The beauty of the Wyoming landscape is reflected by every facet of the guest ranch and its hosts.
My mom’s friend took one look at a photo from our springtime mother-daughter trip and commented, “That’s Longmire country.” With no knowledge of our geographic location in the shot, the friend was still spot on. We were, in fact, just north of the area that inspired the fictional setting for Craig Johnson’s western mystery novels. In the picture, our wide smiles hinted at the chef-worthy food and epic horseback rides we’d enjoyed at Red Reflet Ranch in Ten Sleep, Wyoming.
Though the Longmire author has been known to visit this 30,000-acre Bighorn Basin ranch and owns land not too far away, his crime-riddled story lines aren’t going to be found inside the boundaries of the ever-peaceful Red Reflet. Instead, guests encounter a generous, caring staff and surprises only nature can provide.
Thinking back on our Red Reflet experience, I could see upon arrival why owners Bob and Laurence Kaplan had chosen such a name for their retirement project turned guest ranch. The name, which means “red reflection,” speaks directly to both the Wyoming land and its worldly owners. The red Chugwater rock formation and the pond at its base give the landscape a deep coral hue that echoes through the property. And the hint of French in the name pays homage to Laurence’s heritage.
After purchasing the land in 2001 as their first step toward life as retirees, the Kaplans decided they could not keep this gem to themselves. What began as a quest to entertain friends turned into an unexpected new calling. With the same thoughtfulness they gave to the name, the Kaplans and their staff created a luxurious escape that could make any city slicker feel at home.
“We all are living in very complicated lives, very urban lives with huge stimulation, so much going on, so many opportunities, so well-traveled,” Bob says. “To have somebody stop and take in the natural beauty of the place, take in the quiet and the scope and the scale, is a very special experience. It’s an experience that we as owners can share with people that are not easily impressed.”
Each guest chalet at Red Reflet is decorated in neutral tones with local mounts adorning the walls, skylights spotting the ceiling, and stone fireplaces running up the walls. “I wanted to bring the outside in,” Bob says. Three chalets, the ranch house, and main lodge utilize floor-to-ceiling windows and wraparound porches to invite in the natural light and colors of the surrounding panoramic views.
Miles of trails dissect the ranch. While some are designed for ATVs (an efficient method of sightseeing) and some for hiking, there’s a far greater emphasis on horseback endeavors. Riding is the most popular activity among guests.
As a result, the stables at the Red Reflet are a highlight of the property. The horse program offers more than just nose-to-tail trail rides. A horse orientation is mandatory for each guest wanting to ride during their stay, and wranglers are always on hand to help the uneasy or inexperienced riders. But with a little training and bonding with your mount, you’ll be ready to hit the trails in the trusty hands of head horse trainer Clay Trollinger and his team of wranglers. They’re happy to lead a short trail ride or a more adventurous trek up the mountain. Mom and I did both.
At an elevation of 7,500 feet, the ranch’s mountain cabin is nearly 2,500 feet above the main facilities. More trails stretch higher up the mountain, which means diverse terrain, a bevy of wildlife, and lower temperatures.
“The ranch, we always say, has in and of itself five or six different landscapes,” Bob says. “So when you are at the airport, the landscape is Wyoming prickly pear cactus, which is small, dollar-pancake-size leaves, not Arizona, large-pizza-size leaves. ... Then as you go farther up, it’s rolling sage fields before you [get] to the mountain cabin. And when you get to the mountain cabin, it’s another surprise of ponderosa pine forests and aspen forests and lodgepole pine forests.
“So it couldn’t be more different, and it’s all because at one end, the airport, there’s 8 inches of rain a year. At the other end, there’s 30 inches of moisture.”
During our ride up the mountain, the head trainer, Trollinger, shared stories about the horses we were on, the trails beneath us, and the views in front of us. As the only two guests on our ride, my mom and I weren’t tied to the standard nose-to-tail experiences that are common on guest ranches. We were able to spread out in a field and get a better view of the valleys below. We watched as elk quickly passed over the hillside the moment they heard our laughter echo down the path.
Trail rides at Red Reflet are just the beginning for the horse-loving guests. Rodeo is a vital part of the Ten Sleep community, which plays host to the annual Beauty & the Beast Rodeo on Memorial Day weekend. With the only indoor arena in the area, the Kaplans’ ranch is home to a number of events, including weekly roping practice on Tuesday nights. The staff, too, use the arena for practice before the big events.
I got a taste of that life, partaking in some barrel racing practice with Trollinger’s wife, Tammy, and her daughter, Aften Peterson — both ranch wranglers and rodeo pros. When I first saddled up, I saw Aften working with a new horse to get him ready for a competition, and Tammy was on hand with advice and feedback.
I watched as Tammy called out tips to Aften as she took her horse around each barrel. With each subtle adjustment, the difference was more noticeable as she shaved time off her run. Although I’ve been to more than a handful of rodeos, I managed to mess up the race pattern, taking one barrel from the wrong direction. But the coaches were kind, letting me and my trusty horse, Popcorn, try again. I’ve since realized my place at the rodeo is in the stands and not in the arena, but having the one-on-one training with rodeo champs changed the way I watch the women race now. Always fierce, but every little movement counts.
Between morning and afternoon activities and at the end of each day, guests gather at the main lodge and settle in for family-style meals.
Kitchens in each chalet are fully stocked with breakfast goods including fresh juices, eggs from the chicken coop, and any specialty foods to accommodate dietary restrictions. Executive chef Clint Loftin and pastry chefs Stephanie Shaw and Chanh Fam handle the lunches and dinners. Curious guests and foodies alike can opt for a hands-on cooking lesson or instead just be surprised by the day’s menu. During cocktail hour, rich venison meatballs or buttery escargot might be served as hors d’oeuvres before a main course. With the hosts and all their guests gathered around one table, the Kaplans encourage lively conversation with new friends from all over the world. Our newfound ranch companions were a couple from Chicago and a duo of brothers with their father from Nova Scotia, all determined to experience the authentic American West through dude ranches.
“The guests are just so interesting,” Bob says. “They’re so successful in so many different walks of life. It’s very interesting to see what’s going on with them in the world they live in and their priorities. ... People wind up being really open, and the exchange is really nice. We’ve had a lot of guests who have helped each other out in other parts of the country. ... It’s not something you can always count on, but when it happens, it’s nice to see.”
Everyone at the table recounts their day, sharing about adventures and discoveries of those small hidden areas not listed on the ranch map. No matter the story, it always involves descriptions of breathtaking scenery, wildlife sightings, and, frequently, “I had never done that before.”
“You share experiences, and you take that away,” Bob says. “That’s not something that happens every day, and it’s not something that can happen in your normal day-to-day setting.
“Being able to do that and sharing a smile and a reassuring look — it’s so important. You do it in a ranch environment where you’re exposed to many new things in the course of the day. ... That’s what makes the guest ranch a really unique experience in vacations. That’s the real positive of it.”
For more information or to make a reservation, call 866.766.2340 or visit the ranch website.
From the May/June 2017 issue.