This Wyoming Ranch Blends Luxury Lodging With Rugged Wild West Adventures
The night’s first stars have started to glow ever so faintly in the big cloud-less Western sky above. I twist my neck to take them in from the saddle of my horse. Just ahead of me, Creed Garnick removes his dusty cowboy hat and reclines, resting his head on his horse’s back and making the saddle seem like the most comfortable lounge chair. The lifelong horseman and owner of 3 Spear Ranch, a 1,200-acre property in Dubois, Wyo., doesn’t need to watch where he’s going. He and his chestnut mare, X, ride as one.
In the distance, the boom of an announcer’s voice and an eruption of whoops and cheers break the silence and interrupt Garnick’s stargazing reverie. He sits up, replaces his hat and gives X a kick as he turns to me and shouts, “Gotta pick up the pace! Rodeo’s started!” And suddenly we’re loping toward the arena lights.
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I’ve stayed at dude ranches that shuttle guests to the town rodeo and some that host their own private event where staff show off their calf-roping and barrel-racing skills. Those experiences have always made me feel like a city-slicker spectator. But arriving at the Dubois Friday-night rodeo on horseback alongside Garnick, a former rodeo star who hails from one of the American West’s oldest ranching families, I hold myself less like an outsider and almost like a local. The bronc- and bull-riding events provide plenty of thrills, but the adrenaline rush of the evening is the 90-minute trip home beneath a sky so clear that the Milky Way is in full view. The journey, it turns out, is the main event, the experience guests will keep forever lodged in their memory.
There are low-frills dude ranches run by families with deep knowledge of horses and the land alike, and there are luxury ranches with speakeasy-style cocktail bars, bowling alleys and mechanical bulls—the latter category often initiated by gentleman cowboys who know more about finance and French wines than saddling a horse and rearing steer. Garnick’s 3 Spear is the rare lodge that straddles both worlds.
With just eight guest cabins—most dating back to the 1800s, all of which have been or will be refurbished by Garnick and his childhood friend and general manager, Chandler Minton—the ranch offers a highly individualized experience. Securing a stay isn’t as simple as reserving a cabin online; Minton has personally vetted every booking with a follow-up phone call since the ranch welcomed its first guests in the summer of 2021.
We’re not for everyone,” he explains. “People see the word ‘luxury’ and assume they’ll get the Aman.
– Creed Garnick
At 3 Spear, luxury isn’t defined by thread counts or designer toiletries. It’s the opportunity to step out of your comfort zone for a few days and be immersed in a lifestyle you’ve always fantasized about, while also having a hospitality team intuit your every desire, from a post-ride massage to a pre-dinner family steer-roping tutorial. “Before each arrival, we get to know the guests and then plan an extraordinary stay full of surprises,” Minton says.
Minton and Garnick, both 35, know a thing or two about capturing the drama of the American West—and impressing an audience. Minton honed his hospitality skills at some of the country’s top hotels, including Amangani in Jackson Hole, Wyo., and the Lodge at Blue Sky, an Auberge Resorts Collection property in Park City, Utah. Garnick, meanwhile, spent years performing on New York City stages. Reunited at 3 Spear, they’re a rare duo delivering a hard-to-come-by combination: an authentic ranch vacation with five-star attention to detail.
A few days earlier, Garnick picks me up at the Jackson Hole airport. His sunflower-yellow Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser stands out in a sea of black SUVs. On the 90-minute drive to the ranch, he recounts his eccentric upbringing. One of eight kids, he was raised in the sleepy town of Dubois (pronounced DOO-boyz) by a family passionate about both ranching and theater. He inherited the 1970s-era Clint Eastwood good looks of his paternal grandfather, Bill Garnick, one of the original Marlboro Man actors, and the gumption of his parents, Vicki and Cameron Garnick, who met at Sundance Mountain Resort in 1976, when both were performing in a regional production of West Side Story, with Cameron playing Riff and Vicki cast as Riff’s girlfriend, Velma. They went on to run some of Dubois’s most popular guest ranches as well as the historic Jackson Hole Playhouse—Vicki bootlegged booze to pay for the lease in 1980 and now owns and still oversees the theater.
As a kid, Garnick traveled across Central Asia performing alongside his father in Wild West shows. When a bull-riding injury ended his competitive-rodeo aspirations, he turned his full attention to acting, training at the prestigious Juilliard School in New York City and eventually taking over a lead role in Christopher Durang’s Tony Award–winning comedy Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike on Broadway in 2013. His résumé reads like a modern-day Will Rogers’s: both horseman and showman. He even traveled to Kyrgyzstan to captain the first US team in kok-boru, a rougher version of Rogers’s beloved polo that uses a goat carcass as a ball, and directed a documentary about the experience, Nomad Cowboys, now in post-production.
