Ranch Sorting Competition – Cowboy Adventures in Phoenix Arizona

December 2017 – On the outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona, we’ve found not only beautiful waterways and fall color in the National Forest, but fun western cowboy ranching traditions in the outer suburbs too. Phoenix is home to lots of “horse properties” and small ranches, and our friends took us to a cool ranch sorting competition last week. This fairly new kind of cowboy ranching event is also known as “cattle sorting” or “cow sorting.”

As we walked over to the cow pens, a cute goat stuck his nose through the fence and gave us a smile!

Goat watches a cowboy cattle sorting event-min

A goat welcomes us to the ranch sorting competition.

There were about twenty competitors, both cowboys and cowgirls, sitting astride their horses and waiting for the games to begin. In the competition they paired up in teams of two in round robin fashion so every rider had a chance to team up with the others.

Cowboy cattle sorting event in Phoenix Arizona ranch-min

Riders line up before the competition begins.

There were several pens of ten calves each, and as the competition progressed, each group of calves had a few chances to get sorted. Every calf had a big number on his back, from one to ten.

The calves all turned to look at me when I stuck my camera lens between the bars of the pen to get their portrait!

Calves waiting to be sorted by cowboys-min

Calves wait to be sorted.

Numbered calves waiting to be sorted-min

Each calf has a big number on its back so they’re easy to spot and isolate from the herd.

Ranch sorting mimics the process that cowboys use to separate a single calf or cow from the herd so they can inspect it or administer medication or isolate it for some other reason.

In the cattle sorting competition, a pair of cowboys / cowgirls enters the pen with the calves and waits to hear the number of the first calf they’re assigned to isolate. For the next sixty seconds they chase after the calves in numerical order, starting with the first number they were given and then isolating each successive calf and sending it into an adjoining pen.

Calf sorting event with cowgirl on horseback-min

Our young friend Autumn rides into the herd in search of her target calf.

Cowgirl sorting calves on horseback in Arizona ranch-min

Ranch sorting is a fun way for riders to hone their horsemanship skills.

Working together, one cowboy (or cowgirl) chases the target calf towards the gate to force it into the adjoining pen while the other cowboy or girl blocks the rest of the calves from running into the pen along with it.

Calf sorting on horse in Arizona-min

First the calf is isolated from the herd…

Cowgirl sorting cattle on a horse in Arizona-min

Then it is chased through the gate…

We really enjoyed watching the action. The riders skillfully maneuvered their horses among the calves to find the one they were after and then chased it into the pen next door.

Getting the horse and calves to do what you want looks easy from the sidelines but takes a lot of focus and knowledge. The rider’s body position in the saddle and the way they hold the reins and touch the horse with their feet is the language they use to tell the horse what to do. A wrong hand position or posture in the saddle can give the wrong command to the horse!

Concentrating while riding a horse-min

Autumn concentrates and the horse sticks his tongue out too!

The cowboys and cowgirls were scored based on how many calves they managed to get into the adjoining pen in the 60 second time period. If a calf sneaked into the pen out of numerical order, then the score for that round was 0!

Cattle sorting riding a horse in Phoenix Arizona ranch-min

The distance between the pens is short. Once the calf is isolated, it’s a quick sprint from one to the other.

Sorting cattle riding a horse in Phoenix Arizona-min

Going after number 9.

The biggest challenge in each round was the first calf because cows are herd animals and they don’t like to be alone. When the first calf found itself isolated from the herd and being chased towards the empty pen next door, it would try to return to the herd rather than go into the empty pen by itself.

However, once a calf or two was in the adjoining pen, the next calves were a lot less reluctant to go in there because they saw there was company waiting for them. On rare occasions two sequentially numbered calves would be running alongside each other and would go into the pen one right after the other. A two-for-one!

Calves running in cattle sorting cowboy event on Arizona Ranch-min

Sometimes the rider got lucky and a pair of cows with sequential numbers went through the gate together.

The cowboy life, horses, barns and hay aren’t in my blood the same way sea breezes and hiking trails in nature are, but we had a wonderful time watching this classic western event.

Cowboy resting with his horse at cattle sorting on Arizona ranch-min

Cowboy culture is rich and widely celebrated across the western states. We have loved learning about it in our travels.

Of course, not everyone at the ranch sorting competition was quite as enthralled as we were. One little cowgirl was so tuckered out by the action that she suddenly dropped into the dirt next to the referee (her mom) to relax with her feet up on the fence.

Tired cowgirl lies on the ground at cattle sorting in Arizona ranch-min

All tuckered out…

When we researched the sport of ranch sorting after the event was over, we learned that these cattle sorting competitions are fairly new to the ranching scene and the first Nationals was held in 2007. But they are becoming extremely popular.

Cowboy sorting calves on a ranch in Phoenix Arizona-min

A friend of ours suggested that knowing tackle angles from football would be helpful with anticipating which direction a calf will run.

