Archive for the ‘This week at the Ranch’ Category
Date: January 30th, 2015
It’s been a long time since I’ve done a spotlight on a staff member post. As soon as I started to think about who to put the spotlight on, Mary jumped into my mind and I knew it had to be her.
Originally from Buffalo, New York, Mary joined us during the winter of 2013-14. She had recently completed her degree in Art Education at Buffalo State University, and, like many of our staff, had that “What do I do now?” moment. Not quite ready to jump into becoming an art teacher, and not quite ready to pursue that Masters degree, she made the obvious choice to come work at a dude ranch!
Mary stepped into her interim career with ease. She learned the ins and outs of housekeeping, and performed her job with a non-stop smile on her face. She jumped into the community, quickly becoming part of the family, and immersed herself in the Vista Verde lifestyle. Now in her 3rd season with the ranch, Mary has been a key player in many areas. She’s our go-to when we need a crafty design for something, she helps with the kids program here and there, and she is an invaluable part of our housekeeping team. This coming summer, Mary will transition over to being a full-time Kid Wrangler, so know that your little ones will be in good hands if you’re heading this way for a dude ranch vacation this summer.
Not to miss an opportunity, Mary has made the most of her time in Colorado. She loves trying out all the activities here, and loves learning new things. Mary has traveled over most of the hiking trails around here (and there are a lot!), learned to skate ski, and has spent hours on horseback. She told me that what has made her time working at the ranch so special is the relationships with the staff, the camaraderie among the team, and being around other people who are here because they want to be here, not just to clock in and collect a paycheck.
I also learned that Mary really enjoys the night she and the housekeeping team host Game Night during the winter season. It gives them all a chance to hang out with the guests, have some fun with them, and most importantly, get to see their competitive side. And you thought corn hole was a casual back yard game? Not at Vista Verde!
So, what does someone like Mary do when she’s not taking care of guests, ironing, or folding laundry? She’s currently reading “How to be a bad-ass”, although her preferred type of book is a mystery with a really huge twist at the end. This coming spring 0ff-season she is planning on heading to Thailand to spend a couple weeks volunteering at an elephant sanctuary. Last fall she took a road trip with Meesh and Heidi to the Grand Canyon before heading home to spend some time with her family. And, when she’s here at the ranch, she typically has a handful of craft projects going from knitting a hat for Erin to helping Beka make a quilt. Her friends tease her about her endless trail of projects, but remember, she is an art teacher after all!
We’re lucky to have Mary as part of our team, and look forward to hearing her infectious giggle and seeing her huge smile each day!
Date: January 1st, 2015
As we roll into 2015 with a crazy cold morning, it gives me some time to hunker down inside and reflect back on the past couple weeks. It’s been a whirlwind, to be sure!
Our opening week was filled with a varied and fun group of guests. The highlight was not only watching them all connect, but also celebrating the engagement of guests Alyssa and Jeff, followed days later by the engagement of Cori and Dan, former staff who stopped by the ranch for a quick proposal. The week was pretty quiet, which allowed us to all settle into the season, work out any kinks, and get into the routine of being open again.
Christmas week was so memorable. Some of the guests were worried we wouldn’t have enough snow leading up to the holiday. Well, Mother Nature delivered with the clouds opening up on the day the guests all arrived, and barely stopping the entire week. Yes, it was indeed a white Christmas. One of the unique events of the week was the decoration making party we had one night after dinner. Hosted by the amazingly creative Kelli (yes, she rocks it out at yoga, skiing, mountain biking, and yet she is also the most crafty gal I know) the guests and staff put together unique and colorful natural decorations to deck the trees in the yard. Although the decorations were intended to be safe for the birds to nibble on, we soon discovered that the ranch dogs thought they were perfectly yummy. Mental note- hang them higher next year.
New Year’s week at the ranch has been an amazing one. Everyone is so happy to be closing out 2014 in Colorado. An adventurous group of guests and phenomenal powder have ruled the week, even in sub-zero temps. It’s been crazy cold, but it’s not stopping anyone from having fun. We rang in the New Year with a noisy and fun barn dance last night right in the Great Room. As we caught our breath sometime around midnight (it was midnight somewhere in the world) Charlie dazzled us with the one and only Boot Drop followed by the ranch hand’s show of fireworks. We’re still not sure who had more fun….the spectators watching from the warm Great Room or the ranch hands dancing around with their flares.
Life at the ranch will settle into a routine starting next week. The New Year’s crew departs on Saturday and then we take a few days to clean up, regroup, and give the crew some much deserved time off before kicking off our adult only vacation times at the ranch.
We hope you all finished off 2014 in style, and are off to a new and grand 2015.
Date: December 26th, 2014
By Steph, inspired by Hill
As the day comes to an end, the sun has broken out from behind the ever-producing snow clouds. We woke up this morning to 5 inches or so of fresh, fluffy powder, and the snow kept lightly falling for much of the day. It was a truly white Christmas!
When Christmas morning dawned on Vista Verde this year, a quiet hush fell over the valley. Snow falling out of the sky muffled the noises around the ranch, the hum of the Bombardier as it glided over the meadows laying fresh corduroy for skiers, the snow plow and the tractor working efficiently to clear out the new layer of snow for all of us to make our way from cabin to cabin. The chefs came in long before dark, gave their Christmas greetings before all jumping into their lists and working without words to prepare the annual feast. A lone horse back rider heads down the driveway, ready to gather up the herd and run them into the corral. The horses, sensing that rider coming, begin to whinny at each other and stir. Their footsteps make crunching sounds in the snow, and as they gather up and gallop out of the pasture, snow is flying in all directions. The VVR staff roll into the dining room to prepare and deliver breakfast to the guests in their cabins, like a bunch of Santa’s elves. Although all are a bit groggy, the sense of teaming up together to create a special Christmas day for our guests prevails and the teams come together to collaborate and deliver.
The snow falls all day as we prepare for the big noon day meal. Giggles from the tubing hill float down to the Lodge, and laughter from skiers and horseback riders drift across the meadows. Once again, I am inspired and amazed as I watch the staff team up to set up the Great Room, get the cabins cleaned in record time, and prepare for a special noon event. As Zach rings the dinner bell with zest, Ben prepares to give thanks and bring everyone together for the meal. The Great room is buzzing with energy and good cheer. Christmas sweaters abound, and kids excitedly find their own boot that was left by the fireplace and magically filled with goodies overnight.
