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A Magnificent Seven Ranches

The K Bar L is one of the few surviving traditional dude ranches. A homemade hydroelectric system provides power, telephone service is of Alexander Graham Bell vintage, and there's a wood-burning stove for cooking. While the ranch dates to 1927, its present owners, Dick and Nancy Klick, admit that a mere three generations of their family have run it, since 1947. Maintenance has been fastidious, but its look has changed little. The Klicks are committed to preserving the artifacts of their history because the K Bar L's prized clientele, who return decade after decade, are hooked on ranch tradition. One proud relic is the outhouse, "good enough for the prewar era, as it is for today" (there are also modern facilities). Another is the saddlebag picnic: a brown paper bag with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a chocolate chip cookie, and an apple. Another is the pool-- a salubrious hot spring, consistently 86 degrees, rich in sulfur.

In more than 30 miles of rivers, native cutthroat and wild rainbow trout are ravenous for the well-presented fly. The string of horses, most of them broken by Dick Klick (a descendant, he allows, of a Russian Cossack), are long-distance animals, ideal for excursions to remote verges. Hiking is unsurpassed, with trails so numerous that in the course of a week one need never retrace a step.

Repairing to the lodge, on a flower-fragrant porch hung with a phalanx of record-book elk horns, one sips a cocktail, watches calliope hummingbirds wage war over sugar, and savors Dick Klick's laconic, sometimes inscrutable, jargon ("Forest Service wanted me to lamatize my cavvy. . . . No damn way, I said."). Inside, a fire blazes at one end of the great room, bear and mountain lion skins line log walls, a massive Chinese breakfront brought in by mule team dominates a corner. This is where one should curl up to read the complete novels of John Buchan. But no time to waste, for the table is filled with No Peeky Chicken and C.M.R. Country Noodle Casserole.

At the K Bar L, you sleep the sleep of centuries in a log cabin and wake to bursts of heat from a Franklin stove and to the sound of drumming hooves. Unexpectedly, you've found a new home in a place beyond all roads.

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