Duding with Dad: A Family Vacation in the American West

There are many horses in the valley which help with labor or with tourism.
There are many horses in the valley which help with labor or with tourism.

Wyoming’s dude ranch by summer and ski and snowmobile heaven in the winter

By Annie Montgomery
Halfway up the Jade Lake Trail, my horse, Roscoe, decides to stop and enjoy the scenery. He simply refuses to take another step until he has fully appreciated the towering Western Ridge of the Continental Divide and the impressive granite spikes of the Pinnacles.A lonely horse

Up ahead, my father, brother, husband and son are oblivious to the splendor of their surroundings as they try to outrace each other to the lake for an afternoon of fishing.

“Hey wait up!” I call from the saddle. “Stop and look!”

No use. The boys are playing Cowboys and Indians and Mom just isn’t in on the game.

No matter; I know that I have the lunches in my saddlebags and they’ll just have to wait to eat until Roscoe and I decide to move on. I wonder if Pochahantas ever felt this way.

“Duding with Dad,” as we call it, has been a family tradition for over eight years now.

Wild horses can be found wandering the countryside.
City-dweller Dad loves the West and every summer, my scattered family gathers at the Brooks Lake Lodge near Dubois, Wyoming, for a few days of riding, fishing, canoeing, hiking and star-gazing.

Participating in these activities together gives us all a chance to enjoy each other’s company and reconnect, and also gives Dad a chance to share his passion for the American West with everyone – including the newest generation.

More than that, it’s just plain old family fun. Some days, we rise early and hit the trails together for a full day of riding and fishing in mountain lakes. On the way, we pass moose and hawk, prairie dog and deer, and joke with each other about the way in which we sit on-or fall off of-our saddles.

Other days, we go our separate ways. My brother takes a full-day fishing trip on the Wind River; my son tests his skills on the bow-hunting trail; my husband and I ride up to Sublet Meadow for a picnic; and Dad kicks back on the cabin porch with a book.

Brooks Lake
Brooks Lake

We reconvene in the lodge at dinnertime for a filling meal of bison or wild boar, fish stories and cowboy poetry. Evening entertainment might be an Iditarod racer and his dogs, a local Country-Western band, or a contest to see who can pick out Orion’s Belt from the amazing canopy of stars on a clear night. At the end of each trip, we all agree that we never stay long enough.

Dude ranching was popular during WWII, as families would head out to New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming or Montana to experience Big Sky Country, mountain streams and fields. Cowboys were cultural icons and the American family was no less smitten by them than Hollywood.

Then, duding fell into decline in 50s, as people became more interested in exotic locations, and the West seemed tame. But, now, thanks to a reinvigorated interest in the early days of America, dude ranches, or guest ranches as they’re now called, are back. Yippie-ki-ya!

Brooks Lake Lodge horses
Brooks Lake Lodge horses

Brooks Lake Lodge & Guest Ranch has been part of the dude ranch tradition since the beginning–even before. The lodge’s remote valley, located in the Shoshone National Forest, was discovered in 1889 by Bryant B. Brooks, who, as he looked across the valley at the wide lake and wooded mountains, said, “I stood closer that day to nature’s heart than ever before… for once I was supremely happy.”

The original log cabin lodge was constructed in 1922 to serve as a resting point for travelers en route to Yellowstone National Park, some 80 miles north. When the bus routes ended, it became the Diamond G Ranch, and duding was its focus.

Now refurbished and restored, the historic main lodge – with its trophy-antler-filled main rooms – 6 cabins, stables, tackle and ski shop and spa overlook the stunning lake and mountains Brooks discovered. It is still a place where one feels closer to nature – and happier – than ever.

Brooks Lake
Brooks Lake Lodge

And it’s a perfect setting for a family vacation. In the summer, activities include horseback riding, fishing, hiking, and canoeing, while in winter, families can indulge in snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, ice fishing and snowmobiling.

Meals are ample and kid-friendly and the staff is exceptional – coming from all over the world to relish in the natural beauty, history and spirit of the American West.

I think that’s why Dad likes it, and brings us along for the ride: he grew up in Texas and remembers when the West was America, and the values and ideals that were embodied in the myth of the cowboy were still important. Now that we are all urban cowboys – focused on the Internet frontier and the best restaurants in town – he doesn’t want us to lose touch with what that means. It’s a valuable lesson to learn on vacation: Sure, we all like to ride and fish, but I honestly believe there’s more to it than just a great time. I think it’s about re-learning that vital connection to family and to land.

Besides, I think Dad really likes to shed his suits and ties for his cowboy boots and hat, even if it’s just for a few days once a year. What a dude!

WHERE:

Brooks Lake Lodge is located about 25 miles north of Dubois, Wyoming, one hour from Jackson Hole, Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park.

The lodge is open July-September and December-April. There are currently 6 lodge rooms and 6 cabins, although current expansion plans include the addition of two additional family-sized cabins, fishing ponds, a larger spa facility and renovated dining area.

458 Brooks Lake Road
Dubois, Wyoming 82513
(307) 455-2121
brookslake.com

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