Cowboy chasing calf in cattle sorting event on Phoenix Arizona ranch-min

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The folks that were at this particular ranch sorting competition were extremely enthusiastic, and they attend events all over Arizona.

Calf running away in cattle sorting event-min

Calf #3 says, “I’m outta here!” while #2 heads through the gate.

Cowboy sorting cattle on a ranch in Arizona-min

The riders told us #8 was particularly feisty!

For us there were lots of neat photo ops and we got a kick out of roaming among the spectators, spouses, parents and loyal dogs.

Cattle dog with horse and cowboy on Arizona ranch-min

Spectators were treated to a fun event.

Horse eye closeup-min

What do the animals think of all this? The horses seemed to love it and the calves got some good exercise and worked up an appetite for grazing later.

Unlike the big rodeo events like roping, ranch sorting is something newer riders can enjoy. For us watching, it was easy to understand what was going on and to root for the cowboys and cowgirls as they whooped and hollered and worked to make both their horses and the calves do what they wanted.

Cowgirl chases calf in Phoenix Arizona cattle sorting event-min

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Cattle sorting event with cowgirl chasing calves in Phoenix Arizona-min

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Cattle sorting event with cowgirl chasing calves-min

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If you are spending the winter in Arizona and want to experience a brief immersion in some of the western traditions of horses and cowboys, look for a ranch sorting competition! We’d never heard of this kind of event until last week, but we got a huge kick out of it!

Cowboy walks horse back to horse trailer-min

What a fun few hours spent in the midst of cowboy culture!

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More info about Ranch Sorting:

Cowgirl Magazine article explaining what Ranch Sorting is

Other blog posts about our adventures with cowboys:

Central Arizona RV travel article index and more from our trips in the whole state of Arizona.

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Buffalo Wyoming – Cowboys, Cowgirls and Sheriff Walt Longmire!

Buffalo, Wyoming, and the nearby Bighorn Mountains stole our hearts during our RV travels this summer, and we ended up sticking around for a while.

Fifth wheel trailer RV camping at sunset

A Wyoming sunset.

On our first day in Buffalo, we were astonished to find the streets were lined with throngs of really excited people. As we made our way through the mob, we noticed the cops were directing traffic at every intersection.

Something really big was happening. But what?

Soon we realized a parade was about to come through town. What perfect timing!

Longmire Days Parade Buffalo Wyoming Home of Longmire

We arrived in Buffalo, Wyoming, just in time to see a parade!

We watched the parade go by and gave each other quizzical looks as we tried to figure out why there would be a parade in this small town in the middle of July. The 4th of July was over, so this must be something else!

Longmire Days Parade Occidental Hotel Buffalo Wyoming

A band plays on a flat bed trailer as it passes the Occidental Hotel. What on earth was this parade for???

Suddenly a turquoise truck came by with a guy standing in the bed of the truck. A huge roar went up from the crowd, and the man waved at everyone. It was as if he were some kind of beloved celebrity.

The woman standing next to me saw I wanted to take a photo and eagerly stepped aside. “Go on!” she said urgently. “Push on out there and get his photo!”

Walt Longmire in Longmire Days Parade Buffalo Wyoming

A roar goes up from the crowd as this cowboy goes by in the back of a Bronco!

I got my shot and then asked — still confused — “Is that the mayor?”

She threw her head back and laughed. “No! Of course not!” She said. “That’s Walt Longmire!”

Sheriff Walt Longmire in parade at Buffalo Wyoming

Of course this isn’t the mayor.
This is the famous Sheriff Walt Longmire!

I stared at her blankly.

“You don’t know who Walt Longmire is?” She was clearly shocked at my ignorance. “Longmire is a huge TV show that’s really popular around here. That guy is the lead actor! The show takes place in this town, although it’s called Durant on TV rather than Buffalo.”

It turned out that we had arrived just in time for a special weekend celebration called Longmire Days when Buffalo, Wyoming, welcomes the cast from the Longmire TV series and also welcomes thousands of out-of-town guests who come from as far as California to see their beloved stars in person.

There is a store in town devoted to memorabilia from the show, and the store owners later told us it is really fun — and a bit funny — to watch these starstruck fans come from near and far to see the heroes of their series in person.

Longmire Headquarters Buffalo Wyoming

The Longmire TV show, developed from a local author’s book, depicts life in Buffalo WY but calls the town “Durant” and is filmed in New Mexico!

I’ve been starstruck by celebrities before too, so I totally understood. But I have to say that it is really hilarious when you have never heard of a TV show to run headlong into fan hysteria and the celebrities who are at the heart of it.

To me, this famous and adored actor (that women were truly going nuts for) just looked like a regular old cowboy standing in the back of a truck!

Then again, after a decade on the road, largely in the western states, I have become a huge John Wayne fan. We watch his old movies all the time. If I were to see John Wayne in person who knows what crazy hysterics I would fall prey to!

Ironically, it turned out I wasn’t the only John Wayne fan in Buffalo, Wyoming.

John Wayne T-shirt Buffalo Wyoming

I wasn’t the only avid John Wayne fan in town!

