Originally posted June 12th, 2012 by Nicola Cornwell 

boots and hat, colorado dude ranch


We had not been long at Black Mountain Ranch high in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado when Mikey made one of his rare but significant insightful observations. “How come these guys can wear high heels, big hats and frilly leather tassels and still look manly? If I wore this gear in the streets of Soho a bloke in a construction hat, one in a police outfit and another with Indian feather headgear would jump out and we’d all start singing YMCA!”

And it’s true, looking around at the wranglers with their Stetsons, boots, and chinks (a version of chaps) the last thing you would think they looked was camp. Somehow here on a real ranch this dressing all seems perfectly normal. I thought about it some more and figured maybe it’s a situational thing. You know, in the same way that Ouzo tastes like nectar of the gods when you are drinking it under blue skies on the Greek Islands, but then when you try it back at home on a grey rainy day and it tastes rancid. It’s a sort of ‘when in Rome’ thing. Feeling the moment, even though he was only at the ranch for two days, Mikey bought a big hat, borrowed some high heels and I just managed to stop him strapping on some chinks…

Black Mountain Ranch is a family affair. Owned by brothers Nowell and Brice May, the majority of their immediate family all work there. If they were a restaurant Nowell would be the Maitre d’ and Brice would be the head chef working out back. They run Texas Longhorn Cattle (not good eating but produce excellent steers for the pro roping circuit) and for four months in the summer they operate as a dude ranch. ‘Dude’ being the colloquial term for a city slicker paying guest. I’d found it on the internet and chose it amongst the many others for the following reasons:

  1. They owned all their horses
  2. It was a real working ranch
  3. It was small, max 32 guests
  4. It had its own saloon and liquor license (yes some ranches are dry!)
  5. Cell phones don’t work, there is no TV, but there is wifi
  6. It had adults only weeks (which coincided with my intended dates and  they were not flustered at all when I said I wanted to bring Vera and Banksy.

They also offer other activities such as white water rafting and shooting which didn’t really bother me but is a plus for some other people trying to figure out which ranch to go to. But I liked the fact that they said riding was really their thing. So I signed up for three weeks.

Mikey left after two days to go back to England as part of the every six months compulsory exit requirement of his US tourist visa, but not before he got some riding in (resplendent in his new big hat) on Brutus, a big bay gentle giant. The high ratio of wranglers to guests means that there is never more than four of you out on a ride and you really can do what you want with regards to where you ride, for how long and how fast. Mikey and I went out with Anna the overly capable head wrangler. Having been a lifelong rider I had no problems being back in the saddle but poor Mikey was sore in places he didn’t know existed prior to gettng on a horse!

Once he left I had a chance to get to know the other guests on Week One (the opening week of the season) better. It was a real mixed bag of ages and backgrounds including an English father and son combo, an American mother and daughter, a couple of single ladies, a pair of lawyers and some slow talking brothers from Texas.  It wasn’t long though before we all bonded over a few (OK quite a few)drinks in the saloon. Alcohol has a wonderful way of breaking down social inhibitions!

We went on a dinner ride up to a lake where the fat trout were still happy to bite on a lure and Nowell cooked us dinner over an open fire. Another day involved a long four hour ride up to the top of Black Mountain (approx 10,500 ft high) which afforded amazing views of the valleys below before heading to an overnight pack camp where Anna sang by the campfire, Cyndy (Brice’s wife) made great burritos and told terrible jokes and Chad (another wrangler) decked out in a poncho and an even larger hat than usual plied us with fantastic margaritas before we staggered to our tented accomodations for the night. In between there were rafting trips, shooting lessons (I didn’t try, guns scare me, but the Texas boys were unsurprisngly good), more rides and plenty of action in the evening at the saloon bar. One memorable night detriorating into a facsimilie of a scene from the movie Coyote Ugly with dancing on the bar. It’s a difficult and fine line to maintain but the close relationship between the guests and the wranglers who eat and drink with you means that you really do feel like part of a big family. Though I probably could have done without seeing Nowell with too many Jamieson’s whiskey shots in him dancing with Victoria  to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. As a dancer he makes a great cowboy….

At the end of the week we watched the May men and some pals do some steer roping in the arena and then went on a cattle drive to get the mamas and their new babies into the arena to tag any newbies and administer medicine to the weak ones. This involved walking around and trying to rope the babies which was left for us new cowboys to do. Needless to say despite prior instruction and practice on fake wooden calves we were all pretty hopeless at it. Once finally done we had to then herd them back up to the pasture. It was nice to feel we were contributing to ranch life even if the professionals could have have it all done in less than half the time and half the people.

All too suddenly the week was over. I had taken loads of photos and there was much copying and sharing of my pix on the last night as everybody bid farewell to their new friends. As the only one staying on for more it occurred to me that I would have to do the meet, greet and life story all over again when the new folks arrived. Discussing this with Dominic over way too many Jack and cokes, he came up with a solution… (Read the rest of the story on her blog, The Pikey Project).


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