Saturday, April 24, 2010
Paradise Ranch, Buffalo Wyoming
by Barbara Barton Sloane
It’s not often when heart and place come together but when they do it’s magic. This irresistible force of sensation meets location happened to me at the Paradise Guest Ranch. Located sixteen miles west of Buffalo, Wyoming, 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. Guest cabins, constructed of logs, are scattered across the property and give a rustic, homey feel. The entrance to the ranch is marked by a large timber gate with the ranch’s brands “Fun” and “PR”. That kind of 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 area, 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 (walk, actually) with 6 to 8 other guests. We were led by one of the young, enthusiastic and helpful ranch hands up into deeply wooded Ponderosa pine forests intersected by clear, shallow streams. The air was fresh and the sky a cloudless azure as we walked our steeds through sagebrush and Aspen groves with 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, not 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, Clay and Leah Miller and Kevin and Rebecca McMahon, 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 the Haynor family, 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. Personally, I think most people return because the true value of this incomparable experience cannot be measured.
Dude Ranch – the very words conjure up a warm, cozy feeling with its 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 my perch on the large porch that fronts my cabin.
Now I welcome another sunshiny morning and my Paint Gypsy waits to transport me to….Paradise. Surrounded by such openness and natural beauty at this spectacular ranch – really, what else could they possibly call it?
If You Go:
Paradise Guest Ranch
Paradise Guest Ranch
PO Box 790 Buffalo WY 82834
The Ranch is based on the American Plan which includes lodging, three family-style meals daily and all regular activities that take place during the week.
Paradise Guest Ranch re-opens May 30, 2010. Spring is a great time to visit, a time of transition, awakening, migration and wonder – a season celebrated in living color. There are mild days, chilly nights and spectacular thunderstorms.
All photos: Ramona Swift
by Barbara Barton Sloane
Why oh why Wyoming? Because! From Jackson Hole in the West to Buffalo in the Northeast and everything in between, this is a most beautiful land of staggering natural beauty, offering an authentic Western experience. From its two national parks, Yellowstone and Grand Teton, to rodeos, river rafting, resorts, ranches, scenic woodlands and a wonderland of wildlife, Wyoming is nature experienced up close and very personal.
The Last of the Old West
I visited Wyoming for the first time last year and was delighted to find that the town of Jackson (Jackson Hole is the name of the valley) is the gateway to nearby Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone National Park and the National Elk Refuge. Often described as the “Crown Jewel” of the Rockies, downtown Jackson is dotted with upscale cafes, shops and art galleries and enjoys the glitz and glamour that wealthy travelers and West Coast expats have brought to this former cattle ranching community. But, glitz aside, I visited Jackson Hole’s Old West Days weekend celebration (this year happening on May 28-31) and the event put me smack in the heart of the old romantic west.
A Hole Lotta Fun
Celebrating Jackson Hole’s heritage through art, food, music and dance, the Old West Days event includes country and western music, cowboys spouting poetry, and a Mountain Man Rendezvous where old-time crafts people work with magic of their trades. A highlight of the weekend is the Old West Parade, one of the last and best horse-drawn parades today. Kids will love the stage coach rides and shootout reenactments. In fact, the shootout on Town Square is the longest running shootout in the country. This historic Square has an old Hollywood Western feel with its wooden boardwalks, galleries of western art, old-time candy stores, and good restaurants. To add a bit of silliness, there’s yodeling, clogging, line dancing, pickin’, fiddlin’ and bagpipes too. Clearly, Old West Days provides a memorable fun weekend for the whole, multi-generational family.
In Jackson, besides Old West Days, there’s a lot more hootin’ and hollerin’ to be done. For an authentic chuck wagon supper and western show, visit the Bar J Chuck wagon. Originally a working cattle ranch, the atmosphere here is of time gone by on and of cattle drives of the 1800s. After a hard day in the saddle, there was always an evening of tall tales and music at the chuck wagon. This tradition continues at the Bar-J. A rib-stickin’ old style western meal is followed by songs and stories performed by the Bar-J Wranglers. I found myself caught up in cheery chuck wagon revelry, singing along to “Tumblin’ Tumbleweed” and other western golden oldies.
Another day, I took a scenic float down the Snake River with Sands Wild Water River Trips, a must-do. Although this company offers wild white water rafting, I opted for a slow, leisurely raft float, my chance to sit back and let myself be enthralled by spectacular views of the majestic Teton Mountains surrounding me. Although the Snake is a very fast-moving river, on my float I spotted a red fox and deep in the pines I saw a large black splotch with jutting white spikes that our guide swore was a moose. There were two bald eagles swooping low over the water and hawks and herons were our constant companions as they flew alongside our raft.
Not yet having my fill of wildlife, I visited the National Museum of Wildlife Art, an imaginatively designed sandstone bldg overlooking the National Elk Refuge with a 5000 piece collection of animal art ranging from the fantastical to the utterly realistic and including several etchings by Picasso. There’s also a Children’s Discovery Gallery, free to kids, and judging from the squeals of delight emanating from the room, it’s safe to say the kids were having a blast.
