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Escape to the Cottonwood Ranch

Tim Hauserman  |  RENO Magazine

Do you dream of escaping the craziness of modern society to enjoy rare moments of stillness? Do you seek a place away from the crowds where you can experience the outdoors in solitude?

For many, finding true serenity comes via a backpack in the wilderness. But just because a piece of land is designated as wilderness doesn’t necessarily mean you will have the place to yourself, in fact many wilderness areas near urban areas can be busy places. And even if you walk far enough to find solitude in the wilderness, not everyone’s idea of a good time is spending a night sleeping on the hard ground before awaking to dig a hole in the dirt to go to the bathroom. There is a solution, especially if your dream of solitude includes a horse: The Cottonwood Guest Ranch, which is located outside — way outside — of Wells, Nevada.

A working ranch, luxe accommodations

The Cottonwood Guest Ranch is a working cattle ranch with luxurious lodge accommodations for 19 guests. While the address may say Wells, Cottonwood Guest Ranch owner Agee Smith says Wells is just the closest town, some 70 miles away, and “the little town of Wells doesn’t offer a lot. Twin Falls, Idaho, is where we go to the store — it’s 110 miles away.”

With the nearest neighbor eight long miles away, the only light you will see comes from the stars and the moon.

The route to the ranch includes more than 30 miles of gravel roads, and, once you reach your destination, you will find yourself right at the edge of the Jarbidge Wilderness, considered one of the most remote spots in the lower 48. Jarbidge dishes up true mountain splendor with four peaks higher than 10,000 feet tall.

Of generations

Agee Smith is one of five generations who have managed or lived on the Cottonwood Ranch. For Smith, the ranch is not only home to him and his wife Vicki, but his children and grandchildren as well. Smith wanted to make sure readers don’t expect to find a dude ranch as portrayed by Hollywood where a set schedule of “experiences” is provided to re-create a cowboy lifestyle for city folk. It’s a working ranch where guests can come stay in the beautiful accommodations and take advantage of the ranch lifestyle as they choose. Sure you can get on a horse and join in whatever ranching activities are going on, but you can also hike in the wilderness or just find yourself a peaceful bit of paradise and sit back to listen to the sound of the wind, the swishing of a horse’s tail or the chirping of the ubiquitous birds.

At the ranch you can join the cowboys, who ride miles of fence and making repairs if necessary; ride out and check on the cattle, or if you time it right, be part of the effort to drive cattle into the mountains of the Jarbidge Wilderness or back down to grazing areas. Spend your time saddle roping, hay and buggy riding or just enjoying the impossibly expansive Great Basin sky.

Many head into the wilderness to hike or bring a mountain bike to ride nearby trails. But you might want to bring a friend, because you will probably not see another soul once you hit the trail.

Hunting lodge

The lodge also serves as a base for hunting for elk, deer, and pronghorn antelope. While those who hunt with their cameras can find birds and other wildlife aplenty in the vicinity. In the winter, some come to the ranch to snowmobile.

While you will find peace and serenity at the Cottonwood Ranch, you also will find the accommodations at the lodge to be more than comfortable. The cheery wood paneling, walls of rock and unique cowboy decor make Cottonwood a comfortable place for respite. There is a great room, a recreation room, hot tub and, perhaps surprising for a place in the middle of nowhere, wifi. There also is an expansive deck from which to enjoy the endless views or celebrate a group gathering (wedding? reunion?).

Food and unlimited riding is included in the price tag, which is a good thing because this is not the kind of place you drive to town for dinner unless you start driving around lunch time. The guest rooms have private baths, or if you want to save a few bucks, you can stay in a western style teepee which sleeps six, or sign up for one of the 12 RV sites.

Recently, the ranch has added a program for veterans to “rest, relax and recharge the soul.” through the nonprofit Veterans Ranch and Wilderness Retreats.

While it is certainly a great place for veterans to recharge, it will recharge the souls of the rest of us as well. Just about anyone will find solace by getting away from freeways, fast food restaurants and binge watching TV for a few days to renew their connection to nature while riding a horse across the endless landscape.

Get out of town

Looking for other places to comfortably rest your head away from the crowds? Here’s a few possibilities:

Miles End Lodge, Austin, Nevada: This charming B and B is located smack in the middle of Nevada in the vast high dessert of the Big Smoky Valley, 16 miles from Highway 50. There are a variety of beautiful cabins with full breakfast and they can provide dinner as well with advanced notice.

Deer Run Ranch, near Carson City: Bordering Washoe Lake State Park, this working hay ranch has just two rooms for rent. Relax and enjoy beautiful views over the pond to the Carson Range. or 775-882-3643.

Cowboy’s Dream, Alamo, Nevada: Enjoy top of the line luxury in this gorgeous structure of rock, wood and glass. The cowboy theme is evident throughout the lodge and rooms, but we are not talking the rustic life of a true cowboy at this place, but the high end extravagant version. It’s located in the small town of Alamo, close to the infamous Area 51 and the Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge.