“In seventy years of riding I have been privileged to know some superb horses,” says Bayard Fox. “They are a glorious part of my life and have enriched my existence immeasurably. If I ever get to heaven, it could hardly be that great a place unless horses are there too.”
You gotta love a guy that loves horses. That’s Fox riding through the picture at left (in front, in the dark blue shirt). And it’s not a terribly surprising sentiment, coming from a dude ranch owner like Bayard Fox, who has since 1971 operated the Bitterroot Ranch outside Dubois, Wyoming.
It’s the rest of the story that you almost can’t believe. Horses, career accomplishment, and a passion for adventure are woven through the fabric of Bayard Fox’ incredible life. Hollywood screenwriters could not have made this tale up—you’d never believe it. But it’s all in his bio. Read on…
Bayard Fox began life in 1929 on a farm in Chester Country, Pennsylvania; then in 1943, Fox headed west for a horse packing trip through Yellowstone Park and southern Montana. Soon, Fox began a pattern of cramming several lives into one, working variously as a seaman, a forest fire fighter, and a longshoreman in Alaska before graduating from Yale in 1951. He did some work as an advertising model (in a DeBeers ad, shown below), and learned to fly fish (bottom right). He also biked through Europe, lived and worked in Germany, France, Switzerland, Poland, Iran, Congo, the Central African Republic, Kenya and the Solomon Islands, becoming fluent in many languages along the way.
In Iran (while working as an agent for the CIA), Fox spent a couple of years riding and hunting with the local people. It was while practicing lancing from horseback (for some pig sticking with the Bakhtiari) that Fox had a life-changing accident. His horse cartwheeled on him, smashing up his left hip and the lifelong horse-lover was left to move about on crutches for two years, unable to walk or ride.
For some that would mean tragedy. But for Fox, that was simply a motivation to work hard to recover. Along the way, he set up a langouste fishing business in the Solomon Islands. Of course—swimming was something he could still do. Fox spent over two years roaming about the remote parts of the Solomons, diving for langoustes with the natives. Because he was swimming so much, and working in the water, he eventually began to recover. Tentatively at first, and then with greater strength, he began to walk and ride.
In 1971, Fox bought the Bitterroot Ranch. With his family, Fox runs Black Angus and Highland cows plus horses, including purebred Arabians which they raise and train. In due course, Fox and his family began running it as a dude ranch catering to an international mix of guests. For 25 years, the Foxes also ran a wilderness hunting camp behind the ranch. Today, the Bitterroot is “more a destination for equestrian vacations than it is a typical dude or guest ranch,” says the ranch website. “We focus on providing our guests with quality riding and are especially proud of our Arabian horses, many of which have been raised and trained on the ranch.”
Soon, the Foxes found new projects. East Africa was a logical place to grow new aspects of the business, since Bayard’s wife, Mel, grew up on a farm near Mt. Kilimanjaro, worked in Kenya’s national parks, and speaks fluent Swahili. In 1980, Mel and Bayard embarked on a new horse-related venture, escorting a group of former ranch guests on a riding safari. Their venue: the spectacular Masai Mara in Kenya, Africa’s famed game country. The excursion was a smashing success, heralding the creation of Equitours Worldwide Riding Holidays—now the largest riding tour company in America. Headquartered in Dubois, Wyoming, Equitours organizes and sells rides in 30 countries today.
Ask him how his international travel has influenced him and he’ll say it has, for one thing, helped him be a better dude ranch owner/host. It also inspired him to start Equitours. “One of the things I appreciate the most is travel on horseback,” notes Fox. “You see things from the back of a horse you can’t see any other way. Equitours fits in well with the dude ranch business,” he says, “because I often ride with folks I’ve met on my travels.” Fox, his wife Mel, son, and daughter-in-law have all traveled and experienced various riding techniques and riding gear from all over the world, so much so that it has expanded what they know about riding beyond what’s practiced in the American West. One thing he learned on his travels that has helped his dude ranch: “There’s more to riding than what most other classical Western dude ranches offer,” Fox says.
The international ride the he finds most inspiring? “The first ride, into Kenya’s Masai Mara (for advanced riders),” he answers, calling it the best not only for wildlife, but the ride itself, past the colorful Masai tribes and for the splendid polo ponies who at times race the wild zebra and wildebeest.
