What makes Western landscapes so remarkable is that these individual geological attributes can all be seen in one sweeping view from so many locations, and especially on horseback, which makes it possible to go where it’s impossible to go by any other means. The Pony Express and bank robber Butch Cassidy figured this out long ago; one of Cassidy’s best hiding places is along one of Bitterroot’s many trail rides. I’ll never forget sitting atop a horse at a location that Bayard Fox named “360” because the view extends for hundreds of miles in every direction but is different in every quadrant. Or cantering away from an oncoming thunderstorm that didn’t rattle the horses a bit and seemed to pelt the guests with hail only long enough to be fun.
You might expect that, after 40 years in the business, Bayard and his wife, Mel, would get tired of talking about their home. Not so. Their deep love of the land oozes out in every guided trail ride, which is also a history, geology and zoology course rolled into one.
Bayard is a natural-born storyteller, raised with horses in Pennsylvania, educated at Yale and then seduced by patriotism and wanderlust to join the CIA, where he jumped out of airplanes, learned five languages, operated in a half-dozen countries and once worked undercover in Paris as a model for a diamond company. The proof is a framed photo of him from an ad that ran in the New Yorker and elsewhere in August 1960. It sits atop the piano in the lodge. In it, Bayard appears, Gregory Peck-handsome (he still is), holding a large diamond brooch above the script, “A gift she’ll treasure beyond all others.”
Although he’s had no contact with the spy agency for 45 years and doesn’t advertise his past life, unlocking the memories wasn’t difficult. They were detailed and vivid, from the no-holds-barred Cold War era.
Bayard runs the working ranch with Mel, who was raised on a farm in Tanzania and looks like Katherine Hepburn on safari, as well as with their son Richard and daughter-in-law Hadley, a Yale graduate who traded medical school for the ranch life. Their extended family includes the many college-age women who work here as wranglers, caring for and tacking up the horses, leading the trail rides and giving lessons.
Animals are so clearly a part of their extended family, too, including dogs, sheep, llamas, 200-plus head of Scottish Highland cattle and 150 Arabian and quarter horses of every color that run up and downfrom their high grazing plateau to the stable in the morning and again at dusk.
Only the wolves are not welcome. Bayard believes — and will regale guests with tales to support his view — that keeping gray wolves on the endangered species list has allowed them to overpopulate the land and eat up the traditional prey of bears, which have consequently been forced to forage at lower altitudes, in human territory. A bear killed one of his foals several years ago, and during our week-long stay, a bear killed a lamb and one of two llamas before being trapped by a game warden.