Thursday, September 14, 2017

Eaton's Ranch Debi

My vision of Wyoming centered on cowboys, ranches and wide-open spaces. So, I was ready to jump into a saddle at Eatons Ranch, just 18 miles from Sheridan. Eatons didn’t disappoint.
The horses and barn at Eaton's Ranch in Wolf, Wyoming.

A rustic cabin, built in 1919, became home for my stay. The bathroom had, naturally, been renovated, but the rest of the space looked original with pine wood closets and doors. The bedroom offered two twin beds, plus I had a living room and, best of all, a porch with a rocking chair. I could hear the rush of water from the stream running behind the cabin.

The Applegate Cabin at Eaton's Ranch in Wolf, Wyoming
Bedroom in the Cabin
The porch and rocking chairs. 

Eaton’s handles all ages and abilities of riders and provides everything needed except a pair of blue jeans. They fit me with a saddle and loaned me a pair of boots. Even Florida girls own cowboy hats, so I'd packed mine. Its stampede strap becomes useful when the wind picks up.

Wranglers, the barn employees, asked about my ability, or lack thereof, and chose an appropriate steed. Since I had little prior experience, I was happy to ride a well-behaved quarter horse.

Getting fit for a saddle. 

The first group trail ride began after dinner. We started out on flat ground, surrounded by magnificent mountains.  About 20 minutes into the ride, the clouds burst open and we turned around and hurried back to the barn. Everyone got soaked, but it was a memorable adventure.

The Evening Ride started out at a slow pace. 

The following morning brought lovely sunshine and my group, led by a knowledgeable wrangler, headed to the hills. We crossed a small river on horseback, a first for me as an inexperienced rider. I felt like I was dropped into a scene of a western movie. Yippee!

Wading across the creek.

My horse, named Badger, behaved and worked hard carrying me up the steep hills. The views at Eatons look like those enticing Wyoming brochures: drop dead gorgeous wide-open cowboy country.

Riding into the hills of picturesque Wyoming. 

An outdoor barbecue became lunch on Eatons' grounds, just beyond the swimming pool.  Grilled burgers, hot dogs, potato salad and beans made an ideal noonday meal. 

Barbeque Lunch at Eaton's Ranch.

I skipped the opportunity to take an afternoon ride and instead investigated the fishing options. Staying on a dude ranch reminds me of going to Girl Scout camp. Guests choose from a variety of activities, and one hardly has a care in the world.

The day’s after dinner ride encountered no weather problems. My anxiety level disappeared, and I was getting somewhat used to the feel of a saddle.

The beautiful horses are well loved and cared for at Eaton's Ranch .

On my final morning, I enjoyed the best ride ever.  We ascended to the top of a peak overlooking the ranch. Some of the trails were very rocky and steep, but Badger knew what to do. I was absolutely “in the moment.” Our wrangler also led us off the trail and through deep grass and wildflowers. The air smelled clean, and the sun shone brightly. I, more a city slicker, felt like a real cowgirl from the West and, for the first time, comfortable in a saddle. Perhaps I was home on the range. 

Reaching the peak. 

Heading back down toward Eaton's Ranch. 

If you want to experience the west, a dude ranch is the place to go. 

Home on the Range. 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Dudes in the Saddle

Howard, Willis and Alden Eaton. Photo courtesy Eatons Ranch.
The Dude Ranch began at Eatons' Ranch in 1879 when the three Eaton brothers came West and established a horse and cattle ranch in Medora, ND. Friends, "dudes," from the East trekked out almost immediately and those who wanted to stay longer than courtesy dictated suggested the Eatons' charge for room and board.

A new concept and business was born. In 1904 the Eatons moved their operation to Wolf Creek near Sheridan, Wyoming, to give their guests better riding terrain.

Dudes in the saddle at Eatons. Photo © by Judy Wells.
The dudes are still coming to the ranch being run by the fourth and fifth generations. Guests have 51 cabins, more than 200 hundred horses and 7,000 acres to explore between the Eatons' property and the Big Horn National Forest. The trout in Wolf Creek and a bass pond keep anglers happy.

Debi and I each had a grand time but for very different reasons. I'll start out and she will follow with the next post.

Cross over the cattle guard and under the Eatons Ranch sign with its Arrowhead and Bar-11 brands and enter a different type and pace of life. You are a dude, dude, and denims are the attire du jour.

