Real Life Ranch Wife

Cow Camp Vacation

kids watch calf get branded

It’s considered a getaway when a ranching family gets to go visit their cowboy dad at cow camp.

Our family’s foundation was built on remote ranches, chinked with long dirt roads, and marked by a distinct lack of cell phone service. My cowboy husband, Jim, and I recently moved to the outskirts of a small agricultural town, mainly because we wanted our kids to interact with other humans and know what the inside of a public library looks like.

family helps at cow camp vacation branding

But I already have friends and know how to read. Most days, I just want to drive back to No Cell Phone Land and bake Dutch oven bread in the front yard while my husband ropes cows all day. In my daydreams, I throw my bed roll into the pickup and zip off to cow camp after stopping for a full tank of diesel and a Snickers bar.

Then I remember that I sold my pickup when I got married seven years ago. I’m now a mom of three driving a large SUV that gets -3 miles to the gallon. Jim is still a wild cowboy though, as long as he remembers to claim all five dependents and take his multivitamin. Last month, he packed up his saddle, bedroll, and horses to work at a not-so-local ranch for four straight weeks.

children riding double on a horse

Halfway through that stint, I threw my bed roll into my Nissan and packed up enough clothes, toys, books, snacks and diapers for two kids and a baby. When I parked by the barn at cow camp, the kids immediately stripped down to their underwear and ran through a mud puddle. I set the baby down on the porch, where he licked a spur and chewed on the end of a rope. Come nighttime, our family of five all piled into a single room of the bunkhouse. We slept on 4-inch mattresses under homemade denim quilts with canvas tarps pulled up to our chins, just like God intended.

Like most ranches during the busy season, this outfit had hired a full-time cook to provide grub for the crew. But calling Marcie’s cooking “grub” is like calling the Vatican “just a church.” It’s a gross understatement at best and sacrilegious at worst. Each day, Marcie filled a big wooden table with rib steaks, stawberry-spinach salad, lemon meringue pie, chocolate chip cookies, lemonade, and biscuits so airy they literally weighed nothing. One night, I buttered my hand twice before I realized my biscuit had fallen to the floor.

baby chewing on rope

Jim was so impressed with Marcie’s culinary abilities that he invited her to accompany him on his next day-work stint. I was filled with righteous anger and indignation, mostly because I had already planned to ask her to go home with me. Ultimately, Marcie turned down both our offers, citing lack of payment and too many un-housebroken roommates.

“I don’t consider ‘unlimited opportunities to change diapers’ much of a fringe benefit,” she said.

“Me, neither,” I replied. “But, the kids are cute and keep calling me ‘Mom,’ so I guess I’ll stay on the imaginary payroll.”

And as long as Jim stays on various ranches’ actual payrolls, we’ll have an excuse to roll our beds and head way out of town. All I need is an auxiliary fuel tank and a Costco-sized bag of Snickers. 

1 thought on “Cow Camp Vacation”

  1. I am the 74 yr. old daughter of a tough little rancher. We lived all over AZ and lived in various areas there. I had a wonderful childhood and I am sure as a wife I would have been just as happy. It wasn’t all a bed of roses, but my memories and the lessons in life that I learned were priceless and got me through many hard times in my life. I loved your article. You and your family are very fortunate in my opinion. Take care and stay well.


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