Landowner Spotlight: Ring Lake Ranch

Ring Lake Ranch sits at the southern end of its namesake, tucked against a hillslope in the glacially carved Torrey Valley. Located a few miles southeast of Dubois, the historical ranch has operated since 1966 as a non-profit ecumenical retreat focused on “renewal in sacred wilderness”. To that end, the landscape provides an ideal setting for those seeking spiritual or emotional growth as resilient high-desert vegetation unspools across rolling glacial moraines that quickly transition into the mixed-forests and exposed pitches of the Wind River Mountains.

The physical environment is a source of inspiration for the ranch, amplified by the stunning and enigmatic presence of Dinwoody tradition petroglyphs found throughout the valley. This tradition of primarily anthropomorphic rock art is found only in the western Wind River Basin and a small portion of the adjacent Bighorn. Long associated with the Mountain Shoshone and their predecessors, the sheer density of these petroglyphs along with stone rings and lithic scatters throughout Torrey Valley mark the landscape as culturally significant. At the ranch, where personal renewal and connection are the focus, the presence of these prehistoric monoliths suggests the ancestors of contemporary American Indians sought this landscape for similar reasons. While the specific stories memorialized in the petroglyphs are unknown, Shoshone descendants have shared that the rock art represents communions between the original artists and powerful spirit beings that reside in the area.

Photo: Scott Copeland

For Ring Lake Ranch, operating a retreat that draws on the sacredness of place comes with the responsibility of protecting the natural and cultural facets that characterize it. While much of the area is protected on the National Register of Historic Places, the ranch decided to go a step further. In 2009, the Ring Lake Ranch Board of Directors partnered with the Jackson Hole Land Trust to place a conservation easement on the property. While most conservation easements are associated with ecological protection, they can also be effective tools for protecting cultural heritage on private lands. In this case, the Ring Lake Ranch easement was specifically drafted to ensure the landscape’s unique natural and cultural values are protected for perpetuity. In doing so, the ranch reaffirmed their commitment to the landscape and acknowledged the legacy of Indigenous communities in stewarding it for thousands of years previously.

Today, Ring Lake Ranch led by Director Andy Blackmun offers one- or two-week retreats throughout the summer for individuals and families. Retreats include extensive programming on a range of topics led by renowned speakers, academics, artists, and spiritual leaders. Of course, there are also ample opportunities to get outside and hike, ride horses, fish, canoe, or just relax. Always considerate of the cultural heritage on the property, Director Blackmun gives an invocation each week that recognizes the land as the ancestral territory of the Shoshone. Additionally, the ranch includes seminars that feature Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapahoe speakers regarding contemporary tribal issues and interests, as well as the cultural record. Visitors can also attend guided tours of the petroglyphs as part of a partnership between the ranch, the local Dubois Museum, and the Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office. Operating under a belief that everyone should experience the wilderness, the ranch strives to keep fees affordable, with kids under 12 attending for free and scholarship assistance available. For more information on available programming or to schedule a 2021 retreat, please visit their site, www.ringlake.org.