press closer to the fire pit, warming feet and faces, as the dusk
chill settles over the Rocky Mountains. Cocktail glasses chime
through the laughter and chatter. I give the scene wide berth,
hobbling across the thick grass. My legs bend and wallow, entirely
disobedient. After six hours in the saddle - the first time in
15 years - my limbs are mutinous. They lurch towards the soothing
warmth of the flames and the chilled Pinot Grigio on the lodge's
late. I've been spotted dithering. "Amanda," a
cheerful voice cries out. "What are you doing? Why
aren't you here?"
I demur. A chorus of boos floats across the lawn.
have a drink, silly. You're not here to work."
I am, but my resolve melts before the campfire and gentle
camaraderie. A gentleman relinquishes his chair by the hearth.
An unobtrusive waiter slips a glass of white wine and plate
of hors d'uvres into my hands. I snuggle up and sigh.
people - strangers until yesterday - called me out of the
darkness. Without strain, without pretence, they wove me
into their close-knit circle. Some have visited the CLazyU
Ranch for more than 50 years. The lawyers, professors and
entrepreneurs, so dignified in western couture now, once
scarfed s'mores in the children's program. They return the
same time each year, greeting old friends, breaking in new
place has turned into family," one explains. Another
chimes in; "It's like intergenerational summer camp.
The kids get to tent out, visit the rodeo, brand their leather
boots and belts, and watch films. Meanwhile, we sit and
drink nice wine."
- the adults that is - do indeed live well. Soufflés
and gourmet pancakes greet us each morning. We lunch by
the pool after three-hours on horseback. Hiking, trap shooting,
tennis, rafting: the options are vast. The ice cream parlor
opens twice daily, crafting ornate banana-syrup concoctions,
and the bar manager circulates during cocktail hour, topping
off glasses with a sincere smile.
we dine. The long communal tables are blanketed by chef
Tom Lee's creations. Rosemary bread, wild mushrooms and
long-grain rice, fresh mountain trout, ginger crème
bruleè. The portions are mammoth, sized for farm
hands rather than sedentary city slickers. I eat and eat,
but gain no weight. Perhaps clinging to the saddle horn
burns more calories than I thought.
children orbit this stately summer camp, immersed in a world
all their own. They breakfast en famille, then vanish with
bright-eyed, hearty counselors, who orchestrate the finger-painting,
scavenger hunts and pony rides. After dinner, they rejoin
the adults for blue-grass music, square dancing or other
wholesome - but wholly fun - activities. Each and every
one seems deliriously happy. "When it came time to
leave, all six of my children begged to come back,"
a single father observed. "I signed up immediately
for the next summer. How often do they agree about anything?"
home-on-the-range atmosphere is largely due to the proprietors,
the Murrays, who grew up visiting the ranch. "Some
folks are fourth-generation visitors," co-owner Brian
explains. "It's increasingly rare to return to the
same place year after year, but around 65% of our guests
see why. A bold young wrangler, Kate, coaxes me onto a red mare.
My last ride was two decades ago, but she has me trotting along
hill trails the very first morning. By day three, I'm scaling
ridges and fording streams with my trusty steed. No prizes are
forthcoming for deportment, but I can handle myself on a horse
now. The CLazyU took a rank amateur and introduced her to the
sweeping mesas and aspen glades of the Continental Divide. I'd
say the process is painless, except for all the undignified
hobbling that results from my rides.
ranch has access to 8,000 miles of trail, as well as an
indoor, heated arena. Summer homes dot the valley, but the
terrain and wildlife are rugged enough to sustain the cowpoke
dream (more advanced riders can even help round up the herd).
Badgers, foxes, mountain lions and black bears populate
the hills. As my horse ambles up a slope, the other riders
gesture ahead. "Look at the weird deer!" So we
do ... until it registers: Not a deer. Moose. Gawky baby
moose. We turn tail rather than face a protective mother,
but the thrill lingers a long time.
did the sensation of catching my first trout. Hip waders
pulled high, I stand thigh-deep in the ranch pond with laconic
instructor, Claus Muhlbauer. "Fly-fishing is a thinking
sport, which appeals to highly educated professionals,"
he muses. "It's more complicated than throwing out
a worm." )
we practice the whip-n-wait technique, then roll-casting. Claus,
demonstrating how to avoid obstacles, hooks the lone tree on
the lawn accidentally. "And this is how you disengage a
line without damaging expensive equipment," he chuckles,
sacrificing the delicate fly. Two minutes before the lesson's
end, my rod bows and I reel in an eleven-inch rainbow, gaping
mouth just above the surface. Claus leans down to tweak the
hook free, but with a flash and wiggle, the trout wrenches loose
and arches back into the lake. Perfect. Just perfect.
that's why I sigh beside the fire, completely content. I
have my very own one-that-got-away fishing tale. My cheeks
are pinked from fresh air. I am saddle sore, granted, but
the sauna left me languid. I've eaten and drank well in
good company. And let me tell you, partner, I feel just
The ranch is 97 miles west of Denver International Airport
(DIA). AMTRAK runs to Granby station (1-800-872-7245; www.amtrak.com). Home
James shuttle service runs from the airport to Silver
Creek Ski Area 15 miles away (two hour trip, $49 one-way.
Tel: 1-800-451-4844. Web: www.homejamestransportation.com),
where the ranch picks up guests by prior arrangement.
James also represents Hertz vehicles - or try Avalanche
Car Rental from $49 per day (Tel: 888-437-4101or 970-887-3908.
CLazyU summer rates range from $2,125-2,650 per person
for a minimum seven-night stay (double occupancy). Prices
include three massive meals each day, lodging, horseback
riding and instruction, ranch activities and a complete
supervised program for 3-17-year-olds. Autumn and winter
rates begin at $235 per night with 20% discounts for children.
