When I was a little ten year old rag-a-muffin of a girl my parents took my two sisters and I on a trip to Colorado. Part of the trip included a stay at The C Lazy U Guest Ranch & Resort, and this is where I fell in love with Colorado and little cowboys, swearing that one day I would grow up, move to Colorado and get me my own cowboy. And that’s exactly what I did, or almost exactly. When our youngest boy was ten I returned to the ranch to experience the ranch all over again through his eyes.
The Night Before
“Giddyonup yourselves to bed,” Baddy said to the boys, a dart from a toy gun whizzing by his head. We were hoping to have some alone time before I took off in the morning for a week long trip around Colorado, just me and four boys under the age of twelve.
The boys with visions of Western films flashing through their heads were too excited to go to bed. “I hate horses,” Brevitt our oldest son exclaimed, running by me to escape his brother Axel who was in hot pursuit for retribution. Brevitt often worried about new things he had never experienced before. When I took him aside later to talk about his anxiety a litany of questions ensued; “Are the wranglers going to line us up and pace back and forth with their cowboy hats on, spitting chew and telling us the rules, like in the army? Do they hold your horse by the reigns the entire time you are on it? Do we have to actually ride the horse?”
I also had anxieties. What was I doing taking four boys on a trip throughout Colorado? Weren’t our best memories best left as memories? If I gave it too much thought I would surely have changed my mind, but I stayed the course and we took off the next morning.
Driving to the ranch nothing looked familiar, but as we gained elevation and turned down the long dirt road to the ninety-year-old dude ranch the flood gates flew open and the memories came rushing back and I grew anxious to fetch me a horse and venture out into the high alpine meadows laced with Sage and lavender Lupine.
Approaching three men, their cowboy hats touching as they laughed together in some western secret, I opened the window to “Vini-Man” seeking directions to our cabin. They nodded friendly hellos and showed us the way.
As I unloaded the car the boys raced down to check out the scene. It was my first quiet moment after the long drive and I sat down in a wooden chair outside the cabin to breathe in the crisp, cool air and take in the scene. It was difficult at first for me to shake that my memory was so different from what I was viewing now. The picture I had painted in my mind all of these years had taken on a life of its own and although everything remained just where I had left it, a quiet oasis of time untouched, my memories were of a different vessel. Back then, my sisters and I also raced around, roaming from cabin to corral to grand lodge, but this all seemed so different, so much more spread out. I needed to get in it, to feel it again.
So accustomed to having the kids attached to me I was amazed to find them happily integrated into the kid program, without my having to do a thing. The counselors now wore the Velcro and so I strolled over to the guest ranch for orientation.
The scene was energetic with guests mingling and chatting as if they were all long time friends. The orientation began and we were introduced to the head wrangler who had been at the ranch since my last visit in the 70’s. Known for his ability to successfully match the guests to the 165+ well-trained and groomed horses on site, the wrangler compared riding horses to riding a bicycle, “You need to put life into it before you can guide it,” he said. Mountain biking was something I could definitely relate to.
The Wrangler approached each guest to personally assess our riding skills and determine which horse to assign us. I mentioned that I was at least thirty years dusty, but nevertheless asked if I could have the full experience and join the fast group. I was chomping at the bit to gallop through the fields as I had as a child. In the end, I was glad that he kept me within my skill level.
At dinner I walked into the handsome log dining room with trepidation, I wasn’t used to being all on my own. Who would I sit with? Standing there in the doorway looking for an open seat a nice looking man stood next to me, also alone. We made our way together to a table with two open spots. His name was Jake and he was there with his four children on their annual trip to the ranch together. I discovered that he was a member of the fast group I so badly wanted to ride with but he suggested I start off slowly. Sitting on my other side was a woman who had traveled solo from Miami, a true adventurer. As I spoke with her I grew more curious. She had a slight twitch when she spoke and the questions she asked had me thinking she was breaking away from a sheltered, possibly difficult past, but I could tell that the answers may never come.
The next morning we fueled up and said hello to all of our new friends, already it felt like one big family. Venturing down to the coral in the crisp cool mountain air wafts of memories surfaced only to disappear again with the wind. The counselors wrangled the children and the adults all gathered together to meet our horses.
So caught up in the adventure of the story, I was not prepared to get on top of a large beast with a mind of its own. Mounting up I said howdy to my speckled white horse, Lady. Her ears twitched back and I puffed up my chest to let her know who was boss.
