Tuesday, August 22, 2006
2005, Seven day horseback in Colorado (translation)
Seven day horseback in Colorado
I would a different vacation, with little time on tap, and alone. An active thing, planned but not too much, not a mass touring, no shops or tv. Accidentally I find in a comics the idea, seek the web, select, resolve and go.
The result ? Unbelievable, wonderful, a lot better than I expected, a considerable experience (for me, I haven’t your twenty years!). I have been in a “dude ranch”, the Laramie River Dude Ranch.
It is in Colorado, near the city of Laramie, Wyoming: the state boundary is near there, and there is also the State University. It stays on a table land 2400 meters high, along the Laramie river, in the earth of the legendary far west.
They rise horses (72) and accommodate groups of not over 25 persons from April to September. Hospitality is extraordinary, they care a lot to a homely feeling, hospitable and nice, embroiling guests. Amongst the available activities I appreciated the riding. Cuisine was traditional and of very high level. Personnel were highly professional.
From the ranch, by mail they sent me a list of needful things to bring (jeans and layer clothes, nights are cold), the remainder is not useful, or they take care of it (boots and hat). And a detailed questionnaire to know my expectations and mostly my horse experience (nothing). I send my credit card info by fax (not by mail) for the advance payment and they send me the receipt at once. Good sign. By internet I reserve also the hotel in Laramie, the Motel 6, excellent and cheap, but without the shuttle for the airport – you’d better reserve ahead another hotel with shuttle, or rent a car in Denver. Otherwise phone to the taxi and deal with it.
I leave on Friday morning from Bologna, stop in Monaco and Washington, land in Denver. At ten in the night of Friday a little twin engined with two rows of seats that resembles a bus, two highly professional pilots, deposits me and other eight persons – two already with boots and cowboy hats – in the little and very effective airport in Laramie. We are already in the mood: no traffic, everything simple, wide and efficient, large roads.
While I try to seek a taxi – where can I find one at this time? – one of the passenger offers me a passage with his pick-up for the 10 km to the hotel. From the ranch they will come to pick me up on Sunday at 13 am – in the ranches you stay a week or half -. On Saturday I visit the city. Beautiful, 25.000 inhabitants plus students, wood cottages in the suburbs, and brick houses in center.
Characteristic cafes, a western one surely not artificial, a western stuff store where I buy the wrangler jeans that the ranch recommended to ride (and is true) and a strong shirt long sleeve. Again on their recommendations I had brought from home some bike pants, that turned out to be miraculous. Low prices, unusual courtesy and a professionalism unknown in Italy. I wander in the city, large cars and pick-ups, I find few people, nice and warm. A lot of quality libraries, also of used books, all tidy and well kept. People don’t look much rich, but they all seem to work, and walk with no hurry.
I reach the Wyoming University campus, that is here, another world. Among trees, green meadows and squirrels there arise big buildings in orange stones. No inscriptions, no wastepaper, I enter and go where I want, nobody disturbs me. I reach the student centre, managed by students. It looks like a huge sitting room, with cafe, opened study area, a fabulous shop and a library to dream. I make use of one of the many free internet posts to mail home. I visit also the little geology museum, full of dinosaurs, a wonder.
Of course I visit the local fire-fighters, that welcome me as usually (I am also a fireman).
On Sunday at 14, with a ranch car, a young man come to pick me up: Andrew, with just dusted clothes, very pleasant. In an hour he carry me to the ranch along a road, not asphalted but in very good state, that rise to the table land where the Laramie river flow, and I see the pastures. I see also some ranches. He says that one rises steers, another rises buffalos. Sky is dark blue, the wind strong, dry and fragrant of aromatic plants. Everywhere the brushy prairie, in the distance the peaks of red mountains covered of snow and woods.
On the road it passes a pick-up every two hours on the average. It looks a lot like Sardinia. We talk of many things, he help me to understand well the language, I am not used to spoken English. He is assigned to a lot of little works. He take me to a group of fine buildings, with fences and barns. He brings my bag and lead me in an office where a girl, Becky, welcome me, give me a folder with the week plan, then shows me my room with bathroom (perfect, clean, also the bath is ornate with wood, on the furniture a flower and a pot with fresh cookies!). Then she show me the others things.
