March 2012


It seems like yesterday that my family and I ventured out on a vacation out west. After losing my stepfather and sister the family was smaller- my brother, sister in law, my mom and me. To this day we fondly recall it as the "best vacation" ever. I still have my photos on the shelf with all of us on horseback smiling. Fast forward to today and my mom has COPD and is on oxygen full time. My brother and sister in law are in Fla. while my mom and I live in Md. I still have my Vista Verde shoe horn and always smile when I use it . It was summer when were there and I have never seen stars like that in my life! I always think of that when I check my horses at night. The thought of a Vista Verde vaction in the snow for me would be MAGICAL!

Name: Fran Burns
City: Monkton
State: Md

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?

Embracing the Journey

604 miles. 549 days. 13,176 hours. 4 states. 4 kids. 2 dogs. 1 guinea pig. These are the numbers that define the last 18 months of our lives. In July 2011, we packed up our tribe, waved goodbye to our Indiana family and friends, and started a new life in Starkville, Mississippi.

After completing his doctorate in education, my husband decided that life as a Principal at a highly affluent and ultra-competitive high school was taking its toll on him, on our kids, and on our overall well-being. As a family, we agreed it was time to make a change, and he accepted a Professorship at Mississippi State University. We painfully and reluctantly sold the dream home we’d built five years prior, buckled in for a lifestyle change, and headed South.

It’s been a roller-coaster ride of epic proportions. We’ve made new friends and missed our old ones. We’ve visited extended family and spent our first Christmas without them. We’ve laughed and cried and second-guessed and forged ahead. We’ve embraced the adventure and we’ve longed for the comfort of familiarity.

Most importantly? We’ve grown as individuals and as a family. Our 16-year-old, missing his favorite Indiana sport, launched a lacrosse club in our new hometown. Our 13-year-old made the high school bowling team, our 12-year-old competed on the first middle school girls’ volleyball team. Our 10-year-old was named “Scientist of the Year” in a club that has given him both roots and wings.

And us? The parents? We’ve begun forging new relationships, have dipped our toes in our new Southern culture, have learned to properly say, “All y’all.”

But here’s one thing we really miss.

Snow. (Not shoveling it, necessarily, but playing in it.)

We kept our winter boots and our knit hats, not knowing whether this move would be permanent or temporary.

They’re still packed.

It’s hot in Mississippi, y’all. On Christmas day, it rained. I told the kids it was just really warm snow, but they didn’t buy it.

My dear hubby and I would be unable to express the depths of our excitement if we received the gift of a winter get-away to your beautiful Colorado resort. Here’s what we’d do when we arrived: We’d drink lots of coffee in the morning, then don our hats and boots for some beautiful winter snowshoeing. We’d stop for a leisurely lunch and some reading with a fantastic view. Then we’d visit your beautiful horses, partake in an afternoon massage, and settle in for a wonderful evening meal with ample red wine. The next day, we’d engage in a little Yoga, take a cooking class together, venture out for some downhill sledding, and participate in a wine tasting.

Then we’d do it all over again. With a sleigh ride thrown in for good measure.

But most of all, we’d get to breathe, relax, be together, unwind, reflect, reinvigorate.

And we’d be grateful beyond measure.

Name: Katrina Willis
City: Starkville
State: MS

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.

Our vacation

We enjoy Colorado, snow, and time away just for the two of us, so this trip would be awesome.

My time in Colorado hold such fond memories of our family vacations when I was a teenager. Colorado is also the place my husband ask my Dad for my hand in marriage. It would be so romantic to be back there and enjoy its beauty and grandeur. What a special gift this would be
Thanks for considering us!.

Name: Linda Ebeling
City: Newnan
State: GA

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!

The Honeymoon We Never Had

My wife and I were married in July of 2010. Our families were both struggling financially, we both just graduated from college, and I was having a hard time finding a career; so we kept the wedding very simple and inexpensive. I worried about how I could pull together a Honeymoon. To my delight at the time, the parents of my wife’s best friend told me secretly that they wanted to give us a cruise for our wedding gift, but to not tell my wife, as they wanted it to be a surprise. Imagine my delight to hear this!