After we drive through Dubois’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it downtown, we turn up a pockmarked dirt road and see steam rising from the ranch’s natural warm springs beyond. Garnick and his wife, Sascha, a native of Jackson Hole who owned a jewelry business and dabbled in film and TV gigs in Los Angeles, purchased the land in 2018 from the longtime owners, the Albright family, who established it as a ranch and summer retreat in the early 1900s. Ivan Albright, the last Albright to live here, was also an artist. One of the cabins served as his studio, and his paintings, many inspired by Dubois’s wide-open vistas, are in prestigious collections, including the Museum of Modern Art’s.
The land is nestled at the mouth of a canyon with sweeping views of the Wind River Valley and Absaroka Mountain Range. A dozen or so of the ranch’s 30 horses roam the sage-brush-carpeted hills in the distance. Garnick stops at an old chink-style log barn. “This is the heart of the ranch,” he says proudly as he opens my door and motions me over to a fence. “Meet the family.” With the theatrical sweep of his arm, he gestures toward a barnyard menagerie: long-bearded billy goats, wooly sheep, Shetland ponies, hair pigs, dogs of all sizes, more horses. He scratches noses and rubs bellies as he introduces each by name.
At the main lodge, Sascha is waiting with the youngest members of the family, the couple’s 1-year-old son, Huckleberry, and newborn daughter, Fable. The ranch is, first and foremost, the Garnicks’ home. It’s where they will continue to cultivate their love of the arts, teach their children to ride horses and try to live, as Garnick likes to say, “a harmonious existence with the land.” The last part could sound a bit righteous, but in today’s tech-driven society, many of us have forgotten how to be self-sufficient, let alone exist in nature. Steadfastly self-reliant, Garnick oils and waxes his clothes to protect them from the elements and built the lodge’s dining room furniture by hand from local wood.
The ethos at 3 Spear is a reminder that there’s beauty in a more intentional, mindful way of life and wisdom within the land.
– Jen Murphy
The operation’s intimate size allows Garnick and Minton to act as personal hosts for every guest. Blue-eyed and ruddy cheeked, Minton has an unwaveringly sunny disposition. He calls everyone “friend,” and it feels like he actually means it. Garnick, however, was his first true friend, he tells me the day I arrive. The boys met when they were 6 years old and went on to ride rodeo together, play kok-boru and share other adventures on horseback. Minton even worked as a wrangler at one of the Garnick family ranches.
The lodge offers epic hikes and fly-fishing on the Wind River as well as the property’s stream and two lakes, all full of native rainbow trout. But horseback riding is at the heart of most stays, and unlike at other area ranches, there are no nose-to-tail trail rides here. Each excursion is tailored to a guest’s ability, which Garnick and Minton can expertly discern upon your first interaction with a horse. And if you’re a real rider, you’re in for a treat.
The men lead most outings and relish the chance to take experienced equestrians on their favorite adventures through daunting terrain so steep your horse might slide down on its rear end or drop off a three-foot cliff. Windy Mountain, the picturesque 10,262-foot peak that looms behind the ranch, can be summited via a five-hour expedition across grasslands, rolling hills and a precipitous former logging road. The pair can also arrange multi-night pack trips or erect a camp next to an old miner’s cabin for a backcountry-light experience catered by the house chef.
I consider myself an intermediate rider at best—comfortable on a horse but no cowgirl. On my second day, Garnick pairs me with Z Man, a sure-footed caramel-hued mare. Most of my week is spent in the saddle exploring. After Garnick purchased the property, he took near-daily scouting missions, discovering what he calls “natural treasures,” including caves and swimming holes. These aren’t places you’ll find in guidebooks, and guests are asked not to geotag photos of the spots on social media in order to ensure these special places stay that way.
We’re on a ride a few days later, deep in the 2.4-million–acre Shoshone National Forest that borders 3 Spear, when I finally ask Garnick if he ever considered auditioning for a role on Yellowstone or 1883, the hit series that have reignited urbanites’ fascination with cowboy culture. He stiffens slightly, hinting that this might be an annoyingly common question from guests. Born and raised on a ranch, he takes a swipe at the stars’ horsemanship, then admits he auditioned for season one of Yellowstone but was not cast, though his younger brother Golden just landed a role in the new season. “Things work out as they are meant to be,” Garnick says—and sounds like he means it—as we trot through dense stands of lodgepole pine. Though he sure looks the part of a cowboy and certainly rides like one, he considers himself a rancher now, and 3 Spear seems destined to be his legacy.
The property is an hour’s drive from Grand Teton National Park and 90 minutes from Yellowstone. The latter’s unique geological features—Old Faithful and the bubbling Fountain Paint Pot Trail—are worth the day trip, but if you want wildlife viewing, there’s plenty to be had around the ranch. During my weeklong stay, I see antelope and elk, bighorn sheep, foxes and eagles, all from horseback. Driving, we encounter a traffic-jam-inducing herd of bison and, a few miles later, a mama grizzly and her cubs. This will be 3 Spear’s first winter season, and Garnick says the snow makes it even easier to spot animals, including wolves, loping across the property.
