Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Postcard from The Big Country

In June 2013 I had an amazing trip to the United States.  Now, those of you who know me well must be surprised to hear me say that as, whilst I LOVE travelling, the US has never been high on my list of destinations to visit, partly because I used to visit a lot for work, partly because I travelled there quite extensively in my 20s, and partly because there seemed to be so many more interesting places in the world to explore.  But the sheer beauty of Montana has renewed my interest in this vast and varied country and I'm sure I will be making more trips there in the near future to discover what else she has to offer.

So, what made this trip so awesome?  Let me give you a visual clue

Postcard from the Big Country

One of my passions since childhood has been riding and having just reached a milestone (ahem!) birthday, I decided it was time to realise some of my lifelong dreams.  One was to become a cowgirl (having been a big fan of Alias Smith and Jones when I was a kid!) and round up cattle in the Wild West, hence my trip to Montana.

I flew directly to Seattle and spent a couple of very enjoyable days there.  The immigration staff were actually welcoming, smiling and efficient which was such a pleasant change from the grumpy attitudes at most US airports that has put me off visiting or even transiting the country.

Seattle is easy to get around both on foot and using public transport, and being right on the ocean, there's great seafood to eat :) .  On my first morning I woke at 4am and took a walk down to Pike's Place Market to watch the stallholders preparing for the day.
Amazing fresh fish

Later in the day, the market became a colourful hive of activity with flower sellers, fish throwers and many craft stalls.  I loved the neon signs in the market directing you to excellent restaurants and bars overlooking the waterfront.

But it was time to move on to the highlight of my trip - staying on a 12,000 acre ranch about 30 miles from a remote town called Red Lodge in Montana.  I flew over Washington State (beautiful from the sky) and into Montana's business hub, Billings.  This was small town America as I remembered it (ie, not so interesting) but I was soon on my way again and thrilled by what I found.  Montana is America's fourth largest state, but has less than one million residents so there is plenty of gorgeous scenery to enjoy!

I was staying in a traditional log cabin that had been built in the 1950s overlooking the pastures and mountains, sheer bliss.  It felt like something out of The Waltons!  I would sit out on this chair at night just gazing at the myriad of stars above and truly understanding why they call this Big Sky country.  

The perfect place to relax day or night
I rode an amazing coloured quarter horse called MJ (as my best mate said, a "proper" cowboy horse!) who loved galloping through the flower-filled meadows as much as I did!  We were a small group of seven from around the world, gathered there because of our love of riding, wildlife and beautiful scenery.  The perfect mix.  One day, we even saw a bear mooching through the woods - she didn't seem to mind us thankfully and we didn't have need of the pistol that our wrangler was carrying! 

MJ and me

We visited the Cody (Buffalo Bill country) rodeo one evening during the week and enjoyed the crazy antics of the riders there! Pretty sure I won't be taking up bronco riding any time soon, but we did have fun practising barrel racing on our last day at the ranch.  
Hold on tight!
I got serious cowboy-boot-envy whilst I was there - I've never been a big fan of them having seen them come in and out of fashion over the years, but my goodness, there are alot to choose from in the shops here - nothing like a bit of retail therapy even when you are in a remote location! 
Retail Therapy, Montana-style

Days out riding and gathering cattle were interspersed with lazy lunches by glacier-fed rivers where the brave would take a dip to cool off (yes, that included me, I can't resist getting in water, whatever holiday I am on!)
Cattle driving
Relaxing at lunch

This picture is the enduring memory from my wonderful trip - just me, my trusty steed and miles of stunning open country without another soul in sight - heaven on earth and my dream come true.

Dream come true

I was very sad to leave the ranch, but as a fab finale (and complete contrast), the Seattle Pride Parade was taking place and it made my last day into a joyous one filled with colour and vibrancy! 

Seattle Pride

This is my entry for the Travel Supermarket Holiday Postcard competition

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