March 2012

Closing down the ranch

Wow, it seems like just a couple weeks ago that I was blogging about our winter dude ranch season kicking into gear with orientation for the staff. The winter did fly by. Yesterday our Horsemanship retreat guests checked out and we completed to final steps to closing down the ranch for the season. Any of your former staff can remember fondly the kitchen clean. Big messes, loud music and face masks. It’s not pretty, but it makes for some good laughs. Since it is a bit hard to cook dinner for everyone after that clean, the crew headed into Steamboat and came over to my house for dinner. Then, a bunch of them headed to the hot springs to soak away their kitchen grime and celebrate the close of the season. Today we get some more cleaning done, roll up the rugs, put out the mud mats, and then most of the staff head out for their next adventure, or just a little time off before summer.

The past couple weeks have been a mix of mud and snow and sun. We call it “Mud Season” and it did come a bit early this year. So, as we head into the off-season, we are already ahead of the game. I don’t suspect you’ll be seeing pictures of Sarah shoveling off the patio the day before we open, like you did last year. But, Mother Nature does like to remind us all of our insignificance, so you never know!

For those of you who joined us this winter, thank you for coming to play with us. As we regroup and reflect on this past winter ranch resort season, we will look at what worked well, what we can do better, and keep working towards improving the experience for all of you. Then it’s time to start getting ready for the summer dude ranch season, which is just around the corner!

Speaking of summer, I am going to start highlighting the spots we do have open still on Facebook. There isn’t much space left for the season, but there are a few spots here and there. Maybe one of them will work for you?

Saddle Up – MN Good Age – March 2012

We loved this article by MN Good Age Editor Kathleen Stoehr about our luxury dude ranch.


Colorado dude ranch offers truly memorable stay

Picture a quiet September morning; quiet, but in some way … charged. I am standing alone on a dirt road, hands in my pockets to keep them warm. My breath puffs out in front of me, but I know that as soon as the sun peeks over the faraway hills, the day will warm up measurably.

My attention is drawn to a little black dog running toward me on the road, tongue lolling, ears pricked. He has a look about him: some may call it trouble; others might say he’s just very alert and aware.

It’s then that a nicker punctures the stillness. I shift my position and move off the road, behind the short fence.

A horse, maybe two, crests at the bend in the road. Before I can exhale, three more horses appear. The little black dog runs back toward them, then forward, then back again. I understand now — he’s herding.

I feel the ground begin to tremble slightly as the road erupts in horses of all colors and sizes, manes and tails flying. There must be at least 70 of them. They trot past me, up the road, and into a nearby corral, and there they greet each other and nuzzle as the ranch hands ready them for their day.

I feel so fortunate to be able to witness this spectacle that long after the dust on the road has settled, I stand and absorb the feeling that I just lived a dream. I’m in Colorado at a ranch called Vista Verde, and I’m happier than I’ve been in a very long time.

Riding at the ranch
My husband and I had arrived at Vista Verde a few days prior not really knowing what to expect, save for what the ranch’s website touted. We were both eager to ride horses in the way they are meant to be ridden — not those awful “nose to tail” rides, but honest to goodness trot, cantor, and gallop-style rides. Vista Verde promised we’d have our own horses for the length of the stay and rides would be more akin to “bushwacking” (as in, off trail). Sold.

At the entrance a young woman on horseback, clad in dusty jeans, plaid shirt, and well-loved hat, waved to my husband and I. We’d later learn that was Jo, one of the ranch hands, an expert horsewoman. This was just the first of many friendly greetings we would receive during the stay.

Within an hour of arrival, I had my horse selected for me (“Chief” — who I discovered had a penchant for frequent food trolling), and a glass of wine placed in my hand. Our bags were sent to our cabin (its name: Big Agnes, after a nearby mountain range) and then we were seated at dinner, a robust meal prepared by the talented Chef Matt. And it was during this whirlwind that we were asked, “So, what would you like to do tomorrow?” Guests buzzed amongst one another at dinner, making acquaintance and talking about their chosen itineraries.