At A-Ok Corral, no gunfights here but cowboy fun? Yes, lots. From the back of my chestnut colored mare (promised to be slow and steady) I had a panoramic view of the heart-stopping Gros Ventre Wilderness and Teton mountain range, the fields ablaze with pink, yellow and purple wildflowers. All of the horses at A-Ok Corral are well-mannered and mountain-wise and there’s a horse here for all riding abilities. After all, they even found one for me.
Ready for Some Pampering
There are a host of world-class, luxury resorts here, and I was lucky enough to visit a few of them. At Amangani, (“peaceful home”), eastern serenity meets Old West Americana meets international glamour. The property clings to the crest of east Gros Ventre Butte, some 7,000 feet above sea level, high above Jackson. Towering floor to ceiling columns of Oklahoma sandstone, walks in pacific redwoods and chairs of rattan and woven cowhide, Amangani has its roots the American West, in the cattle ranches that wind through the valley below and in the mountains that rise up as a backdrop to wide-open plains. Located in a secluded valley, the vibe here is casual and the amenities rival any luxe resort on the planet. There’s a heated infinity pool, a sigh-inducing Asian spa, and a restaurant that produces standout fare. In my mystical, Zen-inspired room, I lit a fire, opened the drapes and languished in the bathtub while gazing at the sky and the Tetons beyond.
The Four Seasons Resort, high in the Teton Mountains and on the doorstep of both national parks, is a magnificent natural hideaway mountain resort experience, an alpine lodge with seductive sophistication plus the typical comfort, care and personal, intuitive service one has come to recognize as distinctly Four Seasons.
Spring Creek Ranch is utterly secluded yet totally accessible with unmatched views, luxury accommodations and a quiet western elegance situated just five miles from the Town Square on a 1,000 acre wildlife refuge. I dined at their award-winning Granary Restaurant in a unique, cliff-side setting facing the Tetons. So mesmerized was I by the awe-inspiring views, I almost forgot to order dinner but glad I didn’t. It was wonderful.
Common to Jackson, the Buteo jamaicensis, Red Tailed Hawk, is easily identified by its mannerisms. They usually leave their perch with slow, distinct wing beats. A shrill, rasping cry is often heard as they fly off to search their prey. No shrill cry for me, just a melancholy sigh as I slowly and sadly leave my perch here in magical, wondrous Wyoming.
by Barbara Barton Sloane
The hills were alive with the sound of….cowbells! As we hiked up the mountain trails of Austria and Liechtenstein, the clang of hundreds of cowbells announced the presence of those sweet creatures long before we saw them. We’d come around a grassy bend and there they’d be, cows dotting the hillside and looking a bit startled as we stood before them, squealing with delight. These are very pretty cows, taupe colored with great, soulful brown eyes. We were told that they graze on the mountains until October, then they’re brought homeward from the high pastures in a celebratory parade, decorated with crowns and garlands of wild flowers, and the prettiest among them is chosen Queen.
When I was invited to take part in this mountain hiking trip, I didn’t hesitate for a moment. You see, I’ve always been fascinated by mountain climbing and though I’m kind of a coward when it comes to extreme sports, simply hiking mountain trails? I’m there!
Finding myself in Lech, a cozy town of 2,500 inhabitants in the Arlberg region of Austria, I felt drawn to the mountains, its hollows, the valley floors and wooded Alpine hills. The landscape simply would not let me rest. So up I went with my group, to walk and walk – and walk - up hills, down dales, around and around till we reached the top. What I came to realize was that to walk is a great form of enlightenment - of one’s surroundings and one’s emotions and feelings. Actually it’s not widely known but ancient Greeks also valued the benefits of walking. Aristotle’s students, for example, kept walking back and forth in their classroom as an exercise in enlightenment. My Alpine hikes proved to work in much the same way.
A FEAST OF FRESH AIR
Lech is one of the most glamorous and expensive resorts in Austria and has been awarded “The Most Beautiful Village in Europe” by the Best of the Alps organization. Hiking here was like entering a different world. I felt somewhat breathless and not because of lack of oxygen or exertion. No, the air is actually a feast for the lungs. Instead, it was the mountain landscape that intoxicated with an explosion of sensual impressions. When the sunlight broke through the cloud cover and I spied an ibex on the rocky ledge opposite and then another and another, well, it happened. Mountain fever of the very best kind.
SMELLING THE ROSES
The next day we traveled to the neighboring village of St. Anton. The sight of majestic mountains, untouched valleys, green slopes, roaring mountain torrents, and the ubiquitous grazing cattle was a comfort for the soul. Not quite as comfortable, however, was this day’s hike. Now we picked up the pace, the hills were higher, the descents steeper. On this hike, I clearly lagged behind the rest of the group. I, a veteran of five NYC Marathons, was (gulp!) last. Heart pounding, gasping for breath, I tried to speed it up, but whether it was the altitude or the fact that I hadn’t tested my endurance in a marathon for several years, I simply could not keep up and the ego-shattering realization hit me that, on all of our upcoming hikes, I was always going to be last.