We dine like kings, and all get a chance to celebrate the day together. If everyone were so lucky.
As the guests roll out of the Lodge and off to their adventures for the afternoon (some opt to skip their plans of active outings and relax in their cabin with a good book, or take a nap following a dip in their hot tub), the crew teams up to clean up the mess we have made. Laughter and camaraderie take over to ease the hard work, and the Great room and dining room are put back into shape in no time at all. I step out to head to the barn with my family for a Christmas day trail ride. As the girls chat with their horses, and feed them the special carrots Santa delivered for them, Todd and I revel in the bond between a child and a horse. The ride is beautiful, the temperature just perfect, the snow is still falling, and as we head back to the barn, the sleigh passes us with jingling bells.
It isn’t until late in the afternoon that the sun breaks out. The light is angelic, as if someone planned on making a statement with it. The day comes to an end with families relaxing together, staff making their calls home to give holiday greetings, and the horses munching on their extra Christmas hay. We are so lucky to be able to share this amazing spot called Vista Verde (which is actually Vista Blanco now) with the world. We, as a crew feel blessed to be here, even when it’s hard to be away from family for the holidays. The guests know that not everyone gets to celebrate the holidays like this, and revel in the winter wonderland. I still hear the sleigh bells in my mind, and I almost wonder if they are coming out of the sky? Is it in my head, or is it real? Well, with that, I must say, “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night”!
Date: December 18th, 2014
I ran across this great little gratuity guide recently, and found it quite handy. Gratuity is an area where I feel like I stumble frequently. How much is enough, when is it expected, when is it not expected? In the effort of not wanting to cheat anyone out of a tip, but also wanting to not go over budget all the time, I feel like I can’t go right. In looking over this gratuity guide, my professional wheels started turning. How much would a guest have to spend if they followed this gratuity guide at Vista Verde? Now, keep in mind one important piece of this inner dialogue–at Vista Verde we do not add any sort of service charge or gratuity, and gratuities are not expected at all. Point being, we assume everyone will pay the rate we are charging for their stay and be done. Nothing extra expected. Now, some folks do like to leave a gratuity at the end of their stay to be split up amongst the staff. That’s fine, and we’ll take it if they want to do so. But, I want to drive home the point that there is no expectation of any gratuity. So this question I pondered was a hypothetical one.
After crunching the math and adding it up, I came to the amount of roughly $800 for a couple staying for a week. That was based on tipping at each meal, every activity, each night, etc…. Then it hit me. Most all-inclusive resorts expect their guests to tip their staff. Which got me thinking about the fact that people typically budget for their vacations, and how often are budgets blown over at all-inclusive resorts? So, here are a few tips to keep in mind the next time you’re booking an all-inclusive vacation. Ask these questions to help you determine if this fits your budget:
1) What is the policy on gratuity/tipping.
2) What activities are and aren’t included?
3) What extra charges might be incurred? Airport shuttles? Beer, wine, or liquor?
4) Is there any sort of resort fee? Parking or internet?
Hopefully this helps you figure out if the vacation fits within your budget. And, it’s also what keeps us committed to making a vacation at Vista Verde as all-inclusive as possible. It’s just easier for all of you, and it feels better for us to deliver a product with no surprises. Well, maybe some unexpected wonderful surprises……
Date: December 15th, 2014
Among some women, the “Girls’ Getaway” weekend or program has become an annual tradition where small or extended groups of women, ladies, girls, mothers, daughters, or friends organize a get together unaccompanied by (one might even say unburdened by) or exclusive of men, boys, brothers, and fathers. The motivation and/or common denominator is about connecting.
A girls’ weekend might include recreating or relaxing together, enjoying good food and good wine, and a host of other activities that provide the backdrop for engagement and lasting memories. XCSkiResorts.com has found a list of women’s programs for the upcoming winter 2014-15 ranging from once-a-week group outings to week-long all inclusive packages. Read more…..
Date: December 9th, 2014
As we gear up for our winter season to open on December 13, there is a lot of work to do. The Lodge is getting decorated as I write this post. The tree has gone up, the wreaths are being hung, and Willie the Moose has donned his Santa hat once again. The ski guides are going through their in-depth guide training (remember if you want to learn all that is taught to the guides, you can participate in our Guide Training for Guests in late-March), the ranch hands and kid wranglers are getting dialed in on snowmobile driving for the tubing hill, the chefs are finalizing their menus, and the housekeepers are getting the cabins sparkling clean after sitting empty for the off-season. The other day, Mandy and KP tried out a new horse for the one horse sleigh. Ben and Jerry came to us as a team years ago, but weren’t quite right for our big feed sleigh. Ben turned out to be a great one for the one horse sleigh. But Jerry hasn’t gotten his chance until this winter. So, to see if he makes the cut, the wranglers are trying him out for a few days before we open for the season. Same captured this video of a late afternoon practice run. He still needs some time to settle into the job, but he’s coming along nicely so far! Come visit us for a vacation in winter wonderland and enjoy your own private sleigh ride!
Music provided by the talented Brent Rowan. Brent is a past Academy of Country Music Guitarist of the Year who now lives in Steamboat Springs. His CD “Bare Essentials” is one of our favorites.
Date: November 21st, 2014
I’ve fallen off the blogging bandwagon this off-season. It’s easy to do as it’s so quiet at the ranch and not much is happening. Well, a lot is happening but not so much that you really want to hear about. Let me tell you about the projects I’m working on! Nah, maybe interesting to me, but likely ho hum to you. Ben could tell you all sorts of new things on the insurance front. Woo hoo! Bill could take photos of every paint spot he’s repaired, the vent pipe he fixed (this is big news for those of us who were here in the fall….) and the new stain on the Lodge. Charlie could check in and report on financials. Snoring yet?
Off season is a great time at a dude ranch. Those of us still around get to knock out the projects we don’t have time for when we’re open with guests at the ranch. But, it’s not always the most news worthy time. I will tell you that it’s been one of the nicest falls we’ve had in a long time. Everyone has been on a bit of a high because of it. The warm and sunny weather lasted way longer than normal. There was about one week of mud, cold, and wet before Mother Nature turned on the winter season. Then, within about 5 days it went from dirt to snow, and we haven’t looked back yet. That’s how we like it!