For the next few days, my life (and stomach) was full. While there was always horseback riding available, from individually guided rides to various riding clinics, there was also a plethora of other activities to explore. Each ran about two or so hours long, providing ample time to prep for the next gourmet meal, sometimes served al fresco on a beautiful patio overlooking a small trout pond; sometimes served in the expansive dining room. If you weren’t hungry enough for a full meal, the fridge in your cabin was stocked with beer, wine, juices, and water; and a nearby basket harbored fruit, trail mix, locally produced candies, and chips.

Horsing around

So I was assigned Chief, the “grass eater.” In a testament to the pull of this place, one of the guests riding with me that first day cooed, “Aw, you got Chief? I rode Chief last year when I was here. He’s such a sweetheart! Just yank up on the reins if he eats too much.” Yes, she was a return guest who chose this particular week, as it was the last week of cattle round up. Guests begin their stay by brushing up (or learning) riding skills and also training in cowmanship, culminating in a two day round up in which the outlying area is bushwhacked for the last few straggling bovines needing to be brought into the winter pasture.

In just two days, I was able to “relearn” all of my old skills as a rider, and some new skills too. We formed and named teams (such as the “Four Riders of the Cow-pocalypse”), and earned points for the ease in which we were able to intimidate cows through a small area set up with orange cones. Great fun.

For those who love the ranch experience but didn’t have much interest in riding, there were vast possibilities for entertainment. Mountain biking, river rafting, a hot air balloon ride, a gourmet cooking class, yoga — the good folks at this ranch were poised to ensure a memorable time was had by all. One fellow chose to forego an afternoon of activity and sat down by the trout pond with his cigar and a book. A mother/daughter team asked for a ride into Steamboat Springs for a day of shopping.

Happy hour with the horses? Check. Fly fishing? Yes, I actually caught two trout from a lovely stream about 15 minutes away from the ranch, within the Routt National Forest. Cattle wrangling? I am now an expert. (Okay, well, maybe not an expert but you know what? Not too many people can say they have done it!) I also participated in a wine tasting; a photography tour; rode Chief to an early morning breakfast set around a campfire; listened to a toe-tapping cowboy band; attended a barn dance; and sat in a hot tub on a star-filled night, contemplating the beauty of silence, lush pine forests, and stars. And I ate more than I ever should, but simply couldn’t say no.

At five o’clock in the evening, “happy hour with the horses” commences. With full wine glasses or bottles of beer, guests were allowed access to the pasture to walk among the gentle beauties, ply them with apples, and learn from their wranglers about herd dynamics. It’s a casual, easy affair should you choose to do it.

I can’t say this was an inexpensive trip. But with so many vacations where one might gamble on the quality of campsites, hotels, and restaurants; where you cook when you’d rather be served; where you scrimp even as you are spending; where you spend more time in your car than on a hike, or find yourself paying for an unsatisfying trail ride just so that you can have a horseback experience … and then you can have an vacation like this? It means everything. You total up your expenses from one; you total up your expenses from another and you think — wow. The difference isn’t that much compared to the value. An all-inclusive experience suddenly sounds less like indulgence and more like what a true, relaxing getaway should be. I highly recommend you do it.


Getting there:Vista Verde Ranch is in a far-reaching area of Colorado, near Steamboat Springs. You can fly into Denver and drive about four hours across the state. It’s a lovely drive on easy roads through mountains and high plains. You can also choose to fly into Steamboat/Hayden and the ranch will pick you up at the airport and bring you to the ranch. This option is the best in the winter, when the roads from Denver can be snowy, depending upon the day.

Accommodations: The cabins and lodge rooms are authentic log structures, in keeping with the northwest Colorado locale. But rustic stops at the front door. Modern, elegantly furnished and spacious living quarters await, along with spa robes and your own outdoor hot tub.

Meals: All inclusive, the meals bring the gap between ranch-y and fancy, casual and also elegant — but always, always delicious.

Adventures: The hallmark of a stay is the diversity of activities offered. As a guest, you choose from myriad activities offered each day. Whether you want to try it all, or immerse yourself in one program, the depth is there and the options abound. With such diverse offerings, you could easily call this an adventure ranch vacation instead of a dude ranch. And with a one-to-one staff to guest ratio, the program is quite flexible. Visit for more information.

