Another day in paradise

Wanderer Barbara Barton Sloane spends time under starry morns and sharp twilights amid the equine and mountainous splendors of Wyoming’s Paradise Ranch.

It’s not often that heart and place come together, but when they do it’s magic.  The irresistible force of “sensation meets location” happened to me at the Paradise Guest Ranch.  Located 16 miles west of Buffalo, Wyoming, at an elevation of 7,500 feet, the 157-acre ranch is 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 it 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 daylong 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. It custom-fits each guest with the horse that perfectly matches his 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 the 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.

Starry morn

We were told that a fun experience was 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 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.

The most enjoyable time each day was my morning ride (walk, actually) with six to eight 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.

Evening revelry

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 was 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, it was back to the saloon where a fire was blazing, musicians were playing western tunes and there was fun afoot, be it an amateur talent show or some raucous square dancing.

For more than 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 hiking among wildflowers and meadowlarks. I chatted with a family celebrating their 31st year at the ranch and was told that for them visiting the ranch was not just a “vacation” but more like returning to family.  Personally, I think another lure is this completely incomparable experience. And, at this particular moment in our lives, I’d venture to say that Wyoming’s crisp, clean, healthy air is simply an invitation that’s hard to resist.

Dude ranch — the very words conjure up a warm, cozy feeling with its animals, silvered sagebrush, quick moving streams and the heavy green of alfalfa. In twilight there was a sharp clarity of the mountain peaks as they shimmer in the purple light — best viewed from my perch on the large porch that fronted my cabin.

Now I welcomed another sunshiny morning and my Paint Gypsy waited to transport me to…paradise.  Surrounded by such openness and natural beauty at this spectacular ranch — really, what else could you possibly call it?

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