Some folks are rolling in from vacation, some of us headed out for a bit. Many of us take Thanksgiving to go see family, as it is the one holiday we get to leave the ranch so we take advantage of that. Some of us stick around and band together to celebrate the holiday with the ranch family. Either way, we are so thankful that we get to live here, enjoy this amazing place, make our passion our work, and play with wonderful people.
While the snow piles up, we’ll continue to prepare for the winter season. December 13 is opening day, and by the looks of the reservation calendar, it’s shaping up to be a season filled with lots of fun people! Enjoy the upcoming holiday, and I’ll check back in when the staff arrives in early December.
Date: October 27th, 2014
It’s off-season at Vista Verde right now. What does that mean? We’re not open for guests, most of the seasonal staff have headed home, either for a break before the winter season or onto their next adventure in life. Many of the managers are on vacation as well. Yesterday I had a chuckle at some of the classic signs that you know it’s off-season:
- Beka has worn her running clothes to work every day this week. I think she has run before work, mid-day, and then gone outside to hike or run at the end of the day as well.
- The “Closed for the Season” was up within 24 hours of our last guests leaving the ranch last week. That’s a Bill ritual. He never misses it.
- We all said, “Have a great weekend” to each other last Friday afternoon, and meant it in the normal sense that people use those words.
- Ben’s cowboy boots have been replaced by cozy, soft, slip on shoes.
- It takes an hour to find and catch a horse to ride, since they are spread out on about 200 acres, and aren’t getting rounded up each morning and brought into the corral.
- We’re being reminded of what the rest of the world goes through with having to pack a lunch each morning. Novel concept.
- I have worn the same pair of ratty jeans every day this week. Yep, saves on laundry. Don’t worry, I will be more than happy to bust out my “fancy” jeans when guests return. We’ve gotta have some standards around here!
- Dead flies. We miss the housekeepers cleaning the Great Room. Nuff said.
- Appointments. Everyone seems to have an appointment. Haircuts, oil changes, teeth cleanings. You name it, we all have time to get things done now.
Some of us here love the off-season as it offers a chance to catch up on projects without distraction, work a more traditional 8-5, Mon-Fri schedule, and of course it’s the time when we all fit in our vacation! Others dread it as it’s just too lonely and quiet around the ranch with everyone gone. Either way you slice it, we’re taking advantage of what it has to offer, and getting ready for the staff to arrive early December and the guests to follow a couple weeks later.
Date: October 14th, 2014
Over the course of the summer, Erica (in charge of our kids program) has sent me photos from her adventures out in the mountains around Vista Verde. Always by her side is her trusty friend Goldie.
We’ll throw our friends at the Honest Kitchen some love here in mentioning that Goldie is one of the ranch dogs fueled by the Honest Kitchen. These fine folks provide our ranch dogs with all natural human grade dog food products, using dehydrated whole foods. Their pet foods are produced in the USA from non-GMO produce, hormone-free meats and some organic, fair trade ingredients. Try some out for your cat or dog!
Now, back to Goldie’s adventures. In each batch of photos, there is a perfectly posed photo of Goldie with some absolutely amazingly scenic backdrop. This dog was meant to be a model, and loves being in front of the lens! I’ve had fun posting these photos throughout the summer on our social media channels. With the season coming to an end, I thought I’d take a walk down memory lane via Goldie’s adventures. It has been an amazing season. We’ve had pretty much a full house all the way up until last week, when things started to get a bit quiet. The season will come to an end after this week, and we’ll shut down for a few weeks while we wait for the snow to start accumulating. So, enjoy this tour of the summer and fall seasons through the adventures of Goldie.
Date: October 8th, 2014
As we near the end of our season, we are all enjoying the last days of guests at the ranch. Come October 18 things will get awfully quiet around here. The last guests will be gone, the staff will be packing up and heading out for adventures, and the horses won’t be running in and out from their pasture each day, but just staying out there on vacation.
Between now and then, we’re enjoying the beauty of the transition of fall. This has been the longest fall foliage season I’ve ever experienced. Since mid-September, the colors have been gorgeous. Instead of all the aspens going at once, they’ve been changing bit by bit. One stand will change while another stays bright green. Over the course of the past month, the forest has let the colorful show linger. We’re still seeing some stands of aspens just starting to change to yellow, orange, and red. So, chances are that this show will last until Halloween!
The weather this October has been a mixed bag, from snow to rain to bright sunny days. We’ve had freezing weather and we’ve had 70 degree days. As one guest from San Diego pointed out to me this morning, welcome to Colorado! No matter what the weather, our guests have gotten out there and made it happen. Add a jacket, some gloves and a rain slicker and off we go into the woods. A good attitude and a sense of adventure can go a long way on a rainy day!
The elk finally decided it was fall, and have started keeping people awake at night up on the hillside. It’s such an eerie sound to hear them bugling back and forth. There is nothing like waking up to a herd of elk outside your bathroom window.
The days keep flying by, and the season continues to transition as we make our way toward winter. For now, we’ll all take a few more days (can we even request a few weeks?) of gorgeous fall days like today. In fact, we all sat out at lunch today just to soak up the wonderful sunshine, not something you can do all the time in October. As our season comes to an end, we’ll reflect back on a huge year, figure out what we want to change for next year, and how to make the guest experience even better. Then it’s time to start planning for winter. December 13 is opening day for the winter season, and then we’re off to the races again!
Date: September 23rd, 2014
We are in our 5th adult-only week of the fall season. So far, we have had some gangbuster weeks with a ton of great guests, lots of wonderful adventures, a mix bag of weather ranging from rain, rain go away to what we all call “hot” (If you’re from the southern part of the States, yes you can laugh at us for calling 80 degrees “hot”.) Through all this, it’s been wonderful to watch the transition of the seasons. The grass has turned golden, the aspens are at this very moment exploding with color, and the scrub oak and ferns are alternating on the spectrum of yellow, orange and red.
One of the fun changes we make to our schedule when we shift over to adult-only weeks for the fall is to add in a wine pairing dinner one night. The Chefs get to flex their creative muscles, play around with some different wines and food options, and wow the guests a bit. It’s a fun night, and we always just hope that after a long day of adventures on the trail no one ends up asleep in their plate.
