The Importance of Adventure

When I was knee-high to the cattle roaming near my Midwestern home, my grandfather gave me a block of old barn wood for my birthday. Burned into it was that famous Helen Keller quote, “Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”  My grandfather knew a thing or two about growing things in the dirt, and about his precocious granddaughter.

Later, in a relatively abbreviated period of time, I went from a deliciously luxurious life spent marinating in grand adventures, near and far, to the sometimes austere and certainly crazed life of a single mama running her own business and running after a tiny human.

Where do great adventures factor in?

Do I still take that Chamonix ski trip, but this time pack in my kiddo instead of my ice tools?  Do I throw caution to the Montana wind and buy a ticket to New Zealand? Or do I now buy two tickets and download 20 hours of cartoons to the iPad for the flight?  And do I realize a lifelong dream of learning how to sail, press pause on my Montana life and allow the winds to carry me around the globe…albeit this time with a tiny-human sized life jacket aboard?

The answer is simple.  Yes, yes and YES!

I’ve made many mistakes at this parenting game that I've tackled on my own.

But what I am most proud of, what really sends the gooey, chocolate center of my heart into palpitation, is when my daughter runs up to me and says, “Mama, let’s go on an ADVENTURE!”

Now, to a nearly 3 year old the term ‘adventure’ means a slew of different things.  We often load up on crusty bread and ‘adventure’ on our bikes to the MSU duck pond and share carbs with our webbed friends.  We also ‘adventure’ to nearby Yellowstone National Park for geyser gallivanting, to practice our elk calls and then spend the evening bouldering on grassy slopes high above Gardiner with Electric Peak on the horizon.  And most recently, ‘adventuring’ has included Kaia’s inflatable dragon floatie that we’ve launched for many aquatic missions across Montana’s rivers and lakes (Lake Upsata is a recent favorite…full of lily blossoms, loons and trumpeter swans!).

As my daughter grows older, she continues to astound me with her simple wisdom.  She is correct in that ‘adventuring’ does not always have to include lengthy plane rides, schlepping gear up a far-flung mountain or river, and scaring myself silly in general.  All of that is good in moderation, but what we are so lucky to enjoy in Montana is the spectrum of adventure.  From meandering ambles scouting for bear grass on the Whitefish Trail in northwestern Montana, to leisurely canoe paddles in the stunning Missouri River breaks, to dawn patrol backcountry ski days filled with homemade muffins and fresh powder tele turns in Hyalite just south of Bozeman…we can fill our boots with adventure in any fashion we choose.

All we have to do is walk out our front door.

Becky Edwards is a runner, climber, skier and all around mountain lover who resides in the shadows of the Bridger Range with her daughter, Kaia, two furry wolf pups and a cat named Pickles.  She owns a communications and marketing consulting company: Sun Snow Creative.

Colorado: Fun On Two Wheels

With more gold and platinum-rated bicycle communities than any other state and exciting cycling events for amateurs to pros, Colorado is the place to visit for fun on two wheels.
Below is a sampling of mountain, road and cruiser bike rides you wont want to miss.  

A Family Fly Fishing Experience

During a recent outing I was reminded why they call one of my favorite sports “fishing”.

And not “catching”.

Whale Sharks & More

Get close to creatures of the sea for a wild family adventure.

Here are five ideas to consider:

Cowboys: At Home On The Range

At home on the open range, self-reliant and hard working, the American Cowboy remains an iconic figure.  With spurs jangling and hat tipped against the wind, he continues to symbolize the free-thinking, rugged individualism that, in part, defines the American West and much of our country’s history.

The first cowboys or vequeros came from Mexico in the late 1500s, hired to move cattle into what is now Texas and New Mexico. In the centuries that followed, the cowboy played a crucial role in the development of the West.  Working hard for low wages, breaking trail through dangerous country and enduring long, lonely days and nights sleeping under the stars, cowboys helped establish the new frontier.

Despite fewer numbers and changes in ranch management, the cowboy’s work still must be done. Throughout the West, you’ll find men and women on horseback, protected by hats, chaps and boots, riding into the far reaches of the backcountry to round up errant cattle, mend fences and doctor a sick calf.  You’ll also find them on the rodeo circuit showing off their skills, often including tricks of their trade passed down through the centuries.

