Have you ever had the wider opportunity to sleep under the Milky Way in a Girl Scout platform tent in the Big Horn Mountains in Tensleep, Wyoming? Welcome to Girl Scout National Center West (NCW).
In 1968 Girl Scouts bought 15,400 acres of rugged wilderness in the Big Horn National Forest, making it the most significant purchase Girl Scouts made at that time. The center was a national destination for many. NCW’s primary emphasis was on the Girl Scout Program in The Great Out-of-Doors for Girl Scouts and Girl Guides, ages 14 to 18.
The camp was a place to explore Native American pictographs or for future geologists to sleep under a rock shelter called The Pow-Wow. Hiking The Peak was a 19-day pack trip up to Mesa and the backcountry. For novice backpackers, you could Tote n Trek 9 days out in the eastern foothills of the Big Horn Mountains. If you had a LOVE for horses, NCW was the Girl Scout Camp you sold a lot of cookies and fundraised for. Camp had three corrals on the property, and the programs included Ride Rap and Wrangle, Cadettes on Horseback, Buckskins, and Calico or Saddle Straddle. Each year a few new programs were added. Imagine your view of this country’s rugged wilderness from atop a horse, a priceless Girl Scout opportunity at its BEST!!
If you loved western arts, the camp offered Stage in the Sage, Paint the West, Windows n Wildlife, Furs Feathers, and Fun for the eye behind the camera. NCW also offered Focus I & II, where you learned the art of developing your black and white, some color shots, and slides in the darkroom—capturing such beauty and friendships of the country and wildlife around them! Wyoming Trek offered a program for Girl Scout troops and families traveling to other destinations out west.
National Center West ran programs from five base camps with pit latrines, running water, platform tents, a kitchen fly, a unit house with a staff office, showers, a food commissary, and a meeting room with a fireplace. We need to remember that NCW was a journey set back in time. For most participants, it was the first time they flew in an airplane. Just the red gravel Rome Hill Road up to camp had to freak the daylights out of you. But these strong Girl Scouts were prepared for this wider opportunity at National Center West. They each worked hard to be a participant in these programs and have the T-shirt, patches, and diddys to show from the famous Trading Post Log Cabin.
Camp had full-time staff throughout the year and hundreds of summer staff members that came back year after year bonding with their Girl Scout sisters and brothers. Girl Scout sisters mostly ran the camp and were the hardest workers I had ever been around in the summers of 1983 and 1984.
Sadly, in 1989, NCW saw the last campers. Due to high maintenance costs, the property was sold in 1991 to the State of Wyoming and Clay Ranch. 9,851 acres are preserved with the State of Wyoming Nature Conservatory, now called the Tensleep Preserve, and are open to the public. Clay Ranch picked up 4,749 acres.
On July 5, 2018, after 35 years, I returned to the site of NCW, now Ten Sleep Preserve, for a bucket list trip and reunion on the property. More than 100 staffers/campers reunited like Girl Scout sisters do by picking up where we left off. On the day of the reunion, we hugged, hiked to The Pow-Wow, gathered for a pack-in lunch, sang and sang some more, toured the property on
the cool school bus, and had the best Chuckwagon Dinner to end our day!! Time to get off the mountain and head into town to enjoy some live music.
I can’t thank my mother enough, the Best GS Leader ever, for helping me make my dreams as a young adult to reach for those stars, even in the longest days. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer during my stay and passed away in May of 1984. I returned to the place National Center West that summer, where I knew I needed to be with my Girl Scout sisters and brothers.
To this day, I (we) treasure these Girl Scout memories. When I hear the word “camp,” I know that these memories and moments truly last a lifetime! Thank you, Girl Scout National Center West!
Yours in Scouting
gsgcnwi SU 714 support Council Historian