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Riding For The Brand In Yellowstone Country - Montana Bunkho

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By Author: Rob LaGrone
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Riding For The Brand in Yellowstone Country - Montana Bunkhouses
Dude Ranches, Dude!

Read Jetsetters Magazine at www.jetsettersmagazine.com
To read this entire feature FREE with photos cut and paste this link:

The sky is enormous. Everyone you meet is your host. All around are the fresh smells of alfalfa, evergreen trees, and a bit of horse manure. Well, that's how I picture Paradise, anyway.

Paradise is what you'll find in "Yellowstone Country," the agricultural valleys of southwestern Montana (info at www.yellowstone.visitmt.com and www.wintermt.com). With the new "agri-tourism" offerings from Montana Bunkhouses, today visitors have the opportunity to experience the ranching life for a few days (or weeks), arriving as guests and departing as friends.

At Carriage House Ranch, we were served a marvelous pot-luck meal in the kitchen/dining facility built into the huge steel barn. After dinner we were given a quick demonstration of wagon driving by co-owner John Haller. He took a one-horse ...
... buggy through a short slalom course of yellow pylons to show us how to maneuver precisely. As these ranch vacations are designed for hands-on enjoyment, I was offered the reins next. I didn't knock any cones over, but my wheels got pretty intimate with one of them. Then young Josh Richert, member of a neighboring ranch family, showed us some fancy moves with a rope lariat. Wow! These skills aren't just for show, as I would see later.

The community pot-luck reminded me of something: do you know your neighbors? The ranch families I met in the Yellowstone River Valley live miles apart, but they know one another. They have to. Ranches here are subject to the vagaries of weather, government policy, the market, and even predator dangers, and they depend on one another for mutual support. They live a challenging but rewarding existence.

The next morning, at the Laubach Ranch where I was staying, I helped Ken Laubach adjust the small dams that control irrigation in his pastures. He explained the system of water rights that originated in the 1800s and still exists today: each ranch gets a certain allotment from the Yellowstone River according to its acreage. Water is so important to their hay crops and pastures that violations of others' water rights is a serious matter: "In years past, people have been shot for taking more than their share," said Ken.

Around here, "A.I." stands for artificial insemination, not artificial intelligence. The rancher's smarts are very real and hard-earned. Ken and his son Marvin had recently disassembled and rebuilt the engine on their tractor. Their equipment works as hard as they do and has to last a long time.

Next we drove over to a neighboring ranch. "Matt's out hayin' today," said Ken. Matt, the owners' son, was operating the hay baler. He is an old friend of Ken's son, and he stopped to visit with Ken for a minute: "Is Marvin out stackin'?" You won't hear questions like that in the city. Yes, Marvin was driving the Laubachs' tractor in their hay field, grasping the huge cylindrical bales with a front-end implement and loading them onto a trailer to be stacked until the Laubachs fed them to their cattle in the winter. The rest of us were headed to Cowboy Church.

Let's Bale Hay

Most ranches in this area have switched from the older rectangular hay bales to the large cylindrical ones (what, didn't you know that?), but the rectangular ones make great pews. We sat on bales beside the creek and sang "Amazing Grace" as several of our hosts played guitars and violins. Rancher Terry Terland conducted the informal service and compared Christ's protection of his flock of believers to the dedication of today's ranchers. He also read a passage from Jack Terry's "The Great Trail Ride" describing the courage and loyalty of American cowboys, who often risked their own lives to protect their bosses' livestock. "They rode for the brand," Terry said.

Did I mention the ranch stays are a hands-on experience? After church we got a closer look at the hay-baling operation. Guest Miki, from Tokyo, Japan, drove the tractor under Matt's tutelage: she gathered up several rows of mown hay with the towed baler and then released the cylindrical bale behind the tractor. Comparing her creation to sushi, we called it a "Miki roll."

With that, it was time for lunch.

The historic Grand Hotel was built in 1890 in the nearby town of Big Timber. Before enjoying a delicious lunch in the dining room, we looked at some wonderful black-and-white photographs by local artist Barbara Van Cleve. At the Crazy Mountain Museum, lifelong resident Betty Jarrett gave us a sense of the area's family history. How many places have sixth- and seventh-generation ranches and businesses? The museum featured lots of old photos, many showing ancestors of the folks we were meeting on our visit. Rancher Leo Cremer showed me his great-grandfather's ornate saddle from his days as a rodeo producer. "I feel like a newcomer, since I'm only fourth generation," Leo grinned.

Is it okay to yell "Play!" in a crowded firehouse? In the nearby town of Livingston, we saw an old-fashioned Vaudeville performance at the Firehouse 5 Playhouse. Re-established here in 1990, it featured eight enthusiastic singers, many of them local kids from the university in Bozeman. Their musical skits ranged from moderately serious (four ladies harmonizing "Don't Fence Me In") to hilariously absurd (an English dungeon scene with really bad Cockney accents). This theater survives in the rural area because so many people, from Bozeman to Billings, know the performers personally.

To read this entire feature FREE with photos cut and paste this link:

Rob LaGrone, Jetsetters Magazine Correspondent - Read Jetsetters Magazine at www.jetsettersmagazine.com To book travel visit Jetstreams.com at www.jetstreams.com and for Beach Resorts visit Beach Booker at www.beachbooker.com

About the Author Rob LaGrone, Jetsetters Magazine Correspondent. Join the Travel Writers Network in the logo at www.jetsettersmagazine.com Leave your email next to the logo for FREE e travel newsletter.

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