For many who are part of today’s Baby Boomer generation, childhood play might have meant donning a pretend holster, hat and cowboy boots before heading out, fully outfitted for a Wild West adventure. Then came watching Roy Rogers and Dale Evans on television and perhaps catching a John Wayne movie on the weekend.

Yet, free time for modern day kids is more likely to include high tech pursuits ranging from globally-themed video games to text-heavy “conversations” with friends or organized athletic pursuits.

“Unplugging from our busy lives can benefit everyone. “ That, according to Tyler Beckley who owns and operates the Three Bar Ranch in Cranbrook, BC and coordinates the efforts of the Spur Alliance, a group of ten, like-minded guest ranches in the West.  “We see what it means for families when the kids are able to run free, there is little focus on time or technology and adults and children are able to connect with animals, nature and each other. “

For those interested in savoring the rich flavor of the old West and tapping into the compelling culture of the cowboy, the options remain plentiful. Even if the name “Trigger” doesn’t ring any bells, grab your boots and a bandana and hit the trail. Here are five places to consider:  

Santa Fe: Cowboys Real and Imagined.

The storied Santa Fe Trail comes to an end in the heart of Santa Fe, NM, just steps from modern day museums, shops and galleries. What was once a challenging, 900-mile trade route brought many a weary cowboy into town. There, he would tie his horse to the hitch rail and seek refreshment, grateful for a break from the dusty trail where rattlesnakes, weather and the threat of Native American attack kept him on high alert.

The city of Santa Fe  has celebrated this beloved aspect of their local history with a multi-faceted exhibit, Cowboys, Real and Imagined, at the New Mexico History Museum.

Drawing on photos and artifacts from its extensive collections as well as loans from more than 100 individuals and museums, Cowboys, Real and Imagined sought to answer the question: Who is a real cowboy?

“One of the reasons the cowboy myth has been so pervasive and long-lasting is because anybody could become a cowboy of sorts,” said guest curator B. Byron Price, director of the Charles M. Russell Center for the Study of Art of the American West at the University of Oklahoma and director of the University of Oklahoma Press.

In its search for an answer, Price said, the exhibit discovered that cowboy “is a verb, an adjective, a noun, an adverb.”

The interactive cowboy extravaganza offered plenty for visitors to see, touch and hear from recreations of a saddle shop to cowboy movie nights. Popcorn, a palomino horse character,  offered his take on the cowboy story in kid-friendly language. Children had the opportunity to try on cowboy costumes and participate in hands-on activities.

The annual family-friendly Wild West Weekend, (check the web site for dates) features cowgirls and cowboys in full dress, music, saddle and boot makers, plus cowboy cooking and roping demonstrations.

Contact: (505) 476-5100;  www.nmhistorymuseum.org  

Cody, Wyoming

Cowboy culture is alive and well in this Wyoming town, founded in 1896 by Colonel William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody. Thanks to the legendary showman’s traveling Wild West shows, Cody was once bestowed and now retains the title of  Rodeo Capital of the World more than a century after he put an entertaining twist on the skills local cowboys used in their daily endeavors. The Cody Stampede Rodeo attracts topnotch talent and also serves up classic rodeo entertainment, parades and a craft fair.

Each year, from June 1st through August 31st, Cody’s night rodeo, the longest running in the country gets underway at 8:00pm. Operating for more than 60 years, expect fan favorites including riding, roping, and bull and bronc exhibitions.

The musically inclined will want to tune it to Dan Miller and his "Empty Saddles Band" at the historic Cody Theatre across from the famed Irma Hotel. The Cowboy Music review offers up music, comedy and poetry throughout the summer months.

Also outside the Irma, catch a nightly Wild West street performance where the good guys and bad guys battle it out to the delight of visitors.

Make your way to Old Trail Town on the original site of Cody City to see 26 authentic frontier buildings dating back to 1879.

The onsite Museum of the Old West features artifacts that offer insight into how trappers, frontier folks and cowboys lived in the era as well as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids’ “Hole in the Wall” cabin and the gravesites of mountain men including Jeremiah “Liver Eating” Johnston. (Contact: www.YellowstoneCountry.org.)

