Creek, which flows into the North Platte River,
glistens in the distance at the A Bar A Guest Ranch
dreamed since I was a little girl about what it would be
like to live in the Old West.
ride a paint horse, gallop through windswept prairies and
duck into thickly forested mountains on the lookout for
mountain lions. Iíd eat biscuits for breakfast, walk a
horse through a river and cook dinner over a campfire, but
never experience any of the harshness of real life on the
is pretty much how things have unfolded in the five days Iíve
spent at the A Bar A Guest Ranch in southern Wyoming.
A Bar A is the stuff of perfection: Wide-open spaces, a
river for fly fishing and horses to help you explore,
balanced with soft beds, gourmet meals and other people
who feel the same way about nature as you do.
land, nestled along the North Platte River, was first
homesteaded in 1885. Andy Anderson and Edward Hubbell, two
young Princeton graduates who dreamed of raising cattle,
bought it in 1922. They moved west with their wives and
named their new home the A Bar H. When curious friends
from back home began visiting, the idea of a combination
cattle operation and guest ranch was born.
guest ranch was successful right away, but, according to
ranch lore, the two wives grew incompatible. In 1932, the
families decided to flip a silver dollar to determine the
ranchís fate. The Andersons won, and purchased the
Hubbellsí portion. The Hubbells packed up and moved to
Arizona, and the Andersons renamed the ranch the A Bar A.
ranch, now owned by a Denver-based family, has been in
continuous operation for 92 years. Parts of the property
operate as a working cattle ranch. Honestly, not all that
much has changed in the last 50 years or so.
by design," says Justin Howe, who grew up at the
ranch when his parents managed it and has run it alongside
his wife, Lissa, for the last eight years. "Weíre
careful to keep it like it was. If you came 30 years ago,
the feeling remains the same."
my favorite activity: the trail ride to Slimís Draw for
a cookout. We mount up at about 3:30 p.m., slosh our
horses through the sparkling North Platte River, clatter
up a steep ridge and cross miles of meadows waving with
gray-green grass. At Slimís, high on a mesa top, we hand
over our horses and perch on boulders, softly talking as
the sun sets. Steaks and burgers sizzle on a barbecue pit,
and a few musicians strum guitars. When stars start
glittering against a velvet sky, we tug on jackets and
gloves and climb back on our horses for the
hour-and-a-half moonlit ride back.
have been making this same trek for decades, and itís
one Iíll never forget ó that and the moment I catch a
rainbow trout while fly fishing with a very patient guide
in a creek that runs through the property. There are other
moments, too: hiking to the top of Overlook Hill and
gazing back at the ranch far below, watching the wranglers
bring in the horse herd as the sun rises, listening to
bluegrass music in the ranchís historic Round Room,
admiring a bald eagle perched in a tree, and curling up
with a novel borrowed from a cozy cabin that doubles as
the ranch library.
stewards of a lot of peoplesí memories," Howe says.
ó about 100 per week during the four summer months the
ranch is open ó stay in rustic-yet-comfortable houses,
small lodges and cabins on the property. Each is unique;
some date to the 1880s.
the people here ó guests and staff ó who create the
magic. Without TVs or telephones, and with limited
Internet access, the focus is on community and
experiencing life as it unfolds. One morning, the dining
room is abuzz with talk of a moose that has appeared
outside one cabin. Friendships bud on horseback or during
hikes. Thereís a swimming pool, tennis courts, a
shooting range and a nine-hole golf course.
that ability to take a breath ó step away from the
frenetic pace that is modern day," Howe says.
mother, Margie Howe, worked as ranch manager for 27 years.
She puts it a different way: "Thereís a heart here.
Weíve had people say, ĎThis place is the reason my
family is strong and still together.í"
easy to fall under the spell, especially if youíre a
horse lover. Some guests spend all day riding, either with
a guide or, if theyíre skilled enough, on their own ó
with a two-way radio in hand in case of emergency. This
isnít the tail-to-nose procession of hard-worn horses
the words "dude ranch" might conjure ó itís
free rein to roam hundreds of miles of trails over tens of
thousands of acres.
has that feel of being very much of a ranch, so you get a
feeling for the beauty of the cowboy experience and the
Old West," says Garrett Dee, 51, an attorney from
Chicago who worked here as a wrangler in 1987 and has
returned with her husband for a visit. "It gets into
the very core of who you are. As far as you can hike or
ride or drive, thereís nothing but spectacular vistas.
Itís so wonderfully, breathtakingly beautiful."
don waders and head to the river or creek, where they cast
for rainbow or brown trout, reveling in the bigness of the
place and the quiet of the land as much as the quest to
catch a fish.
time I come out I find myself in a place where you canít
see any sign of human beings ó no jet contrails, no
fences," says photographer and bluegrass musician
Will McIntyre, who first came in 2002. Since then, he and
his wife have published a coffee table book about the A
Bar A and its two sister ranches.
STORY CAN END HERE)
find myself at one of those remote places on my last full
day at the ranch, desperately trying to singe the image
into my subconscious. We struck out on horseback after
breakfast, sandwiches and apples tucked into our
saddlebags and a sense of adventure in our hearts. At the
top of a ridge, I look in all directions and canít see a
road, a car, a building or any other sign of development.
Across the valley, aspens shimmer in gold and orange.
speaks to me here," says Melanie Glenn, 57. She and
her husband, Lyles, 58, started coming here 20 years ago
with their two daughters. Lyles still remembers leaving
the ranch that first time.
I looked in the backseat, I saw the 4-year-old and
7-year-old were weeping," he says. "Then I
looked to my right ó and so was my wife."
hard to wrap up a stay at the A Bar A. At home in Austin,
I feel constantly twitchy from the stresses of life in the
city. Out here, I can breath more deeply and soak in the
passing minutes more attentively.
just the feeling that ranch manager Lissa Howe hopes
lingers after her guests leave. "I hope they take
with them the sense that the land is expansive, options
are unlimited and the really secure feeling of family and
friends and community you experience when youíre
here," she says.
know I have.
also reconnected with that little girl who dreamed of
galloping a horse through the Old West.