February 2012

Winning a winter dude ranch vacation

Back in the fall, we agreed to offer a winter vacation to Sur La Table for a holiday baking contest.  We have a connection with one of the board members of the company, and we had co-oped with them in the past so were happy to do it again.   When I was contacted by the winner, he kindly included a photo of the winning creation.  I was blown away, and taken by the story.  So, I asked Jeffrey to share it with me, so I may share it with all of you.  Enjoy the fun adventure that led them to their winter stay next week.
“We had started a small holiday cooking decorating party for other children when my daughter was in elementary school. (The moms got to visit over and have refreshments while the children were busy!). Over the years, we had a succession of gingerbread houses as centerpieces. In later years, we also had each attendee decorate some cookies for donation to a shelter.

So for weeks we were always baking holiday cookies!
As a family project, we started the cathedral one Labor Day weekend, starting from a description in Rose’s Christmas Cookies. The initial effort was just to organize the templates for all the over-200 pieces.
My daughter Charlotte researched stained glass in European cathedrals. The stained glass is made from pulverized Life Savers and similar candies, which are melted in the oven with the gingerbread. Charlotte also used a color-coded computer spreadsheet to track the various stages of fabrication of each of the 200-plus pieces. My wife Marilyn Mery is responsible for all the piped exterior royal icing decoration. Our dog Sasha also ate a few of the pieces one day, which was an awkward moment!
The gingerbread is all fastened together using royal icing. The cathedral is illuminated from inside using LED lights used in dollhouses. Some of the exterior, such as the piping around the rose window) is gilded, using a mixture of gold and vodka (the vodka evaporates, leaving the gold!).
I entered the project as team leader, but it was truly a family effort. (Charlotte, of course, could not enter it, since the entrant had to be over 21).
Charlotte is very excited at visiting Vista Verde!! We are all nervously trying to make sure we have appropriate gear, and hoping you have great snow.”
If any of you want to share tips or suggestions for Jeffrey and his family on their first foray into our winter wonderland, please share them here.  We’re excited to introduce them to our Colorado winter resort!

A new filly

We have all been anticipating the arrival of MJ’s foal.  We thought she would come sometime in early February, but nothing, nothing, nothing.  Then, Saturday morning, we woke up to a great gift.  A perfect little filly.  The story below was sent to me from Marilyn, who was staying with us at the time.  What makes this so fun is that all of us watched Marilyn come into the ranch as the organizer of a retreat group from Finishmaster.  Marilyn came out a few days in advance of her group to prepare for their arrival.  In between all the work she had to do, we did get her out a couple times for some fun on the ranch.  She fell in love with the horses and became enamored with MJ and the anticipated foal.   As the days went on, and we saw that MJ wasn’t getting much quiet time with the constant flow of traffic, we finally asked all the guests and staff to stay out of the barn all night.  Horses are more private about delivering babies, and they prefer to do it alone in peace and quiet.  So, Marilyn did her best to stay out, and waited until morning to come see her….and here is the story of her discovery:

Hi, Steph!

I can’t believe MJ finally had her before I left!!! I cannot begin to describe to you the amount of love and emotion I felt at seeing that beautiful filly. When I arrived at the barn about 6:10 AM this morning to the wonderful greeting of neighs, I peaked in MJ’s stall and all looked normal (in the dark!) and I said, “Oh, shoot, Mama, another long day”; Gunny then started his ritual kicking for attention so I went over to say hello and as I was giving him kisses, I heard kicking from MJ’s stall, which is unusual (at least in my short week experience) for her, so I popped back over and peered from behind the feed tray so as not to startle her and she was standing with her backside to me with her head toward the corner.

