This ain't no Dude Ranch

The TX Ranch

is situated in 30,000 acres of wild scenery located on the Montana-Wyoming border. You are in the middle of nowhere; 4G forget it, Wifi dream on! Leave your phone and tablet at home, they will not be needed here.

If you are looking for an easy ride with the luxuries of modern life then look elsewhere. The TX Ranch is going back to basics but don’t let that put you off.

Don’t expect a heated log cabin with a hot tub, en-suite, hot and cold running water or room service. Your abode for the week is a spacious canvas tent with two cots. You may be wondering what a cot is exactly, it’s a metal bed frame with a thin mattress. The tents are dotted around the campsite so hopefully you won’t hear any of your fellow guests snoring.

If you are going early or late in the season, then heating is provided by a wood burning stove. If you take metal drinks canisters you can warm up the water on the stove, pour it into the canisters and then put them into your socks to make a hot water bottle, plus you have warm socks for wonder the morning. Wood for the stove is collected by you from the surrounding area.

Showers are wooden cubicles for privacy where you can hang your solar shower, the kind you buy in outdoor stores. You leave your solar shower laying in the sun and hope that it’s warmed up enough for a nice warm shower when you get back from your ride. Your toilet is a couple of wooden huts placed over a hole in the ground, toilet paper is provided.

At the TX Ranch this is all part of the adventure, your own adventure will depend on what time of year you go. During the season jobs on the ranch will vary, remember this is still a true working ranch. You could

be driving cattle between winter and summer grazing, branding calves, moving camps or any of the jobs needed to keep the ranch running smoothly.

I went in October 2008, it was the last week of that season that the ranch was open to guests. Our job during the week was to gather 100 head of cattle and their calves from the summer grazing, which is higher up in the mountains, and move them to the farm lower down closer to town.

The cattle were around three hours ride up the mountain from our camp, Lone Wolf. Our mission was to move the cattle down to Lone Wolf. Next, we had to sort them, i.e. make sure we hadn’t picked up any strays from neighbouring ranches along the way, then continue down the mountain to the main ranch where the calves would be weaned over winter.

The moment that sticks in my mind the most, happened early on the second day but I’ll need to talk about day one a little first. The first day started with eight hours in the saddle; we rode out to find the herd, then we rounded them up from the vast summer grazing area, and then took them back to Lone Wolf.

The ride out went to schedule but collecting the cattle took some time, they were spread out pretty far. Hip, the owner, sent us off in groups to go find the cattle (there were no more detailed instructions). Our group was just me and the wife (Theresa).

When Hip left us to check on the groups he said, “head up that hill and then bring them back to the gate down there,” pointing to a gate now already quite far away. “OK boss we say,” all eager. So we head off to find our cows, we found them at the top of a hill near a ridge or “cliff edge” as my wife Theresa would describe it.

To get them away from the cliff edge we would have to ride around them, close to the edge, and move them in. This was decisively delegated to me.

Great, we have our cow’s, time to head back. At this point we realise that neither of us had been paying attention to where we had come from and now the gate was nowhere in sight. The view while stunning from our vista didn’t help us much. After some debate and mild panic about the correct direction, we headed back and thankfully found the gate and the other groups.

Having joined up with the others we began the long ride back to Lone Wolf with the whole herd. By this time though we were running out of daylight, so a little over halfway back the decision was made to leave the cattle and return for them in the morning. Once they were through a gate to prevent them from wondering back to where we found them, we headed back to Lone Wolf.

We made it back just as it started to get dark. In the morning of day 2 after a hearty breakfast, we headed back to where we had left the herd the night before. The herd had dispersed, not one solitary cow had been kind enough to stay where we had left them. We were sent off in groups again, this time there were 3 of us, to find them and bring them back so we could continue the drive.

Our small group rode up a ridge and came to a large grass plateau about the size of a football pitch; we were greeted with the sight of six cows grazing on the long grass. I liked these odds, three riders vs six cows. Just then one of the cows let out a long deep mooooo! To which, slowly but surely, one-by-one about 50 cows with calves stood up from their resting place in the long grass. We had become seriously out numbered. We had found half the missing heard! After organising ourselves and rounding up the 50 strong herd we headed down the ridge to the rendezvous point. It was like a movie cliché, a big cloud of dust kicked up by the cows, closely followed by three rookie wranglers (holiday makers); I will confess we were a little smug.

Onto day 3, by now we are all suffering from too many hours in the saddle and were a little sore in places. In the morning we sorted the cows, making sure that cows and calves were paired and that they were all correctly tagged before moving on. Hip and his daughter would separate the pairs and our job was to get them through the gate, not easy when they want to return to the main herd.

The following day (4) we continued on the journey. Guests that had been on the drive before (many come year after year) were unusually coy about what was in store for that day, until there was no turning back that is. That afternoon involved taking the cows, calves and horses down a very steep incline; sadly we didn’t get any pictures to prove we did it! The horses knew what to do and we let them find their own way down trying not to interfere in anyway. We left the cows for the night at another camp used by the TX, Deadman Camp.

Day 5 we continued the drive from Deadman towards town, it was a long slow day in the saddle but with scenery that has to be seen to be believed.

On the last day, Theresa gave in to the cold that she had been harbouring and we missed the last day’s ride.

We stayed at camp. It was on this day we truly appreciated the remoteness of Lone Wolf. It had started snowing heavily that night and as everyone headed out in trucks to pick up the trail where we left off, it suddenly got very quiet.

The snow got heavier and our camp duty was to keep brushing the snow off the tents so that they wouldn’t collapse under the weight. It got darker, it got later and the snow got heavier. What if they can’t get back to the camp because of the snow, how would we survive, alone with no telephone signal? Somehow though they made it back, some of the guests’ nerves were a little strained from the drive though. I should point out that it is rare to get snow that early in October, they aren’t typical weather conditions that you would encounter on your holiday. However, it did make it all the more memorable.

Some tips: the hotels are really friendly and you may want to separate your ranch gear and just take that to the Ranch. The hotels are happy to store things especially if you are staying with them again before flying home.

The TX has a pick up from town (Billings) on Saturdays and they will stop off at a tack store and drink store (TX provides all meals and soft drinks you just need to take your own alcohol).

If for whatever reason you can’t be there for a Saturday you can book a ride but this will then cost extra. We weren’t able to get there until Sunday and unfortunately everything in Billings is closed on a Sunday, so a Saturday arrival is highly recommended.

Preparing for the riding: the horses are used to working over uneven ground, practice ‘posting’ as you won’t want to try sitting trot. Most of the riding when moving the herd is at a walk, take the opportunity to get off and walk yourself now and again, it will help stretch your legs after many hours in the saddle. You can choose your pace when you are riding around trying to find cows.

Theresa McCaffrey