September 2011

The New West and the Old West

Vista Verde is a unique ranch in many ways.  We work really hard to provide amazing food and accommodations, service and hospitality.  But, when people ask me what makes us different, I often single out the diversity of activities.  There are so many great aspects of the ranch, and we are very multidimensional in our goals to make it the best dude ranch possible.  But, the diversity is indeed unique, and something we invest a lot of energy and resources in maintaining.  So, when Steve King brought this picture down to me after one of his bike rides the other day, I had to laugh at how it embodied so much of who we are as a dude ranch.  We seem to be a combination of the Old West, with horses and cowboys, with the New West, filled with mountain bikes and people seeking out a healthier lifestyle.

So, whether we bring the cows in on mountain bikes or by horseback, we’ll get those last ones in before the snow flies. Because, that is when those of us in the West put our skis on and go play! – September, 2011

Riding the Range- from the

The movie “City Slickers” has a lot to answer for, encouraging a popular fantasy to leave it all behind, head for the old West and dress up in your chaps and cowboy hat to ride the range with your fellow cowboys and cowgirls. But whilst many so-called ranches have cashed in on the opportunity to provide a pale version of the real thing, we’ve discovered a colorado ranch which is a genuinely extraordinary experience.

Set at over 6,000 feet, deep in the Colorado Rockies, Vista Verde combines the rigours of real ranch life with an astonishing level of service and friendliness. As you drive through the gates for the first time you’re met on horseback by a western-clad cowgirl, welcoming you to the property and beginning what is a hugely impressive and constant ethos of personal care and friendliness.

Vista Verde is family run and never sets out to be Four Seasons luxury, but by combining authenticity and home comforts with an immaculately trained team of staff, they leave many luxury hotels in the dust beneath their hooves.

There are never more than 40-something guests at any one time and the expectation is that you’ll be an active member of the guest community – dining together and enjoying a dazzling array of activities during your week. But the community spirit isn’t overwhelming and you can always slip away to your comfortable cabin with its outdoor hot tub, or choose from many thousands of acres of stunning mountain scenery to go walking or biking.

Horses and ranching are the dominant themes – at least in the summer months. Vista Verde has an outstanding herd of horses for guests to ride and an expert team of wranglers on hand to guide you and take you out on the trail. The spiritual leader of the team is Terry Wegener, a compelling character who is a real-life horse whisperer.  In just a few days he will teach you things about horses and western riding that would normally take years. An enduring image is of our son and daughter being taught how to make their horses follow them anywhere without a lead rein or any physical contact – truly extraordinary.

At the start of the week you’re matched with your horse – you’re given your own personal trusty steed for the duration of your stay. Many first-time riders have come with trepidation and been out riding the range within a day – the horses and wranglers are that well trained.

Each day you have the choice of a ride into the mountains, more formal schooling in their wonderful indoor and outdoor arenas, or a non-riding activity such as fly fishing, mountain biking or hiking. As with the riding, expert guides are on hand for every activity, providing you with really memorable (if slightly scary, in the case of mountain biking) experiences!

As the week progresses, riders are introduced to the fine art of cattle ranching in preparation for the final day, when you’re all let loose in the mountains to round up real cows usually found in really tricky places. The ranching lessons are truly hilarious, with teams of guests desperately trying to steer their horses towards uncooperative cows whilst screaming ‘Getooorn cow!’ (The key is apparently to let your horse nibble the cows’ bottom…)

Ranch cuisine is provided by a wonderful team of chefs, who can alternate between haute cuisine dinners and delicious ‘cookout’ breakfasts, lunches and dinners created in mountain camp areas dotting the landscape. After a day out riding, appetites are huge and diets forgotten. Magically, few put on weight and many lose a few pounds.

Vista Verde can either be a family experience of a memorable adult holiday. During the summer the ranch is a haven for children and teens – separate programmes are run for under twelves and teenagers which guarantee that your offspring will magically disappear and only sporadically reappear at times to ride with you or recount breathless tales of forest sleep outs and hair-raising rodeos. The team in charge of the children and teens are truly the best in the business – young and endlessly enthusiastic whilst being true friends and older siblings to the kids. Outside holiday time the ranch is a more grown-up affair – a great time to go is September, when the cattle really do need to be brought down from the mountains in readiness for the Winter. Vista Verde is equally magic in the Winter – enormous quantities of pristine powder snow provide an opportunity for really amazing ski touring through the national park which surrounds the property.