Buffalo, Wyoming, is home to about 4,600 people, and the heart of the town is a small grassy park called “Crazy Woman Park.”

The term Crazy Woman is popular in this area. There are both a creek and a canyon named “Crazy Woman” along with various business and shops. There are several legends behind the name, and they vary a bit, but each one references a woman (either white or Indian) who witnessed or was involved in a terrible tragedy that made her crazy. She lived out her days in a canyon not far from Buffalo.

Crazy Woman Park in Buffalo is decorated with several big, colorful murals that were commissioned in 2012 to show that Buffalo isn’t just a One Horse Town.

Horse mural and cowboy Buffalo Wyoming

Buffalo isn’t a One Horse (or One Cowboy) Town.

The murals were painted by Aaron and Jenny Wuerker. The first panel on the left depicts old black and white photos of cowboys around the turn of the century.

Old cowboys in "More than a One Horse Town' mural Buffalo Wyoming by Aaron Wuerker

Original cowboys in Buffalo way back when.

The next panel shows two cowboys chasing some horses across the prairie and bringing them into the town of Buffalo. This is definitely not a One Horse Town!

Horses on a mural Buffalo Wyoming by Aaron Wuerker and Jenny Wuerker

Cowboys chase horses across the prairie…

Horse mural Aaron Wuerker and Jenny Wuerker Buffalo Wyoming

…and into town.

The love of horses and the cowboy way of life and cattle ranching runs deep in Buffalo, and every week in the summertime there is a rodeo at the Johnson County Fairgrounds.

We stopped by one afternoon and had a great time watching both kids and adults dash all over the place with their horses.

Rodeo queen Johnson County Fairgrounds Buffalo Wyoming

A Rodeo Queen flies past on her horse.

The little girls were just too cute for words. They were fearless as they galloped past, and nothing would stop them from going full speed ahead, even if their hats flew off!

Rodeo princess loses her hat Johnson Country Fairgrounds Buffalo Wyoming

Hats off to this rodeo princess!

Rodeo Princess Hats Off Johnson County Fairgrounds Buffalo Wyoming

Woops!

From the pretty Rodeo Queen to the most adorable and tiniest Rodeo Princess, we loved them all!

Little Rodeo princess Johnson Country Fairgrounds Buffalo Wyoming

There’s no such thing as being too young to ride a horse.
Eventually both the helmet and horse will fit!

But there were plenty of adult cowboys putting their horses through their paces too.

Johnson County Fairgrounds Rodeo Buffalo Wyoming

There was full grown adult rodeo action too.

But this cowboy stuff isn’t just for show.

While in town one day, I had the really good fortune to meet an old cowboy named Dick and spend some time talking to him and listening to his life story. He described growing up in the area, and he painted a vivid picture of what it was like to be a rancher in the 1950s and 60s.

“It is the best life for a young man,” he said wistfully. The outdoors, the wide open spaces and fresh air — he had loved it all.

He passed his love of the ranching life to his two sons, and with great pride he told the story of putting his boys in charge of moving a hundred head of cattle from one pasture to another when they were very young. He told them he would meet them at an appointed hour and place, and he expected them to be there — with the cows — when he arrived.

I had to smile imagining two boys on horseback urging the beasts across the fields with their promise to Dad and his expectations weighing on their shoulders.

Sure enough, he told me, when he pulled up in his truck at the spot where the kids were supposed to be, they were there along with all the cows. Not one single cow was missing.

Chatting with an old cowboy Buffalo Wyoming

Longtime Buffalo area resident, Dick, shared his life story with me and painted an enchanting image of life on the ranch in Buffalo fifty years back.

There was an oil boom in Wyoming right about that time, however, and the lure of a better income in the oil fields took him away from ranching. As the years went by, he rose in the company and eventually ended up as the General Manager with a desk job in town.

But once a cowboy always a cowboy.

Dick had come to town on this sunny summer day wearing his cowboy hat and carrying his leather ranching gloves in his back pocket.

As we talked about the vibrant nature of the town, its festivals, its artwork and the bronze sculptures we’d seen around town, his eyes misted over when he told me that a locally noted bronze sculptor had created a beautiful sculpture of him with his grandson holding a calf.

There’s a romance to the ranching life, but there’s reality too. During our stay in Buffalo, we were touched by a bit of both as we paid quite a few visits to the small shops and tourist boutiques in town.

Cowboy boots Buffalo Wyoming

Cowbgirl boots are available in every style!

Several shops had fantastic arrays of cowboy boots. The pink and bling cowboy boots we’d seen on the cowgirls at the rodeo were all available in town. Just pick your favorite!

There were also lots of cowboy hats for sale, and we had fun at the hat rack trying different ones on. There were also lots of rifles for sale, many of them vintage guns from a bygone era.

Cowboy hat and rifles Buffalo Wyoming

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In one particular shop called The Office, I was idly scoping out the pens and pads when I saw a notebook on the display rack titled “Beef Calving Record Book.”

