Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Ring Lake Ranch

Had an absolutely magnificent week at Ring Lake Ranch in Dubois, Wyoming.  This is a dude ranch/retreat center that combines the typical dude ranch activities of horseback riding, hiking and fishing with evening seminars on spirituality/theological topics led by renowned speakers.  It was founded in 1967 by a Methodist minister named Maggie Kahin, who was looking for a place for spiritual renewal in a beautiful natural setting.  She really found the place, set in the Wind River Mountains, with stunning mountain views, lakes and streams--a perfect place for the ranch.  We had known of Ring Lake for years, as one of our dear friends from Atlanta and her family used to go there often when their kids were growing up, and our neighbor and well-known church historian, Roberta Bondi, regularly leads seminars there. . .

. . . which segues into a funny story on ourselves.  Last year on our trip we were at Grand Teton National Park when we saw an email from Roberta's husband, Richard, letting the neighborhood know of an upcoming seminar at Ring Lake that Roberta was leading.  We excitedly read the email and saw that it was happening that very week, so we called Roberta to see if we might come have lunch with her, seeing as how the ranch is only about an hour and a half from the park.  Well, Roberta let us know that we had read the email a little too hastily, as her seminar was in 2014 and not 2013--duh!!!!  Anyway, we decided to drive over to the ranch just to see it.  We got there a little before lunch and at first didn't see anyone around, so we weren't sure if it was going on, but when we got to the office the man temporarily staffing the business manager's position let us know that everyone was out on either hikes or horseback rides for the morning.  Seems that Amanda, the regular business manager, was out giving birth to her second child that very day, so he was filling in.  He said that the ranch director, Andy, was out on the horseback ride, but would be back by lunch, so we sat and chatted for a while.  When we looked at the list of seminar offerings for 2014 we saw that Barbara Brown Taylor, Trisha's doctoral advisor at Columbia Seminary, was doing a seminar on her then soon-to-be-published book; the seminar was just about full already, and they had just one cabin left open for the session.  So we put our money down to hold the spot, deciding right then that we would return this year.  For those who may not know of her, Barbara was recognized by Newsweek magazine some years ago as one of the 12 most influential preachers in the English speaking world; she has authored a number of very insightful and remarkable books, her latest being "Learning to Walk in the Dark."  This book explores the "positive" side of darkness, both from a biblical and spiritual angle, as well as practically, how we've so long been taught that darkness if associated with all things bad, while light is the only positive thing.  She examines how there are many wonderfully positive things to be discovered through a new look at darkness.  So we were excited to be able to get into this session and have been looking forward to it ever since.

Back to last summer when we were there--once the morning horseback ride was finished, Andy came to the office and Carl introduced us.  When he had mentioned Andy's name nothing had registered in my mind, but when Andy walked into the office, both of us realized that we knew each other from somewhere.  So we started coming up with possible places where our paths may have crossed, and finally it hit us--Andy, a Methodist minister, had worked for a time as Construction Supervisor for Atlanta Habitat for Humanity, when I was the Board Chair, and we had built houses together--small world indeed!  So we stayed for lunch and Andy told us more about the ranch, we got to meet his family, and as we looked out the big picture window of the dining hall, saw that there was a labyrinth!  We were definitely hooked!  Got to meet several of the folks who were there for the week and realized that the kind of folks attracted to this type of set up were folks we'd really enjoy being with.

Anyway, we were so excited when this week was finally here.  We've known Barbara and her husband, Ed, for years, and were looking forward to having the week together.  We got in on Sunday afternoon, the first communal meal was supper that evening, followed by orientation for the week.  They had asked everyone to let them know of any dietary concerns, so we had told them we are vegan, and, sakes alive, did they outdo themselves with the food!!  Connie and Patrick, the cooks, ably assisted by Lee, and from time to time by Katherine, Andy's wife, just did everything they possibly could to accommodate us.  They made delicious grilled tofu with mango salsa, quinoa, spinach/tomato/eggplant grill, vegan rhubarb crisp, apple crisp, cookies, tofu egg salad sandwiches wrapped in napa cabbage, vegan wraps, and on and on and on--just super delicious and very creative. There were also some folks there who are vegetarian, but not completely vegan and the cooks accommodated them as well.  In fact, the vegan offerings were so wonderful, some days Trisha and I had to just jump to the head of the line to make sure we got some before the meat eaters got there, it was so enticing to them as well!!  Anyway, many kudos to the cooks and staff for their wonderful cooking and efforts to take care of us.

