Waylon Jennings might be the Godfather of country music, but he certainly missed the mark by advising everyone not to let their children grow up to be one of the greatest hallmarks of Americana: the notorious cowboy. America is known for a couple things: our capitalistic overindulgence, having the best hamburgers in the world (fight me), and of course: the Wild West and the cowboys that lived in it.
Home to gun fights, outlaws and Indians, booming gold towns, and saloons – the Wild West has been immortalized in films, stories, and caricatures of cowboys and what it means to be a ‘man’ in America. Growing up on our farm, my Dad would tell me stories about the Old West cowboys by our fire pit, and to say that I grew up idolizing this period of America’s history is an understatement. The history of ‘how the West was won’ was often bloody and rarely full of happy endings, but I could name every one of the Earp brothers, the great Chiefs who led their braves into battle with Custer and his ilk, and enterprising individuals who made their fortune from newfound opportunity like the Pinkertons.
And from all this I learned: Being a cowboy is badass – and everyone should grow up to be one, more or less.
Obviously I am not advising you to move from your penthouse in the city or home in the suburbs to strike out for a life on the range, but you one hundred percent should at least spend a week connecting with the cowboy lifestyle. Yes a lot of the history surrounding this period is super not G-rated, but it has been boiled down into a more digestible form for those traveling to live out the “all-American experience” at the eloquently named dude ranches. There, flannel wearing would-be-cowboys learn how to ride horses, throw lassoes, shoot guns, and live life out on the range. This is the best excuse to use up some of your vacation days and pretend to be John Wayne; show your kids what it is like to spend days without iPads and Fortnite and instead enjoy hiking, riding horses, and even fishing in Big Sky country.
Does your kid ask for a pony every holiday only to be pacified with a stuffed animal? Surprise them with a trip to a ranch to learn how to care for, ride, and play with a horse for an entire week! Do you fantasize about spending a day alone, not checking and answering emails? Go fly fishing and leave your phone behind in your cabin – you know, because it would totally fall in the water otherwise. Tired of hearing about your co-worker’s new vegan diet and why you should do it as well? Enjoy a place where chefs roast an entire rack of ribs over an open flame, without judgy eyes watching your every mouthwatering bite.
And while you won’t learn how to ride a horse like a pro in a week you can at least pretend, and when you start to chafe you can dismount, roast some s’mores over an open fire, and be regaled with stories from a ranch-hand. Indulge your most guilty pleasures as you listen to bluegrass music played by a local band (deep down you know you secretly love the strum of the banjo) while your dinner roasts nearby. But unlike the cowboys of the past you can enjoy all of the aspects of this life on the range without the dysentery, genocide, and lack of cell service. Which, to be honest, is the biggest win of all. .