lodging company and animal sanctuary engulfed in abundant peace and quiet that defies definition.
It is, all at once, a lodge, rental cabins, a massage therapy center, and an animal sanctuary. A most fascinating and beautiful place indeed.
What started as a more traditional tourist oriented lodge in the early 1990s, founded by Lisa Ballantyne and Teague Eskelsen, has become a healing place for humans and for the special needs animals at the sanctuary. The animal sanctuary is only two years old but already is home to several special needs horses, a pack of lovable hounds, and cats in every size, shape and description.
"We've had to evolve," explained Teague Eskelsen about the varied nature of the lodge. "We don't plan things, we've just evolved."
It was in that vein that Eskelsen and Ballantyne two years ago decided to adopt a critically crippled colt suffering from a disease that basically was eroding the animal's joints. In most instances, a colt suffering from such an affliction is put down, but Eskelsen and Ballantyne adopted the colt, taking on the costs of extensive medical treatments as well. To do so, the owner had to agree to let the colt's mother accompany the colt back to Mt. Peale until it could be weaned. The owner agreed and the colt was named Lucky Boy. To see the horse today is to think Lucky Boy may be the most aptly-named horse in America.
Following extensive medical treatments, Lucky Boy remains hobbled by the disease but no longer is completely crippled. He gets around with a limp on disfigured legs, but has absorbed enough love over the past two years to readily share it with other horses or humans.
Today, Lucky has a variety of equine friends at Mt. Peale. Once Lucky found a home, other special needs horses began to find Eskelsen and Ballantyne. One is blind, others are suffering various stages of crippling diseases or horrifying abuse at the hands of previous owners. All of them are loved unconditionally and cared for in the most tender of ways by hired hand Ryan Stewart, Amy Eskelsen and the two owners. With the horses came the dogs who otherwise may have been put down, and even the special needs cats. The animals at Mt. Peale are not living in what one might consider a traditional sanctuary or kennel arrangement. Every one of the critters at Mt. Peale is treated like a pet. The love and attention they receive is readily apparent.
A peculiar thing happened on the way to creating the sanctuary, Teague said. Caring for the animals is very expensive and a potential drain on the traditional massage therapy and lodging business at the lodge, but Teague said as the focus shifted to the animals, good things started happening for the humans. "When we focus on the animals, everything else seemed to work out for everybody, including us," she said.
While caring for the animals can be very expensive, Teague said the animals give back ten-fold what they receive. For some reason, explained Teague, "These guys bring joy back into people's lives." She will gladly recount story after story of how the horses, dogs and cats at the sanctuary have helped various guests through difficult times. "The animals allow people to grow beyond their limits," she explained.
A circle of healing has evolved. The sanctuary invests in healing the animals who in turn have proven adept at healing humans. Today, whatever is earned by the healing services offered to customers at the lodge is money put directly back in to caring for the animals. May the circle be unbroken.
Caring for the animals not only is time consuming, it is expensive. The sanctuary is actively engaged in raising funds to build winter housing for the animals ($150,000 needed by Oct. 1), purchase hay and dog and cat food ($10,000 needed) or to pay surgical costs ($10,000). Donors can sponsor a horse ($125 per month), a cat ($40 per month) or dog ($50 per month), or simply send a donation to Mt. Peale Animal Sanctuary, P.O. Box 366, Old La Sal, Utah, 84350.
Those who would like to visit the sanctuary and stay at either the lodge or cabins will discover comfortable accommodations with soaring views of Mt. Peale. Group events or individuals are welcome including healing retreats, executive retreats or family reunions.
The lodge offers easy access to all the recreation possibilities of the Manti-La Sal National Forest and the La Sal Mountains. This winter, Amy Eskelsen will offer sled dog tours out of the lodge into the La Sal Mountains. Call 435-686-2284 or log on mtpeale.com and make your reservation.