This week at the Ranch

Baylee had a little lamb

By Steph

Bailey's sheepOften times we see wildlife around the ranch or out on the trails.  You may have seen the crazy moose photo on Facebook last week.  If not, check it out.  This one was a little too close for comfort, but luckily everyone minded their p’s and q’s and Mr. Moose left without any fuss.  Then there are the wild cows.  They were supposed to be good kids and cooperate with getting rounded up in September.  However, this bunch was so unruly and wild that many of them are still out there in the woods enjoying the bounty of a wet summer and luscious grass.  Of course there have been deer, bald eagles, elk, fox and more other wonderful critters spotted around the ranch.

But, the most laughable “wildlife” story recently was that of Baylee and her little lamb.  One unsuspecting fall day Baylee hopped on her horse with some guests and headed out towards the National Forest for a nice, long ride through the aspens.  What she wasn’t expecting was a black sheep to come hunt down her ride, attach herself to the group, and follow them back to the ranch.  No joke, this lamb joined them for a long ride through the mountains before following them back to the ranch.  Upon returning to the ranch, the lamb decided she wanted to join the herd.  However, the horses weren’t so sure about that.  The wranglers said they have never seen such a sight as the entire herd going after the lamb like it was some foreign invader.  Baylee’s little lamb was rescued out of that mess and put into a pen.  She spent a week or so at the ranch while we tried to find her rightful owner.  No luck there but we were able to find a home for her at a neighbor’s small ranch where she is now living with some other farm animals.   So, just remember, you never know what you will run into out in the woods!

Life as a Ranch Dog


Oliver bragging about his dog food after playing in the surprise October snow.

Oliver bragging about his dog food after playing in the surprise October snow.

Meet Oliver.  He is one of our “behind the scenes” ranch dogs at Vista Verde.  Unlike Rosie, who likes to join hikes and ski trips,  and Trooper, who takes part in horsemanship clinics and trail rides, Oliver lays pretty low.  Although behind the scenes, he still has benefited from the great natural dog food that our good friends at the Honest Kitchen provide for our resident ranch dogs.  Oliver belongs to Erica (runs the kids program) and John (chef) and here is his story:

Oliver is no ordinary ranch dog!  He was was discovered at 2 weeks old on a beach off of the gulf of Thailand when Erica was still living and teaching in Bangkok.  After raising him in the busy city of Bangkok, he soon became a beach bum in Florida for a few years.  Once Erica met and married John, and relocated to Colorado, Oliver transitioned into the life of a rocky mountain dog!  Oliver loves life as a ranch dog- he gets to go on long hikes in the beautiful forest, play in the plentiful snow, and chase after those pesky marmots.  While Oliver is always working up an appetite at VVR, he remained a very picky eater.


It wasn’t until Honest Kitchen was introduced into his diet that he actually looked forward to his next meal.  He now waits excitedly, wagging his tail, to be served when before he would have to bribed with all sorts of treats on top.  Ollie cannot get enough of Honest Kitchen dog food and I have no doubt that this food will keep him healthy and happy!


That’s one fit horse!

By Steph

DBs fitness report

We know our horses are tough and will go for miles and miles.  Although we all work hard at the ranch, there is no doubt the our equine staff members work the hardest.  They carry our guests with a willing attitude and caring demeanor through the woods and over mountains.  The horses that make up the Vista Verde remuda are special beings, and only those who can handle the hard work and have kind hearts can make the cut.  Even though I know that, I got a great reminder of how hard they work when Faye sent me her Fitbit report for her week at the ranch.  Maybe you use Fitbit for your own personal fitness assessment and goals.  But DB the horse was the one being tracked during a week earlier this month.

Faye and DBAs you can see, Faye and DB covered some ground while they were out playing in the Colorado mountains.  We’re a little concerned about their lack of sleep, and wonder where the party was all night?  In the barn?  Chasing owls and coyotes in the pasture?  But, more than anything we are glad to see no change in weight.  You know the food around here…..sometimes the calories burned don’t quite offset the extra intake.

Next up is to put a GPS tracker on DB so we can map out all their adventures.

