September 2012

Autumn Comforts

by Alaya
Fall at the ranch. What a beautiful time of year!

Last week marked the official transition into autumn, but our season had already begun. The aspen leaves have changed from bright green to a blazing yellow – punchy and vibrant.

The nights have gotten cold, and the mornings are just as brisk. It makes for a good night’s sleep, but the days of leaving the windows wide open at night are over.

This time of year, one steps outside at the end of the evening to the indescribable scent of… fall – the deep, rich scent of earth and fallen leaves, mixed with the warm, comforting scent of smoke from the wood-burning stoves in each of our guest cabins.
Looking up at the hillside, one sees the row of cabins, lights glimmering tucked against the hills. Depnding on the night, the sweet scent of autumn may be accompanied by the yipping of coyotes, bugling elk or ribbons of laughter pouring from a cabin deck.

As the days progress, the temperatures begin to drop and you can sense that snow is not too far off.

I’m bracing myself for my first winter in the mountains, my first winter in northern Colorado. I’m not sure I’m ready for the season’s length (or the snow’s depth!) but I am looking forward to the cozy comfort I know that this ranch will offer during the long winter months.

And until then, I will continue to marvel at the vibrant landscape. – September 2012

Jamie Pearson wrote this fun story for

Just when you thought dude ranch vacations couldn’t get any better

A couple of years ago, my family took a Colorado dude ranch vacation.   Maybe you read about it here?  If not, I’ll summarize it for you in a few words:  boots, horses, hot tubs, cattle drives, and jaw-dropping scenery.  A good time was had by all, but especially by me since there was also no shopping, cooking, or cleaning for a week.

I wouldn’t have guessed that the folks at Vista Verde could improve the experience, but I would have been wrong.

Baby animals are as silly as baby humans. Maybe this is why they get along so well?

First, they remodeled the (already awesome) cabins.  Then they built a swimming pool.  Now, they’ve introduced a weekly foal clinic.

Baby horses!

One of the highlights of our vacation, was tiptoeing into a darkened barn to see a newborn foal.   Just hours old, she was all legs and eyes.  While it was special to us, it was business as usual for the ranch staff.  Because they have a breeding program, there are babies every summer.

I want a lap horse!

In an effort to get guests involved, Vista Verde started a weekly foal clinic where guests of all ages get to help halter-train, gentle, and socialize the baby horses (seven in all this summer).  Not only does it turn the people into horse lovers, it also turns the foals into people lovers — an important quality for guest ranch horses

Follow this link to find out more about Vista Verde Ranch.  They are open (mostly) year-round, but due to Colorado weather, baby horses are a summer phenomenon.

The dude ranch vacation that follows you home

One of our goals at Vista Verde is to provide a compelling dude ranch vacation experience that creates memories that last long past the final adventure.  We hear great stories from folks of how they go to their “happy ranch place” when in the depths of a crazy day back at home.

Every once in a while, the Vista Verde ranch experience follows a guest home with a little more of a physical presence.  The past couple weeks have been some fun reminders of those cases.
Earlier in the month, Joe and Linda visited us during our first adult only week.  It was a great group of people, and a lively dynamic.  Linda is an avid horsewoman, but Joe found himself exploring some other adventures.  One of those was mountain biking with Steve.  Now, those of you who have spent time with Steve know quite well what a gear-head he can be about his bikes and skis, among other things.  Joe had such a great time mountain biking on his vacation with Steve, that he decided to extend the experience and bought a bike.  We are now enjoying the stories of Joe making sure the UPS driver knows the bike is coming, getting his bike, and his first ride…..which translated into a new pair of padded biking shorts.  We love that he has found this new hobby, and one that is so healthy too!

Last week, Wendy and Eric joined us for one of our cattle round up weeks.  Wendy is another guest who has found Vista Verde following her home.  In this case, it was a horse several years ago.  Yep, book a dude ranch vacation, and come home with a horse!  Sounds crazy, but it’s not the first time that’s happened.  It was fun to talk to Wendy as they were heading home about how when she misses the ranch, she can always look at Sally’s brand and be reminded of her time here.  Now, that’s one heck of a souvenir!