The multi-talented staff are brought together at the end of each week to perform irritatingly good renditions of country and western favourites on a final cook out evening which, for many guests, is a properly tear-jerking experience. If you leave behind the cynicism and turmoil of modern living and embrace the world of Vista Verde and its wonderful staff, you will have a life-affirming and truly memorable experience.

The summer season winds down to a close

To update you all on where we are in our summer season, this is our final cattle round up week, and also our final week of the season.  We have had 4 total weeks of rounding up cattle, and have brought in about 250 so far, so there is still some work to be done this week.  While not all the guests participate in the cattle round up, we have had a lot of folks heading out to ride the back country and find those critters.    The first week was the most successful, as we got the cows who seemed to be the most willing to be rounded up and brought back to the ranch.  The second week was the week of weather, with rain, drizzle, fog, but still some sunshine in there.  That was a hearty and willing group of guests who laughed their way through the weather and brought sunshine to our lives!  Last week it seems like fall officially hit us.  The colors started to change, the air got a bit more crisp and it finally felt like September is suppose to feel around Steamboat.  This week is a continuation of that great weather, and we are gearing up with our cattle clinics today, and will start looking for more cows tomorrow.

Sunday is our official closing day, but we are going to sneak in a quick horsemanship clinic next week for a couple days.  The staff will be heading out for off-season adventures or moving on to their next step in life.  Those of us considered “lifers” will be getting together to look back on the season, make plans on how to improve what we’re doing here, and look forward to gearing up for the winter season.  And, of course, even though we live in vacation paradise…we’ll probably be taking a little time to get out of town for some time off.  Oh, and we have a wedding to throw in November…I’ll be posting all sorts of photos of Johanna and Javins’ wedding on November 12, in the Great room!

Moonlight Hike

By guest blogger, John Hill

Last Sunday a group of Vista Verde Ranch staff did a full moon hike to summit Hahn’s Peak. The moonlight negated any need for headlamps, yet the multitudes of rock pieces made the last stretch of the ascent fairly difficult. Without shelter of trees at the top, the wind picked up quite a bit so we took shelter in the abandoned tower at the summit. Trey brought his ukulele to play a few tunes while the group was huddling in the cover of the tower. After quickly posing for a group shot at the top of the mountain everyone headed back down. The staff members from left to right in the group picture: John Hill (Pool Manager), Kathy (Server), Jason (Ranch Hand), Jess (Wrangler), Trey (Fly Fishing Guide), Jami (Housekeeper).

Waking Up

I received this wonderful essay written by guest Katie.  What nice writing.  I hope you got an A for this essay Katie!

Waking Up

As I doze I slowly become aware that I am no longer in Edinburgh, I know this because the quilt under my fingers is soft but unnecessary; warm air washes over me like an ocean. The tangy scent of wood surrounds me, a prominent smells of horse also wafts through the room. I can hear horses as well, nickering softly in the distance. Grasses sigh and a bird begins to sing. The melody of bird, horse and forest fully awaken me.

I open my eyes and take in my surroundings. The soft quilt I feel is large and old, hanging off the side of the wooden double bed. I roll over and see a large window letting soft sunlight filter through as there are no curtains to obstruct the light. The window is triangular and its frame is made of wood; I notice that wood is a main material in this room, as if every piece of furniture is made from the nearby forest that I can see through the window.

This room is large and has a sloping roof; I bend over as to not bang my head as I get up to inspect the window and what lies beyond more thoroughly. What I see is a sight that stirs excitement and happiness within me, Vista Verde Ranch sprawls out beneath my window. I see a large aspen forest to my left in which deer roam freely, not fearful of hunters or bears. To my right is a large field of glistening horses munching on the rich, green grass that sprouts beneath their feet. A bubbling stream runs alongside the house, a fairytale-style bridge crosses it and a path continues down to a huge, homely, wooden lodge that has too many windows for me to count.