As I squinted in the dark, I saw something in the corner! I ran to the tack room and turned on the light and low and behold, there was the beautiful filly laying in the corner of the stall and MJ checking on her!!! Oh, my gosh, I thought my heart would swell. After a few seconds of just gazing, I ran to the employee stairs (sorry!) and tried to yell up to someone from mid-way up to no avail. I then ran across to the building that houses machinery and yelled in there for someone to no avail. I ran back to the barn, and of course, had to peak again!, and then tried calling someone on the phone from the office, but couldn’t get it to work. And, after peaking again (and getting several photos of course), I was just about to run back upstairs when Nathan came in!!! I then told him there was a new baby and proceeded to hug him (he must think I’m nuts!) and he got the lights on and there she was!!! She tried to stand, but couldn’t as the umbilical cord was still attached to her, and with it dragging, it kept pulling her back down. Of course, all the horses were in a tizz to be fed but Nathan needed to make some calls.

So, I offered to grain if he’d show me how much and get things rolling while he made the calls. And, Steph, I haven’t enjoyed myself as much in 8 long years! I gave everyone grain (except MJ of course) and a flake which Nathan helped me with while he got hold of Terry, etc. I think Terry must have said the umbilical cord will come off on its own. So, after several more pictures, we (Nathan) decided it best to let her be, and I offered to help him get to the other horses and so I filled water buckets while he grained and flaked. When we came back, Little Miss Filly was standing and wobbling around trying to find Mama’s milk. The umbilical cord had come off and I took more pictures and video, and then helped fill the front water buckets while Nathan finished other chores and talking to Terry. And, last, but far from least, I watched as Nathan tried to catch Little Miss Filly under Mama’s very watchful and observant eye to put medicine on the umbilical cord break-area. Well, he needed help! So, while he held that beautiful baby in his arms, I got to pour the medicine over her little belly button area (of course being very careful to move slowly and let MJ accept me). Steph, as much as I loved the ranch – you, everyone that works there, the beauty of it all, clinics, horses, skiing, etc., etc., etc…..NOTHING compares to this morning! It was so VERY AWESOME and I feel so amazingly blessed to have been a part of it!

I just wanted you to know the full, amazing story to share with the ranch family as I feel like I’ve been a part of your family this past week! My only sadness is not getting to say good-bye to Little Miss Filly so I am just going to have to figure out how to afford to come out this summer and see her! Please keep me updated with photos and let me know her name. Let me know VVR’s facebook page and I’ll keep up to date there also. I tried to attach a video, but it’s too big, so here are some of the first pictures from early this morning and I’ll figure out how to get the rest to you tomorrow.

Please give my love and thanks to all! Miss you already (I’m in the air still on the way to Indy, but this will send when I land)!

Hugs, M

CourtneyHammonds.com – The fashion foodie- February 2012

I arrived at Hayden Airport near Steamboat Springs, Colorado on Thursday 1/26/12 dressed in my Haute Couture attire (Vintage Fur and Prada bag to be specific), only to find a nice young man named Tom, from the Vista Verde Ranch waiting my arrival. After a 45-minute ride to our destination, the blankets of snow and open fields of horses pleasantly surprised me.  I was greeted once again to a southern inspired staff at the ranch. I was given a detailed tour of the ranch and then off to lunch. First impressions of lunch (it made me think of the bayou). Anytime you offer a southern gentlemen catfish in the form of a po-boy sandwich accompanied w/ a refreshing salad, sweet tea and dessert, you have me hooked.

I was gifted to three days of food, entertainment, sleigh rides, horse feeding and massages. I stayed in the biggest cabin on the ranch entitled Wapiti. (Named after one of the nearby mountains). The cabin was furnished with the most up to date amenities and a plethora of added treats. To add sugar to my tea (No pun intended) they had wine, vanilla cokes, assortments of beer, Gatorade and more wine all awaiting my arrival. Needless to say, I would not dehydrate. I neglected to mention having a hot tub on the front porch, which was often ornamented by the ranch cat (nappy). How could a fashion-ado and food critic go wrong?

Since reviewing culinary arts at Vista Verde was the primary focus of my stay, let me paint a vivid picture of my day-to-day experience. Breakfast started promptly at 8:00am w/ a detailed menu listing of options to choose from. Before one of the friendly and cowgirl chic wait staff took my order, I started with a continental plate of fresh fruit, an assortment of hot teas, coffee, yogurt, fresh bagels, etc. If that wasn’t enough, I was then given three selections to choose from the menu.

