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    French Broad Outpost Dude Ranch in Eastern Tennessee with horses graxing in pasture and what appears like an old west town in background

    Published 7-27-2019

    "Return with me now to those thrilling days of yesteryear when the Lone Ranger rides again"--no make that the Lone Writer. Here at French Broad Outpost Dude Ranch in Eastern Tennessee, I'm getting as close to the old western days as you can get. I followed a gravel road that is not on most maps to the ranch. 

    bedroom wiht two beds one rustic logs at French Broad Outpost Dude Ranch in Eastern Tennessee

    Bob Gannon greets me and checks me in. My room at the rustic four-room lodge is timber inside and out. Each lodge room represents a different Western theme. The décor in mine is Native American. There are pictures of warriors and maidens and one of a cute Princess Two Feathers. Even as the cultures mixed in the old west, there are also cowboy artifacts, such as the wrought iron boot towel holder which I later found had a very practical purpose if you step into something you shouldn't after riding. The furnishings are all beautifully crafted wood pieces; one of the two very comfortable beds is a handmade log piece.

    horse and livery stable at French Broad Outpost Dude Ranch in Eastern Tennessee

    What is not in my room are things like TVs, radios, clocks. There is no Wi-Fi and no mobile phone service.  Who needs a TV when the scenery outside is so beautiful. Standing on the porch in front, I can gaze at mountains shrouded in mist, horses grazing peacefully below, Nothing but natural wood buildings needed on the ranch as far as I can see.

    people at a long table dining at French Broad Outpost Dude Ranch in Eastern Tennessee

    Dinner brings the eight guests together like a family. Besides myself, there are two sets of grandparents visiting; one with two preteen girls and one with a slightly younger girl. Bob joins us and talks about his days in the air force before moving here to what was then raw acreage and clearing land and building the beginnings of the ranch with his son, Shawn.

    Sheila, our cook, brings out several bowls of steaming Spinach Alfredo sauce, pasta, and fresh broccoli. We all fill our glasses with iced tea, or lemonade. We pass everything around family style and get acquainted.

    Man in cowboyoutfit with two women at table at French Broad Outpost Dude Ranch in Eastern Tennessee

    After dinner, Shawn rounded us up and gave us instructions on the art of horseback riding. He gives very good and important pointers and delivers in such a way you won’t forget. He really could be a standup comic in Vegas.  My favorite being about not panicking when your horse sees a "saber toothed grasshopper" and follows horse instinct to bolt fast and far. His description of the human reaction to this is similar to a terrified back seat driver clutching the driver's shoulder and pumping the passenger side "brake" as he screams, "There's a stop light 8 miles ahead!" At that point if someone asked the panicked back seat driver "What's 2 + 2?" he would yell, "I don't know but there's a stop light ahead!" as he continues to pound the "brake."

    We all got the point not to lose our head if our horse breaks into a trot unexpectedly.

    Horses and riders lined up to saddle horses

    On Monday morning, after, a big cowboy breakfast, it's time to saddle up and hit the trail. We are assigned our horses. Mine is Toname. She is a big sweet-tempered mare about 20 years old. We all manage to get saddled and, with some help mounting from Shawn and his wife, Joanne, we take off for a ride though some spectacular mountain country bordering the French Broad River. The free-ranging pair of goats and the fenced donkeys watched us depart.

     Luckily Toname and the other horses are very well trained. She senses I don't want to gallop or even trot so she holds to a sedate walk.  She knows I will reward her with some of the carrots and peppermints available as treats for the horses.

    Mountain view wiht horses grazing in foreground

    Like the real cowboys and -girls we are aspiring to be, we unsaddle, groom and then give our mounts a refreshing cool down walk before returning them to graze in the pasture for lunch.

    For our lunch we return to the dining room and enjoy potato salad, lettuce and tomatoes, fresh bread and butter, and chips. Old time music on the record player; classics from Patsy Cline, Jimmy Rogers, Faron Young, and others of that time entertained us.

    Young girl feeding white horse a treat

    Some of us wondered down to the livery stable and barn to offer the horses, goats, and donkeys a few treats. Browsing around the ranch there are many small treasures. Cowboy paraphernalia such as horse shoes, campfire coffee pots, old time pianos, and my favorite, a life sized Popcorn Sutton surrounded by his moonshining equipment.

    Young girl sseated at bar in game room at French Broad Outpost Dude Ranch in Eastern Tennessee

    Man and girl playing a table game at French Broad Outpost Dude Ranch in Eastern Tennessee

    Others went upstairs to the lounge game room where they played pool, foosball, air hockey, or one of the other games there. Observers sat on barstools made of sawhorses with a saddle. This room has a modern large screen TV for couch potatoes. If you really want to relax, there are books all over you can read.

    Three girls playing cards and two women watching in Iron Horse Saloon at French Broad Outpost Dude Ranch in Eastern Tennessee

    Some of us went over and visited the Lone Star Hotel, their newest building completed it 2006. It has seven rooms and the entire downstairs is the Iron Horse Saloon. If you didn't know better you would think you stepped back to the old west circa 1880s it is so authentic. During the high season this is where the square dances are held and the Bluegrass Band plays. Summer is the high season and more activities are held on weekends as this is a busier time. Guests usually visit either from Sunday to Wednesday or Wednesday to Sunday.

    End of week activities include kids painting a horse, for the adults 18 and older you get to shoot an old fashioned black powder pistol at some balloons, pioneer games, and on occasion a kids rodeo. We would have gone tubing or whitwater rafting but there had been a bad storm making the French Broad River not safe for that. Of course there is always fishing, hiking, horseshoes, or just relazing in your free time.

    cattle grazing

    In the afternoon we did something I have only seen on TV or movies, a cattle drive. It was so exciting. We rode down to the pasture where Shawn and Jo Ann opened the gate and the cattle poured out amongst us. You have no idea how big cows look when you are sitting right next to them on your horse.

    Shawn had already assigned each of us our places and our jobs. Side riders like myself were to keep the cattle from wondering off into the woods or across the railroad track. Back riders were to push them forward.  We did pretty well and just lost one cow that wandered into another corral but Cindy, one of the better riders in the group, retrieved it so all cows were accounted for.  Yea! Move 'em on. Head 'em up.  Rawhide!

    swimming pool

    A quick dip in the pool felt good. It's a nice size and the water felt just warm enough. It's located on the higher level just past the lodge so we could look down and see the horses enjoying their free time also.

    We were ready for the chicken tenders, baked mac, green beans and cornbread that awaited us for dinner.

    stature of Popcorn Sutton Woman riding horse
    Life sized stature of Popcorn Sutton in whiskey exhibit Me riding in penning. Photo courtesy of Sharen Bennett

    The next day after our morning trail ride and an equally delicious lunch of pulled pork sandwiches, we did a little competition called Team Penning before we herded the cattle back to their pasture. This is a rodeo sport that grew out the routine tasks cowboys had of separating one cow from the group and herding it into a pen for branding or other reasons.

    riders penning cattle

    We were divided into two groups and attempted to herd one cow at a time into and then out of a small pen.  Luckily our horses understood the routine and we managed to "pen" several in our allotted time. Not too sure about our team work here but it was fun for both riders and watchers.

    horse and two goats in barn

    While I will never spur Toname and gallop into the sunset yelling "Hi Ho Silver, away!" I will always have fond memories of my days riding the range at French Broad Outpost Dude Ranch. It's a real taste of the Old West.

    For another Western Ranch story click here






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