I first met Sarah Parry after her continuous liking of Instagram and Facebook posts of the Ranch and her horse Cowboy. I was finally able to meet Sarah face-to-face and enjoy a week with her at the Ranch earlier this summer. Sarah grew up coming to the Ranch as her grandparents are Ann & Steve Stranahan. During the years she has not only been a guest but a staff member for three summers. This past month she came back to the Ranch for a stay and wrote a blog piece for us about her “last” Saturday here.
The sun filters through the aspen trees as I sit on the lodge’s back porch. Rising in the east, coming up and over Home Mountain, it blankets the property with new light, a new day. Through the open kitchen windows I hear the busy merriment of JD and the staff bustling along to produce another beautiful and far too delicious breakfast. My fingers grasp the warm mug of tea in my hands, Colorado’s morning chill still lingering in the air.
The rumble of hoof beats breaks the morning silence. At first there are only a few, but soon the whole herd comes loping down the chute. I am in the perfect place to watch them. Sorrels, bays, paints, greys, palominos, roans. They come quickly and excitedly, tossing their heads and whinnying a passing “good morning”. They too are looking forward to their job on this perfect day. I spy the wranglers bringing up the rear, their hats and leather chinks catching the sun’s rays just right. I raise my hand and wave, all four of them returning my “hello”. How could today already be Saturday? The week goes too quickly in this exquisite valley. There are bags to be packed and airline tickets to be confirmed, but for now I plan to enjoy one last day of letting go and breathing easy.
After a breakfast of homemade donuts, fresh fruit, and a delicious omelet, I wander out to the front porch. We’re meeting Mattie for a hike up Hahn’s Peak, the easiest mountain to recognize in Clark. The staff sweetly brings us fanny packs filled with water; I throw in my camera too. It’s a short drive to the base of the peak and as we start our climb, I am filled with excitement. Soon, we will all feel on top of the world. Mattie begins to name off some of the wildflowers we see along the trail, Indian Paintbrush, Columbine, Lupine… all of which accent the green of July perfectly. The hike goes quickly, I know the climb to the top will be starting soon. Our group of hikers pushes each other on with words of encouragement; the view would be worth it all. Mattie chats away in the front of the pack as we round the final incline. I see the folks ahead of me get lost in thought as they look out at the land around us. Rolling hills and mountain peaks meet my gaze as I survey the space around me. Steamboat Lake lies before us, the boats and the swimmers nowhere to be seen from this height. Sand Mountain waves back at me as I look on at its snow-dusted crests. There are plenty of pictures to be taken as our group stands around, looking in all directions. The view is unmatched.
The front porch at the lodge has been brought to life for lunchtime. Salads of all colors and kinds are laid out on the tables, along with two different kinds of soup and something mouthwatering being cooked on the grill. I wander over and get my usual glass of lemonade, something refreshing after our hike. The lunch bell rings loud and clear, signaling the start of my favorite meal at the ranch. We all flow easily through the line, trying to make decisions on what salad to try or what sauce to flavor our fish with. All of the choices proving to be equally delicious. I sit and excitedly devour the meal in front of me, pausing every few minutes to continue the easy-flowing conversation happening at my table. Although we all come from different cities and towns, every time I sit down with my fellow guests I feel as though we’re cut from the same cloth. All coming together in this place to love and cherish the beauty, the food, and the people we’re surrounded with.
The smell of horses and leather wanders to my nose. For me, I find absolute peace at the barn. Perhaps the welcoming smiles and genuine chatter that flows so naturally on the steps and benches allows me to let go of all other worries. Before I know it Brooke has called my name. I give Comanche his usual greeting, a quick nose rub and neck pat. I climb up the mounting block: foot in the stirrup, hand on the mane, I swing up and over. A perfect landing. I do it without thinking; the movements flow so easily as the week draws to a close. We head out towards Aspen Arches, one of my favorite trails. Tayler chats up front, saying what all of us know to be true: how hard it is to leave and how wonderful it feels to come back. We walk down the trail, Comanche’s slow breaths mirroring my own. The aspen trees eye us with their unmistakable bark. I love this trail – the way it winds me through the trees, bringing me up above the barn, the land sprawling before me, inviting me to explore. As we near the meadow, Tayler asks the question we’ve all been waiting for: do we want to lope? The whole group nods in excitement. One by one we lope the quarter mile to where Tayler has ridden. When it’s my turn, I whisper to Comanche, “Alright boy, one last big one.” And we’re off. His strides smoothly cover the ground as we’re escorted by grasshoppers bounding next to us in the tall grass. The wind blows through my hair, my eyes planted straight between his ears. The most grounding place is on the back of a horse. You trust their steady strides and let all else go. As we slow down, I can feel myself beaming. I give Comanche a pat and thank him for always keeping me safe.
The moments after the final ride on Saturday afternoons are bittersweet. The sun is still shining warmly against my back; the staff is still wondrously working away, yet I can notice a difference in my attitude. I know it’s the last time, at least for a little while, that I’ll be waking up snuggled in my wool, Pendleton blanket and walking down to freshly picked fruits for breakfast; the last time I’ll be loping freely through a meadow filled with sagebrush and wildflowers; the last time I’ll be enjoying the company of so many fascinating and sweet individuals. Saturday afternoons… the bittersweet moments of celebration and nostalgia for the week I’ve just experienced.
Saturday night campfire always brings good closure to the week; it gives me a way to say “Don’t worry, I’ll be seeing you soon”. I walk around the fire pit, talking and mingling with staff and guests alike, politely devouring the delicious chips and dip and sushi that sit on my plate. Before I know it, Clyde comes around alerting everyone that dinner is served, his soft smile encouraging us to go get a plate. Bison with horseradish and chimichurri, beans, sweet, buttery corn, and potatoes: the perfect campfire meal. I sit with my family, the giggles from my little cousins echoing around the table. Soon we’re all laughing, the feelings of lightness and joy from our perfect week resonating in each of us. The sun slowly begins to sink behind Sand Mountain, casting that alpenglow across the valley. Jack lights the fire and we all start to gather around, anxiously awaiting the kid’s awards and cattle competition results. The kid’s counselors give their speeches with such clever alliterations, evoking many laughs as the kids all light up with smiles. Brooke shares the news of the cattle competition, trying not to embarrass any of us too much. We all swear we really are good at cow hockey; the cattle just weren’t cooperating today. As Brooke finishes, Erik and my granddaddy, Steve, sit next to each other. Erik slowly begins to strum his guitar, hushing the crowd. They serenade us with “Red River Valley”; my granddaddy’s harmonica tunes bringing tears to my eyes. There is fleeting moment of magic, I don’t know if it’s the music or the beautiful, Colorado sunset. It makes me feel the value these aspen trees and mountain peaks hold in their grasp. There’s nowhere like it. It truly is coming home.
~ Sarah Parry