Lunch started each day at 12 noon. Lunch was typically served buffet style, but sometimes plated and served. Portion control was not my goal! There were options of salads, and hot soups to compliment each meal!  After each meal I was treated to tasty desserts often garnished with nuts, berries and or some kind of savory sauce.

Dinner was served in two types of formats. First, in a buffet style and the second being a formal plated dinner with friendly servers. No matter the format, the food options were superlative. Words cant express the options granted on a daily basis. I have to take a moment to give reverence to the executive Chef of Vista Verde Ranch Chef Matt, Chef Lewis and Chef Scott Wolf. All three gentlemen afforded me the opportunity to get a detailed glance into the world of culinary, married with the daily accountabilities of the ranch. With experiences ranging from England, France and California it’s easy to see how the menu selections are so rich in character, style and taste. Thanks chefs Matt, Lewis and Scott for a job well done and the opportunity to taste, smell and sample some of the finest of cuisines west of my Atlanta, Georgia dwelling.

Well, all good things have expiration. To sum up my stay at the ranch, I would say it was filled with peace, serenity and a newfound appreciation for the concept of a luxury Dude ranch. Would I go back to Vista Verde? The choir shouts YES! Thanks to the entire staff and management team for luxury ranch experience that set the standard without loosing the personal appeal! Until… I say farewell in the name of all things fashionable and food.

Yours in Fashion and Food,

Courtney A. Hammonds – The Image Archietect

Trekaroo- February 2012

Winter Vacation at Vista Verde Ranch; “Mommy Travel Agent” takes a day off- by Ann Anderson for Trekaroo

I’m a Mommy Travel Agent for a family that loves road trips: lodging, dining, activities, maps, schedules, …another thankless Mommy job. This winter we visited Vista Verde Ranch, an all-inclusive luxury guest ranch located near Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and I (aka, “Mommy Travel Agent”) actually had a vacation where I wasn’t responsible for every family member’s wants, needs and desires!

It all became evident that I could have a real vacation during our first meal at Vista Verde Ranch; a good looking ranch hand sat down at the table and asked every one of us just exactly what we wanted to do that day. Hubby’s response: “Anything with horses.” Eleven-year-old’s response: “Snow tubing.” Seven-year-old’s response: “Horse riding lessons.” My response: “Really? You care what I want to do?……Okay; I’d like to learn how to cross-country ski.” On day one, the kids became horse riding experts and were adequately spoiled tubing down and then snowmobiling up a perfect snow covered hill. Hubby, adorned with cowboy boots and hat, trotted along snow-covered forested trails; me, I learned that I’m a natural cross country skiing genetically Nordic hero (or at least that is what Steve, Jess, and Zack, my wonderful guides suggested).

To top it off, in the middle of all of our wants, needs, and desires, we dined well. Sometimes just as a family with other guests and other times alongside Vista Verde Ranch’s staff , some of the most interesting ranch hands, ski guides, and managers, all with a story that engaged. These ranch hands are former accountants, medical students, sojourners back from visiting a long-lost Grandmother in Poland and even older folks who have given up a high-paying administration jobs to motivate others and ski. I could sit at a bar and converse with this interesting staff for hours and walk away with amazing lessons learned.

The following day I again heard the sweetest question a Mommy travel agent can ever hear: “What do you want to do today? Oh, and don’t forget tonight you and hubby get a gourmet dinner while the kids gather together for kid-food and some fun ranch activities with our awesome staff.” I think I had to wipe away a tear at this point.