The other evening, Chef Hannah captured some amazing shots of the food. Just to tantalize your taste buds a bit, here are some of these wonderful shots, along with the menu from one of the evenings we enjoyed with great guests and fabulous food.
Date: September 17th, 2014
Something hit me the other day as I was talking to a couple guests at lunch. They were telling me how they just love how we all seem to just be so happy. What resonated with me was a word that I’ve heard over and over in that same context. “Seem” As I listened to Devyn (who was sitting next to me and also engaged in this conversation) explain, with her beaming smile and infectious laugh, how it’s really true that we’re all happy folks, I started to think about why is it that the guests regularly mention to me that they are pleasantly surprised at how happy we all “seem” to be.
Part of it is the people we hire at the ranch. As Devyn was explaining, there are “Vista Verde people” and there are people who aren’t. Nothing wrong with those folks, but we do tend to select a person who has a zest for life, a love of taking care of others, and a true investment in the human experience. Oh, and they are typically pretty adventurous, educated, and interesting too. So, take that, and then you add in…..
Nature and Endorphins. Today I had an hour free at the end of the day before I had to pick up my kids. I had a choice. I could definitely have done a bit more work. I could have gone all super-momish and finished up laundry, prepped dinner, etc… I could have written this blog, as it was on my mile long to-do list for the day. Like most of us, the list is never-ending. Instead, I decided that I would be a fool if I didn’t take that 59.9 minutes and head into the woods. I hopped on my trusty mountain bike (the horse wasn’t available at the moment) and took off on a trail. About 30 minutes into the ride I had that moment. Euphoria hit in. The happy juice. Fresh air, dirt, trees, leaves, sunshine, and a fair amount of sweat…..all of it came together and my soul was soaring. Getting out in nature and sweating a bit makes us happy. And, at the ranch, we get a lot of opportunities to do just that.
The internet stinks. So, let’s be frank. The internet access 25 miles outside of a small, rural Colorado town isn’t exactly lightening fast. But, you know what? Besides the frustrations that we all face (ok, even cowboys need to send emails and might even prefer to pay their bills online), disconnecting from the world a bit seems to change people. We look around more. We talk to each other more. We go for moonlight hikes instead of streaming Netflix (now, having said that, Nathan is the biggest Netflix, the old fashion kind where you mail it in…, junkies out there). But, I believe that stepping away from all that does make people a bit happier, once they accept it and embrace it. (PR disclaimer….guests can still access emails for those who need to work on vacation, and we are constantly exploring ways to increase the bandwidth as we do recognize that to function as a business we do need better access.)
What we do is fun. In any business, and any time you are dealing with people, there are stresses. But, what is so great about this business is that we get to see people when they are at their best. We get you at your happiest times, and we get to play with you, share experiences with you, and become friends with you. Sure, we throw our heart and souls into serving our guests, and that can exhaust even the chippiest Devyn out there. But, what we get to do each day is fun.
So, don’t be fooled. We can all get tired, we can all get stressed, we can all get grumpy. Because, it’s just normal life for us with family issues, health issues, and an imperfect world. Even through those down days, there is an inner happiness, a contentment, and a joy that oozes through. But, just know that if you come here as a guest, I can assure you that it’s not an act. It’s happiness. Drink some of the Koolaid (aka Rocky Mountain spring water), and you might feel it too!
Date: September 10th, 2014
Vista Verde is often seen as being a “resort” as many folks can’t wrap their head around the fact that a guest ranch, or dude ranch, can be something more than what they saw in City Slickers. So, when people see us as a luxury property, they change guest ranch to resort. Now, there is nothing wrong with being considered a resort. But, there is something about a ranch that is different. For example…..
We make our guests work:
During one of our formal dinners this week, Larry donned his white shirt and jeans, just to look like the servers. Mid-service, Bubba got Larry a bolo tie and an apron, and brought him into the kitchen to help the servers for a few minutes. And, in the process, gave the chefs a mild panic attack. That’s a ranch for you.
Nappy Cat has earned a following from guests around the globe. CC is here right now, with her stash of Fancy Feast, and Nappy is purr-fectly happy. Then, add to that Diane comes in and gives Nappy Cat a haircut in order to get rid of the….nappies. Next week, Nappy Cat will go back to helping us with mice control. That’s a ranch for you.
The traffic around here stinks:
It seems to be that the cows know to block the road just when it’s time to drive up to one of the many hiking trail heads. It doesn’t matter which trail head we choose, they seem to know where we’re going to be headed and settle down right in the middle of the road. Having said that, when we go out on horseback to round them up, they suddenly disappear. That’s a ranch for you.
The band is inclusive:
Go to a resort and sit down at the bar after dinner to listen to the band, and you’ll probably enjoy a nice evening of music. At Vista Verde, if you have musical talent, you very well may find yourself being the entertainment. Several times this summer, the Friday night music has included guest performers. Sometimes they are even better than the band, but don’t tell the guys.
Those are just a few anecdotal examples of things that happen here at Vista Verde that make us all laugh and say, “Only at a ranch.” For guests who have been here before, please share any of your own stories in the comments!
Date: August 26th, 2014
A couple weeks ago, the VVR kids got crafty and creative when they decided to raise some money for animals in need. As they went through yard after yard of friendship threads (if you’re a parent of school-age children, I suspect you are finding remnants of friendship thread all over your house these days as well), they came up with a plan. The girls developed their product, did a market analysis, studied their demographic, compared their pricing strategy with the competition, and agreed upon their marketing plan. Then they put it all into action.
The target audience? Unsuspecting parents and staff at the barn dance.
The product? Colorful friendship bracelets handcrafted in the kids hut.
The pricing plan? Donations only. That opens the door for a higher price point for those who don’t want to be called “cheap”.
The competition? Just Ben calling square dance moves. Not too hard to compete with, for sure.
The revenue goal? As much as possible.
So, how did they do? Well, let’s just say these ladies have a future in business and philanthropy. They made a really nice card, bundled up the $75 they raised, and sent it off to the ASPCA. They recognized that not all horses have the luxe life of a Vista Verde horse, and wanted to do something good for horses who don’t spend most of their days in knee deep green pastures.
Way to go girls!