Our wedding day came, and it was the best day of my life! We got to our reception, had a great time, and later opened our gifts. I was so excited for my wife to open the envelope that contained tickets to our Honeymooon Cruise. To my dismay, there was no cruise. My heart sank a little, but I hoped that it would just come to us later, given personally by our friend’s parents. A few days passed, and no word about it. I hesitated to say anything, because I didn’t want to sound like I was being greedy or expecting anything. On the other hand, I didn’t want to have nothing for my wife. I just kept telling her it was a surprise. However, after a little while, I had to tell her what happened. She took it like a champ, but I could tell she was disappointed. I felt absolutely awful; as if I had failed already in my first husbandly duty. I probably would have planned something simple, but thought I didn’t have to. She kept smiling and said that she understood…my wife is an absolute angel!

A few more weeks passed, and I had already let go of the hope; but we were happy together, even though I still struggled to find a job (even with a Mechanical Engineering degree). My wife’s brother got married just about 2 months after we did. At their reception, I saw our friend’s parents. They came straight to me, whispered in my ear, and told me "We haven’t forgotten. We’ve just been very busy, but we’ll get it all put together for you guys." Hope flowed back into my heart, and I really was excited that I could truly surprise my wife.

Unfortunately, the cruise never came. I never asked about it, feeling that would be selfish of me to basically ask "where’s my gift?!" Our friend’s parents are great people, who I have a great deal of respect for. I am sure circumstance just took over, and I have no hard feelings. That being said, I fell back into my feelings of disappointment for not being able to give my wife something that she deserved, and still deserves. I found a job, but it took us away from her family, and it was a job I wouldn’t have taken if I hadn’t been looking for over 8 months. I needed to provide for her, and we needed to make some sacrifices. I had hoped to find a way to still give her a Honeymoon, but that became one of our sacrifices.

Recently, I’ve started to research some vacations, as my wife and I would like to, at least, take a simple vacation together before we start having children. In my research, I came across Vista Verde, and it jumped off the computer screen! I quickly showed my wife and she fell in love at first sight! Vista Verde is everything we’d want in a vacation; everything we would have wanted in a honeymoon. My wife’s eyes beamed as we looked through the websight, which we did over and over again for weeks! We tried to find every way possible to afford a getaway there, but have not been able to fit it into our tight budget. We have definitely put it on our list of "Must Do’s" in our life together!

Overall, a Winter Vacation at Vista Verde would give me the chance to give my wife, who I love more than anything, the honeymoon that we never had. The horses, the cabins, the trails, the lodge, the food, and even the snow (my wife has lived in warm climates most of her life) all look perfect! My wife has been my rock. She helped me through my 8 month struggle to find a job. She was willing to move away from her family for me. She has always been there for me when work was tough in a job I didn’t want. There are so many things I wish I could do for her. This Winter Vacation would give me a chance to thank her with something we will cherish for the rest of our lives. We will not take it for granted and will make the most of it. My goal everyday is to put as many smiles on my wife’s face as possible. I would set a personal record if I were able to tell her we’re going to Vista Verde! Thank you for this opportunity and God bless!

Name: Aaron Boyd
City: Kansas City
State: Missouri


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.



I would like to tell you my story.
About a wonderful woman named Laurie.
I knew she was the one from the very start.
Everytime I saw her I could feel the pounding in my heart.
One day I learned how much she loved to ride.
The joy in her face was hard to hide.
She loves to be outdoors under the night skies.
The stars seem to shimmer and glisten in her eyes.
She can swim, fish and shoot with the best of any man.
If you meet her you will also be a fan.
I hope after reading my story you decide to give us a chance.
Our lives you will greatly enhance.

Name: Peter Williams
Company: SWS of Illinois
City: Frankfort
State: Il.

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?