The setting is idyllic, surrounded by hills, heavily treed with a creek running along one side. Don't know about playing but the deer certainly come to eat. It's quiet except for bird song and the buzz of benign insects.

Mellon cabin. Photo © by Judy Wells.
The cabins are rustic and comfortable with shaded porches perfect for siting and slowing the day's pace. Mine is Mellon, like many, named for frequent guests.  And yes, these were the Mellons.

Riding through this glorious country is the focus at Eatons and I am apprehensive about the rest of our stay.

You see, I adore horses. Read everything equestrian I could find, spent as much time as I could on horseback, showed English and Western, even rodeoed a bit and grew up with several horses of my own. In my late 30s, I took jumping lessons.

Since then work, life, knees replacements and an artificial hip have kept me out of the saddle. A fall, especially from horseback height, could severely limit any mobility. I had decided not to ride and left my socks and boots at home.

Beginners become comfortable in the saddle.
We were with other travel writers, one with much riding experience, one who had never been on a horse and the rest in between. I followed them down to the barn and corrals where we were to be measured for our saddles.

Saddle fitting comes first. Photo ©  by Judy Wells.
The aromas of horse, leather and hay, my favorite scent, weakened my resolve. Watching the expert and professional approach to fitting guest to saddle was reassuring. It felt good when I got on the sawhorse mount, even better after the fitting.

Evening ride time at Eatons. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Common sense said no but every other fiber of my being said yes. Almost as bad was the indignity of needing a mounting block and no longer having the muscle tone to do what used to be second nature. No running barrels anymore.

Maybe just once? Photo by Judy Wells.
Maybe once, I thought, and signed up for the short, post dinner ride, one of three we could participate in each day except Sunday. Watching the saddling and mounting procedures I relaxed; these people knew what they were doing.

Slow and level to begin. Photo © by Judy Wells.
We asked our wrangler for an easy, level route to reassure the beginners and we headed out along the fence line toward the front pasture. The horses were well-mannered, the pace a walk. Skies darkened with the threat of rain which hit with a vengeance about 20 minutes into our ride. We trotted back to the corral, emerging like drowned rats, but it felt so good in the saddle I decided to do it again.

Crossing Wolf Creek. That's Debi in the pink jacket. Photo © by Judy Wells.

Caution wasn't totally thrown away. There were a few dicey times crossing creeks and climbing up high ridges - my horse was a stumbler - but the views were worth it.

Follow the wrangler. Photo © by judy Wells.
I rode once a day and although I could have taken a map and gone off on my own - a rarity on most dude ranches - I opted to stay with wranglers who knew the trails and terrain.

In between I got to know Peggy, the bartender, with whom I had friends in common. Her late husband had been a lion tamer with Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus and I had met and written about several of his colleagues.

Out to pasture. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Almost as good as riding was watching the wranglers at work. The horse herd was taken back to high pastures each night and rounded up again in the morning.

The day's remuda. Photo © by Judy Wells.
From the large corral, mounts for the day were funneled into a smaller corral where individuals were lassoed and moved to the front corral where they could easily be roped again for saddling and added to the picket line until their riders arrived.

Not today, please. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Some cooperated, others resisted. A real touch of the old West we dudes rarely experience.

Best of all, though, as dudes rather than ranchers, we had wranglers to ride out at 5 a.m. to herd the horses in and do all of the other work from mucking manure to taking the herd back out at night.

Best view of all. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Thank you, Eatons, for putting me back in the saddle.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Rocky Mountain High Lakes

It was a day for extremes as the Good Girls went from the high hot desert around Moab to the high cool mountain lake of Grand Lake, Colorado. As headwaters of the Columbia River we had been following, it was an appropriate destination.

A slightly unplanned turnoff took us to our destination via a rural route that put us in a Rocky Mountain frame of mind, thanks to
Meadows and hills in Colorado. Photo © by Judy Wells.
 hills that grew into mountains,

Photo by Debi Lander.

cattle and nary a car nor truck without ski racks and a heavy tow rig on the back.

We rendezvoused with our friend and host Gaylene Ore and followed her to Grand Lake where we checked into one of The Western Riviera's rustic, cabin-like efficiency rooms overlooking the lake.

Grand Lake Lodge. Photo © Judy Wells.
We hopped in with Gaylene for lunch at the historic Grand Lake Lodge. Opened in July 1920, burned in 1973, it was rebuilt and opened in 1981. I suspect the rooms, cabins, pool and dining room have been busy ever since. It reminded us of a period National Park lodge, which it was. Another was in Estes Park at the other end of the road through Rocky Mountains National Park.