Date: August 18th, 2014
There is a great amount of pleasure taken in watching our guests have epic adventures on their vacations here at Vista Verde. I love hearing the stories, seeing the photos, and watching their faces light up as they recall their amazing experiences. But, it doesn’t stop with the guests. Hearing about the epic adventures our staff have is also just as much of a treat. Most of them come to work at a dude ranch because they love people, the outdoors, and want to experience Colorado. So, it makes sense that on their days off, they go off and try new things, explore the state, and see new places. Some end up making this home, and this just becomes their lifestyle. Some are just here for a few months, so are getting out as much as possible before heading back home to school or another job.
Sit back, and enjoy a little armchair adventure through the eyes of some fabulous dude ranch staff members.
Last weekend JT, Goldie and I summited Flat Top mountain right in VVR’s own backyard along the continental divide. It was a 17 mile round trip hike completed in one day.
We climbed over 4,000 feet in elevation, talk about a workout! The wild flowers are gorgeous up there right now.
This weekend we are backpacking into the Flat Top Wilderness in the White National Forest with Isaac and Zach.
Jen Parent, SallyMcEwen and I went on the Devil’s Causeway hike in the Flat Top Wilderness. It was thrilling and terrifying crossing over the causeway which is at it’s narrowest, four feet wide. A picture could never do it justice. One of my favorite things about Vista Verde is the community and doing an incredible hike like this only bonds us even more.
Ashley Boyd (Kid’s Wrangler)
The “Tuesday Crew,” Ashley, Brandi, Emily and Paul, took a road trip earlier in the summer to The Great Sand Dunes National Park. We camped the night before, and then spent all day climbing the dunes and sand surfing down.
More recently the “Tuesday Crew” plus Jake, decided to explore in their own back yard! We completed a 24 mile hike in the Zirkel Wilderness Area which included summiting Lost Ranger and hiking along the Continental Divide. It was amazing to see the incredible beauty that is so close to the ranch!
Date: August 8th, 2014
With seat bones sore and bodies worn out, paddle boarding has been a great mid-week option for our guests on a warm summer day. Paddling around a lake, taking in the scenery, and just relaxing with a cool breeze has left folks refreshed and ready to hit the trail the next day! Learn more about summer vacation activities at Vista Verde Ranch.
Date: July 29th, 2014
Our foals have been growing up so quickly! Here is a quick update to catch you up on who is who among this year’s foals and the personalities they are growing into. All of these foals are by our stallion Gunshy Ganster.
Registered Name: Fully Baretta
Filly or Colt: Filly
Dam (mom): Full Persuaded a.k.a. Rachel
Qualities: Fiesty and Spunky
Registered Name: Calamity Jane
Filly or Colt: Filly
Dam: Mary Jane Reyn a.k.a. M.J.
Qualities: Refined and Loving
Registered Name: Shootin Sage
Filly or Colt: Filly
Dam: Emmie Oaklys a.k.a. Oakley
Qualities: Sweet and Sassy
Registered Name: Gunninfortubbychics
Filly or Colt: Colt
Dam: Reynyday Whoamann a.k.a. Teletubby
Qualities: Calm and Carefree
Date: July 17th, 2014
Going down to the mare barn to visit the mares and foals is always a great time. But this year there has been an extra special source of fun down there. It’s an unlikely friendship between Bandit the cat and the foals. I saw it first this spring, when we had only two foals on the groud, and many more to go. But, as the other foals have arrived and settled into the herd, we’re learning that Bandit is not exclusive in his friendship with the foals. He likes them all!
Now, let me explain, this is not just a cat that likes to sit on the fence near the foals. This cat gets in there and loves on these foals like you can’t imagine! His first pick is a snoozing foal as that makes for the best cuddling. Even better is when he can roll around and get some nuzzles as that gets all those itchy spots on his back.
Believe it or not, the foals love him! They follow him around, nuzzle him, snuggle with him and even sometimes nibble on him. They do draw the line when he starts to knead with his claws too much. Who wouldn’t?
Enjoy these amazing photos, most of them captured by staff member Suzanna Bloom. Even better, come join us for a ranch vacation and you can join the foal clinic and see Bandit in action!
Date: July 8th, 2014
If you’ve been following the ranch on our various social media outlets, you’ve already met Cori Webb via her photography. I figured it was time to officially introduce her so people could know the person behind the lens.
Cori is originally from Indiana, and attended Indiana University to study elementary education before making Vista Verde her home. She is in her 5th season working at the ranch and has a wide variety of experience from working as a kid supervisor, housekeeper, teen wrangler, and my favorite spot for her in the front office (Cori would disagree as she prefers to be outside, but we’d have her back any day!).
So, how does Cori end up with all these phenomenal photos? She isn’t a trained photographer, but has always been drawn to the camera and capturing moments around her. Cori’s interest was piqued after a photography class in high school, and she has been shooting ever since. Being at the ranch, she mostly takes photos of the natural world, but she would really like to spend some more time taking photos of people going forward. She loves children, so maybe there’s a future in family photo shoots? Possibly as a side gig as her main focus is elementary education.
As with any great VVR staff who settles at the ranch for a while, and much to our chagrin, Cori’s time is coming to move on in life. After this summer she will be heading down the mountain and giving city life a try in Denver. She’s hoping to find a teaching job there so she can start applying her talents with children in the classroom.
When asked what she would miss most about the ranch, Cori answers, “”There are so many incredible aspects to the ranch, but the community is definitely what I’m going to miss the most. This place has become home over the last few years.“
It’s been a gift for us to have Cori as part of the family all these years. On top of her great contributions to the guest experience, and our staff community, we’ve been able to share the beauty of the ranch with so many people through her photos. We hope you enjoy her photos throughout this summer!
Date: July 2nd, 2014
Five weeks into our summer season we are loving the sunny days, the green mountains, the wildflowers and the many adventures on the trail. But, as we look forward and prepare for what’s to come, our thoughts are also turning to the fall, and even the winter.
The end of August brings the start of our adult-only weeks. It’s such a fun time! Four of those weeks are cattle round-up weeks, as we bring in the cows from the forest before the weather turns. Then, in October we move into the option of shorter stays. Guests can either join us for our Sunday-Sunday stays, or come for a little shorter version of the dude ranch week with a Sunday-Thursday or Thursday-Sunday option. This is a great time to enjoy the seasonal transition as the valley prepares for the coming winter.
