The ranch is located in the high desert of the Big Hole Valley near Yellowstone. Five and a half miles of the Big Hole River, one of the top 10 trout fishing streams in North America, runs through the ranch. The main ranch house, which stands apart from the main retreat center, sits on a promontory overlooking the river and mountains, a bouillabaisse of blessings. It is like a scene from a calendar.
In the early mornings, mountain ridges rise out of the mist with ever-increasing color as they become sun-kissed. Soon the sun illumines the valley floor like a curtain being drawn on a stunning vista. This idyllic environment plows a deep furrow in the soul and ventilates the mind affording a reprieve from having to solve the problems of the world.
The ranch is a wildlife menagerie populated by moose, elk, pronghorn, mule and white tail deer, mountain sheep, bear, mountain lions, eagles, osprey, sandhill crane, purlieu and wolves. While walking alone in the early morning, I froze as two wolves stalking deer passed within 30 feet of me.
The highlight of each day is the six hours a day of lectures and practical activities. Interpersonal skills and Bible principals of leadership make up most of the curriculum. The setting is a lovely replica of an old New England church. An inspirational evening service is followed by a bonfire.
Features of the week include a day trip to Yellowstone. Lunches are packed for another afternoon adventure high up in the Rockies for an outing including a swim in the chilly azure waters of Lake Agnes.
Near the end of the week, after students are acclimated, they experience the circle of stones. They rise early, prepared to fast for the day. They carry with them only a bottle of water, their cellphone sealed in a bag to be opened only in the event of an emergency, their Bible, and no watch. They are distributed over the vast valley at such distances so they can’t see another person, but are never out of site of the ranch house.
They are instructed to gather stones and make a circle in which they are to spend the day getting out only for hygienic purposes.
They are to enjoy the solitude, read, meditate and pray. At the end of the day, they are encouraged to pray and seek spiritual cleansing and renewal.
Then they are to get out of the circle, get a stone which is to symbolize for what they have sought forgiveness and leave it in the circle of stones.
Many later tell of what the day meant to them and that they had never spent a day of solitude in their life.
It is a transforming experience preparing youth for a lifetime of leadership.
The Rev. Dr. Nelson Price is pastor emeritus of Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta.