Spectacular views and lasting friendships bonded over horseback riding

By Eileen Ogintz

The horses are grazing happily. The views are spectacular in the valley. A group of old friends settle on logs adjacent to a rushing creek for a yummy lunch they didn’t need to make themselves.

“That was my favorite day,” said Sheri Dankanich. Her friends Sherry Densler and Muffy Trimmer agreed.

Part of the group of East Coast horseback riding friends at Medicine Bow Lodge
Part of the group of East Coast horseback riding friends at Medicine Bow Lodge

The three were part of a group of nine old friends, including Trimmer’s daughter Brianna, who just graduated from college. They were celebrating their love of horses—and good friends—at Medicine Bow Lodge in southern Wyoming this week.

Medicine Bow Lodge Owners Debbie and Tim Bishop, and Magnum
Medicine Bow Lodge Owners Debbie and Tim Bishop, and Magnum

They’re from Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland and have nurtured their friendships riding together at home and vacationing each year at a different ranch, stopping to see some sites along the way. This year, that included Rocky Mountain National Park. Guests often fly into Denver as it is a less than four hour drive here.

The main lodge seen from the cabins
The main lodge seen from the cabins

Wyoming has 29 ranches, each unique and of varying sizes, according to the Dude Ranchers Association. That’s more than any other state but far fewer than in 1930 when Wyoming boasted more than 100, attracting wealthy Easterners called “dudes,” some of whom bought ranches themselves and encouraged friends to visit, often for the entire summer, according to Dude Ranching in Wyoming by Russell True and Christine Holden.

Medicine Bow has been around since 1917 and has been owned by Tim and Debbie Bishop since 2002. The couple, parents of three and grandparents of 11 (about to be 12) actually met working at a Colorado ranch; their daughter met her husband here.

This is a small no-frills ranch is a small ranch with only one TV in the lodge where there’s the only Wi-Fi.  The maximum number of guests is just 18, though for buyouts like family reunions, they can stretch to 25, Debbie Bishop said.  The ranch is pretty full for the season and is already booking for next year.

“We are one of the most rustic ranches,” Debbie Bishop said. “We have worked really hard so people like us can afford to come on vacation.”

The fantastic crew: owners, wranglers, staff, of Medicine Bow Lodge
The fantastic crew: owners, wranglers, staff, of Medicine Bow Lodge

While other larger ranches, like the neighboring ultra-luxe Lodge & Spa at Brush Creek Ranch, offer activities like Yoga with goats, cooking classes, wine tastings, hiking with llamas and a big spa, Medicine Bow’s focus is riding.  There are some 25 different trails, though the ranch has access to more than a million acres of Forest Service land.  Later in the season, there will be fly fishing, hiking and when kids arrive, lessons, though there is no separate kids’ program.

“Parents come here to be with their kids,” said Tim Bishop.  He noted one guest coming has a broken ankle but, even with his foot encased in an orthopedic boot, he’s determined to ride with his kids.  “We’ll make it happen,” Bishop said.

The cabins are comfortable but modest.  Our “duplex” has two rooms and two bathrooms, one with two double beds and one with a king-sized bed.  Some have bunk beds.  The back deck, overlooking the rushing creek, is the go-to hang out spot on sunny days.  Last night, local singer Casey Jones entertained us around a campfire.

“That’s one of the things I remember most from my first visit as a guest,” recalled Hayden Jones, who now is one of the wranglers.  

“The wranglers couldn’t be more sweet,” said Sherry Densler.  Clearly, they enjoy their jobs before heading back to college, to med school, to first post-college jobs and in one case, back to Berlin.

“I love being out in nature all day and getting to know the guests. Everyone has a story,” said Sean Hightower, who has just graduated from college and will be starting his first job in the fall. 

“It’s so beautiful here,” added his high school buddy Jack Grace, heading to med school in the fall.  “It doesn’t feel like work.”

And unlike at larger ranches, the wranglers are jack of all trades.  Besides leading rides and caring for the two dozen horses and two mules, they help in the kitchen, making lunches for the all day rides, doing dishes, taking guests on hikes, fishing, loading, and unloading bags, “basically we do a little of everything,” Jones said.

He noted that the ranch proved an ideal respite for him and his mom after his dad died suddenly and he will be forever grateful.

In fact, it feels as if we’ve been welcomed to good friends’ home with hosts who can’t do enough to please us.  “Each meal, each dessert is better than the night before,” gushed one guest, giving kudos to Debbie Bishop who oversees the kitchen (blueberry pie tonight!).

 Certainly it is an ideal place for families to reconnect, as long as they are happy without the frills.  The Bishops often get letters and emails thanking them for enabling them to disconnect from the stresses and strains of daily life and focus on what matters most—each other.