East Meets West

For 50 years, Elk Creek Ranch has introduced teenagers, most of them from "back East," to the Western lifestyle. Along the way, the family-run operation has created its share of horsemen and -women.

Wyoming's Elk Creek Ranch doesn't offer turndown service with chocolates on guests' pillows, exotic cuisine or even daily showers. Instead, staffers are just as likely to put rocks under mattresses, short-sheet the beds and pull other juvenile pranks just to keep things interesting.

But with a guest list limited to teenagers, such shenanigans are appreciated just as much as the luxuries offered at other dude ranches.

"This is way more fun than lying around getting served all the time,"says Hannah Espy, a Maine resident who's been a regular at Western dude ranches with her family.

Espy and other Elk Creek Ranch guests-called ranchers-spent several hours that same morning skinning tree trunks for a new cabin that staffers and ranchers planned to build before the end of the 2006 summer season.

"I always feel inspired to work when I'm here,"she says.

Having spent nearly four weeks in the Wyoming wilderness just outside Cody each of the past three years, Espy still struggles to define what makes the 50-year-old teen ranch so special. But time and again, she says the worst part is going home.

Such are the thoughts running through nearly every rancher's head at Elk Creek. Maybe it's the horseback riding, maybe it's the we're-in-this-together aspect inspired by daily work-crew sessions. Whatever the inspiration, ranchers and counselors alike have a hard time breaking away from the family-owned summer destination.

For the rest of this story, pick up a copy of the February 2007 issue of Western Horseman.