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Adventure on the Ranch, riding horses near Yellowstone at Parade Rest Ranch, horseback riding
Have an Equestrian Adventure at Parade Rest Ranch

by Linda Aksomitis

Parade Rest Ranch, guest ranch in Montana, near YellowstoneI stuck my left foot in the stirrup, grabbed the pommel and hoped for two things. First of all, that there was enough swing left in my body to pull myself, however ungracefully, into the saddle without assistance. And second, that after thirty years I still remembered how to ride a horse.

Much to my surprise, a second later my right foot thrust into the opposite stirrup and I was settling into the saddle.

"How are the stirrups?" said Wes, the young cowboy-trail guide.

Without thinking I stood, clearing the saddle. Hmm, I thought, at least I'd remembered that much. "Feels good." It did feel surprisingly familiar, but we hadn't started to move yet either.

Leaning ahead, I patted Cophenhagen's neck. The bay mare made no visible response, but arched slightly to guide me to an itchy spot. Whatever happened, we were in it together for the long haul.

Wes mounted his own horse, and Marge, General Manager of Parade Rest Ranch, pulled in behind me. Around us, the Gallatin National Forest framed the 160 acre tract of land that made up the ranch. Officially, the address was 7979 Grayling Creek Road, West Yellowstone, Montana.

Nudging Copenhagen in the ribs with the heel of my running shoes, I relaxed into the animal's easy gait. While I'd been expecting to tackle a variety of terrains around the ranch, I was startled to find Wes leading us straight into the Madison Mountain Range. I wanted to shout, "Hey you guys, I don't do heights," but thought better of it.

So, Copenhagen began the upward climb, her feet plodding over what appeared to me to be more like a goat path than a horse trail. My heart pounded. I carefully kept my eyes focused ahead-thinking if I didn't peer over the edge maybe I'd forget it was a long ways down. I didn't.

With the reins in my left hand, I hung on tightly with my right, focusing on the little bits of horse sense that popped into my mind, like how to keep Copenhagen from nibbling every tall blade of grass we passed. I've often said my memory is like a computer system with most of the files archived. I'm waiting for the day they develop RAM upgrades to keep everything I ever knew readily accessible.

Once we stopped climbing I was fine -- in fact, I found myself enjoying the incredible view of the ranch spread out below me. I took long, deep breaths of the clean mountain air, enjoying the scent of pine, surveying the valley with its lush green pastures, and an assortment of Parade Rest barns, cabins and buildings. I patted Copenhagen on a job well done, and followed Wes's lead into the forest.

Parade Rest Ranch has a long history. It is situated on land homestead by Thomas W. and Kate Rowse, with a patent granted by President Woodrow Wilson from the US government on November 28, 1919. They'd already been ranching the land since 1912, waiting for the formal proceedings. The Homestead Cabin is still across from the main ranch complex on Grayling Creek.

A year after the ranch was homesteaded, on January 7, 1920, the nearby small settlement on the edge of Yellowstone National Park was officially named West Yellowstone, Montana. The homestead was eventually sold in 1935 to a retiring army major, John Rodman, and his wife, and officially named Parade Rest. They enjoyed inviting friends to the property and built cabins to allow them to enjoy old west hospitality and seclusion.

Parade Rest was run as a guest ranch by Bud Wells and Lucille Morris for 22 years, from 1957 to 1979, when the current owners, Clyde and Linda Seely purchased the property. Clyde admits he wasn't sure about the sale until the Seelys took the whole family out for a horseback ride to tour the ranch-the rest, as they say, is history. Bill and Carole Howell are also partners in the ranch. The cabins range from the original Homestead Cabin built in 1912, to The Lower Aspen, completed in 1990. Much of the furniture in the cabins has been handcrafted, a hobby Clyde has grown to love, to add character and a personal touch.

My ride through the Parade Rest property that afternoon had a spectacular finish as a thunderstorm rolled across the mountains. At the high elevation the lightning was close and the booms of thunder deafening. Copenhagen was up to the challenge! I turned her into the rain and urged her forward. Racing ahead, she wasn't keen on facing the sheets of water on our last ¼ mile run to the barns, but danced sideways to the wind until we reached shelter.

However, I was only getting warmed up! Much to my surprise I found riding a horse was much like learning the keyboard, once you know how to do it, if you don't think about the task your hands magically know how it's supposed to work. I signed up for the evening ride and cookout the next day.

My next ride I drew Babydoll, a beautiful bay with the smoothest trot ever imagined. Thirty other riders, from kids to seniors, also mounted up at the Parade Rest corrals. Nose to tail, we pulled out behind a new trail boss-Jenny. I was near the lead, close enough to see how efficiently she handled her job, from leading us through the Gallatin Forest to taking an easy trek through the mountain paths to accommodate the number of inexperienced riders.

Even with thirty of us, and the horses picking their way, it was quiet enough to hear the sounds of nature. Overhead a hawk swooped, gliding past us to land in a hidden place. Clouds covered the sun, but they didn't look heavy with rain like those of the day before.

From the cookout site I could see Hebgen Lake, which I'd explored earlier in the day by car. Parade Rest Ranch had missed devastation from a 7.2 earthquake on August 17, 1959, that was centered under the lake. Earthquake Lake was formed that morning as a mountain fell, burying 19 people at the Madison River Campground and creating a new earth dam. The new water supply meant the Ranch no longer needed to rely on its water tower and 500 gallon water tank.

While I was busy getting local history all in place, Jenny and Wes helped the riders off of their horses and turned the animals into a corral to wait while we had our cookout. A number of ranch hands were busy at the task-smells from the barbeque spread throughout the area. Others, like small children and their moms, arrived for the cookout by wagon.

Supper was delicious! There were as many choices as a short restaurant menu, ranging from chicken to burgers to steak or hotdogs. In addition I enjoyed baked potatoes, home-baked beans, corn on the cob, and coleslaw. Dessert even had choices, or for those so inclined, a helping of watermelon and brownies. Silence fell under the open shelter and around the picnic tables as we all dug into our meals.

While I'd expected to mount up immediately after we ate, I was wrong. Instead Randall, another employee of Parade Rest, pulled out his guitar and started to strum, leading us all in a sing-along.

Framed by the trees, with the valley unfolding behind him as a backdrop, Randall sang cowboy songs that took us back in time to a place we'd only ever dreamed of. Even the children slowed their play to listen for a while. It was almost as hard to believe I was in the middle of that scene, even more so that I'd climbed on a horse after 30 years and dared the mountains…

MORE INFORMATION :

Parade Rest Ranch website

While visiting the ranch I stayed a few miles away in the town of West Yellowstone: http://www.westyellowstonechamber.com/

For more information on the Gallatin National Forest visit: http://www.fs.fed.us/r1/gallatin/

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