Photos by Jenny Wolfrom.
I’ve passed Trail Creek Ranch many times on ski tours and mountain bike runs down Teton Pass – it is the ranch on your right as you come down on the Old Pass Road. While biking or skiing by, I will usually take a quick glance over at the ranch to watch the horses grazing, sometimes seeing an elk or a moose hanging out in the fields. In all these fly-bys I’d never given much thought to the history of the Trail Creek, nor have I ever taken the time to look closely at the rustic barns on the property. Luckily, my first experience actually visiting the ranch this summer was to watch a plein air painting session with Bill Sawczuk, who happens to be quite the expert on Jackson history and has a passion (and talent) for painting barns.
Bill was already set up when we arrived and had been painting for a bit already. The Trail Creek Ranch has a prominent, classic old barn that we assumed Bill would be painting, but he chose the smaller, more discrete hay barn, claiming it had better light and would be more interesting to paint in the plein air style. Not being an artist, this didn’t hold much meaning to me at first. However, as I sat and watched Bill paint the many different layers of the barn and scene – the fields, forests, and ridgeline that surround the hay barn – I quickly came to realize that he had made the right choice. It was a hazy Jackson morning and as the sun burned through the clouds, Bill was able to capture the various browns, tans, and creams of the logs that construct the hay barn, which was complemented by a full spectrum of green hues that framed it. While Bill painted, he shared with us his stories of Wilson and Jackson, interjecting once in a while to explain a specific technique of plein air that he was using. Sipping on coffee in the middle of a field during the weekday felt a bit foreign, and almost guilt-inducing, to me. Wasn’t there something I should be doing at the office? Why didn’t my cell phone get service? It took a while for me to adjust to the fact that I was supposed to be there to sit and experience the beauty and peace of the land I was on. Soon after that, I realized I didn’t want to leave, which is probably how most, if not all, guests of the ranch feel.
Trail Creek is a bit different from other properties that may come to mind when thinking about Jackson ranches. Tucked into the mountain side and surrounded by trees, the ranch sits under some of the best backcountry skiing you can find. That is what originally attracted Elizabeth “Betty” Woolsey to the property and led her to purchase the first parcel of the ranch in 1942. Betty soon came to realize that Trail Creek had just as much to offer after the snow melted and she expanded the ranch to the 270 acres it is today. It has been working dude ranch since 1946, hosting families who want to enjoy a vacation at the ranch and pack trips into the mountains. Betty placed the entire ranch under a conservation easement with the Jackson Hole Land Trust when she died in 1997, ensuring that the property would be safe from development and could be enjoyed as she experienced it for generations to come. Betty’s goal was to share the pleasures of outdoor recreation with everyone, and she safeguarded that mission with the legacy she left through Trail Creek Ranch.