R&R for city slickers

Ernie Barker, who runs the Triple J Wilderness Ranch with his wife, Kim, acknowledges with a smile that guests arrive with a healthy curiosity about life "out here."

He takes it in stride. Sure, the ranch is 50 miles from a movie theater, and it's easy to spend a day without running into other folks. But that's all part of the package that he and his family enjoy sharing with visitors.

"We enjoy meeting people from around the country and world and showing them this Rocky Mountain area," he says. "We coach our wranglers to be enthusiastic about telling guests about the countryside."

There's plenty to be enthusiastic about out here in the dramatic, V-shaped gulch that hosts the ranch and sits on the drier side of the Continental Divide.

Mr. Barker, who moved to Montana as a youngster after his parents left farming in Iowa, takes pride in the horses they own and the pleasures of guiding a ride through what he justifiably calls awesome scenery.

Those at the ranch stand ready to offer plenty of details on local flora and fauna, the history of the region and its inhabitants, past and present - and, of course, any- and everything about horses (with which guests are welcome to lend a hand).

Barker and his wife, who grew up on a Montana cattle ranch, took over management of the ranch about five years ago. Their friendly tone permeates the place - as does their desire to give people some flexibility in shaping their week, riding more or less, or getting in touch with operators who can handle specialized requests such as rafting.

The Barkers are working on some new touches, expanding the lodge's dining room and adding a dance floor and game area. He says they'd like to add a Jacuzzi - and maybe do some "team penning," or rounding up cattle in an arena, in addition to the gymkhanas they currently hold. They're also planning to become a small-group meeting site.

But even if they spiff up a bit, he says the ranch's goal remains the same: "People are looking for an Old West lifestyle experience, as authentic as possible. Our goal is to have that Western flair."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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