When I moved to Wyoming from the East to work a summer guest season at Eatons’ Ranch in 2012, I was seeking to revive my relationship with the outdoors after being forcefully married to my studies and the library at North Carolina State University.
I was raised in Lynchburg, Virginia, a relatively small town situated at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the southwest part of the state. I had two horses through high school, spending a few weeks every summer in Purcellville, Virginia, learning to ride from the same lady that taught my mother to ride. I grew up hunting ducks and geese alongside my grandfather near Middleburg, Virginia; shot ground birds and doves with my mom and dad on our family farm in Royal Oak, Maryland; and learned to fly fish from a canoe, guided by adept mentors that managed a fish hatchery on my grandmother’s property in the Adirondack Mountains of New York.
Needless to say, the “Brickyard” at NC State, although handsome, was far removed from the outdoor experiences of my youth. Having lived in a place hedged by masonry and contiguously abutting architecture, it wasn’t until I hit the dirt road that climbed Beckton Hill, overlooking the Big Goose Creek drainage, when I realized all that had been missing in my heart.
Eatons’ is only the fringe of all that I have discovered since living in the Sheridan area. After a couple years of teaching dude kids how to ride and flying back and forth across the country trying to finish my degree, I began working for myself during the offseason. I was training horses and giving riding lessons, occasionally taking in outside riding jobs for spring “tune ups,” all the while putting time on younger horses for a couple local horse traders. It was through horse work where I met my friend, Dr. Kim Fehir, and learned of her pervasive knowledge of the mountain trails between the two highways that cross over the Bighorns.
“The Doc” invited me and my dog, Tiller, along on day rides out of Circle Park, Elgin Park and up into the Cloud Peak Wilderness. Then, we planned overnight trips and packed the trailer to camp at Hunter Corrals and Battle Park.
We took our saddle bags, hiking boots and fly rods, tossed our phones into the pickup and just took off to enjoy the mountains in all their beauty. We fished the lakes and drainages out of West Tensleep Lake Campground and threw lines into Seven Brothers all the way up to Misty Moon and Lake Solitude. We camped in the tack room of the horse trailer, built fires, skewered our fingerling catches and grilled steaks, spread out maps and made lists of all the lakes we wanted to throw lines into on our next trip.
When warm weather came to an end, we pulled our horses shoes and turned them out for the winter, but I found the adventure far from over for the year.
The first snows brought phone calls from the Doc. She picked up Tiller and me, and with a car full of our dogs and two sets of cross-country skis, snowshoes, poles, extra coats and mittens, we headed up to Cutler Creek and then to Sibley Lake. Winter went on, and Tiller and I drove down to Buffalo, loaded in with the Doc and we skied the Nordic trails at Pole Creek and Willow Park. All winter we stuffed our pockets with milk bones and trail mix and deployed for abandoned cabins or long loops that were on the agenda for the day.
We came across moose tracks, ski-jorrers pulled by dogs and friendly fellow outdoorsmen, chatting all the while about the next season’s outdoor plans.
I became an official Sheridan resident in 2015 and never felt so at home. The wealth of outdoor adventures and opportunities the Bighorns provide is more than enough to keep me captivated and gratified for numerous years to come. It seemed like this winter was late to arrive, but the Doc and I have managed to spend the majority of our weekends outside, suited up in warm clothes, gabbing away while seeking new vistas, or revisiting those familiar.
Nature has provided a space for me to be most present, mindfully. Being outside, I find the stress from emails and texts, deadlines and bills all fall away. Blinking screens and buzzing phones disappear from existence in the mountains. I am reassured of this every day, as I wake up to draw back the curtains in my living room and see that the mountains are still standing there, just a short car ride away.
Polly Burge is a local artist and Bighorn Mountain enthusiast.