She says I can eat what I want and when, go everywhere except, please, the kitchen and main stable. I have to remember to close the fences, otherwise animals could make damages. There are wonderful cookies every day, fruits and beverages (you have to bring by yourself only alcoholics). She shows me the sheet with the activity to select for tomorrow. I sign for the base ride, I never saw a horse, but want to try, why not?
In the worst case, I could make a lot of hikes, woods and red mountains and the river are there outside. The place is wonderful, a main lodge recently renewed, built in wood, with outer porch with tables and chairs, and inside it is ornate with pictures and horse statues. Outside there are cottages, too, for families. Everywhere book shelves. A large ancient fireplace in the public living room.
The dining room has four large tables and wide panes on the pasture and the river that flows near twenty meters. The other guests arrives, all americans or english, all of them friendly, warm and very well mannered. No italians, never seen one. Very well. Again: here nobody smokes, no tv, no radio, nobody shows off or let rings cellular phone (for who doesn’t know, out of Italy they are regarded as a rudeness).
At 17 in a barn Krista, the hostess, set the saddles for who want to ride; I get also boots and a hat (needful). At 18 they dish snacks and at 19 the bell calls for supper. Wonderful: a one dish with a lot of food, side dish and a fabulous dessert). Every day three meals always different. After, some talks, tea, coffee and cookies, but I go to bed, have the time zone to handle. Outside the moon and starry sky, clear: an incredible silence, I hear hardly the river.
Monday morning at 6 I am awake, near the window of my room there are horses that graze and look at me, curious and beautiful with the rising sun that frames their manes.
I go out for a walk along the crystal-like river. Ground is frozen, sky is blue, in the silence only the sound of hoofs, crows and magpies that flutter everywhere. At 8.30 I am at the table for breakfast (american style) with other guests, and at 9 a first lesson begins for who want to ride near the corral. In 15 minutes the head wrangler, Shawn, explains us the essential about horses, behavior and some orders to do.
Then he calls us by name, one by one, for the immediate practice to do in the corral. He holds the reins of the horse he selected for me. After the introduction (how do I approach a horse?) I mount and in some way we go to try the basic commands: forward, stop, on the right, on the left. There is also the reverse! Wow, it works! The animal – a beautiful red and grey male with a long mane – is cooperative and docile, patiently tolerates me. With some recommendations and adjusting we all take off for a stroll in the pastures, walking in a row behind the wrangler in charge, a girl. The group is intentionally small, we are only four.
Oddly all goes well, the horse already knows what to do, and I do what he says, I sit really comfortable and slowly I relax and enjoy the landscape. I understand that to not suffer the bumps I have to let my basin move in synch with the horse moves, and also uphill and downhill, and so on.
He is very perceptive to every smallest reins move, and I feel that he is examining me. Interesting. After a calm stroll of a couple of hours, the wrangler brings us back to the corral and let us dismount, one by one, and asks our sensations, feelings and possible problems.
While going to my room to change my clothes, I talk with the other guests and it seem that they all are experienced; I am the only real novice. Now I also walk strange, because the boots with heels and the stiffen legs, not mentioning some weird feelings in the back and butt. But everything will be normal at the end of the week.
In the afternoon is the same, and on Tuesday we go to recover some steers in a pasture to do a crew exercise/game in the corral! The game consists in a team work to separate three steers from the herd and lead them in another little fence. Easy to say, but not to make.
It is a very good practice to get confidence with the horse, the steers drive us mad, but finally we make it. Then they teach us trotting, and here some problems arise, a pain in back and butt. Lucky me, today I have the bike pants on, padded where it is useful.
To make it short, Wednesday I canter down in the prairie, I have understood how to move to get in synch with the horse moves (he too is fine, he feels everything) and, also with some bruises, back pain and some aching, I realize that I like the thing a lot, really I take delight of it, I didn’t expected such a feeling.
The horse power is impressive, you feel it when it passes through your body, not mentioning his joy to run. Indescribable, and now I understand a lot of other things. I also realize, with astonishment, that the animal communicate not verbally with me in a strong way; later some unexpected things will happen to me (they are private, sorry, but later at home I found that this is known and there are many papers about).
Horses are really beautiful, they are really like the ones in cowboy‘s movies. They are very perceptive, understand on the fly and carefully examine you, trying to make you do what they want, so you have to reach an agreement about who is in charge, without exceeding.
I am very amazed by the cleanness, the good smell and the tranquillity of these animals, maybe because they grow almost free in these boundless prairies, and not indoor like ours, where they end to be nervous and stinking.
