In all our trips back to the ranch in Colorado, this one will be hard to beat for unexpected twists and turns.
We’ll remember it for the hilarity and the local history.
My wife Cara’s family, longtime cattle growers in Nebraska, bought the ranch in 1976. If you saw the mountain scenery in the 1965 film “Cat Ballou,” starring Lee Marvin and Jane Fonda, you will instantly know why people want to live here.
Cara’s mother, Jan Roberts, now owns the ranch, which is just outside Westcliffe, Colo. Look west, and all you see is the jagged beauty of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, a dark wall of 14,000-foot peaks.
We bring our silky terriers, Rumor and Scandal, every year because nothing beats seeing them romping without leashes.
Friday started out in typical fashion, with Jan’s breakfast of champions: Colorado peaches in cream and toasted frosted cinnamon bread.
On our way to Salida for a late lunch, we got our first surprise, especially for the area, which is known for its cattle and horse ranches.
Off to our right was a traffic- stopping sight: a herd of goats numbering in the hundreds: goats of every variety and size, some climbing rocks, the rest meandering toward the road we were on.
We thought that was the wildest sight we would ever see in the Wet Valley. Then we got back to the ranch.
As soon as we arrived, our dogs — five of ’em in all — were off and running, making a bee-line toward a herd of cows hanging out near a wooden fence next to the ranch house.
For the next 15 minutes, we saw Rumor and Scandal at their feistiest, darting into the herd at one point but mainly engaging in a loud, stare-down from, at times, a few feet away.
After all the excitement provided by the goats and the pups, Jan had one more stop planned. She had arranged a visit at the Brandenburg Ranch, site of much of the filming for “Cat Ballou.” But first we would watch the movie on Friday night.
We arrived about noon after passing a ranch where palomino horses grazed along a fence.
Founded in 1880 by German immigrants, the Brandenburg Ranch was selected as a film site for its proximity to the mountains.
John Brandenburg, great-grandson of the ranch founder, lives there with his wife, Sally.
He said filming took place over two weeks in September 1964.
You can see golden patches of aspen streaking the snow-dusted mountains when “Cat” returns home in an early scene, aboard a buckboard.
Not a lot has changed. The original homestead has undergone expansions, and 100-year-old photos cover the walls.
The old barn is still there. In one scene, Kid Shelleen, a feared gunfighter turned notorious drunk, tried hitting a target on the barn but missed the entire building.
We saw the outhouse, near where Cat’s father, Frankie Ballou (John Marley), was gunned down by hired killer Tim Strawn, who wore a metal nose after his real one was bitten off in a bar fight.
The most famous scene of the movie, in which Kid Shelleen and his equally-inebriated horse are leaning against a building, was filmed in California.
When Marvin won the best actor Oscar for his role in “Cat Ballou,” he told the audience, “I think I should be sharing this award with a horse out there somewhere in the San Fernando Valley.”
According to reports, Ann-Margret was the first choice to play “Cat,” but her manager turned it down without letting her know. She mentioned in her autobiography that she would have wanted the part.
She had just filmed a little movie called “Viva Las Vegas.”
THE SCENE AND HEARD
Hearing rumblings that Pia Zadora may be a regular performer at Piero’s Italian Restaurant.
THE PUNCH LINE
“Ben Affleck is the new Batman. And Miley Cyrus is apparently the new Lindsay Lohan.” — Jay Leno
Norm Clarke’s column appears Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. He can be reached at 702-383-0244 or email him at email@example.com. Find more online at www.normclarke.com. Follow Norm on Twitter @Norm_Clarke. “Norm Clarke’s Vegas,” airs Thursdays on the “Morning Blend” on KTNV-TV, Channel 13.