Thursday, October 28, 2021
Oct. 28, 2021

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Everybody Has a Story: ‘City Slickers’ vacation hard to rustle up


It was already getting dark as I navigated the ramp from the Puget Sound ferry on the first leg of our vacation. As I turned off the main road at the first stop light in the small town, my husband questioned the change in direction. I explained that I had checked with someone I met on the ferry who said this was the route the locals took.

In unison my husband and son both exclaimed “We’re doomed!”

OK, their reaction was a little extreme. I was confident this island-themed vacation would be nothing like the past three years of vacation mishaps.

I am the only one who plans vacations and I like to have an overall theme. There was the Oregon Trail vacation, the rafting vacations, the Canadian museum tour.

I have good intentions, but I do not always control the circumstances. My family will never let me live down the series of three years of vacations that I call the City Slickers Series.

My family became infatuated with the idea of a “dude ranch” vacation after watching the movie “City Slickers,” in which urbanites join a working ranch and become cowboys on a cattle drive. I began searching for such a venue to give my family the dude ranch experience. Despite my planning, these vacations fell short of expectations.

The first year, I picked a camp in the North Cascades that turned out to be a real working ranch catering to hunters, not families. When we arrived, we decided to take a bike tour of the trails around the ranch. After our bike tires were flattened in 30 minutes by thorns on the rugged pathways, we decided to take our hosts up on the horse-riding experience.

The ranch hadn’t had many dealings with inexperienced tourists. We were taken on a trail that offered the quickest route back to camp. Unfortunately, we had to descend a cliff to reach the ranch, riding straight down canyon walls. Shaken and grateful to survive this white-knuckle ride, we decided one ride was sufficient for that trip. But this left my family still keen to get to a “real ranch” that would be more like their vacation fantasy of comfortable trail rides on tamer horses.

The second year, I chose a camp in the Deschutes River area. Shortly after arrival, the hills around the camp burst into flame. The range fire drove all the snakes into our camp and cabins. We evacuated and spent the next day sitting in a nearby river, shared with other animals seeking refuge, as embers rained down on our heads. Again, a shortened vacation that missed that “City Slickers” experience.

The third and final year of the camp series was meant to correct all former misfortunes. I chose a camp near Goldendale. Based on the accolades in the charming brochure, I felt I had made a solid choice.

Around dark, after an hour of off-road driving, we arrived at a camp on Bureau of Land Management land, located in the extreme backwoods. Right away I realized there had been some creative writing in the brochure. The “lodge,” built out of repurposed wood from other structures, mostly doors and salvaged trees, was reminiscent of hippie-commune architecture. Although a sturdy three-story structure, it was primitive and relied on occasional power from a generator. There was also no indoor plumbing, and the “facilities” were quaintly constructed Hobbit-house latrines.

The place to “freshen up and cool off” was a swimming area that was actually a pond used to water the horses, thus it had a very soft bottom layered with horse manure.

Too late to turn back now, I thought. We decided to stay the night and at least get in a horse ride. The horses were wrangled from wild horse herds. While our hosts were enthusiastic about the horses’ beauty and bareback riding, we had a sinking feeling we were in for a wild ride. While the beauty of the primitive areas was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, we kept our focus on the challenge of keeping up with these spirited horses until we reached a lookout point with vistas reaching out to Eastern Washington and the Columbia Basin.

Our hosts had a longer ride planned, but we assured them the lookout was our peak experience. As the hot day unfolded and returning to camp seemed a long way off, our hosts reminded us that there was a hot tub and great meal waiting for us upon return.

We got back, dismounted and headed toward the designated area to soak. Right away I saw the red glow of a wood fire on the hillside. Sitting up above the flames was a metal tub usually designated for watering farm animals. This was either our hot tub or our dinner. We tried to settle into the metal tub, gingerly hopping from side to side to avoid the cherry red bottom. My family threatened rebellion if the hosts started to add potatoes and carrots to the increasingly bubbly broth.

After dinner we decided to strike out on the road to civilization. We checked into a hotel in The Dalles, Ore., where real city slickers belong.

Everybody Has a Story welcomes nonfiction contributions, 1,000 words maximum, and relevant photographs. Send to: or P.O. Box 180, Vancouver WA, 98666. Call “Everybody Has an Editor” Scott Hewitt, 360-735-4525, with questions.