Avoiding the late afternoon sun on the bunkhouse porch soon after we arrived at the Twin Elms Guest Ranch (http://www.twinelmranch.net/) in Bandera, Texas, I wondered aloud if there would be enough for our family to do here for the next three days. But within minutes the triangle was ringing from across the dusty courtyard to call us to the dining hall, where we were greeted with all-we-could-eat chicken fried steak, bottomless iced tea, and scarily good banana pudding. We shared the long tables only with our hosts, since we were the only mid-week guests. They were a lively combination of dude ranch characters, including Cap’n Kury and Victoria (the managers), real cowboys, ranch jack-of-all-trades, and a harmonica-playing cook. It didn’t take long before our shy apprehensions dissolved, and the girls were off to feed the table scraps to the friendly dogs waiting outside and see the newborn kittens in the icehouse.
Back on the porch at dusk, recovering from dinner on the glider couch, Cap’n Kury said the cowboys would enjoy our company at the campfire. With Bob Wills playing from the open windows of a nearby pickup truck, the cowboys were not idly hanging out around the fire, but taking turns lassoing a fake steer. Fueled by cold beer and Dr. Pepper from the cooler in the back of the truck, we soon had our first roping lesson. Once she figured out how to swing the rope around her head, Ashley seemed to catch on pretty fast and roped that steer pretty consistently. Zoey got the hang of it better than me, and Logan preferred to ride the horse-swing. As the sky got darker and the empty cans mounted, we piled into the back of the pick-up to head down to the big paddock to spot-light deer. They are regularly fed so that the ranch owners have something to shoot at come hunting season. More alien and interesting to us are the armadillos that run from our lights. Back at the campfire, Victoria appeared with the fixin’s for s’mores, a good way to end any day.
After breakfast the next morning it was time for our first trail ride. Troy, Justin, and Corbet had the horses saddled and were waiting for us in the corral. Zoey and Logan had brought their helmets from home, so they couldn’t wear the cowboy hats we secretly borrowed from Sam and Caroline. They eagerly climbed atop their horses and fell in line behind Troy, followed by me, Ashley, Justin, and Corbet on a horse he was still training. As we sauntered out on the trails through the low cedars, it wasn’t long before Corbet’s horse didn’t like what was happening, reared too close to a tree, and dropped Corbet on his backside. When Justin tried to retrieve Corbet’s horse, his horse responded to getting out of line by treating the rest of us to a little rodeo, bucking through the trees. Justin held on until they got back to the horse line and Corbet, initially walking a little gingerly, was left to get his own horse back. We followed trails all through the ranch property, mostly in the trees but occassionally along the edge of a paddock, and finally crossing and following the Medina River, lined with giant cypress trees. The girls were comfortable on their horses, having taken a few riding lesson at home, and were happily in their own worlds.
After a few hours of riding we made it back to the corral for a quick swim in the pool before lunch. We had been up in the air about an afternoon ride, but after the fun and adventure of the morning, both Zoey and Logan were eager to get back on their horses, now on a first name basis. My knees were a little sore, but I was into it too. This time Corbet stayed on his horse, but he told fascinating stories of what it’s like being a cowboy. He’s only 18, but he’s been working cows and riding in rodeos for many years. He’s lanky and walks in the bow-legged stride of someone that has been on a horse all his life. He graduated early from high school to be a fulltime cowboy. He says he is at the ranch temporarily because the recent drought has limited the cow punching (yes, he calls it that) opportunities, but with his personality he’s a good fit for introducing hayseeds like myself to the cowboy way of life. He is so polite with his “yes, maams” and “no, sirs,” and its way fun to watch him ride a horse. I’m afraid to say it, but my daughters have fallen for him.
The campfire again follows a hearty dinner, and it’s Willie Nelson’s turn on the truck stereo. Lots more beer, but no Dr. Pepper (the caffeine kept the kids awake last night). Lone Star for the tourists, Coors light for the cowboys. More roping, more s’mores. Spot-lighting was highlighted by two cowboys running through the night to catch an armadillo, and nearly running straight into each other as the ‘dillo escaped through their legs. Cap’n Kury says that if we’ve enjoyed ourselves at his ranch, that we now belong to it. And everything that belongs to the ranch must be branded. He says this with a “2E” brand getting red hot in the fire. Then he takes out an alternate brand, sticks it in white paint, and imprints each of jeaned backsides. Before branding me he makes jokes about making steers from bulls and I make sure he doesn’t have any other tools handy.
The next day is much the same, though certainly not boring – two rides, good meals, fun times. But after the second ride we head into town to see the sights (takes about an hour) and hang out on the river. We can see at least three species of fish in the deeper holes, but they are not interested in our lures. I jump in instead! At dinner new guests have arrived – a couple from Dallas and an extended family of eight from Sweden. Though it feels strange to have to share our ranch friends, we’re happy to have other folks to share this experience with.
On our fifth and last ride on our departure day we have a much bigger horse line, with all the newbys, and we end the long walk down by the beautiful river again. The girls know most of the horses by name (Spot, Brick, Rooster, Freckles, Romo, Strawberry, Cadillac, Tony, Jose) and help the cowboys brush them after the ride. The dogs are also good friends (Mater, Catfish, Buddy, Sister). The time has flown by and none of us want to leave. So much for not having enough to do.