A Minnesota raised cowgirl finds working at a Wyoming ranch to be much more than just a summer job.
I was in awe of the mountains and of our horses. The snow was grazing the underside of their stout draft bellies. They flexed their powerful muscles pulling themselves along through the thick unforgiving snow. I looked towards my wrangler partner Natalie as she confidently eased her horse forward. We had packed a hatchet and saw in our saddle bags to clear the high mountain trail. The sun was warm but the earth was cold, still frozen from the unrelenting chill of a long winter; the pines around us tall and glistening with a soft lace of snow. I could smell spring in the air, buds on the trees struggling to be the brilliant summer to come. But for now, snow was King. Natalie motioned towards me and pointed out scat on the trail, “mountain lion.”
The night before I slept in a canvas cowboy tent, burrowing myself deeper inside the thin excuse of a sleeping bag I had packed. I was cold, ill-prepared, and stunned by the steady downfall of snow. The next morning, peeking my head outside of the tent, there was nearly a foot of snow. It was June and my new mountain home was SOAR Eagle View Ranch (EVR). EVR is nestled on a hill along the boundary of the Shoshone National Forest near Dubois, Wyoming. It is a ranch that specializes in working with youth and young adults with ADHD. I would spend the summer months working as a wrangler, caring for a herd of horses and taking riders into the Wyoming wilderness.
I arrived at EVR a few days earlier and at 20, was the youngest on staff. I grew up riding in rural Minnesota and from a young age I had always wanted to venture out West. I felt competent and comfortable with horses, but the mountains were a different challenge. Riding in the rugged terrain of Wyoming was much different than riding in the flatlands of Minnesota. You have to ready yourself for the wildlife you may encounter, the high canyon rivers, the sudden change in weather, and always be able to find your trail.
On rides, we always packed a human & horse first aid kit, hatchet, bear spray, water, maps, layers, rain gear, food, leather, and a flashlight. While out on the trail, we would see elk, deer, badger, fox, a faraway bear, moose, and even mountain lion. The wilderness demands you to be prepared.
Our preparation gave way to immense payoffs. The beauty of Western Wyoming is unequaled, and the natural splendor of the Dubois area is overwhelming. The town lies in a valley, nestled into the Wind River Range. The surrounding landscape is a mosaic of badlands painted in hues of crimson, amber, and tan. On the horizon the dramatic peak of the Ram’s Horn, part of the Absaroka Mountains. East of Dubois, Warm Springs Canyon beckons riders, hunters, and hikers to explore its beauty. The town hugs National Forest and is a short Wyoming drive to Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park. It has a wild beauty that I will never forget, especially while gazing upon it on horseback.
Though riding in these magnificent mountains was thrilling enough, I also delighted in the opportunity to go off the mountain and into town. Dubois is small (1,000 people) but proudly displays its Western heritage. It has been home to Shoshone Native Americans, fur trappers, lumberjacks, and cowboys. In the summer the town hums with the excitement of visitors peaking a glimpse of a by-gone-era. During the height of the season, Dubois hosts a weekly rodeo and a well-attended square dance with people eagerly donning their best boots and western duds. Also, chariot races and horse-packing competitions are a regular summertime event. It is commonplace to hear locals chatting about their mules, ranch wranglers, or the big game they hunted the year before.
Naturally, this area is ideal for Dude Ranches. Butch Cassidy owned and operated a ranch outside of town in the late 1800s, causing a wave of Dude Ranches to follow. These ranches allowed the opportunity to preserve the heritage of the American West while allowing new generations to enjoy its splendor. A few working ranches in the area include CM, Bitterroot, Lazy L & B, Brooks Lake Lodge, and T Cross Ranch.
I have returned to the town of Dubois five times and the beautiful EVR high up on the hill. Each time I return, an unshakeable wildness flickers within me. It is a wildness that I see when I gaze upon the ink-black curtain of the night and the rugged Absaroka range. It is a wildness I feel with the warm breeze in the depths of the canyon and in the breath of a young horse listening to my command. To ride and work in these noble mountains is a gift.
Previously published for Equitrekking.