“I think I’ll go check the weather,” Clay says, one eye on the ominous, broody sky. “Don’t!” I tell him - for sure the weather forecast will be gloomy, and with the chuckwagon already packed, it’s best not to know.
Paradise Ranch’s weekly Chuckwagon Night is notorious for being cancelled due to bad weather. It was pulled at the 11th hour last week, and apparently last year they only got up the hill once. Summer storms are common in the Big Horn Mountains, and with the occasion held a couple of miles from shelter, it’s sometimes best to exercise caution, particularly with the risk of lightning strike.
But this time, we defy the weather, send the packed chuckwagon pulled by Jane and Judy the mules on its way, and head down to the barn for the ‘shuttle ride’ up the hill. Only to have it start raining. “Where’s your hat?” someone asks me. “I don’t wanna get my hat wet,” I say. “That’s what hats are for,” they reply. Stupid cowboy logic.
The thunder rumbles in the black sky above as 25 horses or so pick their way slowly up the hill. But by the time we reach the top, the storm is passing; and we round the corner where dinner will be served to weak rays of sunshine.
The pretty green and white chuckwagon, a picture of pioneer perfection in this wildflower-strewn meadow, is already serving hors d’euvres; and the campfire is roaring, waiting for the wagonwheel hot plate (which had somehow gone missing) to arrive. The horses are tethered under the trees to rest, while we grab beers and sit chatting around the fire.
The sky is clear and sun shining as we tuck into chicken, corn, beans and ribs, served up by the wranglers. Then local legend Charlie Cook recites a cowboy poem, guests hanging onto every hilarious word of a tale of dude ranch lust and various stages of undress. A former packer at the ranch, Charlie is the real deal, a vestige of the golden age of cowboying in the West, and it’s a privilege to hear his eloquent, expressive rendition.
To ferry all the guests and gear back down the hill is quite the epic; so unfortunately we have to head back around 8pm. I personally don’t want to leave - the evening light is so perfect, the setting so idyllic and the ambience so chilled. But as I ride down the hill, bringing up the rear with Kelly and Lane, I feel so blessed as I look out over the ranch, bathing in the final rays of sunshine under the shadow of the glistening Big Horns.
Such a beautiful evening, in such a beautiful place.