October is also a great time for business retreats. If you’ve ever thought of planning a retreat at a ranch, this is a great time to take advantage of our lower fall rates and bring your group together at Vista Verde.
Although much of the fall is full at this point, there is still space during the first few weeks in October. Come out and join us for a little fall fun in the Rocky Mountains!
Date: June 20th, 2014
The other evening, I got to enjoy a wonderful dinner with some of our guests. The evening was a stitch with the guests firing questions at me, left and right. They told me at the end that I passed my annual job review, and I could come back to work the next day. Phew.
But, during the conversation, one question stood out to me (ok, besides the “brilliant” marketing ideas we were passing around such as adding cow tipping, among other things). The question was, “What would it look like for me to come here with my family during the winter?” The point of the question was that guest said when he found our website, he saw that we offer winter stays as well. But, although he could imagine the summer vacation concept he couldn’t really wrap his head around what a winter vacation at Vista Verde would be like for his family. So, I began to paint the picture. Here’s how it went.
Winter vacations at Vista Verde are magical. That’s the best word I can use to describe them. The snow is piled up as high as the fences, which muffles all the noise and looks like a sea of marshmallows. When it’s a snowy day, flakes fall gently out of the sky- sometimes huge fluffy flakes, sometimes small tiny specks. On the bluebird sky days, the snow sparkles like a field of diamonds and the sun warms us all as we play outside.
For the romantics, a winter vacation at Vista Verde is like none other. Ok, no itsy bitsy string bikinis here. But, imagine a cozy cabin with a fire roaring inside. The hot tub bubbles on the deck, waiting for you to come out and sit under the stars. No TV, no phone, no distractions from the one you love. Reading by the fire, chatting in the hot tub….it’s up to you.
For families, I firmly believe there is no better place to introduce kids to snow. Unlike the big ski resorts, there are no lines here. No crowds. No hassle of renting gear, figuring out ski schools, finding your kids, hauling your wet and tired kid all the way across a mountain to get back to your condo, dealing with the neighbors who are staying up all night partying. Out here it’s quiet, quaint and comfortable. Kids can experience all sorts of different snow based activities. If they get cold, it’s just a hop over to the cabin to change clothes and warm up. Someone is always looking out for them with our small community atmosphere. It’s easy, safe and fun. And every kid needs to experience the joy of snow at least once while they are still young enough to want to make snow angels.
What do you do? Are there enough activities? Well, give back country skiing a try, or take a skate ski lesson. If that seems like too much technique (it’s not, we promise even a total novice can do it) then let our guides take you out on a back country snowshoe. Ride a horse in the snow. Take a horsemanship clinic in the heated indoor arena. Go for a sleigh ride. We have the one horse open sleigh….it doesn’t get any more classic than that. Help us feed our herd of horses the old fashioned way on the big sleigh pulled by the draft horse team. Step inside for a wine tasting or a cooking class. Stretch out with some yoga. Learn the finer points of using your camera in our photography workshop. Tube! We’ll pull you up the hill with snowmobiles and then you can fly back down on a big, cushy snow tube. If that’s not enough, head into Steamboat for dogsledding or snow mobiling, or even downhill skiing. Trust us, there is plenty to do in between those amazing meals.
If you’ve ever wanted to experience a classic winter resort, it’s time to try Vista Verde Ranch in the winter! As much as I’m loving the summer season right now, thinking about winter gets me excited to bundle up and go out to play in the snow. Soon enough we’ll be enjoying the winter wonderland again.
Date: June 10th, 2014
There’s a little game we play with the kids who come to Vista Verde Ranch. It involves a moose name Willie and some bedtime snacks. You see, each evening the housekeeping fairies visit the cabins and leave a little something for mom and dad, along with a snack for the kids. The snack is guarded by Willie the Moose. However, most nights Willie gets a little sneaky and hides with the snack. All good and fun, right?
Well, not always. Yesterday, housekeeping fairy Emily was stumped when she came by to clean up one of the cabins in the morning. She couldn’t find Willie. He was missing. If you’ve been following us for a while, you may be aware of the Willie the Moose book, and may even have your own copy. If you’ve read the book, you know that Willie is a funny critter so maybe it’s not a surprise that he went hiding. (If you don’t have the book, pardon the shameless plug but you can buy one now!)
If you know housekeeping fairy Emily, you may also know that she is a wee bit vertically challenged, so it’s no surprise that it took her a while to find Willie. As you can see, he went for a bit of a climb overnight. But, fear not, he has been rescued and returned to his happy place in the cabin. However, let us just say it now to Jack and Austin. Game on. Good luck finding your snack tonight!
Date: June 3rd, 2014
By John, with some input from Steph, and excerpts from product sites
The other day, Chef John showed up in my office beaming with excitement to share a slice of “ham”. I put that in quotes, because that’s what I thought it was. After a 5 minute enthusiastic explanation, I realized this isn’t just “ham”. So, I asked John to give me a little more info on some of the other things like “ham” that he’s excited about in the kitchen for this summer. As you can see, Chef John does not lack enthusiasm for amazing culinary products (catch him talking fishing and you’ll find this extends to his life as an angler). Here’s what he has to say about where he and Chef Cholly are taking things this summer:
This season, instead of looking for inspiration from across the world, we decided to look right in our backyard to see what small and specialty producers are doing close to home. The cooking techniques and products that we are using are specific to regions of the states that are known for their unique contributions to the culinary world. Also we are featuring local, organic and heirloom varieties whenever possible, this includes meats and dairy with no antibiotics or growth hormones. Here is some info on a few of the products we’re excited to be serving our guests at Vista Verde:
Edward’s family hams in Virginia
Developed as an All-American alternative to Europe’s dry-cured hams, Edwards Surryano Ham is crafted from rare heritage breed hogs. The purebred Berkshires are pasture-raised to create perfectly marbled meat. Hand-cured, hickory-smoked and aged, the unforgettable rich flavor matches and surpasses anything from across the pond.
Hams from S. Wallace Edwards & Sons in Surry, Virginia, are prepared in the true Virginia Tradition.
Long before the first settlers arrived at Jamestown in 1607, the Native Americans had been curing venison and fish, plentiful in forest and rivers.
The taste of the salt-cured and smoked meat was different from the sun-dried method the settlers knew in their native England.