Livingston, MT

Once home to the likes of Calamity Jane and her cohorts, Livingston, MT rests on the outside edge of a lazy eastward bend in the legendary Yellowstone River. Just fifty miles north of Yellowstone Park’s Gardiner Gate entrance, the former railroad town’s main street and historic buildings still stand as a testament to the ways of the old west. Their authentic turn-of the century charm cast the town as the perfect backdrop for movies like A River Runs Through it and The Horse whisper.

Today, the region’s cowboys still mix it up with local artists, writers and visitors, all of whom pay homage to the area’s blue-ribbon fly fishing and the rugged Bridger, Crazy, Absaroka and Gallatin Mountain Ranges that beckon many into the backcountry.

Each year over the Independence Day holiday, top-ranked PRCA cowboys and cowgirls gather for the Livingston Roundup, one of the country’s top paying rodeos. The festivities kick off with an old-fashioned parade, complete with tossed candy, costumed Shriners, themed floats and crusty wranglers pulling mule-trains along the parade route. 

After three sold out nights of barrel racing, team roping and bronc riding, the festivities come to an end on July 4th when fireworks light up the western sky and a patriotic sound track gets the flags waving.

Extend your experience with a stay on a nearby guest ranch or the historic Chico Hot Springs Resort.

Contact: 406.222.0850;  www.VisitMT.com; www.livingston-chamber.com/rodeo.html; www.MtnSky.com.  

The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.

Oklahoma City, OK.

Founded in 1955, the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum has shared its extraordinary western art and artifacts collection as well as a wealth of history with more than 10 million visitors from around the world.

The stories told through the works of famed artists Frederic Remington, Charles M. Russell and James Earle Fraser combine with interactive history galleries to illuminate the enduring legacy of the American cowboy, rodeos, western performers and the region’s frontiersmen.

“There is nothing more American than the American cowboy,” explains Don Reeves, the Curator and McCasland Chair of Cowboy Culture at the museum. “People can really relate to the Code of the West and everything the cowboy stands for. We get a lot of young families in the museum who talk about integrating those values into their lifestyle.”

Throughout the year, families can enjoy the Children’s Cowboy Corral and interactive exhibits. Over Memorial Day weekend, the annual Chuck Wagon Gathering & Children’s Cowboy Festival gets underway. Expect authentic cowboy grub served from a chuck wagon as well as stagecoach and covered wagon rides, weaving and roping demonstrations and a range of western stage entertainment.

Contact: 405-478-2250; www.nationalcowboymuseum.org   

Visit a Dude Ranch.

Mountain Sky Guest Ranch

High-profile families flock to Big Sky Country where there are more buffalo than paparazzi.

From Ted Turner and Dennis Quaid to the recent arrival of singer John Mayer, Montana offers

a chance to unplug from a pressure-filled existence and enjoy the wide open spaces. Local

guest ranches, such as Mountain Sky in vista-rich Paradise Valley, treat all their guests like

celebrities, according to general manager Yancy Arterburn. “Whether they choose to sit on the

porch reading a book or load the kids into helicopter for a day of private fly fishing or

Yellowstone sightseeing, we just want everyone to have a good time.” 

Contact: visitmontana.com; 1-800-548-3392; www.mtnsky.com

Hunewill Ranch

Established in 1861 by Napoleon Bonaparte Hunewill and his wife Esther, the Hunewill Ranch, is the oldest working guest ranch in California and home to 1200 head of cattle, 190 horses, and an assortment of llamas, goats, and sheep. “The fact that we are one of the oldest continuously owned family cattle ranches in the American West means our guests have the benefit of all that history. We are the real deal,” explains Betsy Hunewill, the great, great granddaughter of the founder, who was known as “NB”.

“Some of our guests show up wound pretty tight,” adds Hunewill, “but by the time they leave they are different people.” It makes perfect sense. Guests have the option to disconnect from their daily stressors and enjoy outdoor adventures on the eastern edge of Yosemite National Park in the shadow of the Sierra Nevadas. Days begin with a cool morning breakfast ride through a lush meadow.

Later guests can saddle up and help move cattle, fly fish, watch as young foals or yearlings are worked in the corral, or explore a corner of the 26,000 acre expanse on which five generations of Hunewills have shared their western ways. Riding programs are crafted to match the skill and interests of each rider, explained Hunewill. Wranglers have designed games to help beginners learn horsemanship, activities that Hunewill says are as enjoyable for adults as they are for the youngsters. Following a home-style dinner in “NB”’s original Victorian ranch house, families gather for talent night, square dancing, stories around a campfire or a little roping practice before retiring to their comfortable cottage-style accommodations.