Okay, so what about family time? I am the first to say that the number one reason we travel as a family is to strengthen bonds, play together and make more family memories. So why should we separate during our vacation and fulfill our individual wants, needs and desires? That is what I loved about Vista Verde Ranch, while you can choose your own itinerary on the spot, they offer both individual and family activities. If you’re so inclined, feel free to join in on the fun at the children’s program. Who doesn’t have the desire to build a snow fort or paint while riding a horse? Take a family trail ride together and be impressed with the new horse skills your kids have acquired while at the ranch. I learned that my 7 year old has an ingrained love of horses; my 11 year old is fearless on a snow tube, and my hubby can actually separate himself from a high-stress job while riding his horse through snow-covered pastures and blue skies. Me, must I remind you; I’m a natural cross country skiing genetically Nordic hero – don’t dare call me Mommy travel agent again!

Full Moon over the Ranch

Last night was the full moon, which is a really amazing thing here at the ranch during the winter.  When the ranch is covered in snow, the full moon’s reflection bounces off the white blanket and lights up the valley.  It’s amazing how bright it can be at the peak of the night!  You can even see your shadow on the snow in the middle of the night!

Ok, so I can’t take credit for this photo of the full moon, but I found it and it inspired me to write about the winter full moons.   This photo was taken in Steamboat during the January full moon.

With small children and a busy schedule, I don’t get the chance to get out and play as much as I used to in my earlier days.  But, I have fond memories of full moon snowshoes “back in the day”.  My favorite full moon memory was with my buddy Tim (do any of you remember ranch hand Tim, from way, way back in the late 90’s?).  We hiked up Hinman Mountain one of those full moon nights on snowshoes.  We didn’t take headlamps, and there was no path to the top so we just explored and found our way up there.  The hike started through a thick forest of trees, up a super steep hill.  It was pretty intense getting through that part.  Then, we broke out of the trees and into the open mountain side.  From there on, it was just serene and peaceful and we didn’t talk much.  We just watched our shadows and listened to the crunch of the snow.  Once at the top, we sat down and enjoyed looking out over the valley, down on the ranch.  It was bright enough with the light of the moon to see the whole valley.  We could see the Homestead cabin, sitting by itself out in the meadow.  The lights of the cabins seemed so far away, but the place looked cozy and inviting.   After enjoying the view for a bit, we made our way back down.  I don’t remember what we talked about, or if we even talked at that point.  It was just a special moment shared with someone who appreciated it as much as me.

Honestly, I think about that magical night every time we have a winter full moon.  One of these days I’ll strap on snowshoes and take my girls and Todd up to that spot.  The great part about these mountains is that they aren’t going anywhere.   I look forward to watching my shadow in the middle of the night the next time I’m up there.


Capturing the Verde in the Vista

Staff member and Front Desk superstar Krista Coy has been taking amazing panoramic shots at the ranch ranch.  Here are some tips from her to help you do the same on your next ranch visit!

Being Mother Nature’s playground, it is no wonder Colorado tourism has hit record highs in the past years. A breath of fresh air can be more than rejuvenating when the closest touch with nature is the smell of green tea from two cubicles down. When the chance does occur to be in nature, it’s one to be cherished and only natural to want to hold onto that memory. Luckily, we don’t have to solely rely on a brush and oils to capture the perfect landscape. Unfortunately, our autonomy seems to be thrown out the window when the top of Mt. Zirkel won’t fit into the camera frame. Don’t whip out the canvas just yet, because in 1839 the idea of combining photos to create one wide image was developed. In a matter of seconds many cameras can create their own panoramas without additional software. But if yours can’t, here are a few ways to easily capture a whole landscape.

How to Make a Panoramic Photo

Capturing the Image:

When shooting for a panoramic photo, a tripod is ideal, but a steady hand will typically do. Starting from the left (or right), take a sequence of three to seven photos. Overlapping each shot about one fourth of the way. During this step it is important to keep all settings (lighting, ISO, shutter speed) consistent for seamless editing later on.

Combining the Photos:

Using Picasa

Once you have captured a sequence of photos. It is necessary to open the photos in photo editing software. A free download of Picasa is available online and works decently if Photoshop or other editing programs aren’t available. Although Picasa doesn’t officially have a panoramic feature, you can make a one with the collage feature. Open the sequence in Picasa and align all photos in a row, so that the overlapping features match up. Now hit the make collage button. Your panoramic is now created. Using Picasa, you may have some seams in the photos; other editing programs may be able to get rid of this like PhotoStitch.