The settlers soon brought hogs which were left to forage New World vegetation including nuts and acorns. By 1608, the colonists were keeping their hogs on an island five miles below the Jamestown settlement. The island soon became known as Hog Island, as it is today over three centuries later. In 1652, Surry County was formed encompassing Hog Island and much other land across the James River from Jamestown.
These early colonists soon developed a process of smoking pork over hickory and oak fires, after rubbing it with salt obtained from evaporating seawater, then allowing the meat to stand for a period of time. The salt preserved the meat, the smoking and aging enhanced the flavor.
When other crops failed or tobacco prices fell, there were always hams to trade; thus, Virginia hams were exported to England from Surry.
For generations, ham curing has been a seasonal event for Virginia farmers. Hogs were killed in the winter and their meat packed in salt while the weather was cool enough to keep it from spoiling. The meat then was rinsed and hung to dry and smoke during the remaining cool months. With luck, it would endure the high temperatures of summer age.
In 1926, S. Wallace Edwards, the young captain of the Jamestown-Surry ferry began selling ham sandwiches to his passengers. The ham had been cured by him as on the family farm according to those time tested methods.
Soon demand became great enough that S. Wallace Edwards began curing hams on a full time basis, distributing them to country stores and fine hotels, and shipping them throughout the country and overseas.
S. Wallace Edwards & Sons remains a family operation in Surry County not far from Jamestown where Native Americans taught the settlers to cure meat. Today’s facilities simulate the seasons without sacrificing the care and attention that result in that unique flavor of Virginia hams.
In the time-honored style of the Native Americans, settlers and farmers before them, S. Wallace Edwards & Sons processes each ham by hand as it goes through the stages of curing.
Many days of cool “hickory” smoked are required to give these hams their rich mahogany color. They are then allowed to hang undisturbed for “aging” until they develop that real Virginia flavor. The very finest hams are selected and hand-rubbed with salt. They remain in the curing room under controlled temperature until the desired amount of salt has been absorbed. Excess salt is removed by washing and the hams are then pepper-coated and ready for hanging in the smokehouse.
Uncooked hams are ready to ship at this point others may go through a cooking process in the ham kitchen. These are submerged in water and slowly simmered until they are fully cooked and ready to be served.
We’re also bringing in heirloom and organic grains and legumes from Anson mills in south Carolina
Anson Mills founder and visionary Glenn Roberts grew up in San Diego, California, the son of a professional singer and photographer, and an erstwhile Southern belle from Edisto, South Carolina who became an accomplished scratch cook and occasional restaurateur. Glenn was a restless, deeply curious boy, who, by all accounts, required steady discipline to stay out of mischief. His mother tried to tame him by putting him to work on weekends as a busboy in her restaurant. His father taught him to fly an Aeronca Champ when he was just eight years old, using pillows to prop him up and two-by-fours wired to the rudder pedals. Both parents required their children to have musical training: Glenn studied French horn throughout his boyhood and adolescence, performing first in the San Diego Youth Symphony, and later occupying fourth chair in the San Diego Symphony. None of this, however, prevented Glenn from pursuing his real passion (and every parent’s nightmare): chemistry experiments. Working with explosive gas for a national science contest, Glenn blew the door off his parents’ garage on one occasion and decimated his mother’s kitchen on another. (The experiments earned him second place in the contest; the damages earned him a whipping.)
At 17, Glenn entered the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on a music and science scholarship and graduated four years later. A conventional life track, however, was too narrow to contain his energies: he joined the Air Force to feed his love of supersonic jets and flying and later sailed around the world on private yachts as a navigator and a mate (becoming, in the process, absorbed by indigenous foods of the tropical environment and the agriculture that accompanied them). He took up riding and dressage. He drove long-haul trucks.
Somewhere along the road of diversionary adventure, Glenn’s overarching interests distilled into the study of architectural history and the history of food. Settling down into a suit and proper shoes, he backed into historic property restoration from the kitchen door, working on space design and adaptive reuse in Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia. His geographic area ultimately narrowed to South Carolina where Glenn took on broader aspects of redesign projects, carrying those through to the hiring of chefs and marketing staff, and to the planning and execution of celebratory dinners at projects’ end. The menus he helped plan were intended to offer period-authentic dishes. But the ingredients didn’t exist: they were extinct. Local growers did not produce them and would not be persuaded to try. In particular, grains of the era like Carolina Gold rice, lynchpin of the Antebellum cuisine of South Carolina, were nearly impossible to source.
Glenn’s career epiphany came on a hot summer afternoon in the kitchen of an historic Charleston property. An elaborate rice dinner was just hours away, and the solitary source on earth for Carolina Gold rice at that time—a grower in Savannah—had delivered his product earlier in the day. When the chef opened the bag to cook the rice, the grains were writhing with weevils. Picking through the rice was laborious and time was of the essence. At 7 o’clock in the evening, Glenn found himself at a prep table with two dishwashers, sweating in his suit and tie, and rousting weevils from Carolina Gold, the dinner swirling by without him. He thought of his mother’s cooking when he was a boy. He looked at the lousy rice. He vowed to put Carolina Gold into serious production so this would never happen again.
For the next several years, between projects, Glenn grew small-plot Carolina Gold in Charleston and worked with a rice geneticist in Texas to reinvigorate the seed, which, through neglect and inactivity, had begun to display characteristics of its sister rice, Carolina White. To support his experiments in Carolina Gold, whose resurrection now represented for Glenn an all-consuming preoccupation (his mother, after all, was Geechee, a person who eats rice every day), he began to research other regional heirloom grains of the era that he could throw into production more quickly.
The research began with corn. In 1995, Glenn explored rural back roads looking for the famous white Carolina mill corn that was revered in Antebellum plantation inventories and recipes for its high mineral and floral characteristics and its creamy mouthfeel. He found this corn in a bootlegger’s field near Dillon, South Carolina in 1997, and planted and harvested his own first crop of 30 acres in 1998. Known as Carolina Gourdseed White, the single-family hand-select dated back to the late 1600s.
Glenn passed the Gourdseed grits around to chefs in Charleston and Atlanta, and they all went crazy.
The discovery of Carolina Gourdseed White, and of other nearly extinct varieties of Southern mill corn, fueled Glenn’s efforts to preserve nutrition and flavor in heirloom corn. But he knew the corn would have to be milled as carefully as it was grown.
