It’s a big, wide world, but in ranching country, you don’t often meet a stranger.

Melissa Mo Wenger Women of the West
A long-distance trip to photograph Melissa “Mo” Wenger for Women of the West ends with a welcome twist.

Under a pitch-black sky abundant with stars, I drove the old Western Horseman dually toward Kansas on a dirt ranch road north of Fort Supply, Oklahoma. The clock read later than I wanted.

My photo shoot with Melissa “Moe” Wenger went long. How do you rush taking photos of a ranching “Women of the West” in golden light under a glorious blue sky on a handsome sorrel gelding? We sat and talked on her front porch until the sun went down and the coyotes began to yip.

Once we finished, I still had an hour’s drive. The Wengers offered to let me stay, but I had planned to be in Ashland, Kansas, early the next morning. Moe gave me directions, and I called the proprietor of the Rolling Hills Bed & Breakfast to make my apologies for a tardy arrival.

To my non-horse friends, the thought of driving through the middle of nowhere in the dark or staying the night with strangers is odd.

“Aren’t you scared?” they ask. “You don’t know who you’ll meet!”

It’s a big, wide Western world out there for sure, and I know dangers lurk. I keep a road atlas with me in case I’m out of phone service or the battery goes dead. I know how to change a tire, and how to say yes to a gentleman offering to do it for me. I make sure someone knows where I’m supposed to be going.

But I’ve traveled all over the West hauling horses or to capture stories in ranch country, and I’ve rarely met people who treat me like a stranger. I’m probably less fearful of a lonely ranch road than I am of many bright-lit city streets.

My cell phone rang when I finally stood on the Rolling Hills’ front step, and I fumbled with my bags to answer. It was Moe, calling to make sure I’d made it.

Opening the screen door, I found the proprietor, Miss Essie, waiting up for me in her house robe. She had baked cookies in case I was hungry.

Two perfect strangers treating me like family—all in a day’s work trip.

Nope, not scared at all.

 

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