Every July for the last five consecutive years, I have gone on a week long canoeing and camping trip with my father, brothers and close friends. The first year I went started out with a handful of devoted outdoorsmen, my father, my brother and me. Over the years our group has slowly — and almost unnoticeably — grown larger.
The addition of new friends and younger siblings has made the previously 4-canoe trip into a massive 10-canoe expedition. The latest group left from Omaha, Nebraska and set off to a small river near the Nebraska-South Dakota border. The Snake River is situated on the land of a elite group of cattle ranchers and is totally private to outsiders, unless you happen to be good friends with an affable Game and Parks representative.
This past year our group was lucky enough to have one of the ranchers, Chris Abbott, come down and have a steak diner with us. We had camped on an escarpment adjacent to a small waterfall and were lighting the coals for the grill when we heard the low hum of an ATV growing louder. On the other side of the river there was an even larger drop off than on our campsite’s and soon enough we saw the headlights of Chris’ ATV beaming through the thick night.
This far out in the country, there aren’t any lights for miles and miles. The darkness is more than anyone living in a city could ever imagine. The ATV stopped at the bank opposite us and we watched as Chris took off his boots and socks, rolled up his thick jeans, and waded across the river brandishing a small cooler.
The adults had us introduce ourselves to Mr. Abbott and make him a spot near the fire. He told us he had new steaks he was marketing and to throw them on the fire. live in Omaha, Nebraska, a place most people would consider the Beef Capital of America and these steaks were by far the best steaks I have had in my life.
We tried to tell him how good they were, but words escaped us. Later on he said that if the kids wanted to, he had about 250 cattle that needed to be branded the next morning, and we could go and help out. None of us had done anything like this before.
I had never even been close enough to a cow to touch it and I was about to be wrestling down 300-pound bulls with no more than a few words of encouragement. Nonetheless, all of us jumped at the once in a lifetime opportunity without hesitation. He arrived later and picked us up on his heavy-duty truck.
In the part of country we were camping, the Sandhills, the terrain is rough and unpredictable. Even though it was only 5 minutes by plane from the ranch to our campsite, we spent well near an hour on the back of the truck. After the adults had their seats, there were three seats left for 10 kids; seven had to sit on the back.
We ended up vying for the spots on the back of the truck rather than in the cab; being rocked violently and pitched side-to-side was our idea of fun at the time. When we arrived at the house Chris informed us we were to get up at 3:30 the next morning to surprise the cattle and get a head start. We woke up fairly easily due to the anticipation of everything and loaded onto another truck to drive the rest of the way to the pen where the cows we were going to brand grazed.
After a few hours of waiting for the ranchers to pen up the herd, we went to work. Four stations were established consisting of the following: two wrestlers, one brander, one vaccinator, one ear clipper, and one castrator. Then, four cowboys went out to the herd with their lassos and started to rope the cattle. Once a cow or bull was roped, the cowboy would drag it back to a station and the team would make quick work of it.
We came back to Omaha with stories for our friends and experiences that we will keep telling until next year. And even though all these new experiences and places might seem to be the highlight of the trip, being with my brothers and father is what I will never forget.
Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.