Trainer Buck Brannaman, inspiration for the novel and
film The Horse Whisperer, offers a special horsemanship
clinic in late summer (additional $450 fee. Web: www.brannaman.com).
Contact the ranch at PO Box 379, Granby, Colorado, 80446.
Tel: 970-887-3344. Web: www.clazyu.com.
County is also home to one of America's top ten mountain
resorts, Winter Park. A ski train links Denver's Union
Station with the slopes from December through April. Room
rates drop as low as $29 per person in the summer, when
the regions attracts golfers, hikers and mountain bikers
(1-800-979-0332 or 970-726-5587. Web: www.winterparkresort.com).
more intimate accommodations through www.coloradomountaininns.com.
Try the Bear Paw Inn for hand-hewn log charm, feather
beds and romantic seclusion sans children from $170-220
(871 Bear Paw Drive, Winter Park. Tel: 970-887-1351. Web: www.bearpaw-winterpark.com).
The Whistle Stop B&B boasts a homey atmosphere and
bottomless cookie jar ($69-99; one block from the Winter
Park Amtrak station. Tel: 888-829-2632 or 970-726-8767.
Budget travelers prefer the Rocky Mountain Inn, which
has elegant dormitory beds from $15.50-30 a night, depending
on the season (Tel: 1-866-467-8351 or 1-970-726-8256.
Satiate your city-slicker, coffee-and-cake cravings
at the welcoming Black Bear Bakery and Cafe in Grand
Lake (928 Grand Avenue. Tel: 970-627-0304).
Pizza Pub boasts over 11,000 decorated dollar bills
on its walls. Kitsch motif aside, it serves good pies,
especially the whole-wheat crusts (traditionally eaten
as desert, slathered in honey). Wash it all down with
local Fat Tire Ale (Highway 40 at King's Crossing
intersection, Winter Park. Tel: 470-726-5409).
Garden Grill is a favorite apre-ski hangout for locals.
Vegetarians celebrate its hummus pita with tzatziki, while
omnivores praise the shrimp enchiladas and burgers (1000
Grand Avenue, Grand Lake. Tel: 970-627-8404. The inn also
rents distinctive rooms: "Squeaky Bob's" even
features a hand-painted folk art bathtub. See www.egscountryinn.com).
special occasions, reserve a porch table high on Tonahutu
Ridge at Grand Lake Lodge. The thoughtful nouveau menu
includes hazelnut-crusted Brie, duck breast with roasted
plum and a stew of lamb and wild mushrooms. The restaurant
hosts a champagne brunch on Sundays (15500 US Hwy 34,
Grand Lake. Tel: 970-627-3967. Web: www.grandlakelodge.com).
The lodge also rents cabins, starting at $80 per night.
The CLazyU company store sells most of the cowboy
kit required, like "stampede straps" for
hats and sunglasses. The ranch thoughtfully provides
30-proof sun block, lip balm, combs, toiletries and
lavish snacks in each room. However, guests should
bring bathing suits, sturdy shoes with a heel (which
won't slip through a stirrup) and piles of warm clothes
to combat the high-elevation chill.
for cash? Sample the range lifestyle at Snow Mountain,
the YMCA of the Rockies, ten minutes drive from Granby.
The ranch offers short horse treks, hay wagon rides and
winter sleigh excursions on its 5,200 acreas (Tel: 970-887-1999.
guides are available from www.winterpark-info.com.
Rent mountain bikes, kayaks or snowshoes from Grand Lake
Sports (902 Grand Lake Avenue, Grand Lake. Tel: 970-627-8124.
into the Colorado River on a whitewater rafting trip.
Witty guides drawl the history of the gorge, as the Hyside
inflatables lump over boulders and swirl through eddies.
A Mad Adventures half-day trip costs $42.50, full $62.
Bring quick-drying clothes, rain gear, sunglasses with
a strap, sunscreen, a hat and water-worthy footwear. A
splashproof camera and contact lens case are recommended,
should you opt for the 30-foot cliff leap into the dark
waters (Tel: 800-451-4844 or 970-726-5290. Web: www.madadventures.com).
is the largest natural lake in Colorado. The world's
highest yacht club (at 8,367 feet) and swanky summer
homes attract the international jet set to these deep
alpine waters. Five classes of boats race each summer
in the Lipton Cup, usually won by natty wooden E-boats.
Explore by kayak ($15/hour), three-person canoe ($20/hour)
or fishing boat ($40/hour), rented from SolVista Marina
in Grand Lake (Tel: 970-627-8158. Web: www.solvista.com).
Armchair traveler should opt for the less sweaty lake
tour, where guides detail the architecture, history
and folklore of the region ... and a motor does the
dirty work ($12 adult).
Lake is home to the remarkable Rocky Mountain Repertory
Theatre. The location may be remote, tucked away in a
high, chilly range, but the talent sizzles (town park,
opposite the mini golf. Tel: 970-27-5087. Web: www.rockymountainrep.com).
Grandby is that Grandby of bulldozer fame. Vengeful citizen
Marvin Heemeye attacked local government buildings, the
library, businesses and homes in an armored "tank"
cobbled together from a Caterpillar, concrete and Plexiglas
on June 4th, 2004. The plucky town's rebuilding with help
from its friends. Send donations to PO Box 1501, Granby,
CO 80446. Catch up on the saga at http://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/3383547/detail.html.
other Grand County holidays at the superb, stylish site www.grand-county.com or www.grandlakechamber.com.
clazyuranch: The main lodge at CLazyU. Photo by A.Castleman
clazyuflyfish: A week at the ranch includes free fly-fishing
instructions. Photo courtesy of Grand County Tourism.
clazyuhorse: Riding opportunities abound in the Rockies. Photo
courtesy of Grand County Tourism.