It's summer in the U.S. and that means millions of Americans have hit the road for the beaches, the mountains, another country, or maybe just a change of scene, to temporarily escape the bustle of daily life. For some people, that escape might even mean living out a fantasy of life as a cowboy . . or cowgirl. . . by taking a vacation on a "dude" or guest ranch. .. like the one Robin Rupli visited in the western state of Idaho.
Just outside of the small town of Stanley, guests at the Idaho Rocky Mountain Ranch can wind up their day of horseback riding, hiking, whitewater rafting or fishing with a homemade meal in a rustic log cabin followed by a performance by local musicians.
Set on a hill overlooking the snowcapped Sawtooth Mountain range, the main lodge of the Ranch resembles something you might see in a classic western movie, the pine log and stone structure was built in 1930 and has remained unchanged in appearance since that time. The smaller, surrounding guest cabins have a fireplace, but no television, radio or telephone.
Guest Betsy Fowler of Connecticut says the place gives here the feeling of "stepping back in time." "And within ten minutes you can be hiking and never see a soul all day. That's the nice part. I'm not anti-people. It's just that's why we come here, to get away from all the hustle and bustle of the east coast," she says.
Guest ranches have been around since the late 19th century, when visitors to the western frontier sought safe, comfortable lodging and ranchers could supplement their incomes by offering city dwellers a "true-west" experience.
Today, ranch vacations are one of the fastest-growing segments of the U.S. tourism industry, with 300 to 400 now operating throughout the western United States. At some, guests actually help with the chores of farm work or herding cattle; other facilities provide guided trail rides, nature hikes or classes in yoga and meditation.
The Idaho Rocky Mountain Ranch falls somewhere in between: guests do not help with chores, but are responsible for creating their own entertainment. Fred Webster, who runs the ranch with his wife Sandra, says "one of the things that happens here at the ranch is people are pleasantly surprised that they don't have telephones or television in their rooms and so the families actually sit down and talk to one another and they become more involved with one another."
Rupli: "Do you ever get those kids who say, "I want to watch television?"
Webster: "Yeah, but it's unavailable, so they're kind of stuck. But they get over it because we have lawn games and a lot of the kids will meet other kids and they start playing . . ."
The experience is not so different with adults either. Sitting in front of the stone fireplace in the main lodge, guests Carol Pleines and her friend remembered meeting one another at this ranch several years earlier.
Carol: "The people are wonderful. This gal here she said to us, two days ago, 'I remember you! You have the Bed and Breakfast! When did we meet you?'
Friend: Four years ago! We met at the ranch and we rekindled that when we were here. Now, we're neighbors next door."
Rupli: Would you want to go to a ranch where you help herd the cattle?
Friend: "Definitely not!"
Carol: "Oh, I would love it. I love animals anyway, I would do anything."
But Carol, who is an artist, said her favorite activity here is taking photographs of the majestic Sawtooth Mountain Range that stands (rises) before her cabin. "The color! The color here is phenomenal. What happens to this mountain when the sun starts to go down, there is nothing like it in the world -- it is truly 'purple mountains majesty' just like the song," she says. "And we had a double rainbow. I can't describe it, it makes me cry! It's just so beautiful here. There's no way you cannot 'get away' from everything, because this is so different from where any of us live. It's just a whole different world."
Whatever part of that world guests experience, whether fishing in the Salmon River, hiking in the Rocky mountain wilderness or taking photographs the main topics of discussion over dinner at the Idaho Rocky Mountain Ranch were the lasting friendships they have made and the peaceful environment.
Even some of the staff like waitress and fishing enthusiast Heather Wolny says it is a unique place to work.
Wolny: "Gosh, it's incredible. I feel so blessed and privileged to wake up to the mountains and this beautiful atmosphere every single day. Even though we have to work and some days you get bogged down with everything going on around you, all you have to do is step out on the porch and take a deep breath and say, 'Ok, I guess it could really be a lot worse than this. This really isn't anything to complain about!
Rupli: Do you think you'd like to live here permanently?
Wolny: "I've thought about it. The only drawback is that, as you may or may not know, Stanley is not the thriving metropolis a young person might expect it to be and social interactions are rather limited. So you know, seeing the girls at the Mercantile (grocery store) on a daily basis, you kind of need a little more than that.
Ms. Wolny, show comes from the southern state of Alabama, added another point against moving to this part of Idaho. . . "I just did my first winter here this past year and it's pretty brutal here. It's the second coldest place in the United States," she says.
Oh, that. Yes, Stanley, Idaho, with winter temperatures routinely dipping to -1 or -4 degrees centigrade, has a year-round population of 100 people and attracts tourists for only about 90 days out of the year. But the bitter cold of winter is far from the thoughts of the summer guests as they enjoy listening to music as the sun sets over the Sawtooth Mountain Range.