I’m home after spending two months working at Ring Lake Ranch, a spiritual retreat center nestled high in the Torrey Creek valley of Wyoming’s Wind River Range. The ranch operates like a guest ranch, with guests coming for a week or two, to stay in comfortable cabins and take horseback rides, hikes, flyfish, paddle the lake, or just sit on their porch and relax in what the ranch calls “sacred wilderness.”
What makes Ring Lake Ranch different than most guest ranches are two things: First, the weekly programs, seminars on various aspects of spiritual life offered by a variety of well-known thinkers. Topics range from reinventing the Christian church as a more compassionate and welcoming community to the study of enneagrams, and the culture of the nearby eastern Shoshone people. Second, guests participate in some of the ranch chores, including dish-clearing and washing after meals, and helping clean and set up their cabins for the next set of guests. (Those activities build community and keep the costs relatively affordable.)
What was I doing there? Working as hike leader and housekeeping coordinator, two theoretically part-time jobs combined into one way-more-than-fulltime position. As hike leader, I took groups on excursions ranging from rambles into the shale badlands across the river to more rigorous hikes into the high country. Along the way, I interpreted the landscape and the community of our more-than-human relatives who bring the place to life. I see reconnecting people with the community of the land–our wilder kin and their relationships–as my “ministry.”
As housekeeping coordinator, I maintained the ranch’s linen closet, providing supplies for all the guest cabins and staff housing; cleaned the public toilets every day–something I decided quickly that in order to not grow resentful, I would treat as an act of love; hauled bins of dirty cabin laundry to the laundromat in town and picked up the clean laundry; washed the kitchen laundry every couple of days; and supervised the cabin changeover every weekend, which meant cabin checking and cleaning. I came to see housekeeping as another form of ministry, part of welcoming guests to this place of rest and renewal.
Still, I worked six days a week, 10 or 12 hours a day. Weekends were my crunch time, with all 18 cabin spaces needing new linens and cleaning since one set of guests left on Saturday morning, and the next week’s set arrived on Sunday afternoon. Some weeks I had volunteer help–thank you Sarah and Katy!–which meant I might actually finish work before bedtime.
Between hiking and housekeeping, I walked eight or ten miles a day. Despite the ranch’s delicious meals and fabulous desserts, I lost weight. I just couldn’t eat enough for the exercise I was getting!
On Sundays, my only day off, the Guy and I got away from the ranch on hikes, rides, or trips to the nearby “cities” of Lander or Riverton for meals out and errands.
Leading hikes brought the joys of spending time with wildflowers of all sorts, and wildlife too.
One day, the youngest member of our hiking group, Lucas, aged nine and a budding herpetologist, found this horned lizard on a badlands hike.
Another day, a grizzly bear heard us coming, and hustled off, leaving just footprints in the trail.
It was an exhausting and exhilarating two months, full of hard physical work, fascinating people, mind-enriching seminars, and the balm of time in the wild.
Would I do it again? I don’t know. But I’m glad I had the “time away” and the nourishment of my whole self.
If you are looking for a place to go to renew your relationship with the wild, shed your burdens, and rekindle your spirit, consider Ring Lake Ranch. It’s a magical place.