May 2013

The tree nursery

By Steph

Nature has a funny way of taking care of itself.  Last summer was such a dry summer, that all we did was worry about water and fires.  Luckily, the latter did not become a reality for us here in the Steamboat Springs area.  We have been so happy to have more moisture this past winter, and are hoping for a summer with a few more rainstorms.

Just the other day, Charlie and Carson discovered an unexpected benefit of the dry weather last year.  Because the grass didn’t grow as high last summer, another natural phenomenon took place.  Little Lodgepole pine seedlings took hold and started to grow.  You see, they needed to see the sun, and not be covered up in the thick grass that normally grows in this valley.  So, with the excitement of new parents, Charlie and Carson have been busily staking out these little seedlings, in order to try to help bring them along their way as they begin their climb to the sky.

In addition to those little seedlings, we are also excited to see that our young trees that serve as Christmas trees for each of our families at Christmas time have taken root and are growing well.  Each year, we get a tree for every family, place them in the Lodge, and each family who comes to the ranch for a Colorado Christmas vacation gets to make decorations and put them on their tree.  It is a bit of a contest to see who has the best decorated tree.  Then, come summer, we plant them around the ranch.  It’s fun to have each family have a lasting mark on the ranch with their little family trees.

The forest changes, year after year, and we get to be humbled in recognition of the power of the natural world.  Luckily, we get to enjoy the ride, and watch for a short time, the shifting patterns of the forest.

Spring fishing in Colorado

By Brandon

Howdy folks! Let me start off by telling you what I’d like to be blogging about right now… Steady and clear flows on the Elk River, wild and fat trout rising recklessly to whatever dry fly I gently lay across the water’s placid surface, and a right elbow and shoulder sore from battling a few more fish than deserved in a day. Alas, it’s May here in northern Routt County and, while the weather doesn’t get much sweeter, the Elk and its tributaries are flowing at a rate approximately four times greater than summer time averages. The water is the color of English tea with milk, and the trout seem to be bunkering down for cover against the onslaught of springtime runoff from high above us in the Zirkel Mountains. As a comparison I’ve included a recent picture taken from the same location as last month’s Fly Blog photo.

I attempted an outing last week with fellow VVR guide and trusty fishing partner Stephen “Bubba” Vateto. We hit the North Fork of the Elk, more so out of a desperate need to cast a line and an inability to wait until more sensible anglers typically venture into the river. We managed to hook one fish but quickly executed an LDR. For the unenlightened, an LDR is a Long Distance Release. In appearance it’s almost identical to “the fish getting off” but I assure you it’s an advanced skill carried out by only the most seasoned professionals. A few of you may buy into my advanced techniques, and for you I’ve got a great line on a population of yellowfin tuna in Steamboat Lake that readily take a size 14 dry fly. Yes, after a couple hours of searching for trout it felt a bit like returning with our collective tails between our legs; though, what’s that cliché saying? …A bad day of fishing is better than a good day at work? Well, I guess for us a bad day of fishing is a bad day of work; which, when I think about it, sounds like a decent line of work. Okay, sob story complete! Now, take heart my friends for this too shall pass. Yes, the rivers which now gorge themselves on this spring snowmelt will surely return to their former splendor and these last few weeks of longing and heartache will give way to yet another season of fantastic sport on the water!

While we await the ebb of the roaring rivers we’ll likely focus our preseason efforts on some nearby lakes, which are rapidly shedding their ice. The narrow tail waters of Willow Creek below Hahn’s Peak Lake and Steamboat Lake seem to be shaping up quite nicely, as well. An exciting addition this year to the VVR fishing program are float tubes (AKA belly boats) which will allow much greater access on and around the lakes that we often fish (think fancy inner-tubes complete with seats, armrests and drink holders). We think it’ll be a fantastic way to enjoy a day on the water!

Well, I suppose that’s about all for now. On behalf of Bubba and the rest of the VVR staff, we can’t wait for you to get out here! Whether it’s your first time visiting us for a family vacation in the coming months, or you are waiting out our adult only vacation times in September, or your return to what we hope feels like home, we anxiously await your arrival!

The valley comes back to life

Springtime in Colorado is such an exciting time.  After sitting dormant under a blanket of snow all winter long, the valley starts to come back to life.  The snow melts, the green grass starts peeking through, the crocuses bloom, and the baby cows and horses start to arrive.  It is hard to not be exuberant during this time, as the whole area is just bursting with new life.