Returning to historic documents, Glenn read about an heirloom that had been bred to blow down in late fall for hand harvest under snow in deep winter. The corn, an 1850 yellow dent of Appalachian provenance called John Haulk, was known to have made the “finest cornbread and mush.” The fact that it was milled under freezing conditions after full field ripening and drying puzzled Glenn until he froze and milled his own Gourdseed White. The flavors of the cold-milled corn were stunning. With this experiment, Glenn “rediscovered” cold milling and, in so doing, found a way to offset the heat damage grains experience between two stones. He also found a perfect place to store his seed corn: in the freezer.
At this point Glenn possessed a fully realized, madly ambitious plan: to make Carolina Gold rice a viable Southern crop, and to grow, harvest, and mill other nearly extinct varieties of heirloom corn and wheat organically. By doing this, Glenn hoped to re-create ingredients of the Antebellum Southern larder, ingredients that had vanished over time. Grits, cornmeal, Carolina Gold rice, graham and biscuit flour—these ingredients, all milled fresh daily for the table, had helped create a celebrated regional cuisine and America’s first cuisine: the Carolina Rice Kitchen.
Never one for half measures, Glenn, in 1998, sold his worldly possessions, tossed his business cards, and began living out of his car. He rented a sprawling metal warehouse behind a car wash in Columbia, South Carolina and bought four native granite stone mills. Anson Mills was born.
By 2000, Glenn had his first real harvest of Carolina Gold rice, as well as 10 varieties of heirloom Southern dent corns. He was milling grits for chefs in Georgia and the Carolinas. Word got around. A handful of ingredient-conscious chefs across the country began to use Anson Mills products and promote them vigorously to their colleagues. The circle widened.
In 2001, sustained by the success of Anson Mills’ early efforts, Glenn was able to take on full production of certified organic Carolina Gold rice and a “Thirteen Colony” wheat called Red May.
In 2004, Glenn found a complementary match for his drive and detail awareness in the diminutive personage of Kay Rentschler, a former chef and then freelance journalist for the New York Times dining section, as well other New York publications. On assignment for the Times to report on Glenn’s grits, Kay asked more questions and pursued the acquisition of information like few others he had known. Her Times article on Anson Mills, “A Grits Revival with the Flavor of the Old South,” brought such attention to the company that Glenn promptly fell in love. He married Kay, but could not keep her in the South. He’s not complaining: you can’t have everything.
Today, in addition to its collection of native heirloom grains, Anson Mills grows Japanese buckwheat, French oats and Mediterranean wheat, and Italian farro. Kay creates period-authentic recipes, catalogues the history and virtues of the ingredients and dishes alike, and is the photographer for ansonmills.com.
Glenn continues to be restless and deeply curious. He works tirelessly to manage his old grains, the land, and their growers, as well as chefs and retail customers. It’s a relentless effort. But only rarely must he wear a suit.
We also have tender bellly bacon and breakfast sausage and other heritage pork products
Entrepreneurial fires burned in both Erik and Shannon, along with a broad set of professional skills and most importantly, a love for good, pure, clean food and making the simple things extraordinary.
Now Erik and Shannon would like to offer a taste of Tender Belly to individuals like you, OUR FELLOW PORK LOVERS. we understand that anything good takes time and commitment. FINE PORK can only make its way to your table after the utmost care and devotion to the well-being of the animal. The animals live a stress-free life with plenty of open space to roam and exercise. This freedom promotes exquisite intramuscular marbling you can’t achieve any other way.
We also understand that the choice of diet influences the taste of what ends up on your plate; that is why they’re fed an all-natural 100% vegetarian diet.
Dedication to all these aspects is why TENDER BELLY PORK PRODUCTS are the finest and most mouthwatering on the market.
Date: May 30th, 2014
The staff are all here now. The guests have booked their stays. The snow has melted (well, except for some up on the top of the Zirkels). The grass and wildflowers have re-appeared. The bikes have been tuned up. In fact, so have the horses….teeth floated, feet trimmed, vaccinated, and first rides out of the way. The chefs have practiced their meals. The staff have walked through mock rides, mock meals, mock dances, mock everythings. It’s time to open!
Sunday afternoon marks the first time we’ll have guests coming up the drive for the summer dude ranch season. We’re ready to kick off the season with a great group of guests, an excited staff and lots of fresh air and sunshine.
So, what have we been doing to prepare for these folks to come in and enjoy a great family vacation?
We devote two full weeks to training our staff and preparing for the summer season. The first week is spent focusing on the nuts and bolts of each department and establishing the culture of the ranch. The second week is the practice week, when we reinforce what they’ve learned and put it into play. Mixed in with all of this is some serious prep work. After a huge winter, there are a ton of fences to fix. The tack needs to be cleaned and oiled. The cabins need to be deep cleaned and polished up so they are ready for Sunday. The constructions projects need to be finished up (we upgraded the Hinman cabin flooring this spring and Bill did a remodel on the bunkhouse). Every spring we have to clear the down trees, so the wrangler and guide crew were out clearing trails on Wednesday. Staff photos are taken and new bios are written. The list goes on and on.
I did a “walk-about” this morning to check in on everyone. I kept hearing, “We’re ready, we just need to open now.” So, how about this? Let’s do it! Bring on Summer, as Olaf would say.
Date: May 22nd, 2014
After pouring through all our photos in search of one to use for our new note cards, we realized we needed something fresh and inspiring.
Do you have an amazing photo from your summer vacation at Vista Verde Ranch? Are you willing to share it? If so, we’d love to consider it! We will have a box of note cards customized and printed for you if we select your photo for our cards.
Here are the many ways you can submit a photo:
1) Post it on our Facebook page.
2) Tweet it to us @vistaverderanch
3) Create a Pinterest board with you photos you want considered and email the url to firstname.lastname@example.org.
4) @mention us on Instagram @vistaverderanch
5) Email the photo to email@example.com
Submit your photo by the end of Memorial Day weekend (close of day, May 26, 2014) and then we’ll pick the finalists and post them on Facebook for some voting action.
Keep in mind that we will need a high resolution image for the final product, so if yours is selected we will reach out to you to get that version.
Thank you, and we look forward to seeing your photos!