This is one in a series on the guest ranches of western Colorado.
Growing up around horses is every little girl’s dream. By age 8 I would doodle them, collect miniatures of them and eventually own one and this love affair continues today. This past summer I was given the opportunity to stay at the Bar Lazy J Ranch in western Colorado to write about my experiences there. The bonus was that I could ride every day. My exposure to horses has been limited since I live in the city and life somehow moves you along. But this trip was something that I needed in order to reconnect with a part of my soul that had been ignored for too long. I was going to get up on a horse every chance I got and what better location than the Arapaho National Forest outside of Rocky Mountain National Park?
The Bar Lazy J is the perfect combination of modern amenities and gourmet grub set on a historic ranch that serves as the backdrop for an authentic western experience. People vacation here for the chance to play cowboy, but they keep returning because of the way you feel once you arrive. Special. The minute I drove onto the property, Sue, the assistant ranch manager, pulled up to welcome me. She explained the check- in procedure and then offered to drive me in her 4-wheeler to my cabin. Once inside I found a booklet with the week’s activities by day/time, a list of the other guests and where they were from along with a rundown of staff. It is this attention to detail that ranch owners Jerry and Cheri Helmicki believe in and would be the benchmark for the remainder of my stay.
I had arrived mid-afternoon, so there was an opportunity to wander around the ranch and check out the horses down at the stables. My cabin, like most on the property, faces the Colorado River and there are big wooden chairs out there to relax in. I made a mental note to utilize them after dinner. Wandering down to the stables, I wondered which horse would be mine for the next few days. Would it be spirited? Would it enjoy being out on the range as much I did? I would have to wait until morning to discover my new partner. As I strolled back through the ranch taking stock photos and notes, a group of fellow guests called me over to their cabin and offered me a beverage. Apparently the hospitality extends from the owners to the guests! This particular group dubbed themselves the Hole in the Pants Gang and were returning guests with a colorful history at the Bar Lazy J. I found myself feeling at ease with them and became a tagalong to their adventures. This must truly be a special place if guests can create an alternate reality to live out a western fantasy life.
The dinner bell rang and we were treated to an exceptional meal of elk tenderloin. This was no chuck wagon meal served family style, this ranked right up there with some of my favorite restaurants in Denver. The Helmicki’s take pride in their meal selections and strive to provide guests with authentic Colorado fare with gourmet extras. This includes the “cookie box” that is filled every day with fresh baked goodies, located outside the dining hall. I won’t mention how many times I strolled in there to grab me some chocolate chip cookies.
The evening activity was a wagon ride around the extended property behind two big draft horses, Amos and Andy. This was a nice relaxing way to get a preview of the surrounding landscape and get to know my present company. Other evening activities include line dancing, campfire cookouts, card games in the “Buckhorn Saloon” and a cocktail party. The events offered here are a nice representation of western living during a slower era and will immerse you in ranch life.
The following morning I was introduced to the ranch ritual of the blueberry pancake toss. Everyone in the room knew about it except me. I had no idea I was about to be the source of much ridicule. First you have to call into the kitchen that you would like your pancakes. Then Cheri Helmicki comes out with a tray of fresh pancakes and tosses them at you, one at a time at least, from across the room. You are then required to “catch” them on your plate as opposed to letting them land on the floor and this is harder than it sounds. I am proud to announce that I was able to catch my pancakes and avoid splattering blueberries all over my fellow guests.
After an amusing breakfast I was introduced to my horse, a well-mannered Paint named Cherokee that had pale blue eyes and a smooth gate. We were friends immediately. We all set out on a breakfast ride that would take us across (and through) the Colorado River to a secluded site where Cook and the wranglers were serving up flapjacks, scrambled eggs and bacon. What a beautiful way to start the day! After a leisurely breakfast we had the choice to return to the ranch for riding instruction or a more adventurous ride up the mountains bordering the ranch. This was an obvious choice for me. The trail rides offered by the Bar Lazy J are led by various wranglers but most times Cheri Helmicki would accompany us. Her vast experience with the land and her horses adds something extra when you are winding your way through sagebrush and aspen trees. It is difficult to describe the raw beauty nature provides when viewed from the back of a horse. All clichés aside, you are truly one with your environment.
By the end of my brief stay I had exchanged emails with everyone and was truly sad to leave. My experience here was akin to staying with family and I hope to talk my husband (who is not a horseman) into coming back here with me some day. I would love for him to feel the sense of community and western spirit that flourishes here and promise the same experience for you.
Bar Lazy J Ranch: PO Box N, County Road 3, Parshall, CO. 80468
Website: www. Barlazyj.com, firstname.lastname@example.org