Beef Calving book for sale in stationery store at The Office Buffalo Wyoming

How often do you find a Beef Calving Record Book in your local stationery store?!

I opened it up, and inside were columns marked Calf ID, Cow ID, Sire ID, Birth Date, Sex and various measurements and weights.

Was this for real?

I asked the store clerk, and she said that oh, yes, those little notebooks were very much for real and the store often ran out of them in the spring when the calves were being born!

How totally cool is that?!

In this crazy era of history when we can’t let our cell phones out of arm’s reach and laws are being passed in Hawaii to remind pedestrians to look up from their phones as they cross the street, ranchers in the small towns of Wyoming are still recording the vital stats of their newborn calves with pen and paper in specialty “rain proof” notebooks!

Beef Calving book in Buffalo Wyoming at The Office stationery store

These little “weather proof” notebooks are hot sellers during calving season!

It is this very simplicity — not that calving is in the least bit simple — but it is this very straight-forwardness and closeness to nature and life itself that makes the cowboy lifestyle so romantic and appealling.

Lots of folks come to Wyoming to spend some time on a dude ranch, riding windswept trails past picturesque snowcapped mountains so they can savor a whiff of a the cowboy life.

We were photographing the mountains one afternoon when a group of horseback riders appeared out of nowhere.

As we got chatting with them, we discovered the ranch owner was a native of the area, but his wife was German. Decades ago she had made a career in the tourism industry in Austria selling western American vacations to Austrians who wanted to get a taste of our Wild West.

She ended up getting a taste of the Wild West herself one year when she took a short term job on a ranch, and she fell in love not only with Wyoming but with a Wyoming rancher too. In no time she was married, had started a family, and was hosting German and Austrian visitors herself!

Horseback riders in Bighorn National Forest Bighorn Mountains

German speaking tourists from Austria and Germany enjoy a tour with local guide Claudia.

We heard a lively exchange of English mixed with German as she talked with her guests on their horses, and the huge grins on their faces said it all. They were loving their week in Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains!

Back in 1879, just five years after the Custer Expedition into the nearby Black Hills, a fellow named Charles Buell pitched a tent alongside Clear Creek where the town of Buffalo stands today. Some miners coming out of the Black Hills who were loaded down with gold asked if they could bunk in his tent for a few nights and store their gold with him too.

Buell instantly realized that opportunity was knocking, and he decided that these miners would be his first customers at his brand new hotel, restaurant and bank! Within the year he had built a wooden hotel building.

Ten years later he was charging $2.50 a night to regular visitors from all over, and in the ensuing decades he hosted celebrities like Buffalo Bill Cody, Teddy Roosevent, General Crook and Calamity Jane.

Occidental Hotel Interior Buffalo Wyoming

When you dream, dream big!
The Occidental Hotel started as a tent by the creek!

By the early 1900’s the current brick building filled a full city block, and now, over a century later, people still stay in the rooms upstairs and enjoy live bluegrass music jams every week in the classic old western bar downstairs.

The hotel still stands right next to Clear Creek where Charles Buell pitched his tent nearly 140 years ago, and there’s a little dispenser on the bridge where you can get a handful of fish food to throw over to the fish swimming below.

Occidental Hotel Buffalo Wyoming home of Longmire

Kids throw fish food down to the fish below the bridge by the elegant Occidental Hotel.

Folks of all ages love to cast a fishing line off the bridge in downtown Buffalo, and one day as we walked by a young boy reeled in a really big fish. Wow!!

Proud kid with trophy fish Buffalo Wyoming

Nice catch!!!

Part of the Longmire Days celebration was an antique car show, and after the parade ended everyone wandered over to a nearby park where the cars were lined up on the grass and glistening in the sun.

1948 Chevrolet truck Buffalo Wyoming

A late 1940s era Chevrolet pickup truck — Sweet!

Since this is ranching country, a large number of the old vehicles were vintage pickup trucks.

We chatted with the owners, and in more cases than not we discovered that the truck we were admiring had been owned by Dad or Grandpa and had had a productive life on the family ranch before being lovingly restored and brought out to show off.

Antique truck at a car show in Buffalo Wyoming

An antique Ford pickup. Many of the trucks at the show had done decades of duty on nearby ranches.

Of course every ranch has dogs as well as trucks, and we spotted a particularly pretty dog in attendance.

Beautiful dog portrait

Sunset in the Bighorns.

We had loved our RV trip through eastern Wyoming where we visited the towns of Chugwater, Douglas, Newcastle and Sundance, but the town of Buffalo and the nearby Bighorn Mountains enchanted us.

Crepuscular rays of sunset Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

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Little did we know that first weekend that Longmire Days and the antique car show would be just the first of several delightful celebrations we’d enjoy on our RV trip to Buffalo, Wyoming!!

Sunset over an RV Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

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Buffalo Wyoming River Runs Through It mural seen on an RV trip to town

Allow a few days when you take your RV to Buffalo, Wyoming!