Romance at a dude ranch

By Steph

dude ranch romance

Lindsay and Cliff

You may not think of dude ranch and romance in the same thought.  But, besides the fact that I could go on and on about how a dude ranch vacation can be a really romantic vacation option, this post is not about guests enjoying a romantic getaway.  It’s about the staff.  Yes, those of you who have been here love to try to figure out what couples might have formed over the course of a season.  With a group of young people all living and working together as well as sharing a love of serving people and being in nature, how could you expect a little romance to flair up every now and then?  Yes, we preach to our staff professionalism and to be very careful getting emotionally involved with someone who you work with so closely.  But we also celebrate the wonderful pairings that have come out of the ranch romances.

romance at a dude ranch

Eliza and Brett

This summer, we celebrated two more marriages of VVR Alumni.  Earlier in August, Cliff and Lindsay celebrated their marriage in Indiana with some other ranch alums attending the wedding.  And just last weekend Eliza and Brett tied the knot in Vermont, also surrounded by some dear friends from the ranch.

It’s so exciting to see these two couples stepping into the next phase of their lives.  We wish them all the best in their marriages and their lives ahead of them.  They have become part of a special group of people who have found romance at  this Colorado dude ranch.  I’ve lost track of the count, but it’s close to 20 couples, and the babies…..I couldn’t even begin to start counting them.  VVR Alum couples, please share your stories and updates with us in the comments section.  I know there is at least one baby due soon in Idaho, but maybe even more on the way elsewhere?

Fall is coming to the ranch

By Steph

fall comingOne of the many joys of being at Vista Verde year-round is watching the seasons change each year.  Every year the timing is a bit different due to the weather we have had and are having at that time.  I find myself remembering differences in the various years based on how it ties in with various weeks at the ranch.  For example, this fall I am reminding myself that during past years the fall colors are popping out already during our first cattle round-up week.  This year they have been a little more shy and seem to be waiting for future weeks.  Having said that, the lead up to the full explosion of colors is almost as exciting as the time when golden aspen leaves fall on the trail below our feet and hooves.

Prior to the trees changing, there are these subtle color shifts that occur in the forest.  Our wonderful Jess captured some of these recently when she went out riding.

fall at a dude ranchIf you haven’t experience fall in Colorado you should run, not walk, to your computer and start planning that trip.  It’s not the same as the East coast explosion of colors, but it is truly magnificent.  Every year I am reminded and astonished by the beauty of the fall season.  The angle of the sun shifts so the light is mystical, especially more so in the morning and evening hours.  The colors are rich and the contrast with the beautiful blue sky is extreme.  There is no better time to be out in the forest riding, hiking, biking or just sitting.

This is the time for adult only weeks and now we are starting our cattle round-up outings.  It’s so fun to watch couples enjoy a romantic getaway or a group of girlfriends share laughter on their special time together.  But, aside from the stunning scene playing out in the forest what we love the most is the sound of joy.  My good friend gave me that term last week as she described the noise in the dining room one night.  It was loud.  And it was joy.

Plan your trip.  Book that ticket.  Even if you aren’t coming to Vista Verde for your fall getaway, get yourself out to Colorado!  But, I will mention that we do still have a little space during the first two weeks in October…..the colors may be starting to fade but the beauty of fall in Colorado will still be surrounding us at the ranch.

Did you know?

By Steph

Bill's garden still producing at the end of our short growing season.

Bill’s garden still producing at the end of our short growing season.

Recently it struck me that we aren’t very good at letting our guests know about the healthy and/or local products that we mix into our offerings at the ranch.  We do make an effort to support local businesses as much as possible, and we do continuously look at what we are serving our guests to try to find healthy options for them.  So, I sat down to make a list and decided there is no better time than the present to share that list with you.

