Sept. 5, 2009
I arrived at Cottage House of Squaw Creek amidst a flurry of rustling leaves and the long shadows of a late afternoon sun. It had been a peaceful drive through the Wind River area, with straight, open stretches of highway and not many vehicles on the road. But the afternoon was wearing on, and I was glad to pull off the road for the night.
Just shy of five miles outside of Lander, WY, Squaw Creek Ranch offers a variety of services. The first to appear as I pulled up was the House of Tails, which provides boarding, grooming and pet supplies. Here I was greeted by Carl Bollinger, as well as his wife, Karla. Together, they filled me in on the activities and history of their ranch.
In 1985, Carl and Karla established Squaw Creek Llamas and raised, bred, and sold the stately animals for fifteen years. Though they no longer breed them, many llamas remain on the property, to the delight of guests.
More recently, they’ve added miniature horses to the ranch, and these are what lured me to Lander for a visit. I’d had some experience with horses before, but they were always full-sized, either taking me up a trail or eyeing me from the other side of a fence, hoping I might pull a handful of hay from my pocket. But I’d never had the opportunity to be around miniatures before. I wasn’t about to pass up a chance to learn a little bit about them.
Arranging a visit was easy. Carl and Karla run a bed and breakfast on their property, housed in an individual cottage that sits alongside the horse pastures. Situated slightly downhill from the main house, Cottage House of Squaw Creek offers overnight guests a unique opportunity to view both the llamas and miniature horses that live on the ranch.
Whether viewed from inside the cottage itself or from the charming patio outside the front door, the surrounding scene was both pastoral and enchanting. The sound of tiny hooves pattering by mixed with a soft breeze. Soft silhouettes of diminutive manes were backlit by the setting sun. Every aspect of my visit with these wonderful creatures thrilled me. They were gentle, sweet and affectionate. If I stopped to give one a pat on the head, another would approach me for a turn.
As I was getting to know my newfound friends—Callie, a sorrel tobiano pinto, Bling, a black leopard appaloosa, and Wind River Ripple, a four month old newcomer, to name a few—Karla emerged from the barn with a tub full of hay, instantly attracting the attention of my new four-legged friends. I was fortunate to be allowed to help feed the hungry crowd, dropping bunches of hay across the ground, where the horses spread out to munch slowly on their dinner.
Hard as it was to pull myself away, I was growing hungry, and hay just wasn’t going to do the trick for me. I hopped in the car and made the trek into town, cautiously maneuvering the unpaved portion of the road leading from Squaw Creek Ranch to the highway. It wasn’t my first visit to Lander, and I knew where I wanted to go. I headed immediately to Gannett Grill for a “Healthy Hippie” sandwich – avocado, swiss cheese, tomato, lettuce and vinaigrette dressing on pita bread. I suspect the healthy part went out the window when the meal was served with onion rings, but it was all delicious, and the rustic, outdoor patio of Gannett Grill added to the enjoyable meal.
Barely sliding in on the tail end of twilight, I arrived back at the cottage with enough of the peaceful evening remaining to get a little work done. With the tumbling sound of Squaw Creek in the distance and the continuing rustle of leaves from nearby trees, I sat on the patio with my laptop and books, wondering if there could possibly be a more relaxing scenario for writing.
The cottage itself was spacious for this solo traveler. It could easily accommodate a family, given its 850 square foot size. The downstairs level housed a living room, full kitchen, bathroom and laundry room, while a narrow stairway led to an upstairs loft with one double and two twin beds. A comfy sofa and numerous chairs allowed seating both upstairs and down, and television, stereo, and wifi access added modern conveniences. Though it was summer at the time of my visit, a wood stove stood ready to provide heat once winter descended.
Decorative touches reflecting mountain life and western heritage rendered the entire space warm and inviting. Locally made quilts with wildlife themes decorated the beds in rich green and red tones. A carved moose “trophy” gazed down from one wall, keeping company to a selection of nature and wildlife books on the local area. I felt instantly at home.
Though overnight lodging was available as a bed and breakfast arrangement, it was also offered without a morning meal, at a lower rate, which was my choice. Coffee and a granola bar would be enough to start my day, which is exactly what I did, sitting on the front patio, admiring the miniature horses just a short distance away. Two canine residents – Faldo, a Dalmatian mix and Sedona, an energetic long-haired Dachshund – stopped by to visit. Not to leave any animals out, I strolled down to the lower pasture and said good morning to the llamas, as well.
Morning allowed me a chance to visit a little more with Carl and Karla, who were working in the barn. It was clear in our conversation that they feel dedicated to their land and animals and that they’re delighted to share both with visiting guests. The sense of hospitality is abundant, making a stay at Cottage House of Squaw Creek feel more like coming to see friends than just enjoying a unique lodging experience.
Before leaving, I leaned on a wooden fence and took one last look out over the pastures. The wind had died down, but the creek continued to serenade the land with tumbling water. The young filly approached cautiously, turning quickly to hurry away at the sound of my camera’s shutter. Callie and Bling nodded very briefly in my direction before returning quickly to the more enticing bits of remaining hay. Sedona hopped up and down nearby, hoping for another pat on the head before my departure. I would have loved to stay for days, even weeks, but my schedule didn’t allow it. With a sentiment of wistful longing to remain, I pulled myself away and headed down the road.