One of Fox’ main concerns now is with the future of dude ranching, especially in a society more involved with the virtual than with the real. “Video games, computers, TVs those don’t let you get connected to the land,” Fox contends. “A visit to a dude ranches requires real participation. I’d like to see more ranches go back to the old style horse and cattle ranch, and emphasize riding over heated swimming pools and TVs in every room.”
And for ranchers wanting to attract more of the international crowd, Fox suggests learning another language or two, educating themselves on foreign cultures, add website translators, and find good overseas tour operators.
Fox’ point of view about computers and gadgets on the ranch is understandable; he carved out a life that emphasizes the real over the virtual in every sense. Bayard Fox has lived a life of adventure, travel, and accomplishment. Through it all, he made sure he was never too long out of the saddle. In fact, the dude ranch owner estimates he has spent over 40,000 hours on horseback, riding enough miles to circle the globe six times or more. “People more likely to accept you when you ride up on a horse,” Fox contends.
With a life like that, the guy should write his autobiography. We hope he is. Thing is, it may be tough to find a title that adequately sums up Fox’ incredible life. The title would have to include words like “Joie de Vivre” to convey his zest for life, “Quest” or “Adventure” to convey the Indiana Jones nature of his roaming, and both “Fearless” and “Hospitable” to convey his personality. And then the title should somehow work the ideas of family, ranching, Wyoming, and world traveling into the title. Oh heck, maybe the Bayard Fox story should just be called The Man Who Loved Horses.
In the midst of summer’s heat, the picture of a handsome mountain lodge set beside a cold mountain stream is pretty inviting. Gaze at the image of Laramie River Dude Ranch, shown at left. Now picture yourself there, or at any of several amazing dude and guest ranch resorts that focus on fly fishing. Don’t you feel cooler already?
It’s not too late to make plans for a summer angling adventure at any of the eight ranches listed below. And if you don’t have a rod and reel, or can’t cast a line worth beans, don’t worry. All these ranches have you covered with gear, instructions, and whatever you need. And when you call, be sure and mention Ranchweb.
Hunewill Guest Ranch
Combine a trip to nearby Yosemite with a visit to the Hunewill Guest Ranch, one of California’s oldest working cattle ranches. Horseback riding, through 26,000 acres of cool, lush meadows and heavily timbered peaks, is the main attraction here. As is cattle work, family fun, and just sitting back on the porch watching the sun set. But trout fishing on the nearby Walker River is world class. And don’t overlook the many lakes and streams in the adjacent Toiyabe National Forest and throughout the Eastern Sierra escarpment. Details: New for this year: The Week of the Buckaroo Moon: August 21-28, 2010 (and August 21-26 (5- Day Package). Take a moonlight ride and barbeque under a full Buckaroo Moon, enjoy campfire and singing by the pond, do a walking historical tour of the ranch, team penning and trailer loading on horseback and take a rare chance to horseback ride and tour the ghost town of Bodie. The week winds up with a special cattle gather in the Sweetwater Mountains.
Coulter Lake Guest Ranch Inc.
The Rocky Mountains is your playground when you base at this dude ranch resort near Rifle, Colorado. Take a scenic horseback ride on miles of trails throughout the White River National Forest, or hike up a canyon trail or trek to Rifle Falls in Rifle Mountain Park. Whitewater rafting through beautiful Glenwood Canyon on the Colorado River is another incredible experience nearby. Details: the guest ranch has its own beautiful, spring-fed lake, well-stocked with rainbow trout. There are small boats ready for you to use, or you can cast right from the banks. The ranch can provide basic fishing equipment (ideal for kids and beginners), or you can bring your own gear. Nearby Rifle Creek (license required) is the hotspot for stream fishing for rainbow and brook trout. Ask about their Fly Fishing Skills and River package (20% discount) including a seminar by a master fly fishing casting instructor and a float or wade trip on the Colorado or Roaring Fork rivers.