Using Photoshop

Photoshop makes this process extremely easy and quick.  Open Photoshop, go to File>Automate>Photomerge. From here, select all of the photos in your sequence. Make sure that they are in the correct order that you shot them in. If they aren’t this process won’t work. From here, choose the Auto format on the left side on the screen (or whatever formatting you want). Click ok. From here, your computer will probably be overwhelmed for a few seconds (or minutes), but be patient and soon enough your panorama will be ready. It will show up with jagged edges, and possibly some seams, but if you crop and use the clone stamp tool to fix the seams and fill in the edges, this will definitely take you back when you’re typing away in the office!

Horsemanship Retreats

We have had a lot of people ask for more details on our horsemanship clinics.  Our horsemanship clinics have been a lot of fun for us, and we have actually started casually calling them horsemanship retreats as that seems to be more of the feel to the guests.  We offer one annually, right at the end of our winter season.  The 4-night stay offers a time for our guests to immerse themselves in riding clinics during the day, while enjoying the solitude of the ranch in the evenings.

We meet for breakfast each day around 8am, then head off to the barn to work on the topic of the morning in the arena (usually in the indoor, but if the weather is nice we’ll go in the outdoor).  There isn’t a set agenda; the ranch trainers see where the group is and then pick something to focus on at each session.  Lunch is down in the Main Lodge, followed by another session on horseback in the afternoon.   Following dinner, guests get the chance to relax in their cabins, take a well-deserved soak in the hot tub, or visit in the Great room.

Our other ranch activities are not offered during this time as the focus is just on riding.  Typically these clinics are geared towards an intermediate rider who wants to learn more about understanding their horses and how to communicate better to them in a Western style ranch horse environment.

We hope to have you join us at some point for a Horsemanship Retreat!


Wow, what a week it’s been here at the ranch.  As most all know, we lost a great person in losing Jerry Throgmartin on Sunday, January 22.  His passing was completely unexpected and caught us all very much off guard.  As you can expect, this past week has been one of grieving, logistics, planning, re-evaluating and more grieving.

I headed to Indiana along with Terry, Dace, Beka, and Ben and his family for the services in his hometown.  It was heartwarming to see all his family and friends and be able to see the huge number of people who’s lives have been touched by Jerry.  All that time, Charlie, Bill, Steve, Kelli, Reid and the rest of the crew kept the wheels turning at the ranch.  My amazing crew in the office stepped up and took over as much as possible, for which I am so thankful.  Then, on Sunday we hosted a celebration of life at the ranch.  Over 100 people showed up as Terry, Dace and Ben led the service with music and thoughtful words.   Peggy got to be here with her kids Nicky, Christy and Gregg along with some other family members.  It was a nice way to wrap up a week of mourning with celebration and laughter.

For me, I have come out of the week with an immense amount of gratitude.  I think I can speak for the entire team to this point.  We are grateful for the outpouring of love from friends and family who have circled around all of us to show their support and appreciation for how Jerry left an impact on them.  We are grateful to have such an amazing group of people here at the ranch who have become like family to each of us.  We are grateful to have had the opportunity to work for a man, and a family, who are so invested in each of us and the vision for the ranch.  We are grateful for the leadership Jerry offered to each of us, and the enthusiasm from the family to continue down the path we’ve  been walking.  We are grateful for the wonderful guests here this last week, who seized the opportunity to enjoy the ranch and celebrate a life well lived with us.  We are grateful for so much, and we are excited now to pick ourselves up and move forward with a man and a mission in mind.  We will continue to do our best to create an amazing experience for our guests and our staff.  We will continue to try to be the best dude ranch out there, knowing that we’re only as good as our efforts.  And we look forward to the road ahead of us, while keeping fond memories of a man who helped steer our course.  We hope you’ll join us on the ride, and know that a wonderful man had a vision that we all get to live out in his honor.