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More info about Buffalo, Wyoming, and Longmire Days:

Blog posts from the Big Horn Mountains, the Badlands and the Black Hills:

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Cowboy Poetry Gatherings in Durango, Colorado, and Alpine, Texas!

October 2016 – One of the stops for RV travelers on the beautiful San Juan Skyway is the town of Durango, Colorado. This is a fun mountain town that is loaded with history. One of the most historic places in town is the pretty Strater Hotel.

Strater Hotel Durango Colorado

Strater Hotel in Durango, Colorado

As we walked down the streets in the historic district, we saw a wonderful horse and carriage parked near a store.

Horse and buggy ride Durango Colorado

Need a lift?

What fun it was to catch this rig a little later as it strutted down the road in front of the Strater Hotel!

Horse and carriage Durango Colorado

Shades of the past

Of course, Durango in the 21st century is quite different than back in the 19th century. A plaque on a street corner gave us a feeling for what this same area looked like back in 1896.

Durango Colorado Main Street 1896

Durango in 1896!

But the spirit of the old days is alive and well for Durango visitors, and I gave Mark a glimpse of what I’d look like as a barmaid at the famous Diamond Belle Saloon at the Strater Hotel.

Diamond Belle Saloon Strater Hotel Durango Colorado

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Once we got inside the Diamond Belle Saloon, we saw the real thing. Much prettier!!

Barmaid Diamond Bell Saloon Strater Hotel Durango Colorado

The barmaids dress for success in the Diamond Belle Saloon in the Strater Hotel

The Diamond Belle Saloon was absolutely hopping when we stepped inside, because the Strater Hotel was hosting the annual Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

Bar Diamond Belle Saloon Strater Hotel Durango Colorado

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The barmaids were zipping between endless tables filled with cowboys, and the cash register was humming.

Strater Hotel Bar Durango Colorado

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Mark has a knack for getting pretty girls to line up for photos for him (check out our blog post from Spring Break on Daytona Beach years ago), and these lovely ladies were happy to oblige his request for a photo.

Barmaids Diamond Belle Saloon Strater Hotel Durango Colorado

The Diamond Belle Saloon’s barmaids give us a smile!

If you don’t know what Cowboy Poetry is, you are in for a special treat when you get to a Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

Folks who love the western ranching lifestyle and people who are real live cowboys today get together and tell stories, sing songs and memorialize a way of life that is rapidly slipping away.

Don Cadden at Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering

Cowboy poet Don Cadden sings us a song.

We are fortunate to be good friends with a popular cowboy poet, Don Cadden, a native Texan who heads up the enormous Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Alpine, Texas, in February each year. Don has recorded many of his songs on CDs, and they are hauntingly beautiful (links below).

If you have ever felt nostalgia for a place that has changed with time, his song, “It Ain’t Texas Any More” will bring tears to your eyes (it does mine, and I’m not a Texan!). His poem “If Old Hats Could Talk” is a moving stroll through a row of old cowboy hats hanging on a wall that describes the personality of each hat and the story of the person that wore it.

Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering

Cowboy Poetry is as much about music as it is about poetry!

The Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Durango fills every possible venue in the Strater Hotel and around town, as formal performances take place and informal groupings of friends play for each other in whatever nook or cranny they can find.

Don Cadden was scheduled to perform in the Diamond Belle Saloon, but the bar was so loud with reveling cowboys and cowgirls that he moved his group of perfomers to the hotel lobby where the audience could enjoy the music and be close to the performers. More than a few tourists coming into the hotel stopped to listen for a while before making their way to Reception or their rooms!

Cowboy Poetry Gathering Durango Colorado

Cowboy poets were performing all over the place in Durango even the hotel lobby!

We watched a more formal performance on a stage in the Strater Hotel where a group of cowboy poets took turns telling hilarious stories, reciting funny poems and singing songs.

Durango Cowboy Poetry Festival

Cowboy poets on stage regaled the audience with hilarious stories and songs.

Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering Colorado

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A common theme was the progression of modern day cowboy life — with its cell phones, Facebook and ATVs — away from the traditional ways of doing things around a ranch, in person and on a horse.

Even the oldest of today’s cowboys is fully connected to the world electronically, as we all are, and of course none of them are quite old enough to remember a time when the only connection between people across long distances was word of mouth, hand-written letters, newspapers, or the slick, newfangled telegraph system.

Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering on stage

Nostalgia for earlier times without cell phones and Facebook were common themes in the poems and songs.

The really fun thing about the Cowboy Poetry Gathering is that there were cowboys all over the place, inside the hotel, outside the hotel, and strolling down the streets of Durango. Many of them talked with each other about their ranches and their horses as well as their music and poetry.

Cowboys Strater Hotel Durango Colorado Cowboy Poetry Gathering

Old cowboys chatted with each other when they weren’t performing.

We had a chance to talk to a very old cowboy who has been part of the cowboy poetry community for many decades.