This was going to be awesome, riding in the great outdoors all day, the breathtaking views of the Continental Divide and Indian Peaks Wilderness looming in the near distance, no little bodies interrupting my train of thought, which at the moment was delivering a whole lot of monkey chatter to my brain as the horses slowly headed up the trail, “This is great….isn’t this great?” Big sigh as my eyes scanned for Jake galloping through the fields.
Climbing higher into the mountains I began to relax letting the scenery calm my soul. Watching the other riders I tested out my horsemanship. Lady was very responsive, a bit less than an expensive car. I thought about the wrangler’s words and gave her a kick and a Yawww and she took off. “This is how we do it,” I sang to myself, very quietly.
Returning back to the ranch for the afternoon siesta I scanned the crowd in search for Jake. I wanted to know how his day of galloping was. I spotted him sitting at a table with his riding group and I strolled over.
A handsome woman welcomed me in, think Linda Carter in a Western. It was obvious that she was the ringleader of the tightly knit group. Let’s just say her name was Linda to keep things simple.
I envied Linda and her confidence. I also admired her dark hair framing an intelligent face and her sexy western-wear. With tight fitting jeans and Ostrich skin cowboy boots complimenting a cream colored silk shirt with delicate gold sequins trailing down her plunging neckline, she looked born to ride. As we spoke she expressed her desire to use her horsemanship skills on the greener horses that had not been ridden very much since the previous summer. My envy grew stronger.
“Barn sour” is what they called it, which I had experienced one ride when a horse stubbornly refused to leave the road to go off on a trail. I piped up to my wrangler, “Ummm, I wouldn’t mind a bit if you traded him in for something more agreeable.” I was no Linda with a mission to break that lazy mindset.
Later that day word spread like wildfire that Linda had been thrown by her horse. When I asked her if she was okay she seemed stirred but not shaken. “You’re resilient,” I said. “No, just relentless,” she returned swaggering away to get back on her horse, her Ostrich boots kicking up dirt.
The next day when riding out on the trail I saw horses racing through the field and felt that desire again to be where the grass was greener. That was until I noticed that the horses were missing their riders. When pointing it out to the group we all had the same thought, Linda.
Pushing the envelope, Linda had been thrown again. This time she went in for stitches. “If people request a horse that has not yet been broken in for the summer, we expect them to be established riders,” said a wrangler when I asked what was going on. In true dude ranch style the pampering was there if you wanted it, as were the challenges.
Getting the big Whoa Nelly for wanting to push it before I was ready, I instead took a cattle-herding clinic. Our wrangler, Ronnie reminded us that we were doing this for the fun of it. “Howz about you go first,” he said, tipping his hat down in my direction. “Bring me two calves out of the pen.” Lady was ready and we moved in. Yeeehawww. My dyslexic directions confused her at first, but we figured it out and it was exhilarating.
Everyday I fell deeper into the luxury of enjoying “me” time, looking forward to the evenings where the adults gathered around at the ranch house drinking wine paired with delicious appetizers as the kids parallel played in the pool with their beloved counselors, drinking an un-monitored number of shakes. Mutual heaven!
I often brought my laptop to write so guests could approach me to share their multi-generational C Lazy U stories. These people had been coming here for years. One investment banker kept appearing by my side and then disappearing after asking with a mischievous smile and a wink if I wanted to hear a really great story. He never did tell me that story and I was certain that there was a lot I was missing, but I was there to experience the story, not to chase it.
On our last morning at the ranch, waking early to write I heard the sound of horses outside our cabin. It was the morning Jingle, where the horses were herded back to the stables after a night spent in the lush green pastures. Grabbing my camera I snapped pictures trying to capture the hauntingly beautiful scene of horses galloping by, leaving nothing but a trail of dust settling in the early sun’s rays.
I feel so fortunate to have been able to instill my first Colorado experience with my little Aspen boys and although they didn’t need a trip to a Dude Ranch to discover their love for Colorado, they agreed that C Lazy U Ranch indeed was, “Miles above ordinary,” as described on the C Lazy U website. I can attest this to be true, both then and now, and I am thankful for the four families who own the ranch for ensuring that this uniquely western experience that many of us fall in love with as children, stays steadfast and true to our memories and will live on for generations to come.
*A version of this story was published in Destinations Travel Magazine
** Disclaimer: Although we received complimentary meals and a room for this review, our opinions are our own.