Sept. 24, 2009
I would have been kidding myself to portray my night as even remotely resembling one of a true sheepherder. The lonely worker of the late 19th and early 20th century would not have turned on a laptop to type notes about that day. Inside the 6 by 10 ft. space with rounded canvas ceiling, a simple twist of a knob wouldn’t have turned a heater on. A light wouldn’t cast an inside glow at the flip of a switch. And hot and cold running water wouldn’t have flowed from a basin near the door.
In those days a western sheepherder, often Basque, would have hovered over a morning campfire, fixing breakfast from whatever provisions happened to be stored in the wagon. A hot breakfast wouldn’t have been waiting inside a nearby house. And, traveling alone for months at a time, accompanied by only a sheepdog and one thousand sheep or more, he wouldn’t sit with others over food and chat about travel and daily life.
Guests of the K3 Ranch Bed and Breakfast, on the other hand, have the option of enjoying a sheepherder wagon with modern luxuries as part of the deal. Though the main house on the ranch property offers three exquisitely decorated rooms, I’m always up for an adventure, so I headed for the lodging option that would give me exactly that.
I’d arrived at the ranch by way of a gravel road. Only six miles from the relatively busy city of Cody, I might as well have been in a different world altogether. Expansive vistas spread out around me in all directions. Rich, red rocks rose up from the ground, speckled with sagebrush.
I was greeted by owner Jerry Kinkade, who zoomed up on a motorized mini-tractor. Buddy, his faithful canine sidekick, welcomed me as well, gladly accepting a pat on the head. “Hop on,” Jerry quipped, “Let me show you around.” I jumped on, he stepped on the gas, I grabbed frantically for a side bar and the adventure was on.
After a bumpy trip around the circular driveway, we pulled up in front of the ranch house, bordered by an island of strikingly beautiful red rock. A narrow pathway led up the side to a skillfully sculpted “meditation chair,” formerly a nondescript diesel fuel tank yet now artistically displaying southwestern-themed cutouts – a kokopelli, a turtle, a mountain goat, and others. Sunlight filtered through the designs, giving a mystical feeling to the already breathtaking scenery.
“I used a little Native American magic when I made those,” Jerry shouted up to me. “They change colors; they’re white or blue in the daytime and then, at night, they turn black.” I admit it took me a few seconds to think that one through. It was my first glimpse of my host’s mischievous personality.
I maneuvered my way down the path again and was ushered into the ranch house, which housed three guest rooms: The Teton Room, The Rocky Mountain Room and The Chuck Wagon Room. Each sported clever features such as tin ceilings, scenic murals and beds built into hay or chuck wagons. Artistic details added to the ambiance of each room – teepee sconces with fringe, doors adorned with metal artwork and even a brass headboard turned sideways for use as a towel rack.
“We even have karaoke machines in every bathroom,” Jerry announced proudly. I was beginning to catch on, immediately eyeing the wall-mounted hair dryers as Jerry grinned with a bit of devilment.
Our tour continued through a great room with plenty of sofas and chairs for reading and relaxing and a dining room, complete with stacks of cowboy hats. “We all wear hats at breakfast,” Jerry informed me. “That makes it a cowboy breakfast.”
A kitchen on the lower level of the house was accessed by means of a steep, narrow circular staircase – not for the faint of heart – and, stepping through a side door to the outdoor area, a patio was built under a teepee covering. For cooler nights, it provided a wood burning fireplace inside, with surrounding woven twig and wicker chairs.
I was shown the 1890 sheep wagon, my chosen lodging for the night. Beautifully restored by a woman in Meeteetse, WY, it was simple inside, as close to authentic as possible, given the running water, electricity and wireless access that could be picked up from the main house.
“And here’s your fifteen thousand dollar bath house,” Jerry pointed out waving his arm towards a small wooden structure just a few steps away from the sheep wagon. Indeed, it was just as well designed as the other aspects of the property, with all the usual bath necessities, including shower, color coordinated towel sets in cocoa and sage and a basket of premium bath amenities.
One special feature of the sheep wagon was a private deck that extended from the front door, giving additional square footage to the accommodation and a perfect place to watch deer graze in the bordering pasture. A table and two chairs made it a scenic, sunny place to hang out.
Breakfast is included at the K3 Ranch and mine was cooked by Jerry himself – eggs over easy with pancakes and fresh brewed coffee. It was a great start to the day, made even nicer by table conversation with Jerry and his wife, Bette.
Post-pancakes, another treat was in store. Included in the menagerie of ranch residents were two horses, Stormy and Zip, who were all too happy to show off their skills. With the almost magical touch of a horse whisperer, Jerry soon had the equine partners obeying a variety of commands. They could sit on voice command, slap high fives with either hoof and smother Jerry with kisses, as well as perform a variety of other feats.
Cody, WY is a fascinating town to visit, with plenty to offer visitors. The Buffalo Bill Historical Center alone is worth a trip, hosting five museums within its walls. Old Trail Town offers a look at restored historic buildings, set on the original spot that W.F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody laid out for the city that bears his name. The historic Irma Hotel is worth a visit to see the immense cherry wood bar.
Some places are harder to leave than others and this was one. I took a few minutes to climb the red rocks and sit in the meditation chair before leaving. The sun painted rich color across the surrounding mountainsides and the breeze flowed softly through the clean, country air.
Though there is no shortage of lodging options in town, I felt lucky to have found the K3 Ranch. The location couldn’t have been better – close to Cody’s attractions, yet just far enough away to get some real non-city cowboy atmosphere. And the hospitality offered by Jerry and Bette Kinkade is clearly top-notch.