“Look girls, cowboys!” my friend Bev said. My other friend Devorah said, “Yippee ki yay.”
Sure enough our vehicle was met by some nice looking young men in Stetsons and chaps, and by one older, smiling, bearded gentleman.
The cowboys, Dale and Chad, whisked away our luggage to our cabins and Jerry, the ranch owner led us to the sprawling main ranch house. The sign at the door didn’t say welcome, it said, “Welcome home.” That said it all.
Most Americans have had a family farm in their backgrounds or wish they did. A laid back, comfortable home where you are always welcome, the kitchen always smells good, and there are wonderful animals to get to know.
The Bar Lazy J ranch in Parshall, Colorado is exactly that place. The minute we arrived we felt totally at home. The old log buildings from the early 1900s with their slightly out of square angles as the buildings have settled comfortably, the stone fireplaces, the warm, slightly worn furnishings are part of the homey charm. But the real secret of the ranch’s lure is the people who live and work there.
Jerry and Cheri Amos-Helmicki, who own the ranch, have a philosophy. “We have three priorities: first the help, second the horses, third the guests. If the first is happy they take good care of the second, and then when the first two are happy, so are the guests,” Cheri explained.
It definitely works. The Bar Lazy J is the oldest continuously operating guest ranch in Colorado. Everyone who works there from the wranglers, both male and female, to the kitchen staff, loves the ranch and their work. That doesn’t stop the wranglers from teasing greenhorns, but it’s all good natured fun.
The cabins, like the ranch house, date back to 1907 – 1911. They all front on the Colorado River which runs through the property, making fly fishing a popular activity. Equipment is available in the Fishin’ Shack behind the wranglers’ bunkhouses.
The first afternoon that guests arrive they learn about one of the unique events the Bar Lazy J offers – the running of the horses. The ranch herd of 70 to 100 horses have a pasture a short distance from the guest facilities where the barns and paddocks are located. The wranglers let the horses gallop from one place to the other. The horses clearly enjoy the wild race and everyone enjoys the sight and sound of such a large herd galloping by. The morning and evening run is one of the high points of the day for people and horses.
One of the first things the crew likes to show visitors is the “bottomless cookie box” – a chest kept constantly filled with fresh offerings. The kitchen is open to the guests to fetch coffee, cocoa, or cold drinks between meals. The meals are something else. It’s not the “bacon and beans most every day, sooner be eatin’ the prairie hay” of the old song. It’s a gourmet spread three times a day with a little exotica like buffalo meatloaf sometimes added to the menu. The ranch house bell rings a half hour before meals to warn riders, fishermen, hikers, and loafers that the grub is coming, and then again when it’s time to go to the table. No one misses the meals.
The first night after dinner guests got to meet the horses that would be theirs to ride for the duration of the stay – usually a week. Cochise, a paint, was mine because I was a novice rider. It’s a relationship that develops rapidly, easily becoming a love affair.
One guest who has been coming back for several years (three quarters of the guests are returnees) walked up to the corral fence. The horse he had ridden each year recognized him from across the paddock, neighed, and trotted right up to nuzzle him.
Jerry believes in a thorough education before he trusts anyone with his beloved horses. After breakfast the next morning he and Shawnee, another paint, carefully instructed us newbies in horsemanship.
“You are not a passenger. This is a partnership,” he said. After his 45 minute orientation, a group of wranglers got us all mounted and led us to a hill top where they put us and our horses through our paces. Before long the wranglers were satisfied that we knew how to control our mounts and that we felt secure. We had learned some of our horses’ personal quirks and habits – Cochise was having a hard time resisting the new grass.. After a buffet lunch on a screened porch overlooking the river, we were ready for the trails.
Bev opted to sit by the river and read a book, Devorah decided to learn the intricacies of fly fishing from a pro, while the rest of us rode. About two hours later I dismounted and discovered Cochise had not done all of the work. My muscles barely allowed me to hobble to the hot tub for a solid soak. That made all the difference.
In fact, by the time Jerry and Cheri had launched a laid back cocktail party, I was ready for a cold one. After a while, the bells rang, the horses ran, the bells rang again, and we entered the dining room where a fire blazed in the fire place illuminating the wonderful Western art collection on the mantel. The meal was spectacular.
Still weary from my ride, I sat on the screened in porch of my cabin and listened to the river. I had snagged a cookie from the bin on the way back to my cabin and nibbled it. In a bit I’d join the girls in the living room of the ranch house in front of the fire.
I thought about my family farm in the South. It had long since passed out of the family when my grandparents died. I thought about my husband’s family farm in Minnesota, snatched up by an agribusiness when his uncle died. We’d never had a ranch in the family, but the Bar Lazy J was so familiar because of the farm memories. I realized even if there had never been a farm in the family this place would feel the same. It’s as if we share a national nostalgia, a collective memory of what should be.
I sat back and nibbled my chocolate chip cookie and realized at the Bar Lazy J, contrary to conventional wisdom, you CAN go home again, even if you never had one in the first place.
To contact Bar Lazy J – www.barlazyj.com
Rates are $1725 a week for adults and include all meals, horse riding and other activities
$1195 for kids 7-12, $995 for kids 3-6 – includes special children’s activities
5 weeks of the year are set aside for adults, and there is 10% discount, and some 3 day stays are offered during the adult weeks