There are more fun stories like this.  Not everyone will have a piece of Vista Verde follow them home to that extent, but it’s fun to think of the different ways the ranch stays in peoples hearts and minds when they aren’t here with all of us.  Share your story as we’d love to hear how Vista Verde stays with you, in big ways or small ways.

Kitty love at the ranch

Melissa gives us the inside scoop on the kitties

Being on a ranch, it’s not rare to be surprised by an unlikely visitor. This summer we’ve had a guest wake up to a deer peeking through their window, rustling noises from a bear walking alongside a cabin, porcupines making themselves at home on porches, and coyotes howling off in the pasture. In the wilderness you never know what you’ll find. And recently, we’ve had a few other visitors.

There used to be several cats at the ranch, but as they moved on in life, it became just Harley (also known with endearment as Nappy Cat).  She had her hands full, being the sole hunter.  But, she has recently had some new friends.

Our cats Cookie and Lovey once lived at the mare barn. Their job: hunting mice. But it turns out they like the company of people a lot more than horses so they decided to move up the driveway and hang around the cabins. Not only are they patrolling a new area, but they’ve made themselves at home.  (Please keep in mind we do not let cats in our cabins or buildings, so do not fear if you are allergic.)

After a relaxing afternoon in the hot-tub last week, our guests Mark and Kim left their towels lying on top of the hot-tub cover. When they woke up the next morning they realized one of the cats, Cookie, had nestled herself in the towels making a nice little bed for the night. She was just too cute to move, so they left a note for the housekeepers asking if it was ok to keep the bed for their new friend.  Who could say no to that! From then on, Cookie joined Mark and Kim almost every night this week on their porch.  Who can deny that a warm hot tub cover makes for a cozy place to cuddle up on a chilly evening?

Let’s hope Cookie and Lovey don’t forget about the mice, as they live in the lap of luxury at Vista Verde!

Even Big Kids Love Ice Cream!

This week we were surprised with a nice little treat: Vinny’s mom visited in her ice cream truck!

Vinny is one of our esteemed chefs, who just happens to be from nearby Steamboat Springs. His mom is Buffalo Gal, and drives the neighborhood ice cream truck. (World’s coolest job? Aside from working at a guest ranch, I think so!)

She pulled up just after lunchtime today, a special treat for staff and guests. You could barely hear the nostalgic ice-cream-truck music because the excited cheers were so loud!

Surprisingly, several of the staff had never had ice cream trucks visit their neighborhoods, so it was a first!  (We caught Reid skipping to the truck!)

Even Rosey got into it.  She went right up to the truck, made her choice and then sat down until Ruth gave her a Frosty Paws treat.

What a fun treat… by the end, everyone had big smiles (and even bigger ice cream mustaches!)

There’s something about an ice cream truck that brings out the kid in everyone (as evidenced in the photos above), and that’s just fine with us!

As for the favorite treat… it was a mix, just like the staff, no one treat was chosen over the other.

The four-legged staff at our dude ranch

Every dude ranch should have a great staff.  But, what some don’t realize is that the staff includes 4 legged critters too.  We love to sing the praise of our crew, and we highlight our wonderful horses regularly, but we often overlook the smaller members of our dude ranch team.

The ranch dogs don’t provide a whole lot of function at the ranch, but do a bang up job in the hospitality department.  From greeting guests to providing comedic relief as they dive into the pond daily, they have their role.

Trooper is Terry’s wanna-be cattle dog.  Typically ranchers have a cattle dog to help herd the cows.  Trooper has disowned his lab background and has claimed a cattle dog pedigree with the way he jumps in and helps Terry move the cows.  Please don’t tell him otherwise, and just buy into his story.  He would be crushed otherwise.

Rosey is Steve and Kelli’s lab, who has grown up as a guide dog.  Not the kind of guide dog you might imagine, but a dog that has been guiding ski trips, hiking trips and other adventures her whole life.  When your mom and dad are ace guides, that’s just how you learn to roll.

