ESCAPE TO PARADISE
Paradise Ranch, Buffalo Wyoming
by Barbara Barton Sloane
It’s not often when heart and place come together but when they do it’s magic. This irresistible force of sensation meets location happened to me at the Paradise Guest Ranch. Located sixteen miles west of Buffalo, Wyoming, at an elevation of 7,500 feet, all 157 acres are 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 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 day-long 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. They custom fit each guest with the horse that perfectly matches their 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 their 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.
Morn at Big Horn
The most enjoyable time each day was my morning ride (walk, actually) with 6 to 8 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.
A Starry Awakening
We were told that a fun experience is 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’ve 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!
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’s 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, back to the Saloon where a fire is blazing, musicians are playing western tunes and there’s fun afoot, be it an amateur talent show or some raucous square dancing.
For over 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 for hiking among wildflowers and meadowlarks. I chatted with the Haynor family, celebrating their 31st year at the ranch, and was told that for them visiting the ranch is not just a “vacation” but more like returning to family. Personally, I think most people return because the true value of this incomparable experience cannot be measured.
Dude Ranch – the very words conjure up a warm, cozy feeling with its animals, silvered sage brush, quick moving streams, and the heavy green of alfalfa. In twilight there’s a clear sharpness of the mountain peaks as they shimmer in the purple light - best viewed from my perch on the large porch that fronts my cabin.
Now I welcome another sunshiny morning and my Paint Gypsy waits to transport me to….Paradise. Surrounded by such openness and natural beauty at this spectacular ranch – really, what else could they possibly call it?
If You Go:
Paradise Guest Ranch
Paradise Guest Ranch
PO Box 790 Buffalo WY 82834
The Ranch is based on the American Plan which includes lodging, three family-style meals daily and all regular activities that take place during the week.
Paradise Guest Ranch re-opened this May 30, 2010 and will close in early autumn. Spring is a great time to visit, a time of transition, awakening, migration and wonder – a season celebrated in living color. There are mild days, chilly nights and spectacular thunderstorms.
All photos: Ramona Swift