Our clothing? They recommended me Wrangler jeans “cowboy cut”, large – the best to ride – , a shirt with long sleeves and a spare jacket, boots with heels and large hat, lipstick, sun oil, insect repellent (not useful in September).
They provided a personal water bottle – you have to drink a lot, climate is dry – and if you need something, a helmet or gloves, they provide. I am the one always in shirt only, all others seem to feel cold, maybe they live in California, who knows.
We ride in really fine and wild places, the wavy prairie perfumes of aromatic grass and bushes, air is dry and fresh, sun hit and the hat helps.
We cross rivers with clear water, climb hills and cross woods of pines and aspens, along trails also rather steep and rough, but horses are safe and calm, so I too am easy. Everywhere animals, rabbits, antelope herds, deer, birds of every kind, eagle and hawks.
Only Indians are absent.
Well, there is Clay, the wrangler with a feather on his hat, who tells us of his Cherokee great grandfather, but by this time…
Wranglers discreetly watch over us, and take turns to lead us around and give counsels. They are all boys and girls, young and experienced, students who make a summer work. They tell us about their life and ask for ours, always warm and available.
They work hard all the day, but always seem to have fun with us. And I believe this, because on Thursday Clay forgets that it is his free day. Days go by in fine way with always different trails and canters in these unbounded prairies, nearby the ranch. We spend hours together the wranglers and the two owners, Bill and Krista, who often are with us, for dinner and lunch, eat with us and often dish out at the tables. And with other guests, on the porches and after dinner, to play or listen music or the conferences with slides by the naturalist.
I asked about grooming, and a wrangler brought me in a barn to show me how to do, letting me try to brush a horse. Is a beautiful white mare, she explain me that is very old and retired, so they take care and feed her with a special diet for the few years left. If you want you can also saddle the horse by yourself, have to ask.
There is also a lesson on horse behaviour, interesting. Every day is an adventure and new things to discover. Also fishermen are satisfied and so other guest who prefer hike or read a book on the rocking chair, or get around for photos. Heaven.
A lot of little bothering diseases of mine, that my friends anticipated that had to get worse, on the contrary have disappeared. Maybe is water, maybe altitude, or the clean air? By night the silence is broken only by coyotes chorus or by the howl of a lonely elk. In the early morning only the remote flowing of the river and the hoofs or whinnies of horses playing in the pasture.
On Thursday is possible to join a cattle ride with about 300 steers that a neighbour has to move, is an all day ride and you have to take control of animals. Maybe for me is a little too early, also if very amusing. On Friday is scheduled an all day ride in the adjacent national park, with lunch on the spot.
The day is wonderful, the sceneries like postal cards, we all go back at 19, tired but happy. By now my pains have vanished.
The last night, Saturday, is full moon, and we stand outdoors around a little campfire roasting marshmallows (I didn’t like much, but is a tradition). The naturalist tells and plays – properly – cowboy and gunman local stories. By this time we play safely each other, guests and wranglers. We had also other activities, but for shortness I skip them here, and I hadn’t the time to join some others.
On Sunday I wave off everybody, with strong and deep sadness, in a special manner for my horse. A guest gives me a passage to Denver, where I’ll catch the fly to go home and to my work desk.
Beautiful memories this time, really. Next year I would come back for the advanced level, or something like. To canter in the pasture, here, is a too powerful experience. And bear in mind that I never cared much of western stuff.
It is also possible to join in some week horseback trails with tent in the great national parks in USA or Canada, to see wolves or bears, who know; landscapes in web films are unbelievable. If you are interested there are also week trails to follow the cattle moving from a state to other (remember the movie “City slickers”?).
Otherwise you can go in July to the great western show in Cheyenne, that lasts a week, with every conceivable specialty, and I believe that it isn’t a fake for tourists. Have a look by yourself, in Italy we surely can’t find things such those. And I guarantee that over there cattle doesn’t stink, go and find why…
I realize, reading it now, that it is not quite accurate, and that there are also some errors (names, numbers, days), that I fixed in the translation. Please consider that I have not understood and don’t remember exactly everything, and I don’t know a lot of things.
Moreover I wrote it for Italian readers, that don’t know and can’t understand a lot of things. But I don’t think there are problems, for the general purpose and the readers of this text.
I left off a final part about what dude and working ranch are.