CM Ranch is 1 1/2 hours from Jackson, Wyoming, and six miles from tiny downtown Dubois, in the high-altitude desert, the real cowboy West. It's been around since the late 19th century and has had only three sets of owners (Charlie Moore was the first—hence the CM brand). En route, I keep telling Willow we're going to a dude ranch, but the only thing she can connect with, it appears, is the promise that there'll be a swimming pool. I have to admit to myself that if horses were my thing at her age, her main interest is, well, water. But that's good, I guess—it means that when she's older, in order to make up for her childhood she can take her kids to the beach or a water park.
At the Jackson airport a handsome ranch hand picks us up in a 4 x 4. For an hour we drive through the magnificent Wind River Range into a green valley, passing rivers and bison. Then the scenery changes and we're in a dry, rugged land. The ranch is a few miles up a gravel road, at the base of Whiskey Mountain. We stare out at cottonwood and willow trees and irrigated fields—it almost never rains around here—and past a corral filled with beautiful horses, then through a log-pole gate and into an old-fashioned western set: stables, bunkhouse, saddle barn, hay barn, and a half-dozen cabins with porches, all lined up against the mountain face. These guest cabins are original to the place and have been faithfully restored, except—yippee!—they now have showers and baths.
It's a family place, but as a modern, if temporary, family, we fit in just fine. Quite a few of the 40 or so other guests, are in extended, blended groups. There are also a remarkable number of returnees, many parents and even wranglers and waitstaff who have been coming since they were kids. Spending time at CM as a child seems to ensure a summer job down the line. I'm determined to return, if for no other reason than to give Willow a future job opportunity.
The first morning, the weather is hot and sunny and perfect. After omelettes and French toast in the dining hall, almost everyone heads down to the stables, where our mounts are saddled and waiting. (Those who don't want to ride can fly-fish with guides, hike, mountain bike, go rock climbing, or bird-watch.) Guests are broken into groups daily, depending on the sort of riding they want to do. There are outings to crystal caves and the Dubois Badlands, on routes that pass through meadows where one can do a bit of loping. The ranch seems to have countless trails; it owns 1,800 acres, leases another 1,040, and has access to thousands of acres of government-owned land.
The kids are divided up by age into four packs, each with its own wrangler. Willow is hoisted onto her horse, and she suddenly looks incredibly tiny. I start to have some apprehensions—well, okay, basically a nervous breakdown. What had I been thinking?All I can remember is the scene from Gone with the Wind in which Bonnie, the daughter of Rhett and Scarlett, falls from her pony and breaks her neck.
"Bye-bye, darling!" I say, waving through my tears. "Be brave!"
To myself I mutter, "What am I, nuts?We're Jewish people from Brooklyn!"