Sky and land seem to stretch to eternity here. Most days we ride at an ambling pace that allows me to take in the endless landscape of vermillion-streaked badlands and the jagged, snow-capped peaks of the Absaroka Range. Lunch is always served in the wild, a picnic feast of Brie and prosciutto sandwiches, homemade hummus and crudités. Chef Richard Barnes is responsible for the lodge’s sensational food. He and his wife, Lilah Ellis, who handles the front of the house, formerly ran the Lone Buffalo Steakhouse, the closest thing Dubois had to a special-occasion restaurant before 3 Spear opened. Their ranch menu showcases seasonal dishes such as acorn squash stuffed with elk and wild rice, vegan grain bowls and a decadent, 30-day-dry-aged Pied-montese New York Strip. Ellis expertly suggests pairings from a wine list focused on Italian Brunellos and French Premier Crus. Knowing the couple’s loyal following, 3 Spear has opened the restaurant to the public, and throughout the summer Garnick invites locals up for live music on the lawn.
Guests are also encouraged to explore Dubois. Downtown is a 10-minute drive from the ranch, and Minton offers to play host. A glowing neon sign on a storefront reads, this ain’t no jackson hole, and I can’t help but chuckle—you certainly won’t see the likes of Prince Harry or Gigi Hadid moseying around this town of barely 900 residents. So far, it has evaded gentrification and held tight to its Old West roots. The Rustic Pine Tavern, a landmark watering hole with sticky wood floors and walls decorated in taxidermy, still holds a Tuesday-night square dance, while Welty’s General Store has been hawking homesteading essentials and Western wear since the late 1800s. A dinosaur-sized steer skull frames the entrance to the local laundromat, and a gas station on the outskirts of town also claims to be home to the world’s largest jackalope exhibit.
But change is creeping in, with newer businesses appealing to big-city tastes, including a craft gelato shop and a hip coffee house that serves cold brew and oat-milk lattes. In the past few years, billionaire Dan Starks, a former health-care exec, and his wife, Cynthia, who became Dubois residents in 2016, have invested heavily in the community. The couple recently opened a bells- and-whistles bowling alley and founded the National Museum of Military Vehicles, plowing $100 million into the facility just outside town, which features everything from tanks and jeeps to aircraft and naval vessels. It also houses rare artifacts, including the musket that fired the first shot of the Battle of Bunker Hill in the Revolutionary War. Some old-timers in town worry Dubois could indeed go the way of Jackson Hole, out-pricing locals, but most, including Minton, see the new investment as incentive for the younger generation to stick around.
Hints of the area’s own intriguing past are hidden throughout the wilderness. After we split a slice of homemade blueberry-rhubarb pie from the mom-and-pop Cowboy Cafe, Minton drives us to a trailhead for a hike. The trail winds high above Torrey and Rim Lakes, past ancient petroglyphs believed to have been created thousands of years ago by the Tukudika, or Mountain Sheepeaters, a band of the Shoshone Indians who once called this land home. The next day, we off-road to a lookout where he points out a distinctive curved peak—the Ramshorn. The emblem of Dubois sits at the top of the Dunoir River Valley, where the Disney family once owned a ranch.
We drive a bit farther and Minton parks the truck, then leads me down a steep, rocky path to what must have been Disney’s inspiration for its famous log-flume ride, Splash Mountain. Narrow wooden channels, many still intact, hug the rocky cliffs across from us. In the early 20th century, Minton explains, Scandinavian immigrants known as tie-hack men set up camp in these forests, felling pines to sell for railroad ties. When the spring runoff came along, the logs were transported to the railroad in Riverton via the Wind River by an intricate wooden aqueduct network. To prevent logjams, daring tie-hack men would ride the logs themselves.
Every hike and ride feels thoughtfully plotted to deliver a complementary history lesson. “We aim to surprise, entertain and educate,” Garnick tells me later that evening over a meal of shareable appetizers—roasted beets and burrata, crispy duck wings and a grazing board of bison and venison salumi, elk sausage and cheeses. Minton and Sascha have joined us, and since it’s my final night, we take rounds of Moscow mules down to the Pool Palace, a saloon-style building with an original 1892 New Brunswick pool table as focal point.
By midnight, we’ve made our way to the dock next door, where we dangle our feet in the 80-degree spring pool. A masterful storyteller, Garnick shares an outlandish tale of taking his pet pig on a harrowing hike so it could get some exercise and having to carry the squealing animal back down the mountain, then another about nursing an injured hawk to health (he wears one of its feathers in his hat). After one more round of libations, he’s describing his vision to create a riff on Sleep No More, the groundbreaking site-specific retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, at the ranch. “We’ll use a work from Anton Chekhov, and maybe guests will ride from scene to scene,” he muses, wild-eyed. This is the role Garnick was born to play. He’s going off script from the traditional ranch stay and ushering in a fresh, exciting experience that captures the modern-day American West, in all its raw, real glory.
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