We all choose our own paths. If we’re lucky, they’re filled with wonder, adventure and surprises. For those who seek a path rich and rewarding, come to Wyoming! An irresistible force of sensation meets location happened to me at the Paradise Guest Ranch located sixteen miles west of Buffalo at an elevation of 7,500 feet; all 157 acres are within the boundaries of the Bighorn National Forest, giving the property a feeling of privacy and isolation – ideal for a dude ranch getaway from city life. On my ride to the ranch from the airport, I passed corridors of meadow, mountains, deep river canyons and pristine evergreen forests – all enhanced by the beauty of plentiful wildlife. Arriving, I found comfortable guest cabins constructed of logs scattered across the property, giving a rustic, homey feel. The actual entrance to the ranch is marked by a large timber gate with the word “Fun” That says it all.
Git Yer Boots on and Saddle Up!
The ranch has approximately 150 horses in the peak season of June through August and the principal activity here is horseback riding. Everybody rides - everyday - and the horse becomes your companion. You can do a day-long ride, packing a lunch and returning just before dinner, or an overnight pack trip, a real Western wilderness adventure. The ranch’s horseback riding program is second to none. They custom fit each guest with the horse that perfectly matches their riding ability. Governed by my internal hard-wiring for cowardice, I asked for a gentle, well-mannered horse and was assigned a sweet Paint named Gypsy. I took advantage of their riding lessons and, in the rodeo arena, was taught how to move my horse, turn, back up, and even to trot. Learning to gallop, that’s for my next visit.
Morn at Big Horn
The most enjoyable time each day was my morning ride on Gypsy (walk, actually) with 6 to 8 other guests. We were led by one of the young, enthusiastic ranch hands into deeply wooded spruce and Ponderosa pine forests intersected by clear, mountain streams. The air was fresh and the sky a cloudless azure as we walked our steeds through sagebrush and stands of Aspen giving way to open valleys and wild flower-rimmed alpine lakes. I was particularly smitten with the Aspen, their pretty white trunks and leaves like so many small, golden coins making gentle music as they rustled in the breeze.
A Starry Awakening
We were told that a fun experience is to rise really early and watch the horses as they’re corralled and wrangled down to the ranch from the high Alpine meadows where they’ve spent the night grazing on the bluffs. We walked sleepily up the trail in predawn darkness, a vortex of infinite stars lighting our way, and then waited by the roadside, safely out of the way as, amid thundering hooves and steaming nostrils, the horses galloped down the hill to the corrals below. Covered by dust kicked up by the horses but by now fully awake, I had one of those pinch-myself moments when I knew, deep in my soul, that it doesn’t, ever, get better than this!
A pre-dinner cocktail, anyone? And delicious hors d’oeuvres too! Evenings at the ranch start in a sophisticated, happy-hour way in the French Creek Saloon. Then it’s everyone into the dining hall where meals are taken family-style and the ranch staff and owners mingle with the guests. After dinner, back to the Saloon where a fire is blazing, musicians are playing western tunes and there’s fun afoot, be it an amateur talent show or some raucous square dancing.
For over 100 years, Paradise Ranch has been a place of refuge and relaxation, adventure and excitement, steeped in the traditions of Wyoming ranching. Many guests return again and again for horseback riding, fly-fishing for native cutthroat trout, or for hiking among wildflowers and meadowlarks. I chatted with a couple celebrating their 31st year at the ranch, and was told that for them visiting the ranch is not just a “vacation” but more like returning to family
Dude Ranch – the very words conjure up a warm, cozy feeling with animals, silvered sage brush, quick moving streams, and the heavy green of alfalfa. In twilight there’s a clear sharpness of the mountain peaks as they shimmer in the purple light - best viewed from a perch on the porch that fronts one’s cabin.
There are countless reasons to visit Paradise Ranch – and they’re all waiting to be discovered. For now, I welcome another sunshiny morning and Gypsy waiting to transport me to….Paradise. Surrounded by such openness and natural beauty at this remarkable ranch – really, what else could they possibly call it?
If You Go:
Paradise Guest Ranch, www.paradiseranch.com
All photos by Ramona Swift, www.ramonaswift.com