Laramie River Dude Ranch
Can you see yourself in the snowcapped Rocky Mountains, casting a line for wild brown trout? Horseback riding is their specialty, but this guest ranch near Glendevey, Colorado, also has a unique naturalist program, a full children’s program, very comfortable accommodations, excellent food, and exceptional fly fishing. The Laramie River Dude Ranch has fly fishing and spin-casting opportunities for anglers of all abilities. Ranch guests have private access to over two miles of the Big Laramie River and a mile of LaGarde Creek. Or choose to take advantage of the public fishing access to the nearby Hohnholz Lakes. And owner Bill Burleigh adds, “Fishermen love to talk with our guide about the hatches that are underway and strategies for catching the most fish – which fly, fishing on the surface or below the surface with a nymph, etc. Those interactions are almost as much fun as talking about the day’s fishing in the evening. In addition, our “mature” fishermen and women sometimes need a hand accessing all the different parts of our river. Our two miles doesn’t really tell the whole story with twists, turns, and oxbows winding their way through the property. Some need a lift to the end of our property so they can fish back to the ranch compound which sits roughly in the middle. We’re happy to provide that service.”
Burleigh notes that lake fishing enthusiasts enjoy Hohnholz Lakes but may want to bring along more of their equipment. Boats are easily accommodated if the angler would like to bring their own. “More often, we’ll see anglers bring their favorite belly boat for some lake floating. Guests who fly in and don’t have a rental car are welcome to arrange travel to and from the lakes with your guest coordinator Kathy.” Details: Want to learn the ins and outs of rods, reels, and flies? Once a week, the ranch’s pro guides offer free fly fishing instruction. Casting techniques are taught out on the front lawn and then everyone heads for the river to practice. And the ranch has equipment that guests can borrow free of charge. July Special: Take 30% off any three, four, or seven night stay starting during the week of July 18th-25th, 2010. You can ride the Rockies and then take in Cheyenne Frontier Days (which start Friday 7/23). And just for Ranchweb blog readers: They normally offer anglers who choose not to ride horses a 10% “Non Riding” discount. Anyone who mentions this blog post could qualify for a 20% “Non Riding” discount for any member of their party who comes to fish and does not partake of the riding program (riding members of the angler’s party would pay normal rates).
North Fork Ranch
Commune with nature beside the clear mountain streams of the Colorado Rockies. If fly fishing is your passion, you’ll love North Fork Ranch’s pristine stretch of water— over two miles—and all located just one hour southwest of Denver. Their professional guides will make sure you have an angling experience to remember. A stone’s throw from their back porch, you find the tranquil North Fork of the South Platte River teeming with Brown, Cutthroat Rainbow, and Steelhead trout. Details: Fishing is year round, guided only; choose a full or half day trip. Details: Guys, make it more than just a fishing trip: bring your gal for a Bed and Breakfast Fishing Package. Fish all day, then enjoy the two of you can a romantic evening, with a hayride, singing by the campfire, or square dancing.
Diamond D Ranch
Set in the lush Frank Church Wilderness and enveloped by the Salmon River mountains, the Diamond D guest ranch has a long menu of activities. In summer, take your pick from hiking, gold panning, swimming, horseback riding, and, of course, fly-fishing. You could title your summer adventure “A Creek Runs Through It”, because Loon Creek runs right through the ranch. That means fly fishing is huge here. Throw out a line for cutthroats, rainbows, and other native trout in streams just yards from your cabin. Or try your luck in the ranch’s own lake (rowboats available). Details: The guest ranch provides: rods, reels, all flies, lines, leaders, tippet, nets, and professional instruction. Fishing Licenses may be purchased through the ranch.
Lone Mountain Ranch
Long, sunny days, and angling on southwest Montana’s blue ribbon rivers and trout streams. What could be better? Lone Mountain is one of Montana’s premier dude ranches, with comfy cabins, gourmet food, and a gorgeous mountain setting. And for anglers, it’s ideally located. The ranch sits outside Big Sky, just a few miles from the Gallatin River and handy to the Madison or Yellowstone rivers; best of all, you can fish with their Orvis-Endorsed Fishing Guides. Details: Get an early start on the fishing season with their Fly Fishing Specials – 15% Discount (approx); join Lone Mountain Ranch for 6 nights/5 days of fly fishing or 4 nights/3 days of fly fishing on southwest Montana’s blue ribbon trout streams (other combinations available). The 6 night/5 days of fly fishing package costs $2850/person (based on double occupancy in a small cabin) and includes 6 nights lodging, 5 days guided fishing, 3 meals daily, fishing license, flies, and shuttle to and from the airport in Bozeman, Mt. The 4 night/3 days of fly fishing package costs $1850 per person ( based on double occupancy in a small cabin) and includes 4 nights lodging, 3 days guided fishing, 3 meals daily, fishing license, flies and shuttle to and from the airport in Bozeman, MT.