View from Grand Lake Lodge porch. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Don't miss the view or the bison meatloaf.
Bison meatloaf. Photo by Judy Wells.

Grand Lake. Photo © by  Judy Wells.
After settling in and admiring our views of the lake we headed out to survey downtown Grand Lake, basically a street that parallels the lake with a few side streets.

Exchange tennis shoes for boots and you are back in the old West. Photo © by Judy Wells.
On both sides stores are fronted with old-fashioned boardwalks adding to its casual Western/boating flavor. It is, after all, home of the world's highest yacht club. Registered in 1902, the Grand Lake Yacht Club hosts an annual race with the ornate silver, ever so prestigious trophy donated by tea purveyor and yachtsman Sir Thomas J. Lipton.

Historic Rapids Lodge and Restaurant. Photo © by Judy Wells.
This disarmingly small-town burg has two other big-time attractions, Rapids Lodge and Restaurant and Rocky Mountain Repertory Theatre.  We dined superbly at one and were rousingly entertained at the other.

Rapids of the Tonahutu River. Photo © by Judy Wells.
We joined Gaylene at the Lodge's restaurant after admiring the racing, tumbling rapids of the Tonahutu River it overlooks, imagining how nice it would be to sleep to their sound.

It wasn't long before our attention was the meal. Elk chops with raspberry demi-glace filled our plates with enticing aromas and our palates with delectable flavors.
Elk Chops, a taste of the new  West. Photo © by  Judy Wells.

We didn't encounter the Lodge's ghost, a friendly old lady who wanders the corridors, but we did get a kick out of the Lodge's history. Built by intrepid pioneer John Wesley Ish and opened in 1915, the hotel had electricity, indoor baths and running water. It has had 30 owners since through some pretty wild times as recently as the 1950s when the second floor was a gambling casino, the third floor a brothel, with a buzzer at the front desk to warn patrons to head for the back stairs when the law was approaching.

History of another sort is focus of musical "Newsies," one of four musicals in rotation at the Rocky Mountain Repertory Theatre. It makes a night of good theater telling the story of impoverished New York newsboys who went on strike in 1899 tackling powerful publishing moguls Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst.

We were pleasantly stunned by both the handsome theater and the talented cast. No surprise that the group is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Other shows in this year's repertory, "Mamma Mia!" "Westside Story" and "Almost Heaven, Songs of John Denver."

We chatted with the couple in front of us at intermission and discovered they drive the 100 miles from Denver to catch the season every year. Pretty good recommendation, I'd say.

The town was shut or shutting down as we walked back to our room. We'd been too full to try either of the ice cream shops, one at each end of Main Street, both attracting crowds of customers. Time had been too short to do more than quickly scan the shops. Probably a good thing because we were tempted by several.

Grand Lake. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Nor had we been able to catch the boat tour around the lake, the largest natural one in Colorado, and learn more about the area's history. But we had dedicated a whole day to spend in Rocky Mountain National Park before heading up to Sheridan, Wyoming.

No one could believe we had yet to sight a moose, particularly between Grand Lake and the park. We were disappointed, too, until early the next morning as we headed to the Denver airport for the next leg of our trip. We were bemoaning the lack of moose sightings when I glanced over to the right side of the road and saw one between the trees. He paused in his dewy morning meal, gave us a long look and went back to eating.

I felt like Captain Preston of the Yukon at the end of every radio broadcast when he would turn to his trusty Husky and say, "Well, King, case closed."

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Road Trippin' in Rocky Mountain National Park

No drugs needed, but you’ll feel a “Rocky Mountain high” when driving the Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. The famed highway ranks the highest continual paved road in the US, reaching an elevation of 12,183 feet.  Drivers enter the park from either Grand Lake on the west or Estes Park, Colorado on the east. Denver is just two hours away; a dramatic contrast of city to nature that makes an easy and alluring getaway.
Officially entering the National Park. 

The Good Girls were staying in a lakeside cabin while visiting the charming town of Grand Lake. The cutesy Main Street fronts eye-inviting bakeries, fun restaurants/bars and, of course, many gift shops. We wanted to beat the Sunday crowds in the park, so arose early.

Those facing the famed “highway to the sky” either see it with glee or anxiety. Depends on your prior driving experience and perception of scary challenges. We couldn’t wait for our turn at spinning up and down the 48 miles of twisty, hairpin turns, and steeply graded pavement next to sheer drops.

