Some of California's most beautiful and least developed countryside can be found in Plumas County, about an hour's drive west from Reno — which just happens to be where we found a real-life version of the movie "City Slickers" at Greenhorn Creek Guest Ranch.
Sometimes you just know when you've come home. Within about 30 minutes of our arrival at Greenhorn, we were chowing down on their Friday night barbecue of scrumptious, fall-off-the-bone ribs with all the fixin's. The owners of the ranch, Trish and Ralph Wilburn, were strumming their guitars and singing western songs by the campfire. Soon, the kids in the group were scurrying to get their marshmallows and chocolate so they could get more smores than anyone else.
Out there, the Big City might as well have been on the moon — which, incidentally, was just'starting to rise to take its place among the sparkling stars visible above the towering dark pine trees'surrounding the ranch. Paris Hilton might as well have been a Martian. The nearest Nordstrom's was probably 200 light years away, but my wife didn't even seem to mind. For this little'space of time — a weekend to be exact — we were going to be living in a different time and place and, in essence, returning to the rural roots that have never been too far under the surface for either one of us.
The Greenhorn Creek Guest Ranch is where you go to get a healthier heart. Not that barbecue ribs and steaks and big breakfasts of bacon and sausage and biscuits are going to unclog your arteries. The heart we're talking about is the one that helps you look at the world and'shape your reactions to it. It's the one that sometimes gets a little overwhelmed with the day-to-day and forgets about the big picture.
The big picture is considerably brighter after'spending a few days with fellow ranch visitors of all ages, shapes and sizes. Some of the people visiting the Greenhorn know about horses and may even have horses of their own. Others aren't sure which stirrup to step into first. Some are constantly running from one ranch activity to the next. Others are just content to sit on their cabin porches and inhale the Great Outdoors.
Most people who visit the ranch spend at least a couple of hours each day on the back of a horse. Three levels of rides are offered — beginner, intermediate and advanced — and guests can get as many as a couple of two-hour rides each day, all included in the cost of their stay. The rides take guests not only to the 600 acres that belong to the Greenhorn Ranch, but also out into forests that stretch over a half-million "deeded acres" that Greenhorn is able to use for trail-riding. Depending on your skill level, you can ride on just about any kind of terrain you desire.
We were especially impressed with Marty Orenstein, the head wrangler and the guy responsible for leading up to 11 other wranglers during the peak summer season. At the beginning of each week (since most guests stay for a week at a time), Marty holds a safety class in which he covers all of the basics about riding a horse. Nothing is left to chance, as Marty explains how not only to ride your horse, but also communicate with it. Following that instruction, everyone is assigned a horse that matches their particular abilities and experience level — which is no problem with 125 horses on hand to choose from.
While out on the trail, we enjoyed getting to know Freddie, a 20-year-old wrangler who had already served in Iraq but was sent home because he had broken his back in a fall. Surprisingly, the doctors told him horseback riding actually would help his back heal and so, there was Freddie, riding one of the most spirited horses on the ranch. Like the other wranglers, Freddie really enjoys showing off the ranch trails to the "dudes."
The wranglers serve another function at Greenhorn Ranch: party animals. Not that anything gets out of hand, but the mostly 20-something wranglers enjoy coaxing each other to sing their hearts out in the Saturday night karaoke competition held at the ranch's very own bar and dancehall. It's a kid-friendly bar — okay, we know that 'sounds strange — that really is more about the singing and dancing and a lot less about the drinking. It's also the location of the frog-racing competition.
If you've never been involved in a frog-racing competition, this is well worth whatever you pay to stay at the ranch. The foot-long frogs are captured from the ranch's idyllic pond and then given to guests' children to race. Before the racing begins, each frog is bid on by spectators who, once they "own" the frog, will get the auction money if their frog wins. Wrangler Marty was also Auctioneer Marty, while his other wranglers lined the race course to make sure no errant frogs left the track. Kids couldn't touch their frog during the race, but they could blow on the frog, slap the floor behind it or come up with any other ingenious way to get their frog moving. Mark Twain would have loved it.
The cabins at the Greenhorn Ranch are just about what you would expect: rustic, but quite comfortable. Our cabin was a duplex arrangement with other guests in the adjacent room. The living space isn't huge and our queen bed and bunk beds took up most of the available space. And there isn't any television. With'sun-up to sun-down activities such as horseback riding, hiking, fishing, swimming, volleyball, singing and dancing, most guests use their cabins only for sleeping or reading.
Most meals are taken in the Chuckhouse, a spacious dining room set up with a buffet line and enough tables that you can choose to dine with other guests, or just with your own party. The Friday night barbecue is held on the lawn by the pond and, on Saturday, there is a wagon ride to a steak barbecue held in a camp a few miles from the ranch. Guests can choose to go by wagon or on their horse.
For being just about as remote as a ranch can possibly be, it was surprising to find high-speed internet and a computer available for guests' use in the ranch office, in addition to wi-fi for guests to use with their own laptops. But with all the activities at the ranch, the computer was not getting heavy use while we were there.
The drive into Greenhorn Creek Guest Ranch, whether coming from the east or the west, is one of the most scenic in California. The ranch is situated just about half way between Reno, Nevada, and Red Bluff, California, with the nearest town being Quincy. The drive along Highway 70 takes you through numerous small towns, many of which hold history-related festivals each year. The rolling, forested hills combine with streams and roaring rivers to create a landscape that looks like a painting. You'll be tempted to stop and picnic at any one of several ideal locations along the way.
But if you're on your way to Greenhorn, don't dally too long. You'll want to allow just as much time as possible to settle in, sit back and enjoy a completely different time and place.
AT A GLANCE
WHERE: Greenhorn Creek Guest Ranch is located west of Reno, Nevada, and northeast of Sacramento, California.
WHAT: Greenhorn is a complete guest ranch and specializes in horseback riding, ranch activities, and home-cooked food. Greenhorn is a place to get away from the Big City and experience the outdoors. It's perfect for families as well as couples and singles.
WHEN: The peak season at Greenhorn is in the summer and there are many seasonal employees brought in to handle the demand. But spring and fall also are pleasant times to visit as long as you dress warm. Snow can come early and stay late in the year.
WHY: A lot of people come for the horseback riding, but that's only one of the many activities and attractions at Greenhorn.
HOW: For more information on the Greenhorn Creek Guest Ranch, please go to www.greenhornranch.com or call 1-800-334-6939. Rates are all-inclusive and vary by'season and availability. During certain weeks, the ranch currently is offering to pay up to $100 in gas reimbursement to guests.
Photos: Riders get individual attention as they saddle up; cabins at Greenhorn are rustic but comfortable; frog-racing brings'smiles to everyone; fishing pond is located right on the property.
Photos by Cary Ordway, Sandi Ordway
OTHER DESTINATIONS: If you're looking for other California vacation ideas, be'sure to check out other California Weekend articles on Los Angeles, Beach Boys hometown, Huntington Beach and Getty Museum.