Triple Creek Ranch
A luxury resort high in the Bitterroot Mountain Range of the Montana Rockies, the Triple Creek Ranch is a member of the prestigious Relais & Châteaux. And along with the world-class accommodations and food, you’ll find top-notch angling nearby. Let the experts at Triple Creek help plan an off-ranch special adventure of guided fly fishing or scenic river floating. At the ranch, you can learn the fundamentals of fly fishing and casting a fly rod. Beginner, intermediate, or expert anglers can also float with an experienced guide down the beautiful Bitterroot River, West Fork or East Fork of the Bitterroot River, for a memorable day of trout fishing. Details: It’s an Orvis-Endorsed fly fishing lodge and they’ll set you up with local guide services; complimentary Orvis fishing gear is available from Triple Creek Ranch and your guide will furnish the rods, reels, flies and his or her expertise. Ask about the Selway/Bitterroot Fly-Fishing Package (a 10% discount on a five-night package, a 5% discount on a three-night package); guests fly from nearby Hamilton to the banks of the Selway River, where a guide awaits with horses to ride to the best fishing spots along this catch-and-release river, famous for its cutthroat, rainbow, bull and steelhead trout.
Flat Creek Ranch
At this Jackson Hole-area dude and guest ranch, they find that hiking and fly fishing is just as popular as horseback riding. And why not? This Wyoming dude ranch owns a 1.5-mile stretch of upper Flat Creek’s challenging waters and the 45-acre Flat Creek Lake. And anglers have access to another 5 miles of fast riffles and deep pools on public land just west of the ranch. Their rule is: fly fishing only, catch-and-release. Their favorite spot is the “Curt Gowdy hole,” a deep bend in Flat Creek where wily cutthroats and brook trout congregate. For dry fly purists, Flat Creek is blessed with prolific hatches of caddis flies, mayflies, and a host of others. Details: The ranch can lend you fly rods, reels, nets and waders; they also provide a free fly-fishing clinic for those who want to learn or brush up on fishing techniques.
Ah, summer at the ranch. Horseback riding, hiking, fly fishing, oh my! But how you pack may determine whether you’re prepared for all the kinds of fun stuff you can enjoy on the ranch. A little planning goes a long way.
Going to the mountains? Prepare for every kind of weather, from summer sun to sudden showers and mountain breezes. Out on the plains, its bright sun and hot weather most of the summer. And at a California coastal ranch, you’ll have to dress for the occasional fog bank that drifts in fro the ocean (yep, even in summer). So check with the ranch, and check the forecast before you go. But relax: ranch dressing always means comfy and casual.
Jeans: Well, duh. But here’s a tip from Gene Kilgore himself: before the trip, wash all the jeans with fabric softener so you can avoid saddle sores from the rubbing of that heavy, stiff denim inseam (ouch!). Most ranches have washing machine/dryers available but if you don’t want to spend vacation time doing laundry, bring extra jeans (at least 3 pairs), socks and tee-shirts for all.
Cowboy hat: You want to fit in, like the cute pair at left, don’t you? Splurge on a good triple X felt hat.
Boots: You gotta have riding boots for horseback riding. Ranchers advise against riding in sneakers or hiking boots—your foot could slip through the stirrup or get stuck in it. But if you don’t have any, check ahead: some ranches have spare pairs of kids and adults’ boots for you to borrow while at the ranch.
Riding helmets: It’s not the wild, wild, West anymore, and most ranches recommend wearing a helmet while riding, especially for kids. Most ranches have a supply of helmets available if you don’t own a riding helmet.
Light waterproof jacket with hood
T-shirts and long sleeve shirts
Shorts and bathing suits
Hiking boots, sneakers
Socks (at least 3 pairs)
Fleece pullovers or sweaters
Tevas/water shoes/old shoes that can get wet
Sunglasses and a hat
Sunscreen and bug spray
Gloves for riding (for morning rides)
Backpack or fanny pack