Once this realization settled in, a most lovely thought came to me. So what? So what if I’m last. I don’t have to prove anything. I knew that the group wouldn’t leave me stranded on this mountain so I decided to proceed at my own comfortable pace. Once I stopped staring longingly at my companions’ backs as they blazed the trail. I began to notice the other-worldly beauty of my surroundings and even stopped to pick some Alpine flora that covered a nearby meadow. I knew that this was ok. In fact, it was better than ok. To be here, now, every hill-climbing, boulder-hopping, root-tripping moment was to be experienced and cherished. Enlightenment? I guess you could call it that.
GOOD THING IN A SMALL PACKAGE
Then, we were on to the neighboring country nestled between Austria and Switzerland: Liechtenstein. It is a principality that in 2006 celebrated 200 years of sovereignty. It is one of the smallest countries in Europe, comprised of just 11 regions and 35,000 inhabitants. Vaduz, its capital, has several fine museums including a huge black cube that is the Kunstmuseum, home to a collection of artwork of international renown, and the Ski Museum where we saw equipment that helped Hanni Wenzel win Olympic gold in 1980. At the National Museum we gleaned a deeper understanding of this country as we viewed exhibits from the Middle Ages to the present.
We hiked to Malbun from the flat tracks along the banks of the Rhine through marked trails with thick pine forests and wild landscapes peppered with rare orchids. At the Galina Falconry Center we lunched on a typical, delicious Tirolean dish called kasknopfle, a kind of spatzle made with flour, butter and cheese. A no-nonsense looking peregrine falcon took off, circled majestically and returned, swooping just a few feet over our heads at 185 mph to land on the glove of the falconer and happily enjoy his very own lunch. There are approximately 150 kilometers of marked trails here, and I was told that the tourist board rewards walkers with bronze, silver or gold pins as they clock up miles on these paths. As I completed my hike down the mountain to Triesenberg, I kept watching for someone to hop out from the trees and pin one on me. No such luck.
Another day we hiked up to Vaduz Castle which is actually a medieval fortress (12th c) and has been the residence of the Princely Family since 1938, not open to the public. The castle is the most prominent landmark of the town, a fairytale pile that can be seen from all vantage points, and certainly one of the few castles where a real prince actually resides. Liechtenstein is a tiny, albeit incredibly beautiful country with gingerbread houses, thick fir forests and wild landscapes displaying over 1,600 species of plants. Skiing here is superb and in summer there are numerous festivals from jazz to film. Liechtenstein - a must-visit destination.
Our last stop – Switzerland. Zurich to be exact. Our plan was to hike Mt. Uetliberg but it was raining so instead we availed ourselves of the myriad other possibilities that Zurich had to offer. Just in case you thought that this city was all about banking and high finance, let me update you. This is now one of Europe’s style capitals, a world city. We found the shopping unbeatable, spent some fun evening hours in a couple of their many clubs, and if it’s high culture one seeks, Zurich’s opera house and art galleries are nothing short of world-class.
QUENCHING YOUR THIRST
An interesting fact: Zurich is a city of fountains, in fact 1,200 of them at last count. We strolled up to the Platzspitz, a park on high with commanding views of the entire city. Here we found a most beautiful old fountain spilling water over its sides to a catch-all basin beneath. We were tired, our throats parched and the cool, splashing water looked mighty good to us just then. But, who ever heard of simply drinking out of an ancient fountain, however enticing it appears. Turns out, we could and we did. Our guide told us that at all of Zurich’s fountains, the water is pure enough to drink.
My favorite activity was just sauntering around Zurich’s Old Town. It brought me quickly face to face with Zurich’s past and present through their architecture, shops and guild houses. I also made a trip to the Masoala Rainforest at the Zurich Zoo. It is an ecosystem hall of 11,000 square meters with hundreds of species of animals and plants. I had a farewell lunch at the adjacent restaurant and enjoyed stunning views of the rainforest just beyond its windows. A nifty way to say farewell.
In thinking back over my exciting Alpine mountain trip, I know one sure thing: I will not say farewell to hiking. I learned a valuable lesson on this trip, and that is Hike to One’s Own Drummer. One’s personal drumbeat is good and true, and will allow you to most definitely Be Here Now.
Great Gear to Make Your Hike Comfortable and Safe
Royal Robbins Columbia
Cardiff Stretch Traveler Pant Globetrekker Stretch Pant and Code 9 SoftShell Jacket
Rei Sportswear Vasque
Sahara Shorts Briza GTX Hiking Boot
Badlands Trinity SoftShell Jacket
Badlands Trinity Pant
If You Go:
Photos: Michael Sloane Photography