The Murie Ranch is open to visitors again this summer, with public tours offered daily Monday through Friday at 11:30 am!
People often find the Murie Ranch when they aren’t looking for it. Curious visitors to Grand Teton National Park wander down the long gravel driveway off Moose-Wilson Road and are surprised to stumble upon a quaint collection of cabins that feels like a step back in time. They are soon greeted by a welcoming smile from “Docent Dan.” If they have a little time to spare, they are treated to stories of the Murie family, who called this place home from 1946 until 2003. Among other notable contributions in the conservation field, Olaus and Mardy Murie played a key role in bringing about the Wilderness Act of 1964, which established a network of over 800 wilderness areas in the U.S.
Docent Dan, also known as Dan McIlhenny, resides at the Murie Ranch every summer and leads all of the public tours. Though he never met Mardy Murie in person, he embodies her spirit of hospitality and genuine interest in people who visit the Ranch. He brings the homestead to life with anecdotes and stories and invites everyone he meets to feel a connection to this magical place.
After having to close the ranch to visitors and residents due to the pandemic, we are so glad to welcome Dan back to the Murie Ranch for another summer and wanted to share a recent conversation we had with him so you can get to know him a little better.
Can you share the story of how you came to be Docent Dan at the Murie Ranch?
I blame Ansel Adams. Remember all those black and white photos he took of national parks? I remember seeing the one of the Tetons from the Snake River Overlook as a little boy and thinking to myself, ‘I gotta go there.’ But it took a long time to get here. In 2013, my wife and I took our dream vacation. We spent four days in Grand Teton National Park, staying at Jackson Lake Lodge. I saw this gravel road and I’m a curious guy, so I went down it and as soon as I saw the Murie’s home, I recognized it from John Denver’s TV segments that showed the house. (John Dever was a close friend of Mardy Murie.) After enjoying the view of the sunset from the homestead porch that evening, we returned the next day for a tour and joined the mailing list.
That next spring, my wife noticed a posting for an intern/docent position on the website. I told her that they were looking for a 22-year-old, not an old retired guy like me, but she was persistent. I called Jon Mobeck, who was the director of the Ranch at the time. He interviewed me and I found out later that when he hung up the phone, he told the staff in the room that he’d found their new docent. I’ve been coming out for the summers ever since.
What is it like to be back at the Murie Ranch in the wake of the pandemic?
It was a thrill to come back. We don’t have any residential programming happening this summer, just the public tours, but we’re still a community. Some National Park Service (NPS) interns are living here as they learn interpretive work. There are also members of the Park trail crew and fire department.
Any cool wildlife observations lately?
Yes! A young female moose was around for a week and a half. The moose love to lick the doorframes since the wood was originally intended for making pickle barrels, and they tempered it with a briny solution. I was talking with James Murie, Olaus and Mardy’s grandson, and asked him to give her a name. He chose Gertrude.
Then over the weekend, a juvenile male moose that had been kicked out by his momma was licking my cabin. I asked one of the NPS interns to name him, so he’s called Sully, short for Sullivan.
I know that you’re a great storyteller, but I’ve also heard that you’re a musician and a poet. Would you be willing to share something you’ve written recently?
During the pandemic, my wife and I quarantined in Santa Cruz, California, so I was finding a lot of inspiration from the ocean over the past year, but here’s [an older] one that I wrote at the [Murie] Ranch.
Aspen Newborn Babes
By Dan McILhenny – Docent
Murie Ranch, Moose, WY
Said a host of waking Aspen
Without any hesitation
Unleashing this year’s new leaves
Glossy topped, under-bellied, satin-like newborn babes
Honest to goodness attachery
These chartreuse fledglings gleaming, sun-splashed Individuals
Are going bonkers confirming…There is life here!
Look at us… they silently say ~ look at us!
And how can we not
These spectacular branching green community kinder
Coax us from our cozy inside nests
Outdoors to share their spring greeting
Networked scarified white trunk, deeply-rooted trees
Transfixing our gaze by budding-blushing gesture alone
Using hypnosis and eye-popish, natural bliss
To expound upon graceful beginnings
Standing like color-enriched, country flags
Only larger, grander, more breathtaking
…Dimensionally speaking that is
A beautiful addition to our highland wildness