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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

A taste of the Wild West: visiting Wyoming's remote Red Reflet Ranch

The privately owned, four-chalet ranch that manages to feel at once rugged and luxurious

“Oh, sorry, let me move that for ya,” says Bob Kaplan, picking up the largest pistol I’ve ever seen from the passenger seat of his pickup truck. The Red Reflet Ranch owner then puts this hand cannon in his drinks’ holder. I’m not sure if laughing is the appropriate response, but it’s hard not to giggle.

Bob is driving my brother, Jack, and myself to the upper part of the ranch that he owns with his wife, Laurence. Their property is about 120 square kilometres, with no sealed roads and the journey is not quick. It is beautiful, though. The reflections of crimson cliffs in the mirrored surfaces of lakes around the main lodge give the ranch its name.

Getting to the ranch

From here we loop around past the stables, past the large herd of Aberdeen Angus that’ll not be much longer for this world, past the shooting range and the small butcher shop, where Bob cleans anything he’s hunted (the cattle are taken off-site). Eventually, we reach a snowbound pine forest and a summer cabin. On a clear day you can see over 100 kilometres to the horizon. Having owned this land since 2001, the Kaplans have got to know it well; as we drive, he explains that we are passing on and off of his property, sometimes onto a neighbour’s land, sometimes onto parts managed by the government.

To us, it all looks the same, which is to say wild and ancient and enormous. Over the course of the next few days, my brother and I will see as much of it as we can, sometimes on horseback, more often on quad bikes. It may seem like a giant playground to visitors, but to the Kaplans, it’s a dream home turned accidental mega-retirement project.

Quad biking at the ranch. Courtesy Red Reflet Ranch
Quad biking at the ranch. Courtesy Red Reflet Ranch

Having both built successful businesses designing and selling baby products, they sold their companies, and, after a five-year search, acquired this Wyoming wilderness. Despite it originally being designed for them, Laurence tells me the family initially, thought they were “completely crazy”.

“Every time we saw them, we were so passionate about the ranch that we couldn’t stop talking about it,” she explains. “I said to Bob: ‘I think we’re starting to bore the family.’ He looked at me and said: ‘Why don’t we take some guests in? And then we can bore them.’”

The family, of course, are still ­welcome, and gather here every other Thanksgiving. Space and privacy they do not lack. The chalets – there are only four – are completely self-contained. We stay in the Panorama (I quickly claim the master bedroom), which as the name suggests, has sensational views across the ochre landscape. It’s best enjoyed from a hot tub out on the huge decking area. Each night we take some time to sit, our bodies gently boiling while our heads are chilled in the autumnal air. The unimpeded sunsets are marvellous.

Inside Red Reflet Ranch

Inside, the designers have managed to get a balance of the place feeling homely, but also expensive. At Red Reflet, you’re encouraged to make your own breakfast in your cabin before heading down to start whichever activity interests you for that day; in the summer, options range from skeet shooting, horseback riding and cattle herding, to quad biking, fishing, biking, hiking and yoga. Our cabin’s fridge comes fully loaded – some excellent coffee, pastries and fresh juices are provided.

Lunches and dinners, meanwhile, take place down at the ranch’s main building. Laurence and Bob will ordinarily join their guests, and the food is something they enjoy. If any of the family have been out hunting, guests might get a chance to try whatever has been shot. Fortunately, our stay has come just after elk season and one evening we get to try it as super-­fresh steak.

Burgers at Red Reflet Ranch. Courtesy Red Reflet Ranch
Burgers at Red Reflet Ranch. Courtesy Red Reflet Ranch

Itineraries are not provided – everything, it seems, is flexible. Or almost everything – hunting on the property (and across America) is tightly regulated, so unless you have gone through the expense and complication of arranging hunting tags for your chosen quarry ahead of time, that won’t be an option. The Kaplans have their own supply and make the most of them each year.

I can’t help thinking that if all gun ownership were like this, America would have far fewer problems. The Kaplans have guns to kill animals, some for sport and sustenance, some because they are pests.

But still, they do own several guns, and they have clear views to every horizon. Over breakfast one morning, my brother and I solemnly agree that when the zombie apocalypse starts, we’ll probably hole-up in Red Reflet. Even if we don’t fire a single shot, it’ll be a tremendous pleasure to work our way through its extraordinary larder, among other things.

Exploring the surroundings

To prep for this impossible future, Jack and I decide to explore as much of the property as we can on our quad bikes. Available to all guests, we take them on the first day and leave the car at our chalet. We then use the smaller vehicles to drive to and from lunches and dinner, to the stables, and to the shooting range. Mostly, though, we just use them to explore the 150km of trails around the vast property. Inevitably, there is a lot of racing. At least it felt vast to us, a pair of Brits. In Wyoming terms, Red Reflet is relatively petite. To put it in context, when a mega-ranch elsewhere in the state had a fire, an area the size of Red Reflet was burnt.

Horses at Red Reflet Ranch. Courtesy Red Reflet Ranch.
Horses at Red Reflet Ranch. Courtesy Red Reflet Ranch.

The nearest highway or strip mall is more than 100km away; the only airport round these parts is the airstrip on the ranch from which the Kaplans fly their private jet. All that space, this profound remoteness is, of course, part of the Wild West ideal. This was not lost on the producers of long-­running Western drama Longmire starring Robert Tayor, which was filmed very nearby. You might not spend your time trying to lasso steers on this ranch, but you certainly get time to appreciate the surroundings.

The closest town is Ten Sleep, so named because it once marked the halfway point of a 20-day journey between large Native American camps. From here, it’s a short drive to the modern-day Wind River Indian Reservation.

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There’s not a whole lot going on in Ten Sleep, and it’s quite hard to decide whether or not what’s there has been created for tourists or because the residents prefer it this way; two bars sandwich a gun shop on Main Street. Fewer than 300 people live here, but they seem fairly delighted to receive visitors.

And we’re happy to be there, and to say hello, but the Sun is setting, and the hot tub probably should not be left alone too long.