Many of our guests this past winter fell in love with Reid’s new puppy, Dodger.  He has now morphed into more of a teenager, testing the system and harassing the older dogs.   But, they do help teach him the ropes, and he is learning the rules and guidelines to being a great guest ranch dog.
Sadly, two of our wonderful friends passed on earlier this summer.  Dakota and Cheyenne were our Great Pyrenees power puffs.   Time and time again, they would sneak out of their pen and wander down the road to visit some neighbors (yes, we do have a couple neighbors out here!).  It was a weekly event that we would get a call at night telling us the “white dogs” were at their house.  With their sweet personalities and kind hearts, they were hard not to love though.  We all miss them, but love that their stories will be with us always.

Over the years, we have had many ranch cats.  They truly are an important part of the team, and have a specific job.  As much as Vista Verde works hard to provide a luxury ranch experience, did you notice that there is one important word that is always a part of us?  Ranch.  And, with that goes wildlife.  And with wildlife goes some that we’d rather not see as much of…..mice.  You can build a very nice cabin, but when you build it on a 600 acre ranch, surrounded by millions of acres of national forest, the mice just don’t care how nice that cabin is, or whether it has granite countertops or not.  They just want in.  So, our cats have played an important guest service role over the years.  When left to their job, they are actually very effective.   More to follow on them tomorrow, as they have their own stories.

The animals come and go in our lives.  We have loved so many pets over the years- Bessie and Bailey, Aspen, Tillie, Slim, Red, Miss Kitty, Whopper, Babe, and the list goes on.  They all have brought stories, laughter, and joy to our lives.   So, go hug your pet today, if you have one.  If not, you can always hug one of ours.

Chef’s Corner: The Best Fried Chicken (Ever!) [Recipe]

by Alaya

As the chef’s wife, I am in the unique position of taste-testing the dishes that come out of his kitchen. This classic-with-a-twist fried chicken is one of my favorites!

Gourmet comfort food? It might seem like an oxymoron, but once you try it, you realize it’s the best of both worlds: your favorite familiar foods elevated to the next level in flavor and presentation. And that’s exactly what this dish represents.

This dish starts with perfectly fried chicken: juicy, tender with crisp-battered skin. (Lip-smacking, finger licking –  even with this elevated version, you’ll want to lick your fingers clean and that’s okay with us!)

The added punch of unexpected flavors (tangy pickled vegetables, mellow blueberry sauce, and a sweet/nutty corn flour pancake) turns this fried chicken from a familiar favorite into a dish with bold personality.

This is a great meal for a dinner party or family gathering. The warm, familiar feeling of a home-cooked meal is amplified by the addition of a delicate and distinctive collection of bold flavors, making it the perfect meal to share with loved ones.

See for yourself… the recipe has several steps and components, but don’t let that overwhelm you!  It’s hardly as elaborate as it seems, and the results are well worth the small bit of extra effort.

The Best Fried Chicken (Ever!) – Serves 8
with Pickled Vegetables, Cornmeal Pancakes & Savory Blueberry Sauce  


For the Brine:

  • 2 lemons, halved
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 2 ounces flat leaf parsley
  • 4-5 springs of thyme
  • 2 ounces honey
  • 4 cloves garlic peeled and smashed
  • 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
  • 2 ounces kosher salt
  • 3 quarts water

For Frying the Chicken:

  • One 2 ½ -to 3-pound chicken
  • Chicken brine, cold (recipe to follow)
  • Canola oil for frying
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 T garlic powder
  • 2 T onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

For the Pickled Vegetables:

  • 2 carrots, peeled and sliced 1/8 inch on a bias
  • 2 english cucumbers, sliced ¼ inch on a bias
  • 1 red onion, peeled and thinly sliced into rings
  • 3 cups white vinegar
  • 6 ounces granulated sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 10 allspice berries
  • 10 whole cloves
  • 2 small diced chile peppers

For the Cornmeal Pancakes

  • ¾ cup flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup cornmeal
  • 1 ½ Tablespoon unsalted butter
  • ½ cup red onion, minced
  • ¼ cup grana padano cheese, grated (you can substitute parmesan cheese)
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • ¼ cup chopped parsley
  • 2 sprigs thyme, chopped

For the Savory Blueberry Sauce:

  • 2 quarts homemade chicken stock
  • 2 pints fresh blueberries
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter


Brining the Chicken

  1. In a large pot combine chicken brine ingredients and bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute until the salt is dissolved. Remove from the heat, cool, and then refrigerate until chilled.
  2. Break the chicken down into wings, thighs, drumsticks and breasts (save the carcass for more chicken stock), and cut the breast in equal halves.
  3. Place the chicken in the brine for 24 hours. When ready to use, remove from brine and rinse under cold water.