Because of that blanket of snow all winter long, we have to feed our horses daily with huge bales of grass hay that was grown in the valley the previous season.  If you’ve ever shuddered at the grocery bill of a family with a bunch of teenagers, just imagine the hay bill for roughly 100 hungry horses.  As long as there is enough snow on the ground, we use our draft horse team and a feed sleigh to sling bales out to the horses.  Our guests, visiting the ranch for a winter vacation, enjoy helping us with this task.  Or, at least we think they enjoy it…. However, come spring when the snow has melted but there still isn’t grass, we switch over to feeding with our tractor and big, round bales.  Then, there is the delightful time, when the grass is growing well enough and we don’t have to feed the horses anymore.  The family who Homesteaded the ranch was smart enough to choose a valley where the grass grows thick, unlike much of Colorado.  During the summer months, our horses get all the nutrition they need from the fresh grass growing in the meadows.

Yesterday marked the transition from those daily feedings to the lazy days of grazing in the pastures.  We moved the horses out into the Homestead pasture, so we could rest the winter pasture for a while.  There isn’t quite enough grass to keep us from feeding them some, but it is a milestone to make this move.  Summer must be coming soon!

As the aspens turn

By Steph

We’ve had a long running joke about the TV show “As the Aspens Turn”.  It would be a soap opera, possibly reality TV show about ranch life.  Not that our drama here is really all that worthy of TV coverage, but hey, these days anything flies.  We’d have exhausted wranglers trying to stay awake on late night foal watches.  Every day mis-communications could be turned into a scene set to dramatic music.  There may or may not be some relationship drama.  It’s just a fun way to look at the lighter side of the human interactions that happen here at Vista Verde, so we don’t take it too seriously in the heat of the moment.

This time of year, the show would get kind of slow though.  There aren’t as many people around the ranch, and there just isn’t as much going on.  Not that those of us who are here aren’t busy, there are just fewer of us.  However, yesterday marked the start of the start.  The pre-season meetings.  It’s always an exciting time as the key players gather for the first time in a month or so.  First, some leadership development.  This is a testament to Peggy’s investment in all of us as she brings out a leadership coach to work with all of us.  Then, we’ll roll into the summer planning meetings.  This is when we finalize the schedule and make sure our t’s are crossed and our i’s are dotted.  Next week we’ll have a Wilderness First Aid training.  It pays to be safe.  Then, the staff will roll in the following week to start the official orientation.  Our eye is on June 2, which is opening day!

While all this is going on, there are still horses to feed, stalls to clean, babies to be monitored and cared for, and new horses to train.  In addition, there are all the ranch projects to be wrapped up.  Nate and Brandon just drove to Fort Collins yesterday to get a new trailer, the other Brandon is wrapping up a new wine room and a band practice room.  Charlie finished building the housekeepers and ranch hands an office space down in the machine shed.  And the phone still rings with last minute reservation requests.

Though all this, the aspens are starting to bloom.  So, as the aspen turn to green buds on their branches, we gear up for another great summer.

Planning your family dude ranch vacation

So, you’ve decided that you want to take a family dude ranch vacation.  Now what?  The search for the best dude ranches can be daunting.  How do you know which one will really be good?  How do you know which one is right for you?  Then, you find one and love it.  Vista Verde is your pick.  (Of course, we think this is a steller pick).  But, when you call the ranch with your credit card in hand, ready to make your deposit, you find out they are full.  Gasp, oh no!

Pardon the comedic tone, but although we love our success and the fact that the ranch fills up quicker and quicker each year for our family dude ranch times, it’s doesn’t feel good to tell someone who is excited to take the plunge that they can’t do it this year.  Maybe we should feel proud about that, and sure, we do a little.  But, honestly, we all agree that is such a bummer to have to turn an excited potential guest away.

Since we typically try to offer some other suggestions for finding another spot for their family dude ranch vacation, we thought we’d share those tips with everyone.

The first thing to know is that there really isn’t a “best dude ranch”.  There just isn’t.  There is a best dude ranch for you, but that may not be the same as the best one for your neighbor.  The beauty of dude ranches is that they are all unique and special.  Each one fits different people, and appeals to guests for different reasons.  But, here are a couple we think highly of, and recommend often.

If you like the Steamboat Springs area, then you should check out the Home Ranch.  It’s similar in the capacity of the ranch and it’s a very nice place with a great culinary aspect.

For a smaller ranch (in terms of capacity) you should check out Smith Fork Ranch.  Their food is great, and so is the guided fly fishing program.

C Lazy U is another nice ranch.  It’s much larger, but that is a good thing if you’re planning a last minute vacation for your family, as they are more likely to have space for you.

The last one is Lost Valley Ranch.  It’s got a great family feel, and a strong riding program.

Now, keep in mind that these are just the ranches we typically recommend.  There are a bunch of other amazing Colorado dude ranches listed at  Any of them are perfect spots for a family dude ranch vacation.  Many are a bit more rustic than Vista Verde, but still in beautiful locations and run by great people.

Hopefully we’ll have a spot for you at Vista Verde, but just in case, we still want you to have a great vacation, and hope that you feel that the ranch where you end up is the best dude ranch for you!