“We get a lot of repeat guests and many families have been coming generation after generation,” said Hunewill. “One mom recently told me she had offered to take the kids to a popular theme park. But the kids insisted on returning to the ranch. It’s kind of neat to hear that.”

Contact: www.BestDudeRanches.com ; www.Hunewillranch.com www.DudeRanch.org 

Happy trails to you until we meet again. Happy trails to you, keep smilin' until then. Who cares about the clouds when we're together? Just sing a song and bring the sunny weather. Happy trails to you 'till we meet again.   Dale Evans – 1950.

Kayak Trips For Families

See nature from a paddler’s point of view.

Here are five places for family kayakers to consider:

Family Friendly Summits

In her book Up: A Mother and Daughter’s Peakbagging Adventure, writer Patricia Ellis Herr relates the adventures and lessons learned as she and her young daughter summited 48 of New Hampshire’s highest peaks. Your goals might be a little less lofty, but here are five ways you and your family can enjoy peak experiences:

Summer Fun 5 Ways

No matter what interests your clan, there is plenty of family fun to be had.

Here are five ideas:

Fly Fish With Your Family

 First time casters and veteran anglers enjoy the natural places that enable a fly fishing vacation. Test your tippet deep in the wilderness or perfect your back casts on the resort lawn. 

Gather your gear. Then enjoy the beauty and art of fly fishing: 

 familyflyfishing.com

Gore Creek Fly Fisherman. Vail, CO.

 Give your kids (and perhaps yourself) a taste of this lifelong sport during daily casting clinics offered each day in the scenic Vail Village along the Gore Creek Promenade. When you are ready for more, book a half or full day walk and wade trip or sign on for a float trip through Rocky Mountain beauty.

Contact: 970-476-3296; www.GoreCreekFlyFisherman.com

LL Bean Outdoor Discovery School. Freeport, ME or Columbia, MD.

  The knowledgeable instructors at LL Bean can jump start your family into the wonderful world of fly fishing with their one or two-day introductory courses.  You’ll learn about fly-tackle, delve into knot tying, fly tying, and fish-food identification, then move outside to practice casting skills in a nearby pond.  Continue the analysis and improvement at home once you’ve viewed their video of your newly acquired skill. Contact:  LL Bean experts are available for fishing advice on their hotline between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m EST every day; 1-800-347-4552. 

For class registration:  (888)-552-3261); www.llbean.com/outdoorsOnline/odp/courses/flyfishing/fly-fishing-essentials1-maine.html

Chetola Resort. Blowing Rock, NC.

The only Orvis-endorsed fly-fishing lodge in North Carolina has plenty to offer the entire family. Pack a rod for a half day trip to “The Refuge” on Boone Fork Creek, a destination deemed ideal for beginners and families.  When not casting a line, check out the children’s camp, a heated indoor pool, fitness center and nearby rafting and golf.

Contact: (800) 243-8652;  www.Chetola.com

Match the Hatch. Livingston, MT.

Spend a day on the Yellowstone River with Eric Adams and your family members will go home with more than basic casting skills. His educational background in ecology means you’ll learn to “match the hatch”, fish pocket water from a raft and how to maximize a day on the famed Yellowstone River or nearby spring creeks. You are sure to enjoy time on the Yellowstone, the longest stretch of blue-ribbon trout habitat in the nation. 

Contact: 406.223.2488; www.MontanaFlyFishingGuides.com 

Fishing on the Farm. Blackberry Farm, Walland, TN.

With two ponds and a stream on site, plus more than 700 miles of fishable trout streams in the neighboring Great Smoky Mountain National Park, this gem of a property offers the novice or experienced fly fishing family the opportunity to enjoy great water as well as a sea of additional activities. Horseback riding, mountain biking, cooking schools, the Farmhouse Spa and charming accommodations on 4,200 pastoral acres, combine to create a picturesque haven for a gathering clan. Contact: (800) 648-4252; www.BlackberryFarm.com. 

5 Lakeside Retreats

 The simple pleasures of family life can be found at lakeside retreats.

