Sixteen miles down a dirt road near Dubois the land dips into a valley bisected by the East Fork of the Wind River. Log cabins and horses dot the landscape, and in early June the last of winter’s long tendrils give way to wildflowers and verdant pastures.
This spread, which sits at 7,500 feet, is the last ranch before the road winds into Shoshone National Forest. Owner Bayard Kane Fox, who bought the land 50 years ago, describes it as his “Camelot.”
“Here, it’s changed very little,” he said. “It’s the land that time forgot. This valley is very much as it was when I moved here.”
It’s a quiet and bucolic destination in a life that has been rich with experiences. From hunting bighorn sheep in the mountains of Iran to attending plays in Paris, the storied former CIA agent’s nine decades on Earth have been defined by luck, adventure and horses.
Now 93, Fox stopped riding horses last year on account of his knees and turned his frenetic energy inwards, putting his life on paper.
His anecdotes could fill many books, but he’s elected to write just one about his life, “Fisherman, Rancher, Horseman, Spy.”
“I’m a bit shy of making it too long,” Fox said while nestled in a green recliner on the back porch of the log cabin that serves as the ranch’s guest lodge, his eyes trained toward the snow-capped Absaroka mountains.
Fox was born in 1929 on a small farm in Chester County, Pennsylvania. His pastoral youth was filled with days of feeding lumps of sugar to draft horses and riding along seemingly endless dirt roads.
He glimpsed the Rocky Mountains’ splendor for the first time in 1943 when visiting his father, a naval officer stationed in Puget Sound, a journey which took four days via coal-burning train.
The pair took off for a pack trip just north of Yellowstone Park. “It was a fabulous experience,” Fox said, “and I fell in love with the West right then and there.”
After graduating from high school, he took a job fighting fires and clearing brush in New Mexico’s Gila National Forest. When the crisp chill of fall arrived and Fox had to return East to start his first semester of college, he “felt more lost and overwhelmed than I ever had in the wilderness,” he wrote in the book. His collegiate summers were spent hitchhiking across Western Europe and working as a longshoreman in Valdez, Alaska.
Fox wouldn’t settle in the West until 1971, after his work as an undercover agent in the CIA sent him to Germany, France, the Congo and Iran. In his memoir, he paints a picture of a disjointed CIA where bureaucratic ineptitude foiled his efforts to be helpful. Disappointed by the little he accomplished in the CIA, he worked a corporate job for a while in Geneva, returned to Pennsylvania and then set off for the Solomon Islands to set up a crayfish export business.
“I spent two years diving and swimming in the Solomon Islands,” Fox said, “which was a really interesting experience and gave me a new outlook on life.”
Money, fame and power held little appeal, he said, but visions of the Rocky Mountains and life on a remote dude ranch promised joy and the opportunity to bring the same feeling to others.
Utilizing the connections Fox made in his expat years, he convinced mainly French tourists to visit the ranch, which he named “Bitterroot,” and experience a life enmeshed with cattle, American bison and plenty of horses.
He gradually built up a sustainable business — with the help of his wife, son and daughter-in-law — that now also operates worldwide horse riding tours from Kenya to Iceland.
Guests speaking a heterogeneous array of languages are now heard in this remote corner of Wyoming.
It’s undoubtedly an idyllic place — although making a living takes “ingenuity,” Fox said. It’s a lifestyle Fox acknowledges may not exist forever. “But I fear this period may be a Camelot,” he says. “We’re presented with such tremendous problems like climate change and our refusal to recognize it and the threat of an autocratic government taking over.”
Camelot was an oasis that flourished one moment, but ultimately perished, Fox says. But then again, who can predict the future?
Fox pauses. “Maybe nobody wants to.”