When you live near the beach, you vacation in the mountains. This was a fact of life growing up, our family home being a mere 15 minutes from the Atlantic coast beaches of south Florida. Why would we pay to fly to another beach? Now mountains… that’s a different story.
Each June for a period of about 10 years, my southern family would take an average of 3 flights in one day to transplant ourselves to the beautiful mountains outside Buffalo, Wyoming. Our final destination: Paradise Guest Ranch, a dude ranch situated in the scenic Bighorn National Forest. Stunning does not even begin to describe the landscape here, especially for us flat-landers coming from 14 feet (just over 3 meters) above sea level. Stepping out into the crisp, fresh mountain air made us forget the bumpy flights, and the fact that our luggage always seemed to show up on the flight directly after ours. We flew into the Sheridan airport, and it was not uncommon for us to have to circle before landing, waiting for the antelope to clear off the runway. Forget cell phones here, forget television… this was a proper holiday!
We arrived into Sheridan on a Saturday evening, and would drive up to the ranch Sunday afternoon. The rest of our clan would start trickling in around the same time – all the cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents – 26 of us in total. We all had separate cabins, but the cousins would generally break up according to age groups and share rooms in whichever cabin had enough space.
Myself and Maggie were the two oldest cousins, and both avid horse riders. Our plan was usually to ride as much as possible, as far into the mountains as possible, and explore the terrain using the mode of transportation that was second nature to us. The ranch provides guided trail rides every day (twice daily most days) and you are assigned a horse for your own personal use for the week. This is a great system as it allowed for us to really get to know our horses, and they are able to match you up with a suitable mount based on your level of experience. There is no feeling more exhilarating than galloping atop the open mesa, snow-capped mountains in the distance. I could do it every day for the rest of my life, easily.
For those of you with little or no riding experience but are keen to try, this is the perfect opportunity. The very first ride Monday morning is an orientation ride in an arena so the wranglers can offer basic instructions and asses your level, and there is private riding instruction available. If you are deathly afraid of horses and would never be caught willingly climbing onto the back of one, that’s okay too. There are plenty of other activities. My brothers and some of the other boys in the family preferred the fly fishing over the riding, and the parental generation often opted for hiking. There are tons of areas to hike without ever really leaving ranch property, and there are also day trips to places such as Crazy Woman Canyon.
You may remember that I said we always went in June, and you may have noticed that there is snow in some of the pictures… because it would often snow during our week there. The ranch is at an elevation high enough that it was often still cold in June. Why would we want to go while we still needed a jacket? Well, since we all live in the south and were gearing up for a sweltering summer at home, it was really nice to capture some cooler weather. Also, the wild flowers are in bloom in June. Later in the summer, say August, the landscape dries out and becomes more fields of brown, dried out grass than the lush green we loved so much. Not to mention that we never get to see snow on a normal basis, so it was always pretty cool to us kids! You could see the storms roll in over the mountains, and then a fresh blanket of snow would cover the landscape.
Ten years of memories, too many to wrap up into one post. I remember overnight camping trips for the teenage years, a chuck wagon dinner, rodeos for the kids at the end of the week, and a square dance in the saloon the final Saturday night. While the cousins tended to stick together, that didn’t prevent us from making friends with the other kids there at the same time. I even made friends with the kids of a family from Tallahassee, Florida, and ended up visiting them later that summer. Good times, great people, gorgeous location… what more could you as for?