Pickling the Vegetables

  1. Combine all the ingredients, except the vegetables, into a pot and bring to a boil.
  2. While waiting for the pickling liquid to boil, prepare your vegetables and place in a large canning jar big enough to hold the vegetables and the liquid.
  3. Pour the boiled liquid over the vegetables and allow to cool completely. Refrigerate pickled vegetables for up to one month.

Making the Cornmeal Pancakes

  1. Sift together the dry ingredients into a large bowl.
  2. Heat the butter in a skillet and sauté the onion until translucent, remove from the heat, stir in the cheese and allow to cool.
  3. Whisk together the buttermilk and the egg yolks, fold in the cooled onion-cheese mixture. Fold in the dry ingredients.
  4. When ready to fry the pancakes, whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form and fold into the existing batter, fold in the chopped herbs.
  5. Ladle into a heated skillet 2 ounces of cornmeal batter, flip when ready, keep warm until ready to use.

Making the Blueberry Sauce

  1. In a large pot on the stove begin reducing the chicken stock until reduced to 2 cups
  2. Meanwhile, heat a sauce pan on the stove and add the blueberries, when they start to burst, drizzle in the honey and allow it to simmer. Add the lemon juice and then add the reduced chicken stock.
  3. Simmer for 10 minutes to allow flavors to blend, season to taste with salt and black pepper. Keep sauce warm until ready to use.
  4. Bring the sauce to a simmer again when ready to use and swirl in the butter until it is dissolved. Taste again for seasoning.

Frying the Chicken

  1. In a large frying pan, heat the canola oil to 325 degrees F.
  2. Combine the dry ingredients together and then split into 2 different bowls. Add buttermilk to a third bowl.
  3. Dredge the chicken pieces in the seasoned flour, then into the buttermilk, and then into the next seasoned flour.
  4. Place the chicken in hot oil for 2 minutes and then begin moving the chicken around to fry evenly for a total of 10-12 minutes, until chicken is dark golden and cooked thoroughly.
  5. On a plate, place a cornmeal pancake, a dark piece and a white piece of chicken on top, drape the pickled vegetables on the side and drizzle the blueberry sauce lightly over the chicken. Enjoy!

Adventures in Housekeeping

Guest bloggerm, and all-star housekeeper, Lasha shares a fun story from last week’s Adventures in Housekeeping.

It was the last week in August at Vista Verde; the first week of “Adults Only” here at the ranch.  For Housekeepers, this generally means that the cabins are not quite as messy, towels don’t have potato chip grease stains on them, and typically, there are just a few less piles of clothes on the floor to maneuver.  One of the biggest changes though is that “Willie” the moose doesn’t get hidden in cabins anymore at evening turn-downs.  Willie (a very cute stuffed animal) is usually cleverly hidden every night, accompanied with a snack, for the kiddos to find.  It’s a fun game for both Housekeepers and the kids.

Willie thought wrong when he assumed he was done hiding every night just because it was an “Adults Only” week.  Monday morning came and much to the Housekeepers surprise, Janie and Nigel had left a note asking where Willie was, and wondered why he wasn’t hidden for them to find the night before.  Naturally, this started a friendly game of hide and seek.  The Housekeepers were all too pleased to come up with even more clever hiding spots for Willie.  Tuesday morning came and the Housekeepers arrived to Janie and Nigel’s cabin to find a note saying that it had taken them an hour and a half to find Willie and just when they were about to drain the hot tub and tear down the fire place, they collapsed with exhaustion onto the living room floor only to find him hiding under the sofa cushion with a snack bag of teddy grahams.

The notes exchanged throughout the week were humorous, at times even poetic, and the hiding places were epic.  At the end of the week Willie left the Vista Verde to continue his journey in life, with a promise from Janie and Nigel that he would be well taken care of.  Needless to say, the Housekeepers were sad to say farewell to their friends but as always looked forward to a new week of adventures in Housekeeping!