The quest - to find a place to be cowboys 'out west'

North America
June 15th 2011
Published: October 30th 2011
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Our trip 'out west' started with 6 hours of flights to Idaho falls using free United airline tickets we'd earned by being bumped off a flight last year whilst returning to Virginia, enabling us to get an earlier nights sleep, after a very tiring day of delayed flights.

This two week exploration of Idaho, Wyoming and Montana was unplanned but for a vague idea of viewing a number of properties based on a desire to have a ranch and horses and to explore the vast wilderness discovered by the pioneers in the 1800's on horseback. With over 60% of these states being national forest and BLM land, millions of acres are available for trail riding - even north into Canada.

The first evening was spent in mackay, a one horse town offering excellent angus steaks and clean rooms at the wagon wheel hotel, measuring 10x10, but adequate for a bed and writing desk.  What more do you need on a road trip?

Hail and snow on and off for the next few days and mountains over about 9000 feet are snow covered for another month.  Two beautiful western properties seen, both quite close to Sun Valley ski resort during summer months when the mountain pass road is open. Twin bridges with a flat log home which we love and gardners creek - the real deal authentic western ranch. Both interesting but not near a western style town we like and being social creatures who love live music this is an important consideration.

As of 4 June we have seen beefalo (cattle crossed with buffalo), buffalo, ground squirrels, porcupines, elk, deer, bald eagle, bear and two newborn cubs (enroute to tower fall within the Yellowstone national park).  Old faithful geyser performs each 77 minutes with an extraordinary build up and subsequent gush skywards. This is not the highest geyser in the park but the most reliable for regular shows and accessibility.  Yellowstone was the first national park to be created in the world, formed to be preserved and enjoyed for future generation by Theodore Roosevelt and it is beautiful.  Numerous hot springs feed into streams and rivers which never freeze over and keep the area relatively mild.

Onto montana where we visited Lincoln and a ranch in the wilderness called Landers Fork. A gorgeous piece of property but for fire damage destroying huge numbers of trees all around, and those which had survived were under attack by the dreaded pine beetle which is changing the landscape of British Columbia southwards to Mexico. To our delight we saw a moose and calf on the property along with elk and deer. Onto cloudy Missoula overnight and found the description "70 per cent strip malls" pretty accurate whereas the city of Bozeman, four hours east is charming, with a flourishing historical downtown and 320 days of sunshine rather than 120. We are looking for big cloudless skies and long views for our western retreat.  June is a great time of year for wildlife .... newborn fawns included, and so much in miniature.

A treat in store, our favourite off the grid home so far. A fab property at strawberry peak outside Helena, Montana with 146 acres - sadly too expense because of the unique location (an inholding meaning it's surrounded by national forest) and an owner with pre-recession land values in mind.  Saw a 40 acre lot in bridger canyon near the ski area of bridger bowl, less than 20 mins from Bozeman .... the house is devoid of western charm and characteristics but the elevated parcel of land is at the end of a road with the most amazing views, great pastures and could be remodeled at a later date.

We returned to look around helena and walk strawberry peaks in the sunshine as our first visit was in pouring rain.  We have seen magnificent views, travelled thousands of miles in search of the perfect spot to tick all the boxes and tickle the senses.  The propety called Flying Beagle near Stanley in Idaho comes close to the ideal bit it is far too cold for 8 months of the year but has proximity to good skiing, good restaurants and the shops and soil street in the town are quite funky. The riding and views from the house of the jagged Sawtooth mountains were very appealing until we realised that the pine beetle kill would expose a road over coming years.  

I had a cold from within 2 hours of arriving in Idaho as the immune system must be a bit off kilter - perhaps the radical changing temperature and recirculating germs inside planes.

Pine beetle has devastated many of the forests in the west and at least 50 percent of trees were brown or grey giving it the appearance of autumn but of course they're evergreen and it's summer. In some areas 100% of hillsides were bare - a truly alarming sight.

Having read about the hardships of crossing this land by wagon in the late 1800's it has been a pleasure to travel east to west by plane (6 hours) and thereafter by car (about 3000 miles).   Modern day conveniences have saved us months.

We have seen more horses in ten days than in a lifetime, and mules too ... pack animals used on ranches.  A few llamas, goats and a lot of cattle herds.  Walter has never seen more animals having been attended go by  Continental divide crossed five times and it's noticeable how different the weather can be on either side.

A fantastic two day stay at Teton springs, victor, Idaho with an outdoor 25m pool heated at 84 degrees and gorgeous property visits around the teton mountains with carlos of live water properties in driggs.  Spectacular scenery but too few days of sunshine annually.  

The last leg of the trlp saw us returning north to Bozeman to see the land at bridger canyon which we like so much and walk the perimeter of the property and a mad dash back to Idaho Falls to fly 'back east'


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