Don’t Fence Us In …

By Carolina Buia and her twins, Siena and Alessandra Barefoot

Ever Wonder How the West Was Won? Take a peek at Elk Creek Ranch

Ever wonder how the West was won? Not just with hard work, grit and determination, but with space to unspool big dreams along wide expanses, where mountain tops scratch the edges of star- speckled skies. This past summer, I was clued into a unique summer experience: Elk Creek Ranch. Not your traditional sleep away camp, but a true working ranch where teenagers from all over the world live like pioneers from a bygone era. The young ranchers are loaned their own horse for the entire summer, given a set of chores and many miles of mountain challenges.

Unlike traditional camps where your mare is trotted out to you fully tacked, my twin 15-year old daughters were expected to care for their own horse, occasionally wrangle the entire herd in the wee morning hours, irrigate acres of fields and make sure all ranchers–and animals– were fed. They built new fences along a corral perimeter and a laid roof on a cabin. They worked hard, but played harder. Going on daily trail rides and hikes, they scaled steep mountains and looked down breathtaking precipices. They barrel raced, square danced, had a mini rodeo and strummed songs by a campfire. They looped a lasso and leapt into icy cold creek waters. Their last week? A four day pack-trip that was both physically challenging and visually stunning, while meeting up with mountain lions, bears and coyotes. Awed and humbled by their surroundings (along a healthy dose of fear and bear spray), it made for a memorable summer.

Siena Barefoot

Siena, 15

I’ve been to sleep-away camp before, but no summer has impacted me more than my time at Elk Creek. The camp was much smaller than what I was used to, creating a forced proximity between all of us ranchers. I bonded easily with every one of the kids there and can say with certainty that I formed strong friendships with almost all. We walked 10+ miles a day and rode horses or hiked daily. The scenery was incredible. My absolute favorite part of the entire four weeks was the four-day pack trip at the end of the session. We spent two days riding our horses up to a flourishing valley enclosed by mountains on all sides, known as Damnation Basin. The valley had long ,green grass and is thronged with beautiful yellow flowers. We also went on several short hikes around the area, and filled our water bottles near the top of an ice-cold stream. At night, we kept by the campfire, sitting on logs as counselors told scary stories that made me think I wasn’t going to be able to sleep that night. Throughout the two nights we spent at Damnation, we saw wolves, elk, a mountain lion, and five grizzly bears too many. By the end of the trip I was sweaty, my tent that had housed 10 girls smelled like a manure field, and I was just dreaming of using a real toilet. Though I’m glad to be home, it was the experience of a lifetime, and I’d return in a heartbeat!

Alessandra Barefoot

Alessandra, 15

Mickey, an ex-cross-cutter horse, was all mine for the summer. She was a beautiful bay horse, meaning that she had a reddish brown coat with a black and brown mane. When I rode her with the wind blowing through her mane, her forehead’s white lightning bolt streak glistened. 

Before the four-day pac trip began, the counselors loaded our supplies and gear onto pac horses and pac mules. Seeing mules for the first time captivated me. They were ginormous. I’m talking slightly over 16 hands. That’s 5’4 from the ground to their withers. Their heads were huge too. Peaches, the smaller of the two mules, was tawny with zebra-like stripes that wrapped across her legs and a lone stripe down her back. Blackbird was a gentle giant. All black, except for his snout. Once packed, we left the corral.

Alessandra Barefoot

The trail ride was full of cows and their calves, letting out deep, rumbling sighs. One cow followed us for about five miles.  

On the last day, we rode the full 22 miles back. It was the cumulative length of the first two days. National forests, like the one we were in, had many fallen logs. There were countless dead trees, some horizontal against the ground, others still balancing up. Mickey loved to jump over these, enjoying every minute. 

There were two fallen trees crossed over one another and a small drop in the ground. Shocking me, she leapt. I held on tight, almost flying out of my seat. She bucked at a couple different horses, even once when we were along a cliff. I learned to trust her; we became one. There was a sweet side too. Her best friend was my sister’s horse, Sunny Boi. They had lived in the same barn cell for years and loved to graze together.  Whenever I brought my horse to the pen, Sunny Boi was there waiting. I miss the horses, the sunrises, the campfires and the camaraderie. 

It was an unforgettable walk on the (Wyoming) wild side.

Elk Creek Ranch
P.O. Box 1476
113 Sunlight Road
Cody, WY 82414