My wife and I have always had inner-cowpersons despite the disbelief and sometimes disdain that seeps out of our now grown children whenever a hoof or horn shows itself. Nonetheless, we’ve wanted to ride something passing for the range ever since it became clear that Dale and Roy and Gene were wearing neon cowboy shirts in those black and white TV pictures that showed up in our own parents’ rustbelt homes, a dream that finally came true 6 or 7 years ago when we found the Broken Arrow Lodge in the Upper Ruby River Valley near tiny Alder, Montana. The Broken Arrow is located in that part of the Wild West that was the goal for the movie cowpokes from both “Lonesome Dove” and “Open Range,” and while there are no canned cattle drives or bottled gun fights offered at the Lodge, there is the vast rolling sea of wilderness acreage (now called The Beaverhead National Forest) that was the actual goal for the Texas cowboys portrayed in the movies and novel. Riding in the vastness of the mountains and alpine meadows that surround the Lodge, we’ve found, will satisfy even the most demanding inner cowpuncher and leave it wanting more, which is why we’ve come to see Sherry and Erwin Clark, the owners and outfitters, every year since discovering their place 25 miles south of Alder several years ago, a time during which we’ve seldom repeated a ride and never been less than enthralled.
The Clarks, to tell the truth, are the real reason we head down the road to Alder every summer. They combine serious skill with horses and the outdoors with a remarkable talent for making guests feel considerably more than welcome. Searching for a word to describe this talent during our second visit, we came up with “adoption” and have seen no reason to change it since. Sherry and Erwin have found a way to offer the way they have chosen to live to others, and the sense that one has been invited into a charmed circle brings most clients back on a regular basis, meaning that vacations at the Broken Arrow often seem like family reunions. The Clark’s basic all-inclusive price provides all the wilderness trail riding one could want (or his butt stand), all his meals, a clean, attractive, and comfortable room, and a medicinal hot tub when that butt has reached its limits. There is also gorgeous country to hike, a stocked pond on the property and the world-class Ruby River nearby for fishing, an enormous prairie dog village down the road for non-stop varmint shooting, and enough side trips to occupy those who have overestimated the fervency of their inner cowpoke. Yellowstone is a day-trip away; Virginia City and Nevada City, old gold mining towns turned into tourist attractions are 45 minutes down the road, and Sheila Kirkpatrick, a member of the Cowgirl Hall of Fame, will make you a custom cowboy hat an hour away in Twin Bridges, Montana. Should you actually want to herd cattle, that’s possible too on almost any horse ride for there are cows aplenty grazing on the surrounding Forest Service land. The critters like to drift down to lower altitudes, and their owners will appreciate your help in pushing them back up high. For a bit more money, the Clarks will find you a fishing guide who will take you to other nationally recognized streams in the area, and there’s even the chance, for still more money, to take a pack trip into the wilderness and spend a couple of nights living in back woods luxury. For the truly committed buckaroo, the Broken Arrow also offers the Ride-a-Rama, a once-a-year chance to spend six days riding from spot to spot and camping out at night. The accommodations and food are comfortable and plentiful, and yet it’s about as good a chance as you’ll find to re-enter the spirit of the 1880s’ Cattle Culture. Back then, men were men, women were few and far between, the accommodations were rough, and the food less than scarce, but don’t worry. The Clarks’ friendly welcome and their beautifully trained string of horses will help you forget that you aren’t suffering in the same way that real cowboys did.
Never ridden? No matter; no experience on horseback is required because the Clarks are very good at getting tenderfeet started and toughened up. Prior to setting off for the first time, they’ll tell what you need to know initially and then offer further tips as the need arises down the trail. These tips are always offered in gentle asides and invariably cause mental light bulbs to glow. Sherry and Erwin are the best, most practical, and efficient equestrian teachers I’ve ever met and have made my wife and I, who were not experience riders when we first came to the Broken Arrow, what we are today—that is, the best mock cowpokes you’re likely to meet.
- Also Known As:
- Broken Arrow Lodge Montana/Alder