All the staff at the ranch are just super nice people, Zsa, the head wrangler, assisted by wranglers Mo, Graham and Laura, Leah, the hike leader, and Amanda, the business manager, and her husband, Ben, the facilities manager--plus Andy and Katherine's kids, Elizabeth, Christian and Ben, and Amanda and Ben's kids, Clayton and little Dayla, all contributed to making this just one big happy family.  They have the schedule set up for hiking, riding, etc. in the morning and afternoons, with some quiet time built into the afternoon schedule, and then the seminar programs in the evenings.  This really allowed you a lot of flexibility to do what you want to do and it's great.  Leah, the hike leader, starts off the week with a hike around the lake, showing off the petroglyphs that adorn the rocks down below the dining hall, and then has a "chat" session Monday afternoon to get a sense of what type of hikes each week's group may want.  She also has maps for those who want to strike out on their own. We loved the group hikes we did, as she is very knowledgeable about the history of the area, the level of difficulty of each of the trails around the ranch, and is always there with her boundless energy, cheerful smile and vast stores of encouragement.  Just a super person!

Tuesday evenings during the summer the Women's Group from the Episcopal Church in Dubois hold square dances downtown, and it's quite the event for the locals--lots of experienced dancers, all duded up, as well as others who are more novice dancers.  The Ranch encourages all who want to go into town for this event to do so and a goodly number of us went into town on Tuesday.  Trisha stayed at the ranch for an evening of one on one time with Barbara--a treasure she wouldn't have traded for anything!  I went to the dancing, and, though I think I did a little square dancing once or twice when I was a teen, I totally did not know what I was doing.  But the caller was patient, and the locals were very kind and welcoming to us novices.  It was a lot of fun, especially when all of us cleared the floor and the locals did a well-known country dance.

They also have a tradition of a sharing time in the afternoons before supper, where anyone who may wish to may sign up to share something of interest to them.  Since they have a labyrinth there, that was the first thing Trisha and I went to see when we arrived on Sunday, only to find that it was pretty grown over with prairie grasses.  The staff said that typically that horses keep it trimmed down with their grazing, but this year there was so much for them to eat on higher ground, they hadn't gotten to it.  So Trisha and I began to clean it up and clear away some of the grasses, careful to leave the various sage bushes that were along the paths, adding character to the labyrinth.  A couple of the women got to talking to Trisha, and, when they learned that she had done her doctoral paper on the healing use of the labyrinth, encouraged her to sign up for one of the sharing sessions.  She did that on Monday night and everyone really enjoyed it.  Ben helped me out with some weed-eating and we got the labyrinth in quite good shape by Monday evening.  We were pleased to see that several folks there used it often during the week.

When we first arrived on Sunday, Mo, one of the wranglers, got to talking to me about Santa and encouraged me to do one of the sharing sessions on my Santa work, which I did later in the week.  Since there were a couple of children there who are rather young, I talked to their parents in advance to gauge where they were in their "Santa journey,"  so I could be sure to tailor my remarks to however the parents wanted to handle all this with their kids.  It worked out fine, though, and lots of the adults also wanted to have their pictures made with Santa--what a hoot!  Lots of fun!  And the staff asked me to pose with them in my "Santa on Vacation" shirt and hat, sitting on one of the horses, for them to use in their Christmas card--how special!!

We did several hikes and horseback rides during the week.  But far and away the most memorable part of the whole week were the sessions with Barbara, and the interactions with all the folks who were there.  The vast majority were clergy, especially most of the women attendees.  This made for lively discussions with Barbara during the sessions, but also for quite lively discussions at meal times.  There was a level of energy seldom seen at a dude ranch, and the level of discussion was quite sophisticated--fascinating to hear the perspectives of so many of these clergy, but also to see the remarkable interest and grasp of the subject matter by Andy and Katherine's 10 year old son, Christian.  He was very much a lively participant in the give-and-take during the sessions.  What a gift these kids are getting, to be able to live each summer in this incredible scenery, to learn the ways of the outdoors, but also to get such a high level of theological and spiritual education to boot.  Just a treasure and a blessing to see.

We met so many wonderful folks during the week, and established many new friendships.  It's not surprising that so many highly intelligent, inquiring and inspiring folks were attracted to a week with Barbara, but it was just a total delight to be there in this group.  We're so pumped, we've already signed up to come back next year for the volunteer week at the beginning of the season, to help get the ranch in shape for the season's weeks of guests.  Our way of giving something back, plus it will be a lot of fun!!

Front porch of our cabin
 looking down on the lake from our cabin

 The labyrinth

 Looking out over Trail Lake, one of 3 lakes that are by the ranch, all connected

 Looking back up the hill to the dining hall from the labyrinth
 Flowers by the back porch of the dining hall, screened in to keep the deer from eating them
 Out by the back porch of the dining hall
 Hummingbirds outside the big dining hall window

 These planters are high enough off the ground along the dining hall porch that they don't need screens
 Sunrise at the ranch!