  1. The cabin amenities are all locally made by Steamboat Soap Company.  Soap, shampoo, conditioner, body wash and lotion.  We love this company, and their sister company Ranch Organics!
  2. All our coffee comes from the Colorado coffee roaster the Steaming Bean.
  3. Many ranches ship their horse hay in from the cheapest location.  We proudly support a fellow ranch family just 10 miles down the road by purchasing from them the 225+ tons of hay that we use to get through the winter.
  4. Love those eggs?  That’s because they are cage free and organic.
  5. And the dairy products?  Yep.  Organic (hormone free) milk, butter and yogurts are all out on our buffet.
  6.  The fresh and tasty lettuce and greens are all organic.
  7. Bacon!  It may not be good for you, but at least all our pork product is locally processed heritage breed Berkshire pork.
  8. Fresh made breads with organically grown wheat flours.
  9. When in season Colorado peaches, corn and lamb.
  10. Sustainably sourced, line caught fish and shellfish.
  11. Of course, we can’t overlook the greens and herbs from Bill’s garden right behind the kitchen!

A break-in, a murder mystery and a cowboy

By Steph

dude ranch crimeIt was a foggy morning.  Melissa had only had 1 cup of coffee so far.  She walked into the Lodge.  Something was different.  Something was wrong.  She gasped as she saw the scene of the crime.  Laying on the floor of the store was the victim of a gruesome dude ranch prank.  The authorities were called.  An investigation took place.  Suspects stepped up and claimed responsibility.  A trial may or may not have happened.  Possibly justice was served.  Or not.

You never know what you’ll run into on your dude ranch vacation here in the Wild West.  But, we can put your worries to rest to let you know that we have taken care of the victim of the crime and have the marmots and the dogs on high alert to keep an eye out for further shenanigans.

Phew.  We can all sleep better at night now.  But, never let your eyes off of mischievous guests.  You don’t know where they may turn next.

The wonderful world of housekeeping

By Steph

housekeepers in the rainAhhh, the housekeepers.  The unsung heroes at a dude ranch.  They clean, they deliver special goodies, they launder, they iron, they take out trash…..and they do it all with a smile on their face and laughter in their voices.  How many times do they joke among each other about how their parents might feel about them using their college degrees to do this job?  It’s probably daily.  But, what is so wonderful is that they understand the huge role they play in our guests’ experience.  They understand that they have the biggest impact on our guests’ first impression.  And, they understand that without them we’d all be a glorious mess.

I love watching the housekeepers find little ways to make their job fun.  Whether it’s dance parties in the laundry room after ironing their 100th sheet for the day or having fun with a guest by leaving a ransom note regarding Willie the Moose, they make it a good time.  The other day, in the midst of delivering special requests to the cabins it began to rain.  Not just a little sprinkle, but a full on downpour.  Did that stop them?  Nope.  As you can see, the crew just found an ingenious way to keep dry and kept on going.

So, today we sing the praises of our wonderful housekeepers.  While they work on their perfectly made beds, sparkling chrome, dust-free ledges and streak-free mirrors we all can shout out a big thank you for all they do to make our guests feel like royalty.

Moving on

By Steph


Photo by John Balsdon

I don’t think it’s bragging too much to say we have amazing people come through the gates of Vista Verde to work at the ranch.  It’s just true.  Each season brings fresh new faces alongside the veterans of Vista Verde.  It’s always so much fun to watch our staff grow and develop in this setting.  There is so much one can learn from serving others, working and living in a small community and just being in nature.  To single out any one staff member is almost unfair.  There are so many outstanding people to mention who have been an integral part of the ranch this summer.  However, I am going to single out on in particular, who has contributed in so many ways for the past 3 years.

As Reid Morgan moves on to his next chapter in life, it is fitting to send a public farewell.  So many of you have enjoyed his laughter, his intellect and his  genuine and caring nature over these years at the ranch.  From playing his fiddle, leading rides, or taking out a mountain bike adventure, Reid has left his mark on Vista Verde.

So, we send Reid and his dog Dodger down the trail on their way to Boulder, CO where Reid will pursue an MBA with our thank you and best wishes.  We’re pretty sure we’ll be seeing him from time to time as he sneaks away from city life to breathe some fresh air and get the smell of horses back on his boots.


The fun of the Front Office

By Steph

Being a part of the front office team at a dude ranch makes for some great stories.  We love to help people, and we get regular opportunities to serve our guests face to face, on the phone and via email.  But, while most of these interactions are not news worthy, I have started to think we should write a book about the more interesting, humorous or touching moments that we do share with people.

Before I begin to attempt a book about dude ranching (maybe during retirement?) I wanted to share a few memorable experiences we’ve had in the past couple weeks.