Cowboy and cowgirl Durango Colorado

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Of course, Durango is a pretty big city, and many of these ranchers had driven to town by truck. After all, Durango doesn’t really have any places to tie up a horse. But they do have cool bike racks!

Durango Colorado bicycle rack

Durango is a hip town with decorative bike racks on the parking meters.

We’ve been to Durango a few times over the years, and one of our favorite places to grab a microbrew beer is at the Steamboat Springs Brewing Company. We joined all the cowboys that had worked up a thirst from singing and went on in.

Steamworks Brewing Company Durango Colorado

Steamworks Brewing Company is an awesome place to wet your whistle!

After quaffing a few, we mosied through town and came across a very funny sign:

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beer Holder

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If you are planning a Fall RV adventure in southwestern Colorado or if your winter RVing plans will take you to southwestern Texas, going to one of these gatherings of cowboy poets is a real highlight.

A wonderful spot for an RV trip in the winter is Big Bend National Park in Texas where you can find a cowboy poetry gathering in nearby Alpine, Texas, each February.

The Fall 2016 issue of Coast to Coast Magazine includes a feature article I wrote about our RV trip to Big Bend National Park and is decorated with photos from both of our cameras during our stay there.

Mark’s photo of the balancing rock on the Grapevine Hills Hike is on the cover of the magazine:

Coast to Coast Magazine Fall 2016 Cover Photo Big Bend Texas by Mark Fagan

Cover photo: Mark Fagan
Fall 2016 issue

Big Bend National Park has mountains, deserts and a big ol’ river (the Rio Grande), which makes for an incredible variety of options for hiking, cycling, photography and sightseeing.

On the beach Santa Elena Canyon Big Bend Texas

Santa Elena Canyon on the Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park, Texas

There is also a ghost town and a very funky hippie town in Terlingua on the far western edge of the park.

Ruins in Terlingua Ghost Town Texas

Old adobe ruins from the Mexican mining camp in Terlingua, Texas, just outside Big Bend

And passport holders can slip across the border to Mexico in a rowboat and enjoy a daytrip to the classic Mexican town of Boquillas del Carmen, a place that we found offered as authentic a Mexican experience as any we had had in our nearly four years of living in Mexico on our sailboat.

Ferry across Rio Grande from Big Bend National Park to Boquillas del Carmen Mexico

Taking the ferry across the Rio Grande for a daytrip to Mexico.

Here are links to our blog posts from our RV travels in Big Bend National Park:

For more: All of our blog posts from our RV trips in Texas

RV Camping at Big Bend National Park Texas

Goodnight, Big Bend!!
Love boondocking? Visit our page: Tips for boondocking at Big Bend!

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More info about Durango and Cowboy Poetry festivals:

Other blog posts from our RV trips to Colorado:

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A Glimpse of Cowboy Life and Cattle Ranching in Montana

April 2016 – During our stay with our friends in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley, not only did I get a chance to ride a horse across glorious pastures and fields, but we both got to experience a different way of life that is a very special.

Fifth wheel trailer RV and a horse

We learned a little about ranching and horses during our stay in Montana!

For starters, we got to see how horses put on their shoes.

A horse gets new shoes in Montana

Snipper gets new shoes.

Snipper needed new shoes after he’d spent a winter running around barefoot in the snow, and his trusty shoe man, Jake, came around one morning to fit him with a new pair.

Horse gets new shoes in Montana

First, the hoof has to be cleaned and trimmed a bit.

He worked quickly and easily, cracking jokes the whole time. There are a lot of very funny things you can say when you’re working at the back end of a horse.

Horse gets new shoes on Montana ranch

Jake kept us all laughing as he went about his work.

In the bed of his pickup, he had an array of different size shoes and all kinds of tools for the job.

Horseshoes

Tools of the trade for a horseshoer.

Watching him file down each hoof and hammer on a new shoe, we felt like we had been transported back in time to another era.

Measuring horseshoes for Montana horse

Horse shoes come in all sizes.

Suddenly, he suggested that Mark give it a try. He took off his chaps and gave them to Mark to put on. Then Mark lifted Snipper’s foot and tried to steady it between his knees. It’s not as easy as it looks!!

Learning to shoe a horse in Montana

Mark tries his hand at the job… not so easy!!

And what did Snipper think of all this?

Horse making a face

Snipper thinks this is all rather funny!

Of course, he’d rather roll around in the dirt and shake the dust off!

Horse shaking dust off his body

New shoes are nice, but a roll in the dirt is even better!!

Riding a horse was a special event for me, but it is all in a day’s work at Carl’s cattle ranch down the road. He and his hired man Jack and sometimes our friend Bob routinely round up the cows on horseback to move them from one field to another or to gather them all together for inspection or treatment.

Horse saddles and cowboy boots_

Stirrups and boots for cowboy work.

Every cow on Carl’s cattle ranch has a single job to do: deliver and raise a baby calf each year. In the summertime, a (very lucky) bull is brought to the ranch, and his job is to get all the cows pregnant.