 Love the different early morning light patterns

 Coming down from our cabin for breakfast
 Getting ready for our first ride; wranglers Laura and Graham
 Zsa, the head wrangler
 Ben, driving the tractor with his son, Clayton, and Andy's son, Christian
 Sweet little Dayla, morning nap time
 Hail on our cabin steps during an afternoon shower
 The labyrinth, after we cleaned it up

 Looking down on the road to the stables and corral

 Tipi, set up as a place for quiet time and reflection

 Leah, the hike leader, telling us about upcoming hikes
 looking up to the "Golf Course" a hike up to this cleared out place that resembles a fairway
 New pinecones
 Another dawn, another beautiful day!
Horses coming down from the higher ground, heading to the corral in the early morning

 Love the early mornings, to see the sunrise as well as the moon still up there!

On our ridge hike

 Barbara Brown Taylor, at the ridge
 Her husband, Ed, who had broken his ankle some weeks earlier, but who hiked like a trooper!

 A rest at the top of the ridge; Trisha, Barbara, and Judi, a Presbyterian minister from Troy, MI
 Bob and Lynn in the background; Bill and Mary Ann in the foreground

 Sago lily--just a gorgeous flower!

 Vegan cabbage rolls for lunch after our hike--yum!
 Tuesday night square dancing in downtown Dubois--didn't want to use the flash so the pics are a bit hard to make out

 Wonderful times sharing delicious meals and company with other retreatants in the dining hall

 Ben, with his son, Clayton, at breakfast--just the cutest little boy!
 Getting ready to hike to Lake Louise

 Leah, the hike leader, as we started up
 Andy and Katherine's sons, Ben and Christian

 Gorgeous Indian paintbrush along the way
 Lots of waterfalls along the way!

 Hard to keep a 7 year old Ben still in one place!

 Up at Lake Louise--Vicki, a UCC minister from Amherst, MA
 Woohoo, I made it!!
 Craig and his daughter, Emily
 Love these old trees!

 Relaxing at the top, looking out over Lake Louise; Julie, an Episcopal priest from Oakland, CA

 Still some snow up there!
 Carla, a DOC minister from Kansas City
 Chipmunk found an orange!

 Ed caught a fish!!

 Coming down, looking down at the cars
Lee-Joan, holding Clayton

 Hiking up Little Whiskey Mountain, a pretty steep hike, but lots of glorious views

 Beautiful cactus bloom, peeking out
 Some fossils in lots of little rocks, collected on this one boulder

 Looking back down from Little Whiskey

 Episcopal Church in Dubois; we went in one afternoon to the farmers market they hold each week
 Mo, Dan, Andy and Katherine, jamming' in the afternoon
 This is Pat, from Abilene, Tx, who was the National Barrel Racing Champion in 1958--she wanted her picture with Santa!
 Clayton and Dayla
 Anna, Mo's beautiful dog
 Debbi, a DOC minister from Oklahoma
 Carol, walking the labyrinth before supper

 Andy, Katherine, Amanda and Ben with their kids and Santa
 Pat, the barrel racing champ, getting ready for another ride!
 Clayton, helping Dad frame in a screened porch on the deck
 Petroglyphs, dating to about 900 years ago

 Ben, telling the story of when he was out finding these elk antlers, he and his family encountered a mountain lion--close call, but all were safe

 Barbara, signing copies of her book on the last night


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  2. It was wonderful to meet you and Trisha at Ring Lake Ranch. Thank you for your beautiful reflections the week. God's peace to you along your continued journey!

    1. Judi, Trisha and I both feel the same way--so happy to meet you and have this new connection. Look forward to meeting your family some day. We've been in your lovely state of Michigan for several days, but our route won't bring us near Troy--just left Petoskey, one of our favorite places and are now in Frankenmuth--you know Santa just couldn't pass up to visit the huge Christmas store and display there! Have a great year!!

  3. Ranches are really awesome. Most people I know dream of living in the countryside when they retire, so as to get away from the noise and busy atmosphere of the city. Anyway, I love those photos! The view is quite breathtaking, and everyone is just chilling and having a great time. Thank you for sharing this wonderful post with us, Jack. Cheers!

    Darren Lanphere @ Mirr Ranch Group

  4. It’s great to know that you loved the ranch. I guess having really nice staff is one factor that had you attached to it. And let’s not forget about the lovely view! The photos you’ve shared with us, really tell that that ranch is one amazing place. Thank you for sharing, Jack. All the best!

    Kevin Kelley @ Ronald Harris Ravensworth Cattle Property