Richard Louv’s groundbreaking 2005 book about nature deficit disorder, “Last Child in the Woods,” could have been written about my lovely niece Mary, except she was just an infant, and her fingers weren’t strong enough yet to hold an iPhone. When I flew from Yellowstone Country to New York for her second birthday, finger strength was clearly no longer an issue. That child had more electronics at two than I’ve owned in my lifetime.
Mary’s a city kid who is comfortable in cabs, knows her way around a museum and understands theater etiquette, but in her 13 years she has never jumped into a river, climbed a mountain, ridden a horse or camped in the woods. I find this troubling. So, for her 13th birthday, I bought her a plane ticket and convinced her parents that a full week in Yellowstone Country and the undivided attention of Aunt Corrie would be good for her.
Then I remembered how at 13 my demeanor was comparable to that of bull elk during the rut. When I wasn’t sleeping, I was eating or butting heads with my brother. What was I thinking? What would I do with a teenage city slicker?
Fortunately for me, Buffalo Bill’s Cody/Yellowstone Country is home to oodles of guest ranches and traditional dude ranches, and the staffers know exactly what to do with a 13-year-old city kid. I worked with the Dude Ranchers Association to select the perfect ranch for our needs, not an easy task considering there are more than 50 dude and guest ranches within an easy drive of downtown Cody.
Dude ranches require a minimum stay and are typically all-inclusive, with activities, meals and lodging included for a fixed price. At guest ranches, you can stay for just one or two nights and the activities are optional. For Mary, I wanted the whole shebang, and I chose a dude ranch that has been hosting vacationers for more than a century.
Here’s what I told Mary to expect. After sizing up their guests, staffers will select a horse that will complement the temperament of their riders. The ranch has an arena where they will teach Mary the basics of riding before we head out on our first supervised trail ride. In the next few days, Mary will also learn how to fly fish and shoot a bow and arrow at the archery range. We’ll ride to cookouts, and one night we’ll set up tents around a blazing campfire. I plan to bring along my guitar and surprise Mary with my campfire-song repertoire, starting with everyone’s favorite, “Blowin’ in the Wind.” I am certain she will be thrilled.
I’m under no illusion that a week-long authentic Western vacation in Yellowstone Country will be enough to convince Mary to put down the screen and take on more outdoor adventures. I have two surprises under my sleeve that just might push her in that direction though. The first surprise: she’ll experience dark, quiet nights and star-filled skies. That’s something she rarely sees, and starry nights can have a powerful impact on perpetually over-stimulated people. And the second surprise is that there’s no WiFi at the ranch. Ahem. Baby steps.
Until next time I’m tuning my guitar and loving life here in Buffalo Bill’s Cody/Yellowstone Country.