Alaya’s egg salad

The fax machine started beeping.  Alaya steps to the machine to retrieve the incoming fax.  And there she finds an order for 300 pounds of egg salad.  Apparently, someone thought our food looks good enough that they wanted to order some to go?  Definitely a first for us, and although we pride ourselves in finding our way to “yes”, in this case we had to find our way to “no”.

A special overseas friend

I spend a lot of time on email each day.  But, every once in a while I receive one that gave me pause.  The other day, I received the most lovely note from a woman overseas.  She wrote that we had corresponded 7 or 8 years ago, and that she had never forgotten the place or stopped dreaming about coming here.  She not only remembered my name and the fact that I had been helpful to her all those years ago, but she has been following the ranch ever since.  In that time she was married and subsequently went through a bitter divorce.  All through that, she has kept the ranch on her bucket list and was starting to dream about coming back.  This email turned into a wonderful back and forth as we explored the idea of making this dream a reality as well as learning about her and her life work and experiences.  Lucky us to have those kinds of interactions with people all over the world.

Scuba diving

Every now and then we’ll receive an email that makes us wonder, “Was this a joke?”  The one asking the whether there is scuba diving offered anywhere near the ranch definitely fit in that category.  I’m not sure what you’d find if you tried to scuba dive at Steamboat Lake, but we’re guessing there aren’t any hidden coral reefs.

Real Housewifes of Vista Verde

As I was wrapping up this blog post, the phone rang.  A director from one of the Real Housewives series was looking for a ranch to take the wives.  They wanted to get them out of their element.  Yep, this would be the place to do that.  But, as luck would have it, we are full when they wanted to come out.  I can only imagine what it might have looked like to have them here……

So, we may not have stories of chasing cows or hiking to new peaks, but we do still have a little fun here at the front office of Vista Verde.

Filthy, Sobbing Kids

By Steph

kids program dude ranchThis summer is a unique one for me.  For the first time, my children are joining the kid’s program at Vista Verde.  In the past, they may have tagged along with a babysitter overseeing them.  But this year, they are jumping in with their little cowgirl boots and jeans.  The past two weeks have been an amazing eye opener for me.  Here is what I have learned:

1) The kid’s program at Vista Verde is amazing.  Yes, I always knew that, and always sang the praises to potential guests.  But, I now believe it with such intensity, that I am not just singing, but singing in tune.

2) The kid wranglers are saints.  I could actually say this about anyone who works with children.  The patience, energy, kindness and did I mention patience that they practice on a minute by minute basis is unbelievable.

3) Horses really are a kids best friend.  Here my girls have grown up around horses, but I am once again reminded about the power of forming a relationship with a horse.  I have a note sitting on my desk to Eight Ball from a little girl that drives this point home as well.  I’ll share that one later.

4) A filthy, sobbing child is the kind of child we can all hope for at the end of a good day.  My girls were so dirty yesterday afternoon, that the tear streaks from their sobbing left tracks like war paint.  They traded off the crying, falling on the ground in a heap, kicking the back of the car seat all the way home and screaming in the shower as we attempted to remove some of the acquired dirt.  Yes, I needed a therapy session afterwards, but I knew it was a sign of an absolutely amazing day at Vista Verde.  Tomorrow I just need earplugs and a pre-game cocktail.  In fact, maybe that is something we should provide all our guests who come with children?

My kids have no idea how lucky they are to be able to be a part of something so amazing all summer long.  For those of you gearing up for your trip, just know the fun factory awaits your little ones.  Bring on the dirt!

Dude Ranch Award Season

By Steph

It must be award season in the dude ranch world.  In the past few days we have received notice of 2 awards we have won, and I just got a notice about voting opening for another award.  Get out the high heels, the bling and the ballgowns.  Well, or at least maybe I should wipe the dust off my boots?

certificateOfExcellence_2013-14348-2Big thank you’s go out to Tripadvisor for bestowing the Certificate of Excellence on us once again this year, recognizing that we rank in the top 10% worldwide for traveler feedback.  Really, the thanks go to you, our guests, who have written so many kind reviews.  Often times perspective guests call up, shocked that we have so many great reviews.  I never know how to respond to that, and typically give some sort of awkward comment back like, “Well, it must be something in the water.”  What do you say?  I suppose a simple “Thank you” would do the trick.  We try our hardest to make this vacation experience the best, and we appreciate those of you who share your experiences with others on Tripadvisor, at cocktail parties, on the ski lift and in the line at the grocery store, among other places.

