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Photography provided by Brush Creek Ranch

Visiting Brush Creek Ranch in Saratoga, Wyoming, has been on my wish list for years. This all-inclusive working cattle ranch nestled in Medicine Bow National Forest effortlessly preserves the spirit of the American West as well as its own unique heritage. The property sprawls across 30,000 acres, with something for everyone to do. An invite to a friend’s birthday celebration at Brush Creek was all the motivation I needed to hop on a plane and head out west.

We visited in October, when the fall colors were on full display. The afternoons were sunny, yet the mornings and evenings brought crisp, cold air, which felt like Mother Nature’s way of telling us a harsh mountain winter was coming. This is a wonderful time of year to visit if you want more of the place to yourself, as ranches are at peak capacity during the summer months, when family vacations, weddings and corporate buyouts fill up rooms and cabins. I personally love the feeling of a quiet resort; you can be present to absorb the terrain and nature without the distraction and intensity of large groups of people. I tend to book all my vacations during off-peak times to avoid crowds.

Upon arrival, we encountered friendly staff, incredibly cozy lodges and luxurious ranch-style accommodations. There are three distinct guest quarters, including the Lodge and Spa, French Creek, and Magee Homestead. We chose the Lodge and Spa, which was full of antler chandeliers, vast stone fireplaces and other mountain chic decor.

While modern amenities are plentiful, this all-inclusive property still feels like a working cattle ranch — because it is. Some may hesitate at the idea of all-inclusive thinking that food quality suffers, but that isn’t the case here. Many of the ingredients featured in the delicious meals are grown right onsite in the farm’s 20,000-square-foot greenhouse.

One favorite moment was having breakfast with baby goats. Now, you may not think goats and breakfast go hand-in-hand, but hear me out. The ranch raises goats for its Medicine Bow Creamery, offering guests fresh milk for their coffee and some of the best yogurt I’ve ever tasted. After you nosh on a simple breakfast spread of yogurt, fresh fruit, and housemade granola and pastries, you’re invited to interact with the curious baby goats, who not only climb on the rocks but also attempt to climb on you. They’re small and adorable, and snuggling with them after a yummy breakfast is a can’t-miss moment.

Fall is also the season for upland bird hunting. Pheasant, chukar and ruffed grouse are all species found in the sagebrush sea. Brush Creek is an Orvis-endorsed hunting and fishing lodge, which is not easy to achieve. This accolade means guests can expect expert guide service along with respect for natural resources. I’m forever working to improve my upland hunting skills, so I signed up for a morning wingshoot. My two friendly guides, along with their six dogs, were happy to shepherd me through the brush. We walked some of the most beautiful terrain, with snowcapped mountains in the distance.

I have a personal philosophy of taking what you can eat and leaving the rest, so I harvested a few birds and watched a few fly away. But the part of pheasant hunting I most enjoy is observing the dogs at work. These pointers and flushers were so well-trained with spot-on instincts. I was also delighted to learn that my harvest would be vacuum-sealed and frozen for me to take home at the end of my stay. I love having this organic, free-range protein on hand in my freezer.

The adventures continued, as the list of activities at Brush Creek is seemingly endless, including cooking classes, range shooting, archery, fly-fishing, mountain biking, hiking, yoga and, of course, horseback riding. After all, a ranch visit wouldn’t be complete without some time spent in the saddle. For my friend’s birthday celebration, we signed up for a trail ride and a creek-side picnic.

Brush Creek is home to more than 180 horses, and I couldn’t help but notice that many of the wranglers are women. I also found it endearing that the equines who retire from their trail riding days are cared for at the ranch for the rest of their lives. During the ride, I was in awe of the fall colors as we crossed streams, galloped along the trails and felt that cold, wild Wyoming wind on our faces. Thank goodness for shearling coats — I now understand why they’re a staple among cowpokes.

One of the most unique experiences the ranch offers is barrel racing, which is an activity near and dear to my heart. I grew up as a barrel racer, so getting back in the saddle with the help of two instructors brought me right back to my teenage years. Brush Creek has horses suitable for both beginners and more experienced riders who want a little more horsepower. My steed, Rico, was a great teammate to help reacquaint me with those high-speed hairpin turns, and I walked out of the arena with a cheek-to-cheek smile. I didn’t think tapping back into barrel racing would have me considering buying a horse of my own, but it has.

This is why ranch stays are priceless: They leave an imprint on your heart. If you’re new to this way of life, an experience like this can open your eyes to the beauty of the Western spirit, offer new outdoor activities to enjoy and inspire respect for those who work hard to put food on our tables. The days are full of activity, and the nights fill you up with delicious fare, campfire conversations and authentic connections. At Brush Creek, luxury meets an authentic working cattle farm experience. I don’t tend to repeat vacations because I like embarking on new excursions, but these 30,000 acres of high-quality outdoor adventure will have me returning for more.

Pheasant Egg Rolls

Makes 12 large egg rolls

1 lb. pheasant breast – boneless, skinless
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil
1 Tbsp. fresh ginger, minced
1 tsp. fresh garlic, minced
1 oz. vegetable oil
½ Cup sliced green onion
3 Cups cabbage slaw mix
¾ Cup mushrooms, sliced thin and sautéed
*mushrooms optional (wild mushrooms or shiitake preferred)

12 large egg roll wrappers
1 whole egg, whisked
Vegetable or peanut oil for frying
Corn Starch as needed

1. Marinate pheasant breast in soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic and ginger for at least two hours or up to overnight. Keep refrigerated.
2. Place marinated pheasant breast on cutting board and cover with plastic wrap. (Save marinade for later use.) Using a meat tenderizer pound thin.
3. In a preheated cast iron place 1 oz. vegetable oil and sear pheasant breast to cook through. 165°F internal temperature. Remove pheasant from pan and let cool on cutting board.
4. Return pan to heat and add sliced mushrooms. Pour reserved marinade in pan and sauté mushrooms until soft and marinade has reduced to a glaze.
5. Slice pheasant breast as thin as possible and rough chop to create small thin pieces. Place in a clean mixing bowl.
6. Add mushrooms to bowl and add remaining ingredients while pheasant and mushrooms are still warm. Mix well by hand and cool in refrigerator.
7. Place egg roll wrappers on cutting board and brush edges with beaten egg. Spoon approximately 3 oz. of filling in center with corner of egg roll wrapper pointing up. Fold edges in to cover filling and wrap like a cigar to seal. Repeat until all filling is used.
8. Pour oil in cast iron pan so oil is ½” – ¾” deep. Heat to 350°F. Gently place up to four egg rolls in hot oil, being careful not to splash. Once golden brown, flip over and cook opposite side.
9. Serve warm with your favorite dipping sauce.

Laura Schara is a lifelong outdoor enthusiast and cohost of the television series Minnesota Bound.

Read this article as it appears in the magazine.

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