When my husband and I discussed a summer vacation, I suggested Montana. I wanted to see the state where I’d set four books in the The Montana McKenna’s series with Maddie James.
Before writing my books, I had researched the Internet for the setting, a dude ranch in Southwestern Montana near Yellowstone National Park. I had also researched professional bull riding for an earlier book. But most of the setting and characters were made up and came from my imagination.
After more Internet research for a vacation dude ranch, I discovered The Covered Wagon Ranch in Gallatin Gateway, Montana. We made reservations and planned our trip for three days in July.
OMG! It was fun—two days on horseback riding into the mountains, gourmet meals prepared by a professional chef eaten in a rustic dinning room with other friendly “dudes.” The owners, wrangles and staff were super friendly. Like many of the returning guests, we felt right at home.
And yes, there were real cowboys working at the ranch, men and women who make a living wrangling horses and caring for us city slickers. Their knowledge, love and respect for the land, and their devotion and caring for the horses impressed me.
I was given my own horse for the two-day stay. He was a six-year-old Tennessee walking horse named Mr. Black. He didn’t trot, but racked. We never got up enough speed to go that fast because we were climbing up the sides of mountains! The view from the top looking down over the ranch property was scary. Believe me!
I could have had more fun trail riding, but acquired a case of altitude sickness. The 6000+ feet of Montana Mountains were very much higher than the 500 feet Ohio Valley where I live. I began to feel better on the second day, just in time to leave.
We also took a day trip to Paradise Valley, the actual setting of the McKenna ranch in the series, and ate lunch at a place called Chico Hot Springs near Emigrant, Montana.
On the trip, I got to see firsthand the mountains, canyons, and valleys that make that part of Southwestern Montana so beautiful. Sagebrush is real. And so are lodgepole pine trees and aspens with their green and silver leaves shimmering in the wind. You can bet I came home pondering another Western series set in this beautiful part of the United States of America