Here are five places to enjoy gentle breezes and a book on the porch:

An Eddy In TIme

Fly rod in hand, I eased into the warm waters of the storied Madison River. My son, Ben, was just steps behind me, eager to wet his line. Despite my felt-bottomed shoes, I faltered slightly, slipping off the rounded, moss-covered rocks below my feet.

"Here, take my hand," Ben said softly behind me. "I'll help you."

Steadied by his strength, together we pushed forward, bolstered against the rippling current.

At 6'3", my oldest son towers over me now. This should come as no surprise. Mothers with children older than mine had long presaged it would happen like this; a fast-forward blur of growth spurts, sporting events, back-to-school nights and prom dates.

But, really, wasn't it just yesterday that I took his small hand in mine and walked him into pre-school? And just last week that I steadied him on skis as he slipped down a snowy pathway during a family ski holiday?

And now, some 20 years later, he is holding me upright as we wade into these braided waters under the wide Montana sky.

A Special Time

This was more than a casual weekend. He had called to suggest we meet for a few days of mother-son fly-fishing, an interest we have shared since his boyhood. Our destination would be the mountains and rivers of Big Sky country, a landscape we both love. After, we would both head to Northern Idaho for the big event. In just seven days, he would wait at the end of yet another pathway, to catch that first glimpse of his beautiful bride.

Throughout the weekend, we fished favorite streams and crossed canyons via zip line, joking about the next "big leap" he would soon take. We walked through the woods with his two Golden Retrievers, Bridger and Jackson, and reminisced about our family life. We both ordered curried chicken for lunch and lamented our mutual metabolism that required us to leave the banana bread at the counter. Particularly now, the weekend before the wedding.

I wondered if there wasn't something important, meaningful I should say. Some kind of pre-nuptial, motherly advice I could offer. But it wasn't required.

Someone asked if I felt that sense of loss some women suffer; a heart-splitting notion that marriage somehow meant losing your son to another woman. For us, there is none of that. I know that I will always be his mom and she will always be his girl.

Each evening we retreated to our room at the Big Sky Lodge, curled up with the dogs, reviewed the days' events and planned for the next. We shared our individual enthusiasm for the upcoming wedding festivities. I smiled with deep pleasure when he spoke with confidence of his decision to marry Lyndsay and how special and strong he believed their relationship to be. There was no hesitation. Only eager anticipation.

Visions of Youth

From time to time, I would catch glimpses of a much younger Ben. A familiar, silly grin. A childlike glance in a moment of indecision. But mostly, I saw a sure-footed man, eager to embark on this next chapter of his life.

On our last afternoon, we made one more stop along the Gallatin, hoping to improve our luck. While we both knew this weekend wasn't just about the fish, a little more action would have been welcome. Once again, Ben provided a steady hand as we waded into the water. As the sun dropped behind the cliff and soft evening light prevailed, we took turns casting, attempting to lure the wily trout from its safe hideout.

At one point, my line became hopelessly entangled. Without hesitation or frustration Ben quietly took my rod and said, "Not to worry. I can help." It's what I might have whispered two decades ago when he fell off the jungle gym or scraped his knee in a roller blade spill. But now, somehow it seemed just right that he would be the problem solver, the one to take the lead.

What I Believe

As the weekend came to a close, he said, "Mom, your baby boy is getting married. Can you believe it? "

What I believe is that time mysteriously evaporates and in the blink of an eye, that once mischievous toddler strides back into the room as a confident, young man. A man insightful and caring enough to create this eddy in time, in the scant hours before dozens of friends, family and a long list of last-minute details, would vie for his attention.

Knowing he has become this measure of a man provides soul-satisfying comfort. I am certain he will be a fine husband and father, locking arms with his wife through rough waters and calm seas. He'll be present when their child takes that first shaky step, hesitates on the first day of school or ties the first fly.

And with this knowing, I will shed tears of pride and joy as he reaches for the hand of his lovely bride, closes his own around hers, and before family and friends, promises to love her and hold her steady.

For always.

Great Western Ranch Vacations

Whether you're seeking the ultimate fly fishing experience, the most authentic cattle drive, or a haven for your children and family to run free, a dude ranch vacation may be your best connection to the great outdoors. Browse through these ten ranches to find your perfect dude ranch.

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