Imagine living in a world where you could call a log cabin home, ride horses or hike through mountains and forests to lakes and hidden meadows every day, and dance with cowboys and cowgirls at night. This was my reality for two summer seasons as I went to work at a ranch-style lodge in remote north-western Wyoming, USA.
Living and Working on a USA Ranch
Looking out from the lodge lay a large, glistening lake, surrounded by willows and meadows and a circle of curving mountains surrounding you on every side. The lodge catered for 30 guests who were offered activities like horse riding, hiking, fly-fishing or just relaxing in the solitude and grandness of nature. Regular visitors included two osprey who soared over the lake in search of fish, a grizzly bear who came onto the property at night to rummage through the bins in the back of the staff accommodation, and several families of moose.
Finding a place called home
I became part of a small staff of 28 people who all lived on site in shared rooms in two log cabin style buildings. I was the only Brit there, along with a Swiss girl, an Argentinian guy and the rest of the staff from all over the States. It was an interesting mix of people and despite the occasional difference of opinion, I made some lifelong friends.
The nature of the work involved working on more than one job at the same time, helping out where it was needed. A typical day would involve waking up before sunrise, riding down to the lake with a friend, and galloping around the other horses who roam free by the lake overnight to round them up and bring them back to the Lodge. Covered in dust from galloping around, I would grab a quick shower and go to serve breakfast in the dining room to the guests, then get changed again and take out a hike after lunch to one of the meadows or emerald-coloured glacial lakes, before serving dinner in the evening.
We had our fair share of adventures when we weren’t working, often taking horses out with other members of staff. It was a good excuse to have a ride without guests and explore some of the old trails and see where they led. One July afternoon, four of us went out riding into the brilliant sunshine, wearing only T-shirts and jeans. We’d heard rumours of an old trail linking two lakes and decided to investigate the area, but we soon became completely lost in the maze of interlinking trails.
Adventures in the Wild West
As we started down towards the meadow which would lead us home, a lightning storm started up with torrential rain. We had to gallop back as fast as we could to escape the open meadow which made us prime targets for the lightning. We returned absolutely drenched and covered in mud which had been kicked up by the horses. It was the funniest race we ever had and we were all in such a mess by the time we got back to the lodge, there was nothing we could do but laugh.
Another time, I was hiking up around the base of a mountain with my friend Andrea on our afternoon off. As we walked through Sublette meadow, full of scarlet Indian paintbrush flowers, we looked up to see a black bear cub walking alone along the edge of the mountain. It was a thrilling and rare sight, and the cub was far enough away that we could afford to watch it for a few moments before our senses returned. It was too young to be walking around without its mother and we knew that we would not be in a safe position if we had inadvertently placed ourselves between bear cub and mother. The bear’s mother was nowhere in sight so we swiftly backtracked and moved as fast as we could back home, jumping nervously every time we heard a twig snap in the forest. We soon earned a reputation amongst the staff for always having these crazy adventures, but the summer wouldn’t have been the same without them for me!
In the evenings, we learned to ‘two-step’ and swing dance in the bars in Dubois, the small cowboy town nearest to the lodge. Seventy-year old cowboys would grab your hands and nimble-footedly dance with you; they wouldn’t take no for an answer! We discovered a fantastic bluegrass band, Steampowered Airplane, with a double bass, fiddle and trombone. They played Sunday nights at the Hatchet bar near the Yellowstone turn-off on the highway, and we started going there regularly to dance and party. The social life was surprisingly good for the middle of nowhere.
Some people I know would have hated those summers, being far away from shops and cinemas and your only friends being the small group of you stuck in the mountains. But I had the time of my life. I discovered a passion for hiking, realised quite how much of an outdoors person I am, and made some friends with whom I remain close even now, several years on.