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Wednesday, October 04, 2017


South Dakota with its natural and man-made wonders gives me quite a few awe-inspiring moments but does not seem to daunt Tauck Tours.  They are ready to WOW us again.  Leaving South Dakota for Wyoming, we are ready for another incredible day as we head to Buffalo, Wyoming and the TA Ranch.

Wide open prairie--so different from what I'm used to
Here we are in the Great Plains.
Wyoming is unique.  It ranks 50th in population with a 2016 population of only 585, 501 people.  Crossing the state, we pass through towns with double digit and even single digit populations.  Once a car leaves the main highway, it is more than likely to do the rest of its travels on unpaved roads that traverse open prairies and hills.  Yet Wyoming is not bleak; it’s beautiful.  Along the road I see large quantities of shrubbery, and it hits me that this is sagebrush.  The word conjures up all the cowboy movies and shows I’ve seen, and it reminds me of Rob’s and my cross country drive years ago when we saw signs out west that read, “Do not drive into smoke.”  Sagebrush fires. 

Because we pass through towns near major tourist attractions, the towns are geared to satisfy the whims of out-of-staters—restaurants, gift shops, local attractions, tours, etc.  There is a tawdry atmosphere, but that’s not unusual around any tourist attractions.  It just is a bit shocking as we drive through open country that must look similar to the way it looked 100 years ago and then pass a few blocks of charmless tourist lures.

Visitors come to Wyoming for great and beautiful reasons. Most of Yellowstone Park is in Wyoming, and in 2014, 10.1 million visitors came to Wyoming.  That’s probably the biggest reason. This year, with the solar eclipse, that alone was predicted to double the state’s population.  The ranches, mountains, rivers, rodeos, and peacefulness are all part of the allure. As I said—unique.

This day we head to Johnson County and the city of Buffalo, Wyoming , once considered  “a rogue society in which rustlers controlled everything— politics, courts and juries.”     If you’re a movie fan, you know about the Johnson County War that might be the biggest piece of Wyoming history. You know it from Shane and The Virginian.  The biggest event of this war occurred right where we head, The TA Ranch.  We think we are going to have a great day at the ranch, riding, seeing some exhibitions of horse mastery, and cowboy cattle work, but as has been the way of this Tauck tour, it goes beyond expectations.

We arrive just in time for a buffet lunch, and I ask if anything is local.  That’s what I choose—beef—right from their ranch, I think. This is a working cattle ranch.  Since everything is locally sourced, that’s exactly what I want.  And it’s delicious.

Then surprisingly we are treated by Barbara, who runs the ranch with her daughter Kristen Giles, to a brief but intriguing introduction to the TA Ranch and its history, including tales of the Johnson County War.  This is the ranch which the cattle barons occupied for three days and where the shoot out occurred.  It’s an exciting story.  Barbara even offered books about this part of Wyoming history, including this one.

I will list other books at the end of this post. It's a very interesting piece of western history.

Then off to take a trail ride.  I love horses, and though this is a slow, easy ride, it is wonderful to ride and happily breathe in the beautiful scent of the horse against the clean, distinctive, hot aroma of the prairie.  Riding further gives us the sense of the land's openness as well as views of the hay bales that are part of the necessary preparations on a working cattle ranch for the brutal Wyoming winter. I feel a further amazed appreciation for the individuality and perseverance of the homesteaders who crossed much of the county to come out here and make Wyoming their home.

This is my horse, Hercules.  But looking out at the landscape is spectacular.
Taking a selfie on Hercules was a challenge, but fun.  Rob is wearing the blue cap.
But look at that landscape.
Preparations for the harsh winter are well under way.
Cattle must be fed.
When we finish our ride, off we go to a corral where we meet a horse whisperer, a trainer who works with the horses and teaches them to obey commands she signals without even touching them.  Her demonstration is quite interesting.  She rides her own beautiful brown horse with the loveliest lines and neck while a black horse with a dashing white streak down his face walks, trots, canters, and reverses, all by her direction but not by her touching in any way.

Isn't her horse beautiful?
They never got closer than this!

Our demonstration is cut short because it is so brutally hot, and Barbara transports us over to another corral where we are treated to a demonstration of cowboys separating cattle.

Four cowpokes (two men and two women) demonstrate cutting one, then two, then three and then four cattle from a group and bringing them to the far side of the corral.  Their horses follow their directions.  No words are spoken.  They act as one unit.

Because I love horses, I am fascinated by one cowboy whose horse’s bridle does not have a bit.  He  trained his horse, and all the horse has is a bitless noseband.  Yet he follows all directions and the horse and cowboy act as one.  It is thrilling to see.  In fact, the entire display of control and unity between horse and rider is thrilling to see. 

There is time to spend sitting in the shade of the porch before going in for drinks and a fine dinner, once again locally sourced.  Rob and I both choose the Wyoming Lamb Chop—pan seared topped with cherry balsamic chutney/creamy scalloped potatoes/grilled asparagus.  Salad and dessert, of course.  Not exactly what you picture as “ranch food.”  Well, the TA Ranch isn’t an ordinary place, and if you ever get a chance to come here, go for it!

We move on after dinner, heading for Sheridan, Wyoming to spend the night in a beautiful Holiday Inn.  We are in for a great surprise the next morning.

Here are some books Barbara suggested about the Johnson County War:  Banditti of the Plains by Asa Mercer (1893), War on Powder River by Helene Hunlington Smith (1950), The Cattlemen by Mari Sandog (1950), and Johnson County War by Bill O'Neal (2005)

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