The cows are already raising last year’s calves when this happens, and they keep them until October when the calves are sold and shipped off. This is a very sad day for everyone on the ranch, as the cows all mourn their loss and moo loud and long for a few days.

But they are happily pregnant, and in March, the cows all give birth to their new calves, and the cycle starts again.

Ranch life in the Bitterroot Valley Montana

We were fortunate to spend time on a cattle ranch where the cows are lovingly cared for.

When you have a ranch, you’ve gotta have ranch dogs, and two of them liked to catch a ride on the four wheeler whenever it got driven around.

Ranch dogs in Montana

The canine ranch hands get a ride.

But the alpha dog on this ranch is Taiga. She is a beautiful Australian shepherd that we met as a young puppy seven years earlier when she had been on the ranch for just a week. She has grown into an incredibly loyal and obedient and responsible dog.

Cattle dog on Montana Ranch_

Little pup Taiga is all grown up now.

I was floored when Carl yelled out to her, “Go get that calf!” and she did exactly that!

Calf on Montana ranch

A special baby calf.

This ranch is loaded with momma cows and their baby calves, and Taiga has a strong mothering instinct too. She sometimes mothers the calves a little bit.

Cattle dog mothering a calf on a Montana ranch

Taiga gives the baby calf a little lick.

Usually cows have just one calf each year, but this year two of Carl’s cows gave birth to twins. When cows live in small fields, they can keep track of their twins and raise them both. But on large grazing pastures like Carl’s ranch, the moms can lose track of two separate babies if they start wandering off in different directions and one disappears behind a hill or something.

So Carl and Jack hand-reared two calves this spring, one twin from each mother cow, and they bottle fed each of them a special calf formula twice a day.

Preparing to bottle feed calves on a Montana ranch

The orphan calves are bottle fed a special formula that gets warmed up a bit.

For Carl, bottle feeding a calf is a piece of cake, and he can do it one handed.

Bottle feeding a calf on a ranch in Montana

Bottle feeding a calf is easy, right?

He explained that sometimes an orphan calf can be given to a surrogate mom who just lost her calf for some reason. The easiest way to make the mom accept the baby is to tie the skin of her dead calf across the back of the new adoptee. The mother cow will recognize her calf’s smell and will readily accept the new baby and raise it as her own.

But none of Carl’s cows lost their calves this year, so these little guys were orphans. One had a brown face and one had white patches on its face, and both were very hungry and eager to gulp down their milk.

A calf gets bottle fed on a Montana ranch

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Carl asked if we’d like to try bottle feeding the baby calves, and we jumped at the chance. Just like the horse shoeing, though, it was a little more challenging than it looked. The calves were very cute, but towards the end they had milk all over their faces and we had to clean up a bit too!!

Bottle feeding a calf on a ranch in Montana

Yum!

These two little orphans needed special care and couldn’t go through the summer on the ranch without a mom to watch over them, so they needed new homes and went off to an auction while we were there.

Calves at a livestock auction in Missoula Montana

The little calves go to the Livestock Auction.

We hooked up with them at the Livestock Auction in Missoula. We saw a few hogs get sold, and then a blind calf and his mother cow were sold, and then our two little bottle fed calves came up for sale.

Calves at Livestock Auction in Missoula Montana

On to new pastures!

The auctioneer began his wildly fast patter and sang out the virtues of each calf and their weights and starting bids. He continued in a blast of unintelligible chatter until suddenly one was sold and ushered out of the pen. He resumed, and moments later the other was sold and scampered out of the pen too.

Hay bales on a ranch in Montana

From horses to cows and calves, we loved our Montana ranch visit.

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Montana’s Bitterroot Valley – Elk, Horses, Ranches & More!

April 2016 – After towing our fifth wheel through the beautiful backcountry roads of northern Utah into southeastern Idaho and on up along the Salmon River, we continued on US-93 into Montana’s beautiful Bitterroot Valley.

Bitterroot River Bitterroot Valley Montana

Montana’s Bitterroot River

In Montana we got out on our bikes and toured some of the winding dirt roads. What peace and tranquility we found!

Mountain biking Bitterroot Valley Montana

Our bikes took us on some beautiful back roads.

This is cattle ranching country, and we had a chance to visit with some cows along the way.

Mountain biking with cows on a Montana ranch

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Special friends of ours live in the Bitterroot Valley, and they took us on a driving tour of some of the scenic back roads.

Cows grazing Bitterroot Valley Montana

Beautiful scenery in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana

Farms and ranches dot the very scenic landscape.

Ranch land Stevensville Montana

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Cows grazing Bitterroot Valley Montana

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Spring trees were in full bloom.

Spring flowering trees in blossom Bitterroot Valley Montana

Trees were covered with flowers.

Garden flowers were also in bloom, and we saw some wonderful tulips.

Spring tulips in bloom in Montana

Tulips greet the day in a pretty garden.

