YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


A ranch may seem an odd place to take a post-wedding vacation, but with hiking, horseback riding and fishing, it is pure bliss.

July 22, 2001|ERIC LICHTBLAU | TIMES STAFF WRITER; Eric Lichtblau is a reporter in Washington for The Times

WAPITI, Wyo. — Whoever first proclaimed that cleanliness is next to godliness must have showered at the UXU Ranch, here in the shadows of the snowcapped Absaroka Range.

Ah, the shower. Before all the other allures of Ham Bryan's dude ranch--before the mountaintop horseback riding, the white-water rafting, the bear sightings and the fly-fishing, before the legend of the ranch's bitterly sanitized name, even before the cowboy with the mud-packed beard who fired that bullet from his antique .45 just inches from my fearless new bride--before all that, there was the shower.

It is an amorphous thing, this shower; it is half inside and half out. From the bathroom of the Hollister log cabin at Bryan's ranch--once an authentic stagecoach stop on the way to nearby Yellowstone National Park--the nondescript glass shower door doesn't give away much about where it leads.

But reach the other side and you're in heaven. The Shoshone River lies to one side, through the woods and down the grassy slope. The mountains creep upward on the other side, their white tips peeking through the lush pines. There is nothing between all this and you because the shower itself is outdoors, hemmed on two sides by a 4-foot-high wall of river rock and nothing else. The hot water billows off the rock in clouds of steam, wafting up to a Big Sky that Montana would be proud to call its own. It's a liberating experience, and after a week of this morning ritual, it was tough to go back to tile and grout.

The shower is just one of the treasures at the dude ranch that Bryan bought in 1996, when he chucked his video distribution business in San Francisco and returned to his family roots in cattle ranching. He got into his car and drove, looking for a spot to claim. When he stumbled onto the 34 acres of U.S. Forest Service land on a sage-scented property known as the UXU, he knew he'd found it.

As local lore has it, the UXU moniker grew out of the ugly breakup of a cowhand couple who owned a nearby ranch in the late 1920s. When the wife cleaned him out, the embittered husband bought what is now Bryan's property a few miles down the road and proclaimed the site's new name on a sign--the X stands in for a rude label originally bracketed by "you's"--that let his ex-wife know what he thought of her each time she passed by. The Forest Service would have none of it and made him change it to a less profane "UXU."

The legend belies the bucolic aura of the ranch, a place with the familiar, well-worn feel of an old catcher's mitt on the first day of softball season.

The ranch and its 10 cabins are 6,200 feet above sea level along a remote stretch of road that Teddy Roosevelt once called "the most scenic 52 miles in America." The rustic decor is so striking that the UXU was featured on the cover of Architectural Digest and was named one of the five "Best Dude Ranches" last year by Mountain Living magazine.

Our cabin and its amazing shower were Bryan's own creation; he bought the Yellowstone stagecoach stop at an auction some 20 miles away for $700, then trucked it over to his site log by log and restored the place, complete with pine furnishings and Western collectibles.

But you won't want to spend all your time in the cabin. Outside is the chance to do lots or little: horseback riding, hiking, mountain biking, fishing, visiting the local rodeo or simply lounging in the main cabin with 30 or so guests, playing cards or billiards and enjoying a beer or wine from the honor bar. There's even a masseuse who comes once a week by appointment. A cowbell announces three meals a day with a Western-style gourmet flair (sample fare: green salad with duck confit, zucchini basil soup, citrus salmon). Meals are included in the weekly price, which begin at $1,475 for the first adult, depending on the cabin. Most daily activities are included in the rate.

It was here, in northwest Wyoming about 17 miles from the eastern rim of Yellowstone, that my wife, Wendy, and I spent our honeymoon last year after our wedding in Laguna Beach. We had looked at other honeymoon options--the traditional Europe tour, the beach getaway, a swing through Canada or Alaska. But because of time, distance and other mundane factors, none quite appealed. Then Wendy's boss threw out an idea we hadn't considered: the "City Slickers" honeymoon. We laughed it off, but the idea grew on us: It was something we could fit into a week, and after all the stresses of planning and executing a wedding, it wouldn't be nearly as exhausting as, say, jetting off to France and trying to cram the Eiffel Tower, Versailles and every Bordeaux winery into a few short days. Best of all, the ranch promised to be as relaxing as it was distinctive.

"You're going to a dude ranch for your honeymoon?" a flummoxed colleague asked after we made our reservations. "You don't even have kids," he added, as if to suggest that was the only reason to consider such a trip.

Los Angeles Times Articles