Magazine article Sunset

Wyoming's Guest Ranch Highway

Magazine article Sunset

Wyoming's Guest Ranch Highway

Article excerpt

Off the beaten path near Yellowstone...scenic drives and horseback rides

MOVIE COWBOYS AND cowgirls usually ride west into the sunset, but if you're visiting Yellowstone or the Grand Tetons, there's good reason to head toward the sunrise. East of Grand Teton National Park and southeast of Yellowstone, U.S. Highway 26/287 crosses the Continental Divide and heads to Dubois. This stretch of highway offers travelers a chance to get beyond the parks' tourist hubbub to a little-known patch of the legendary West.

Here, mountain and meadow views rival those in the national parks. The highway and its side roads are dotted with interesting places to stay, both guest ranches where you can live the Old West on extended stays and lodges that offer overnight accommodations and back-country outings.

GETTING THERE IS HALF THE FUN

From Moran Junction, the road climbs more than 2,600 feet through Bridger-Teton National Forest to the Continental Divide at Togwotee Pass, elevation 9,658 feet. Expect to see patches of snow as you approach the divide. Alpine wildflowers start blooming in June. At the summit, the Pinnacles--a series of jagged peaks--rise to crown the ridge.

From here, the highway winds down (but not hair-raisingly) through Shoshone National Forest. The air is fragrant with lodgepole and ponderosa pines. All along this road, signs point to dude ranches, outfitters, lodges, and motels.

About 8 miles before you reach Dubois, the land flattens out and becomes suddenly arid. You're at the beginning of the Great Plains.

FINDING A RANCH THAT FITS LIKE A SADDLE

Of the dozen or so dude ranches that cluster along this stretch of highway, most have a minimum stay of three days; some require six.

The lodges are big, often built of logs, and they usually smell of woodsmoke. In the common rooms, Indian blankets may be flung over worn leather chairs and artifacts mounted on walls. There are corners to read in and big tables to stand around with a glass of wine before you step out on the porch to watch the sunset. The owner might give you tips on your riding, offer short geology lessons, or tell family stories about early Wyoming and ranching.

On any ranch, a dude's day is full. A ranch-hand breakfast hits the table between 7 and 8. It's typically hearty: bacon, sausage, ham, eggs any style, toast, pancakes, assorted hot and cold cereals, hash browns, biscuits and gravy, fruits and juices. …

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