Emily’s Backcountry Ski adventure

Knees bent, arms out, holding tightly to the metal bar in front of me, I could feel the slippery wind at my ears and feel the bumps in the road making my arm muscles tense and release over and over again. Who knew that today I’d be riding on the back of a dog-type sled being pulled by a snowmobile headed into the mountain range. I guess it’s all part of working at a ranch that offers cross country ski vacations.

I neither expected or planned for this as part of my backcountry ski adventure. What fun! Twenty minutes later we pulled up beside the Routt Forest Campground, popped on our skis, and trekked down to North Fork of the Elk River with the sun reflecting off everything and begging us to take layers off and enjoy the Spring like day. The creek was piled up with 4 feet snow caps that looked like giant marshmallows stabilized on top of moving water, yet somehow we were able to trek over the top of it without falling into a sticky situation!

It was intriguing to pursue a beautiful stream that weaves itself into landscape full evergreens and aspens. We were each mesmerized by the different shaped portals along the way that displayed clear pools of water gurgled through the underworld we were all standing on. Amazing that it held us up!

On the way back I was offered to be left off the snowmobile near a ski trail so I could get in a longer ski if I so desired. So I ventured out on my own through a lush forest about a mile from the ranch. The extra ski was exactly what I needed and was a perfect work out for a perfect day at this Colorado ski lodge!


On a regular basis, we have experiences at the ranch that are unbelievable. Here’s an example. None of us went into the guest ranch business to make money. We’re all here because we love taking care of people, playing in the outdoors and living this life. Having said all that, we are still running a business, and there are real transactions that take place. Each day, we check out guests and they pay for their time at the ranch. After having paid for their ranch vacation, you would think guests would see it as a fair transaction. But, this is when the surprise happens. We start receiving gifts of all manner. It might be a card or an email saying thank you. Or, it might be one of those amazing reviews on Tripadvisor. Or, a Facebook post sharing a special memory of their time at the ranch. Then, we get photos sent to us- amazing photos from their many adventures. Sometimes, it’s even a gift, some sort of goody, or a phone call saying they miss the ranch. As the recipient, there are not enough thanks for all those kinds of gifts. Not only do we get to play with fun people in the outdoors, share stories, learn about their worlds and enjoy them at their happiest time. We get paid for it, and then we get thanked too. The past couple weeks, I have been overwhelmed with emails filled with photos and words of thanks. Cards have shown up on my desk. I’ve picked up presents at the post office for staff, and found little goodies left for the crew in the staff room. The Facebook posts and the Tripadvisor reviews are enough to make my heart beam with pride. How lucky are we to be able to call this place home, and get thanked for doing what we love every day? So Lucky, it’s unbelievable.


March is coming in like a lion, how with it leave?

As I woke up to another 4 inches of snow this morning, and looked at the snow-filled forecast for the next couple days, the old saying “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb” came to mind. Of course, in typically Steph style, I had to google that saying to find out a little more about it. I thought this article from the Farmer’s Almanac was kind of fun. Read on if you have a quirky sense of intellectual curiosity, like me.

“If March comes in like a lion, it will go out like a lamb?”

Is there any truth to this saying??? Weather sayings are as colorful as our imagination. While many sayings are based on careful observations and turn out to be accurate, others are merely rhymes or beliefs of the people who came before us.

Those people often believed that bad spirits could affect the weather adversely, so they were cautious as to what they did or did not do in certain situations. Those beliefs often included ideas that there should be a balance in weather and life. So, if a month came in bad (like a lion), it should go out good and calm (like a lamb).

With March being such a changeable month, in which we can see warm spring-like temperatures or late-season snowstorms, you can understand how this saying might hold true in some instances. We can only hope that if March starts off cold and stormy it will end warm and sunny, but the key word is hope. However, this saying seems be to more of a rhyme rather than a true weather predictor.

Some other March related lore includes:

A dry March and a wet May?Fill barns and bays with corn and hay.

As it rains in March so it rains in June.

March winds and April showers? Bring forth May flowers.

So, the question at Vista Verde remains, how will March leave? In this month, we have honeymooners, a wedding, a business retreat, a bunch of spring break families and to close us down, the horsemanship retreat. After all that, will it still be snowing, or will we have little lambs leaping around in the sunshine?