Wyoming ranch offers best of nature, nurture

Wyoming ranch, view toward mountainsSpa comes with taste of the wild,
Elk are big part of what beckons

JACKSON HOLE, WYOMING – It was the Wild West, a stage set with wide-open spaces, cloudless skies and a backdrop of the Teton Range’s snowcapped, snaggle-toothed summits (more than 12 peaks at elevations exceeding 3,650 metres).

“Whoa,” read the stop sign. We came to a halt and as the vehicle’s brakes engaged, I engaged as well . . . with Wyoming.

Thus, my love affair began.

Home for this adventure was Spring Creek Ranch. Situated on 400 sprawling hectares atop East Gros Ventre Butte, it’s 210 metres above a high mountain valley and is surrounded by some of nature’s most impressive miracles – Grand Teton Mountains, Yellowstone National Park and the National Elk Refuge – along with their accompanying wildlife.

The initial purpose of my visit was to sample the Ranch’s Wilderness Adventure Spa and its out-of-the-norm offerings, such as an outdoor summer massage high on a butte and winter’s Alaskan huskies dogsledding experience (followed by a warm, mud body wrap in the comfort of the spa).

I was tempted by the mountain yoga hike (120 minutes, $90, all prices U.S.), a guided trek along the butte showcasing a yoga session amid nature at its halfway point.

But the crisp fall weather helped dictate my treatment of choice: signature reiki hot stone massage (60 minutes, $145), a unique combo that integrates the energetic techniques of reiki and the grounding elements of a heated basalt stone massage. It sounded too cozy to resist.

Before the treatment began, the technician made a request: “I ask that you clear your mind and let the experience take you where you need to go,” said Stevie. An hour later, I emerged through the bronze taffeta curtains of the downstairs pamper facility – re-energized, refreshed and ready to visit the backcountry environs and its inhabitants.

Then I embarked on Wyoming’s quintessential up-close-and-personal adventure – the premium perk of this spa visit.

“This is what I do for a living. I go out and look for critters,” said Kurt Johnson, Spring Creek Ranch’s resident naturalist, a 15-year student of wildlife conservation and a newly appointed staffer. He leads the resort’s year-around wildlife safaris (half day, $85; full day, $170).

Equipped with high-powered binoculars and spotting scopes (ranch-furnished) and enhanced by Johnson’s built-in instinct, we departed late afternoon to maximize the short window at sunset to hear elk bugling (the distinctive call of the bull elk in mating season).

Our intuitive guide managed to drive the van safely and, at the same time, educate his five passengers on the region’s residents and spot the most elusive of them. An admirable accomplishment.

“See the trumpeter swans,” he announced as we approached Flat Creek. They are North America’s largest waterfowl, we learned.

“Each winter 5,000 to 8,000 elk migrate to the National Elk Refuge,” he explained as we observed over 300 of the mammals from a platform overlooking the 10,000-hectare reserve, spotting the male in the centre of the distant group by his expansive antlers.

“Anytime there’s a body of water, look for animals,” Johnson continued as we neared the Snake River in Grand Teton National Park. His advice rang true as we approached a battery of paparazzi-like nature lovers standing on its bridge (accessorized with cameras, tripods and binoculars) and observing a female moose and her twin calves lounging on the riverbank.

Bison crossing roadWe spotted beaver activity along Moose Wilson Rd., stopped to take pictures at Moulton Barn (one of the photography world’s most popular structures) and heard the faint sound of elk bugling near Granite Canyon.

But the highlight was an unexpected one as we navigated Gros Ventre Road. After passing yellow signage featuring the silhouette of a bison that read, “Danger, do not approach wildlife,” a herd of the ominous mammals began to cross the road.

“As you can see, bison don’t give a damn about fences,” Johnson stated as we observed the slow-moving trespassers and the trampled barbwire left in their wake.

Along with a school bus, we waited.

And waited.

The Wyoming-style jaywalkers appeared in no hurry to complete their passage. After all, they have the right-of-way.

For information, call 1-800-443-6139 or go to www.springcreekranch.com.