An old pickup truck raced by in the other direction with the silhouettes of three cowboy hats in the cab. Then another. Then a minivan with even more passengers. Ranch hands? Tourists? Why were they headed in the wrong direction at this hour?
Then, at mile 16, we spotted a cluster of log cabins tucked in an oasis of trees. Rough cattle fences divided the land, and at last, a small painted sign on a wooden post pointed us down a final, narrow dirt path.
As we were gathering our suitcases from the car, Bayard Kane Fox unfolded his tall, lanky frame from a truck that had pulled in minutes after ours. “Welcome,” boomed the 81-year-old, a fishing pole in one hand, the other busy with two happy dogs doing the jig at his feet. “Come on in. Meet Mel.”
We’d just missed the other guests, he said. They were the carloads of people that had passed us coming in, headed into town for the weekly rodeo.
So began what I consider to have been the perfect vacation: a physical challenge in an unfamiliar place more beautiful than my imagination could dream up, with wonderful people from whom we part as new friends. Not to mention the superb ranch-grown food, the handsome rodeo riders, the curious yearlings, the colt that let me lie on the grass beside him, and the well-trained, sure-footed Arabians with their smooth gallops. (Oh, and an unexpected CIA connection. More on that later.)
On the east side of the Continental Divide from Yellowstone National Park, the Wind River Valley is one of the lesser known of Wyoming’s expansive landscapes. Bitterroot Ranch, next to the Shoshone National Forest, is cut by the east fork of the Wind River and framed to the south by the jagged peaks of the 100-mile long Wind River Range. The range, which forms the Divide, is the highest mountain range in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, and is characterized by its unusual rock formations and exposed sediment lines. To the north is the volcanic Absaroka Range, which is nearly as high and dramatic.
In between are crystal blue rivers, streams and lakes fed by mountain snowmelt, vast plains of sagebrush, alpine meadows, stands of aspen trees, volcanic moonscapes perfect for fossil hunting and deep red rock canyons and cliffs. The 3,700-acre riding ranch is bordered by the 2 million-acre Wind River Indian Reservation, controlled by the Shoshone tribe but open to the public for horseback riding and fishing.