I turn back towards my room, the sun sends hot rays on to my back but cool, blue air makes the temperature perfect for shorts and T-shirts. Other members of my family begin to wake up; my mum and dad stir downstairs in the master bedroom. A quiet giggle comes from the room next to mine; separated by a wooden partition, my brother and sister must already be awake. They are excited as I am for the day ahead.

I notice the cowboy boots on the floor and an old pair of jeans resting on an ancient chair. Memories come flooding back as I remember days of riding and making loads of new friends, I remember a birthday I spent here and evenings spent in the Jacuzzi outside. I grow more and more excited with every memory. I dress quickly, pulling on the old jeans and a shirt that will protect my skin from the burning sun that is now rising above the valley. Just before I pull on some socks I notice the soft and luxuriously deep carpet that covers the floor, it tickles my toes and pampers my feet. I notice the high quality of it; little luxuries like this cover the house and make my stay even better.

I know that today will be filled to the brim with horse riding, mountain biking, hiking, excellent food and crazy friends; today I could go to a horse clinic to bond with my horse or herd cattle, just like a cowboy, I could cycle to the ice cream parlour or go for an all day ride, there are endless possibilities! But that’s just the beauty of this place, everyday is a new adventure.

The Vista Verde sigh

Guests Kim and Mark were talking about the Vista Verde sigh the other day.  What is that?  It’s that really big sigh you let out at some point soon after arrival.  The one that cues you that you are finally on vacation in Colorado.  The one that lets you know you have left reality behind.  The one that makes you start feeling your body come alive, your mind become peaceful, and your adventures begin.

For some, this sigh comes as soon as they walk in the front door into the Great Room.  For some, it’s after unpacking bags.  For others it’s that first glass of wine, sitting around the campfire after dinner.  And for others, it’s not until the first couple rides, hikes or bikes, or after catching that first fish.

When do you have your Vista Verde sigh?  Once you are back home, can you remember how that sigh felt and revisit it during a stressful day?

Wish I was here

You know the postcards that read, “Wish you were here”?  Well, I got a photo yesterday that made me wish I was there!  Guides Beka and Lindsay took guests John and Astri up to summit Little Agnes last week, and sent me this photo to share the gorgeous view.  Wow, I could take just getting planted down there for a couple hours, soaking in the panorama.  The photo is taken from the top of Little Agnes, looking over toward Big Agnes and overlooking Mica Lake.  I realize that the view I see right here at the ranch isn’t too shabby, so I’m not complaining.  But, the Zirkel Wilderness takes spectacular to another level.

Just the other day, I was talking with a friend in Steamboat who has traveled a lot over her years.  She told me this summer she and her husband just stayed put.  Instead of going to Switzerland to hike, they took their backpacks and went up to the Zirkels and camped.  Her point was, “Why do we leave this place to go see other beautiful places when this is our backyard?”  Great question.  Then, I ran into guest Jeff in town….he had come back to mountain bike for a couple days after having a ball biking the trails around Steamboat with Steve earlier in the summer.  I was giving him a trail suggestion and he asked if that was my favorite ride, do I ride it a lot.  Yes, it is a spectacular ride, but no, I don’t ride it a lot.  All these folks are coming here for dude ranch vacations, hiking vacations and mountain biking vacations, and I dont seem to find the time to get out and enjoy what’s right in front of my nose!

All of this has made me decide to change things a bit.  Instead of leaving town when I have time to get away, I’m going to go deeper into the areas that are right here.  I’m going to take a day to hike the Zirkel Circle instead of going to a yoga retreat in Boulder.  I’m going to camp up by one of those gorgeous lakes instead of leaving town to stay at a hotel.  And, yes, I am going to find time to sneak out of the office in the next couple weeks to chase cows with the guests like Ben, Dace and Charlie have been trying to convince me to do.  There.  I wrote it down, so now I have to do it.

So, if you call to make a reservation and I’m not available…..I’ll get back to you as soon as I wipe the dirt off my feet and come inside.  Summer is fleeting, spectacular and worth taking the time to relish!  If you haven’t found time to treat yourself to summer yet, please make some time for it before it goes away.  In fact, come on out here and play with us!  There is still space for the September 25-October 2 week, and we also have a few spots for Terry’s horsemanship clinic October 5-9.