The fringed suede jacket, a garment I acquired especially for this trip, hung from the closet door, mocking me. On the one hand, to ride the range in an honest-to-God cowgirl jacket, fringe blowing in the wind, my Ropers dusty from the trail, was a dearly held wish of long standing. On the other, as an obvious imposter I would surely be a figure of ridicule, my New York self a sad sheep in wolf’s clothing. “To heck with it,” I thought. This is my cowgirl fantasy, and if I want to look like I wandered off the set of City Slickers, so be it.
Equipped with the aforementioned outerwear (and several flashy, pearl-snapped shirts), I was off to the 2018 Cowgirl Spring Roundup at the Resort at Paws Up. Every spring the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame brings four hall of fame inductees together with women from around the country at Paws Up in Greenough, Montana. It makes for an unforgettable weekend as women of all ages and from all walks of life, united by the cowgirl spirit, gather to ride under the vast Montana sky, enjoy programs and activities led by the inspiring cowgirls from the hall of fame, and revel in a unique camaraderie.
Despite arriving in Missoula after midnight, I could tell I was in for something special. It’s a half-hour drive from the airport to Paws Up, but even in the pitch black of the Montana night I could sense the beauty of the wilderness that began where the pavement stopped. On reaching our destination, the Paws Up driver installed me in a two-bedroom, wilderness-themed cabin that could have been conjured from the pages of Architectural Digest. No detail was left unconsidered, and an anonymous angel of mercy had even left a chicken wrap and some crudités in the fridge lest, God forbid, I go to bed hungry.
Indeed, detail is what Paws Up is all about, and it showed in every aspect of the weekend. I arrived early, so I had some time to explore the breathtaking scenery, both on foot and on horseback. The snow-capped peaks in the distance border on valleys populated by herds of deer and elk, all under a canopy of blue sky. Cabins are dispersed around the property, and each visitor is given the keys to a cunning green Kia to get from here to there. The landscape alone inspires and revitalizes, and that was just the beginning.
The weekend kicked off with an introductory cocktail hour and dinner for the cowgirls and hall of famers to get to know each other. The level of Western bling was such that the fringed jacket I had feared over-the-top appeared woefully restrained. The Cowgirl Hall of Fame inductees participating this year included Sharon Camarillo, a renowned barrel-racing champion and equestrian teacher; Western sculptor and painter Veryl Goodnight; Marilyn Williams Harris, a rancher, environmentalist, and champion rider; and award-winning Western ranch-life photographer Barbara van Cleve.
Between lavish dinners and festive cocktail gatherings where cowgirls struck up new friendships, virtually every minute of the day was filled with workshops and programs led by the hall of fame inductees. Imagine a barrel-racing lesson conducted by a world champion like Sharon Camarillo, or the opportunity to explore the nuances of equine photography with a legendary Western photographer like Barbara van Cleve. Moreover, I, who have never so much as picked up a brush, painted a Montana landscape in oil under the gentle tutelage of Veryl Goodnight. Marilyn Williams Harris not only gave an inspiring keynote address but treated cowgirls to a horse-drawn-wagon tour highlighting the flora and fauna of the Paws Up ranch.
I rode, I herded cattle, I took photographs, I painted, I shot sporting clays. I hurled hatchets into a tree stump, fired arrows into a bale of hay, ate and drank until I was fit to burst, and discovered the wondrous huckleberry (which plays a starring role at the breakfast table and on the dessert tray). Cowgirls are never idle.
Most importantly though, I was privileged to meet a group of women who inspired me in myriad ways. Nadine Lipson, the owner of the Resort at Paws Up, characterizes the cowgirl spirit as “a passion to be the best person you can be and to overcome any obstacle that comes your way.” Both the hall of fame inductees and the cowgirls in attendance embodied this spirit in spades. Provided I revamp my cowgirl wardrobe with some hand-tooled boots and embroidered shirts, you’ll find me in Montana come roundup time next spring. Yee haw!