A wannabee cowgirl heads to Colorado to experience the American wild west in action.
I donned a wide-brim hat to be cowgirl chic and to fit in among the crowd.
They seemed to like my kind of people: sun-smart, into horse-riding and share the same love for a gourmet barbie.
It felt like a homecoming.
That sentiment was reinforced seeing the Australian flag hoisted alongside a mixed bag of other national flags Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom representing visitors, aka the United Nations of Cowboys and Cowgirls, to Colorados C Lazy U Ranch.
The historic ranch is one of Americas most revered dude ranches. Located in Colorados unofficial ranch capital Granby, its less than a two-hour drive northwest of Denver and fringes the Continental Divide.
Rocky Mountain peaks, rolling green hills, snaking streams, meadows and plateaus sprawl across its 3500 hectares. Slender lodgepole pines and Aspen trees appear like brushstrokes along its terrain.
And at the heart of its movie-set worthy-location is the all-star guest ranch that has engaged in American West folklore for over a century.
Cowboys, horses and all, its the real wild wild west and a fancy one at that. Yeehaw!
Life at the ranch wasnt always so lavish and fun.
C Lazy U started from humble beginnings with Wilson Smillie, a Harvard professor and medical doctor, establishing the cattle ranch, F Slash, only to sell it to his brother Jack a few years later.
It wasnt until two forward-thinking friends perhaps the true pioneers of the Airbnb concept visited the ranch and encouraged Jack and his wife Gertrude to start welcoming guests to experience the Old West.
When New York City couple Dick and Katie Schoenberger bought the ranch in 1946, they reimagined it as a sophisticated luxury dude ranch boasting amenities unheard of at the time. (The term dude ranch is what western cattle ranchers called vacationing city slickers at the time, and the name stayed.)
Entering a new era, it adopted the new off-kilter moniker of C Lazy U, inspired by its scenery. Pre-dammed days, the river had formed a natural alphabet, shaping the letters C and a sluggish U turned sideways when viewed from above.
But despite its lazy origins, I discovered the ranch is hardly a place to sit idle.
Its an all-or-nothing type of vacation, my host Bradley told me as I made my initial tour around the Patio House and Main Lodge, the hub of all social activity.
The unrivalled, all-inclusive resort offers guests a chance to live the lifestyles of cowboys and cowgirls in their heyday. It appeals to both young and old with its rustic luxury log cabins perfect for unwinding among the relics of yesteryear.
Open all year round, the ranch offers activities such as fly fishing, hatchet throwing, mountain biking, zip-lining, hiking trails, beekeeping and clay target shooting. In winter, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, ice skating and snowshoeing come into the fold.
Then there are events: traditional cook-ups at scenic overlooks, rodeos and hoedowns just bring your boots. In the mix are the typical resort offerings yoga, tennis courts, a day spa, hot tubs, kids programs, a pool such is the dude (or dudette) ranch life.
Undoubtedly the ranchs biggest drawcard is the opportunity to go horse-riding in such a majestic setting. The ranch is home to over 200 horses, with the right horse selected for you on arrival.
We ask guests if they want a ride in a Lamborghini because they like to go fast, or if they want a ride in a sedan because they want to take things slow if feeling a little timid, Bradley mentioned as we toured the hay barn in search of my new ride.
I went for the latter, and Im glad I did. Riding a sedan allowed me to comfortably take my time to immerse myself in Colorados pristine panoramas. I savoured the romantic sceneries of the western frontier rich in natural assets. To me, thats cooler.
Life at the ranch is all about camaraderie. It feels like being a part of a big family, and thats because the ranch wants it to be that way.
During peak season, a one-week minimum stay is required, with up to 90 guests arriving on a Sunday and departing the following Sunday. It allows ample bonding time between holidaymakers to create an elevated family experience.
And nowhere is that experience better felt than around the dining table. Mealtimes are enjoyed together to create a greater sense of community. And whats on the menu is just as nourishing.
Lunch is a casual affair, with a Western American buffet served at the Patio House. Those fond of an American barbecue will have their meaty dreams realised with a lunch cooked to perfection over a charcoal smoker and grill.
The buffet features the all-star American barbecue line-up of slow-cooked chicken wings, steaks and bratwurst. Mains are served alongside a great selection of American staples think mac and cheese, hot dogs and salads; thats if you saved room for any greens.
And if you wanted any tips on how to cook an American barbecue at home, luckily, the pit master is around. Being a big-time barbie lover, I went over to have a word with the pit master to see how its done. The fire had already started on the following days barbecue, slow-cooking to perfection. Bring on tomorrows feasting
Dinner time is for serious, curious foodies. The ranch offers a plated Home on the range dining experience, serving Instagram-worthy specialty curated wood-fired and farm-inspired Great American West cuisine using seasonal ingredients.
Standout fare includes bison carpaccio, fresh trout, aged beef, ranch ribeye and butternut pumpkin pasta, all prepared with a contemporary American twist. A selection of award-winning wines and hand-crafted beers are on offer to make the overindulging go down that bit smoother.
An event not to be missed is the Daily Jingle. Its when peak hour is fuelled by horsepower. After the ranch finishes with horse activities, hundreds of horses are released out into the prairies in the late afternoon and rounded up by wranglers the following morning. Speaking of rounding up, a jingle bell sounds to notify ranch guests of the daily spectacle soon about to take place.
After receiving the call, many of us aspiring cowboys and cowgirls quickly descended around the Patio House area to watch the great horse migration unfold. I stood at the fence of the Shodeo Ring cowboy slang combing show and rodeo to score the perfect view. But really, its hard not to miss.
What happens next is a scene made for cinematic viewing. A lone ranger led the charge leaving a stampede in his wake. It was a sensory overload watching the band of horses making their dash towards freedom, bound for the hills along the horizon at golden hour. Their gentle gallops sounded as soothing as a Spotify rain playlist. Indeed, an iconic moment.
Speaking of icons, if a fan of old western culture, C Lazy U is your Disneyland. And dressing the part is just the start
Fly: Air Canada flies from Sydney to Denver, Colorado via Vancouver. The shortest flight time is approximately 19 hours and fares can be had for as low as $1,511 in November 2022. See aircanada.com
Stay: Rates start at $525 per night, per person inclusive of lodging, meals and most activities.
Explore more: clazyu.com