Bliss Creek Outfitters Cody Wyoming Wyoming Horse Trips Pack Trips

Outfitting on Bliss Creek

Outdoor guide Tim Doud enjoys the freedom of an outfitting career.

by Ty Wyant
Western Horseman 2004

During his childhood in rural Iowa, Tim Doud never imagined that he'd one day lead clients on unforgettable horseback excursions into the Wyoming backcountry.

After all he explains, horses weren't among his favorite animals when he was growing up.  A neighbor kid's vicious pony created an early prejudice against all things equine.    In 1979, then 19-year-old Doud enrolled in a Colorado guide school, thinking the experience would be good preparation for an upcoming elk hunt.  He nearly backed out when he learned that working with horses and mules was part of the school's curriculum.

Undeterred, Doud signed on as a student of Grand Junction-based guide Dick Pennington.  By the end of the course, Doud had discovered not only an affinity for horses and mules, but a career in guiding and outfitting.

"After I'd been through outfitting school, I knew I wanted to be in the mountains and working with livestock," Doud says, "and not working in a building or factory."

After a 3-month stint working for Pennington, Doud worked as an outfitter in Colorado and Idaho, guiding hunting trips, until 1983, when he accepted job with a hunting-guide service based in the Diamond Basin, a few miles south of Cody, Wyo.  Within 3 years, Doud was running his own operation, based at the at the remote Bliss Creek Camp in the basin.

Doud led pack trips into the mountains and guided hunters, but also created schools for budding guides and camp cooks.  The U.S. Forest Service named Bliss Creek Outfitters the Shoshone National Forest's Outfitter of the Year in 1993.

Outfitting has become a part of the hardworking couple's blood.

"It's given me the opportunity to work with horses and mules in the mountains," Doud says, "and earn an income."

"You go into the mountains and you don't have telephones and other pressures," she says.  "People come here to relax.  And, I can set my own hours.  They're intense hours, but they're my hours, even if I'm working 20 a day.  My real paycheck is the freedom of doing what I want to do, when I want to do it."

Doud admits that ever-changing government regulations present one of the few identifiable drawbacks to his profession.

"The government personnel always changes," he says, "so the interpretation of the rules is always changing with them.  You're not always aware of it until after the fact."

Today, Doud guides clients-typically groups of six - on weeklong backcountry trips into the Rocky Mountains each July and August.  The couple also guides hunts for bear, elk, moose and bighorn sheep.

BLISS CREEK CAMP
 
The Bliss Creek base camp is located at an elevation of 8.400 feet, in the Shoshone National Forest's Washakie Wilderness.  The camp rests in a picturesque, meadow 3 miles long and 1/2 mile wide, and in the middle of elk, moose and bighorn sheep habitat.  Moose sightings are a daily occurrence in the meadow.

Getting to camp requires a daylong horseback trek,  Clients ride 10 hours from Bliss Creek headquarters Cody, covering 22 miles of some of North American's most scenic wilderness.  Riders follow a single-track trail along the South Fork of the Shoshone River, starting out beneath canyon cliffs and steadily progressing to shadowy pine forests.

Once in camp, guests stay in tents, but luxury isn't compromised.  Each tent comes equipped with log beds (with real mattresses), a wood stove and propane lanterns.  There's even a heated shower tent available.

The South Fork rushes nearby, its trout population beckoning to campers.

"You can walk out of your tent and catch a fish in 5 minutes," Doud says.  "They aren't always big fish, but there are a lot of them."

Doud and four crew members supervise and assist the guests, usually three couples.  Such small groups allow each guest, or each couple, to have personalized, guided outings during their stay.

"It's rare we see anybody else here," Doud says. "Guests from the city come up here and marvel at the things we see every day.  It makes us appreciate what we have."

Guests pay $300 pr person, per day, for summer excursions.  Guided hunts run from $1,800 to $6,000 depending on the type and duration of the hunt.

SCHOOLS
 
Their instructional programs allow Doud to share his knowledge of the outfitting business, and their love of it, with new generations of guides.

"Most of the students have hunting experience, but have never been on horses or mules," Doud explains.  "They come to learn about horsemanship and mulemanship.  We start with first step:  catching them."  Students also learn about shoeing, packing and, of course, riding.  First-aid coursework, and instruction on government regulations, round out the curriculum.

The guide school runs from late June to later July.  Students pay tuition of $3,500 for the 4 weeks of instruction.

The camp-cook school, also operates from late June to late July, and accepts two students per 2-week session.  Tuition is $1,750.  Instruction covers the fundamentals and logistics of camp cooking.

"It's important to understand high-altitude cooking," Doud says.  "In the summer, you have trouble keeping things fresh, and in the winter, you have to keep things from freezing.  The amount of food you bring to camp is important, too, because you pack it in, and it has to keep."

HORSES and MULES
 
Doud's stint in guide school helped him overcome his childhood fear of horses.  It has also awakened an appreciation for mules.  In his early outfitting jobs, he sys, "there was one mule and 20 horses in the sting, and the outfitter rode the mule.  I thought that was pretty cool."

Doud keeps a string of horses and mules - saddle and pack animals - and 25 broodmares, and stand two jacks and two stallions, Bonnington Willido, a 17-year old Paint Horse and former performance horse, and King Saaw, a 3-year-old Arabian. King Saaw is by Wiking, the all time leading money-earner in Arabian racing.

The Bliss Creek mares, mostly Quarter Horses and Paint Horses, reflect Doud's preferences for conformation and disposition - good heads, big hips and a good attitude.

"We rarely look for breeding," Doud says.

During the winter months, Doud, a board member of the North American Saddle Mule Association, starts 3-year-old mules under saddle, using them lightly in the string in the summer.  As 4-year-olds, the mules take on a full workload.

Once horses and mules become too old to work in the saddle or pack strings, they're retired to a community-riding program.  Local kids visit Bliss Creek headquarters each week during the winter and spring for riding lessons on the old campaigners, receiving instruction in an indoor arena during the winter and on the trail during the spring.
 
Ty Wyant is the Quarter Horse columnist for the Daily Racing Form, and a writer for Boulder Magazine.  He lives in Colorado.  For more information on Bliss Creek Outfitters, call 307-527-6103, or visit www.wyominghorsetrips.com.

THE GHOST OF JACK BLISS
 
Bliss Creek is named for notorious horse thief Jack Bliss, who kept a cabin on the current-day Bliss Creek Camp site in the 1880's and ' 90s. Legend has it that Bliss made a habit of stealing horses in Cody, fattening them up on the meadow surrounding his cabin, then selling them in Jackson and Dubois, Wyo.  After spending his ill-gotten proceeds, he's then steal horses in Jackson and Dubois, fatten them on the meadow, and sell them in Cody.

His scheme worked until June 1892, when Wyoming range detectives shot and killed a man, believed to be Bliss, stepping out of his cabin.  No one would identify or claim the body, so it was placed in a shallow grave near what came to be called Bliss Creek.  A flash flood washed away the body, which was never recovered.

Bliss creek guest have reported seeing what they believe to be Bliss' ghost in camp tents. Tim Doud, of Bliss Creek Outfitters, has his doubts about a supernatural presence in his camp, though.

"It's just a story told around the campfire," he says.

 

 

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The Western HorseWestern Horseman

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Rusty & Rhonda Sanderson, Owners ~ Bliss Creek Outfitters ~ PO Box 2776 ~ Cody, WY 82414 ~ 307-764-2363
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