A Pennsylvania Dude Ranch
Say "Poconos," and you probably tend to think of kitschy mountain resorts, honeymooners, and heart-shape hot tubs. But for nature lovers, there's a less glitzy side to this region that's worth exploring, especially on horseback.
On a gray, rainy day in early spring, I saddled up for the first ride of a horseback-riding weekend at Malibu Dude Ranch, an honest-to-god dude ranch not two hours from New York City.
As my horse and I ambled into the Poconos' barren woods, I felt I was entering a black-and-white world, with few splashes of color. The trees hadn't begun to bud yet; moss, a few tiny hosta growing around the streams and ponds, and an occasional evergreen supplied rare patches of green.
Still, there's a lot to see. The lack of vegetation made it easier to spot the wildlife, and the hunters' blinds. I must have seen close to 100 deer in two days of riding. Sometimes bands of up to a dozen stood just off the trail, barely looking up from grazing.
At other times, one or two deer crashed through the woods in the distance.
Handfuls of wild turkeys, almost invisible due to their subtle coloring, sprinted off silently as we approached, tiny ones following their elders, single file. There was no sign of bear or tracks, though the guides claimed to have seen some recently.
Encounter with an Eagle
The weekend's most glorious vision was that of a golden eagle taking flight. The sight of this bird flapping its enormous wings just a few feet off the ground startled the guide's lively thoroughbred. But the guide quickly brought the flighty horse under control, and the majestic eagle soared away unconcerned.
Most of the riding was on narrow, winding trails, up and down steep hills. We often deviated from the trail, gliding through the woods, with the guide stopping from time to time to move fallen trees blocking our passage.
We splashed through water in low spots on a few of the trails, circled several lakes and ponds, and forded a handful of streams, one of which was more than knee-deep on the horses. The area has such an abundance of trails that it's possible to ride for hours without taking the same route twice.
My initial ride of the day included a first-time rider, and the guide obligingly took it easy. He laughingly told us the sedate pace would be perfect for those of us with hangovers. Our horses walked calmly through the forest, nose to tail.
The metallic clang of their shoes on the rocks was often the only sound we heard. It was a peaceful and relaxing way to start the weekend, and it gave me a good chance to stretch and loosen up in the saddle. But by the time we got back to the barn, I was ready for more excitement.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication