Horses and Icons of the Wild West in Winter 2019 Trip Report

By Jeff Vanuga on Feb 21, 2019

The setting of the Horses and Icons of the West tour is in central Wyoming, at the base of the Bighorn Mountains.  Formed over 70 million years ago, the Bighorns rise over 9,000 feet and contain sedimentary strata laid down prior to mountain building. A jagged rock face delineates the mountains and the Bighorn Basin below and locals have given the cliff faces names such as Five Fingers and the what is known as the W, a W-shaped jagged edged canyon. From the lodge and cabins we have panoramic views of the majestic mountain range located a couple of miles away, with cliffs, canyons, and badlands as the backdrop for horses and deer that graze on open meadows surrounding the ranch. A picture postcard view from our windows set the stage for this high energy photographic shoot of thundering horses, ranching, portraits and details of western life. With such captivating scenes we find it easy to let the world go by and immerse ourselves in a spirit of the west that time forgot.  
 
Shoots are planned the night before depending on the weather forecast and expected access with trucks, horse trailers and clients. For the first part of the week we had little snow cover since this area of the Bighorn Basin was in drought conditions. Slightly west of us, in the Wind and Absaroka Ranges, they were getting daily dumps which closed many area roads.  We planned accordingly and found pockets of snow cover around the ranch with the magnificent landscapes found throughout the area.  We concentrated on cowboys moving through the landscape and occasionally had free ranging horses galloping along ridges where the land meets the sky.  Portraits were scheduled for midweek among old buildings—preserved since the late 1800’s and early 1900’s—which made for excellent props.  Some clients commented that the place looked like it came out of a time warp of the Old West or a constructed movie set.  
 
Later in the week we received several inches of snow in the low country. This provided a backdrop of horses running in the snow on our last morning of shooting.  Later in the afternoon we headed into the Bighorn Mountains where snow totals started at 2 feet and increased with elevation.  With 2–3 feet of snow, the horses moved slowly, navigating through a sea of white. In these conditions there is no cantering as safety of horse and rider is our primary concern.  Regardless, the scenes were breathtaking as the horses moved through the difficult terrain.  
 
By the end of the week the average hard drive had over 350 Gigabytes of data, with some clients using even more.  This is a gauge of the quality and quantity of images from 5 days of shooting on a historic ranch that encompasses 350,000 acres of playground. The staff at the ranch is stellar and the hospitality of our hosts is unequalled.  The bottom line is no one was in a real hurry to return to the rat race, disturbing news headlines, or to the “real” world.  We enjoyed our “time warp” for the week and we all take back priceless images and lasting memories.  No matter how many times I have led this trip, I look forward to another “time machine” adventure, so keep your eyes peeled for another JVO tour here in the future—and another look into the past.