Muffled voices broke the stillness of the early Montana dawn. Groaning, I rolled onto my stomach, peeled back the flap of my tent and found find myself staring at two pairs of scuffed cowboy boots. I looked up, squinting into the daylight, at the cowboys wearing straw Stetsons to keep the brutal Montana sun from their faces. One held a battered tin coffee pot while the other had a supply of Styrofoam cups in hand. “Mornin’, would you like some coffee?” came the cheerful greeting from the wrangler with the coffee pot. This put a whole new twist on the meaning of the term “room service”.
“Cowboy Coffee” delivered to our tent at the crack of dawn is how each day began on our Montana cattle drive vacation. Once we were sufficiently awake and dressed, we made our way to the huge red and white cook tent for breakfast. It stood out like a sore thumb because it was the only structure in the wide, open plains.
After breakfast, I always went to stand by the empty horse pens to watch the round up. After a long day in the hot sun, our horses were set free at night. They wandered further and further from camp, occasionally stopping to graze before moving on and disappearing into the inky black night. In the morning, three cowboys tacked up and rode off to round them up.
Standing by the fence, my heart would beat a little faster at the sight of a distant, long line of dust snaking its way across the sun-scorched land. As it approached, the dust cloud morphed into a herd of horses with flying manes and thundering hooves being driven into the pen. The three cowboys rode hard pushing them forward with reins in one hand and a lariat in the other. Once gathered, the horses took turns at the water trough before we groomed them, saddled them and headed off for a day in big sky country.
We rode all day every day. We were taught that a rattle snake would hiss to warn us of its presence in the tall grass. If we heard it, we were to move our horse away from the sound and point in the direction of the hiss to alert other riders. We’d break for lunch, delivered by chuck wagon and then saddle up again.
Linda & Spider, Ben & Gringo, Montana 2007
We returned to camp at the end of the day hot, tired and happy. After a shower in outdoor stalls with solar-heated water and a hearty dinner, there was country music and dancing. By ten pm, we were happy to crawl into our sleeping bags and get a good night’s sleep before doing it all again the next day. For that entire week we were hot, dusty and never saw the inside of a building. And it was the best vacation I ever had.
Inspired by Discovery Prompt for April 17th: Distance