We have visited the Bitterroot Valley before, and one of our favorite towns is Hamilton. Four years ago when we were in Hamilton, we stopped at the Big Creek Coffee Roasters and met the owner, Randy, who, at the time, had just left a successful career as an attorney and Justice of the Peace to start his own coffee roasting business. What a wonderful change of pace!

He had been in business for only a month way back then. So, we were thrilled to see he was not only still in business today but that his business was thriving.

Big Creek Coffee Roasters Hamilton Montana

Big Creek Coffee Roasters has quite a following and ships nationwide!

Unlike most little coffee shops, Big Creek Coffee Roasters actually roasts their coffee beans right on the premises, and Randy knows an awful lot about coffee. He had told me on our first visit four years earlier that the best way to brew a fine cup of coffee was to use a Melitta coffee brewer and Melitta filters and to pour almost boiling water over the grounds.

This is the way I had always made coffee — my family brewed it that way when I was growing up — and it is a great way to go if you live in an RV off the grid on solar power because it doesn’t require any electricity.

Big Creek Coffee Roasters Hamilton Montana

A great spot for coffee in Montana!

This time around, Randy taught me about coffee storage containers. I’d always kept my coffee in whatever bag it came in. Randy suggested I try an Airscape Coffee Cannister which has a double sealing system. There’s an airtight inner seal that you push down onto the grounds to squeeze out all the air, and there’s an airtight lid too. It holds about 2 lbs. of coffee and it has been keeping the delicious Barrister’s Blend of coffee I bought from him very fresh!

Airscape Coffee Cannister keeps coffee beans fresh

The inner lid (left) gets pressed down against the grounds inside the cannister.
The outer lid (right) makes a second airtight seal at the top.

While we were there, a group from Ohio walked in the door for a cuppa joe. It turned out they were enthusiastic mail order customers who had fallen in love with Big Creek Coffee Roasters while on vacation in Montana years back!

Early each morning, long before it was time for coffee, we kept hearing the familiar and haunting call of a California Quail. These guys’ cousins, the Gambel’s quail, are common in the Arizona desert. We were surprised that some California Quail now live in Montana!

California Quail Stevensville Montana

Hey, what are you doing here??!!

It was a thrill to see a little California quail in Montana, but an even more thrilling animal encounter awaited us as we drove down the highway one afternoon. Out of the corner of our eyes we saw a herd of elk circling each other in a frenzy by the side of the road. Curious, we turned around and pulled over to see what was up.

Suddenly, the herd bolted across the highway.

Elk on road Bitterroot Valley Montana

Wow, look at that!

Luckily, the cars in both directions stopped and let the herd pass.

Elk crossing road Bitterroot Valley Montana

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They crossed the bike path and then began jumping over the fence into a farm field.

Elk jumping fence Bitterroot Valley Montana

The fence is no problem for these high jumpers!

What a magical sight it was to see them leaping over the fence one by one!

Elk herd jumps fence in Bitterroot Valley

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Finally, they’d all gotten over the fence, and they started running at full tilt across the field. What a sight!!

Elk herd runs across the Bitterroot Valley Montana

And off they go!!

Our friend Bob is a longtime horse owner, and while we were visiting he wanted to make sure I got out on a horseback ride.

We had tried this once before, with mixed results, and we were both eager to give it another go.

Horse and owner in montana

Bob and his beautiful horse, Snipper.

The first order of business was to make sure I looked a little like a cowgirl with a proper hat.

Cowgirl in Montana

Can this cowgirl ride a horse?

Bob has two horses, Snipper, who stole my heart, and Little Buck, who is very calm and good for a rank beginner like me to ride. Bob showed me how to steer with the reins, and Little Buck responded to my every movement. It was like steering a car. How easy!

I laughed out loud at what a cinch riding a horse was and inadvertently squeezed my legs together. Oops! The horse took off like a shot! Don’t nudge a horse with your feet by accident, because that means Go!

Horseback riding in the Bitterroot Valley

Ready to ride!

Once I showed Bob I could do a U-turn and go and stop as needed, we started off on the most beautiful horseback ride together.

Horseback riding in the Bitterroot Valley

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The pastures stretched to the horizon where the mountain peaks reached up to touch the sky.

Riding horses in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana

What a place to ride!

My extremely patient horse tolerated all my miscues and mistakes, and we threaded our way through a forest of ponderosa pine trees. We got all the way through to the open fields on the other side without losing either me or my hat!

Riding a horse in the Bitterroot Valley Montana

I think I’m getting the hang of this!

I can totally understand how people fall in love with horses and riding. This was really fun!

I also now have a huge appreciation for John Wayne’s horsemanship skills. How he managed to tear across the desert at a full gallop with the reins in his teeth and guns firing in each hand is beyond me!!

horse love in Montana Bitterroot Valley

Snipper loves attention, and I loved giving it to him!

If you are traveling through Montana with an RV, I can’t guarantee you’ll see a herd of elk running across the highway or that you’ll have a chance to ride across the pastures on horseback, but US-93 through the Bitterroot Valley will take you past some wonderful towns and some beautiful scenery! More info and links below…

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