The Trail Ridge Road is only open in the summer.

The plan: Judy would drive to Estes Park, and Debi would jump behind the wheel for the return trip.  As always, scenic overlooks would be mandatory stops.

Route 34, or the Trail Ridge Road, starts near the Grand Lake turnoff and then passes through a vibrant canopy green valley of ponderosa pines. If only we had a convertible! We pulled off to take it all in, to breathe the calm serenity of the morning and warm sunshine.

Start of our drive up and down the Trail Ridge Road.

In no time, we left the pines behind and entered the aspen forest at mid-mountain, called subalpine.  Requisite photos were taken at the first major landmark: the Continental Divide along the Milner Pass. The Divide marks the split where rainwater falls either to the East or the West. 

The Ponderosa Pines 

Imagine how pleased we were to see snow in July, as two days earlier we were sweating from hot temperatures while hiking in the red rock canyons of Utah. The unquestionable variety of landscape within the U.S. is surely a national treasure.

The Continental Divide Sign makes a great photo op. 

We drove on and ogled the aptly named Never Summer Mountains at another parking slot. Good thing we didn’t have that convertible; the temperature continued to drop. We put on our jackets.
Never Summer Mountains

The vertical rise will likely make your ears pop, and whoas and ohs (or perhaps something stronger) will slip from your mouth. Even if you don’t get out of your car, Rocky Mountain National Park smacks you in the face with bold scenery; it envelops you and sent my heart soaring. If you don’t feel the beauty and wonderment of the wilderness here, you must be a staunch city slicker.

The treeline dwindled, the wind picked up and soon we were cruising through barren landscape near the peak. Almost everyone stops at the Alpine Visitors Center (elevation 11,796 feet), and we heartily recommend it. The gusty cold whipped us, and we hurried into the National Park building to see the alpine tundra exhibits. Displays speak to the harsh conditions that confront animals and plants that attempt to survive the altitude.  

Alpine Tundra Exhibits in the National Park Center.

Don’t miss the Trail Ridge store next door for indoor bathrooms, hot coffee, and the best darn National Park gift shop we’ve ever encountered. No one leaves without buying something from the vast and colorful collections. Kids search through the array of inexpensive rocks, small gadgets, and mementos. They can choose a stuffed animal from a display of nearly every species on the planet.

Hikers, campers, and outdoor enthusiasts find all the essentials and wish- list high-tech items for extreme conditions. Tourists eye souvenirs among the plethora of tee shirts, sweatshirts and quality designer wear, books, prints, and snacks.

Don't miss this store and cafe at the top. 

We appreciated the warmth and honestly loved the store (and we’re not big shoppers).  For those wanting to hike a short distance to the trail summit, follow the route that leads from the side entrance. Be sure to bundle up.
Hikers near the summit.

Telephoto shot of the mountain tops.
Photo @Debi Lander

Back in the car, we began our descent, a roadway I’d rate as more enthralling than the uphill. The panorama changes around each turn and thankfully there are many pullouts and small parking lots. The literally breathtaking, high altitude views extended to eternity and beyond. Sharp, snow capped mountains, rolling hillsides and deep valleys extol the diversity and depth of wilderness beauty.

A grand view of the Trail Ridge Road

The highway became much busier, but we gradually made out way down the mountain. One of our stops included some beautiful wildflowers. After passing the park exit, we continued to Estes Park. 
Almost down!

After lunch, we retraced our journey but got stalled at a long line waiting for entry into the park. Being over 62, we used our lifetime senior passes to the National Parks, one of the greatest bargains ever. As of September 2017, they are going up to $80.  That’s still a great deal because the lifetime card gives free entry for up to three others in your car.

The valuable National Park Senior Pass

The traffic had more than quadrupled since the morning, so we decided to drive directly back, stopping only once. The parking lots were crazy with folks vying for spots. Over one million people pour into the park within a six-week period, so rangers must occasionally limit entrance. Anyway, our brains were in sensory overload, but in the best way.

Breathtaking views of Rocky Mountain National Park from each stop.
Photo @Debi Lander

Rocky Mountain National Park reminds me of Smoky Mountain National Park because it can be viewed and adored from the car. The designated All American Road, therefore, becomes a bonus for those with disabilities. We wished we’d had time to hike to Bear Lake, but perhaps that can happen on a return visit.