best_ranches_ropeThe second piece of mail (yep, the old fashion kind) was from Gene Kilgore’s Ranchweb team announcing that we have been awarded the 2013 World’s Best Ranches Award.  I’m guessing we’re not the only ones to get this award, but appreciate that Gene Kilgore is still singing the praises of Vista Verde to the world.

Lastly, the Signature Ranch Awards by are now open for voting.  This is a fun contest each year, putting all the power in the hands of the guests.  Last year we won two of the categories, and we’d love to do it again!  If you have a minute, the voting is pretty quick, and you can even skip categories if you don’t have an opinion, or just write in Vista Verde if you’re feeling incredibly biased.  Click here to start voting.

We are humbled by your support of Vista Verde, and don’t take it lightly.  Maybe our choice of lifestyle isn’t the most high pressure work environment, but we do feel the burden of living up to your expectations and delivering you all the most amazing vacation experience we can pull off here at Vista Verde.  Thanks for recognizing our hard work!

Summer has arrived

By Steph

chapparel gateThe ranch is now open for business!  Opening day was Sunday, June 2, and we were all excited to welcome our first group of guests as they came up the drive and into the Lodge.  We have a full house, lots of kids, and everyone has jumped into their dude ranch adventure with smiles one their faces.

The aspens are brilliantly green right now, the grass is getting thicker each day and the wildflowers are peeking out here and there.  Spring (technically it is still spring, you know) at the ranch is such an amazing time.  The whole valley just comes bursting alive and it is so fresh and wonderful.

We’re excited about this summer.  It’s a big one with every cabin booked from now until September.  For those of you coming out to join us, we can’t wait to spend time with you playing in the mountains!  And for those of you who won’t be physically at the ranch, we look forward to sharing our stories of the season as we make our way through the season.

The tree nursery

By Steph

New seedlings!

New seedlings!

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.

Carson next to one of our guest Christmas trees from 2 years ago.  They are getting bigger too!

Carson next to one of our guest Christmas trees from 2 years ago. They are getting bigger too!

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.

The valley comes back to life

The horses enjoy the first shoots of grass, while the glacier lilies bloom in the forefront.

The horses enjoy the first shoots of grass, while the glacier lilies bloom in the forefront.

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

DSC_0415We’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.

Talented Guests

By Steph

dude ranch wrangler paintingThere are so many talented people who come through the gates of Vista Verde for a summer or winter vacation.  We are reminded of this all the time, when we get to spend time with folks out on the trail or over a cup of coffee.  My closet entrepreneurial side is always enamored by the stories of guests who have started their own businesses, maybe even sold them and moved on to another project.  Then, I tend to feel in awe of those who dedicate their professional lives to the world of medicine or education.  There are philanthropists doing great things for the human experience.  And, there are amazing people supporting others in their professional lives as well as their personal passions.  But, one of the more tangible talents that we see in our guests is the arts.  Whether it’s the talented 10 year old Samantha blowing us away with her ukulele playing last summer, or John from England taking photos that should be sold in a gallery, or the photography of Debby Thomas, which is actually sold in galleries, there are so many guests who surprise us at the ranch.  Most recently, Alphonso Foster sent me a photo of a painting he did of wrangler Dan after his family vacation a few years back.

Lucky us that we get to know the people who come here on vacation well enough to learn about some of their amazing talents.  I’m sure there are so many that we don’t get to learn about, and wish we did!  So, during this upcoming summer dude ranch season, please share your talents with us!


Cowboy Quotes

Cowboy Quotes, Sayings, and Wisdom

  • Never approach a bull from the front, a horse from the rear, or a fool from any direction.
  • Don’t squat with your spurs on.
  • Don’t judge people by their relatives.
  • Behind every successful rancher is a wife who works in town.
  • When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.
  • Talk slowly, think quickly.
  • Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.
  • Live a good, honorable life. Then when you get older and think back, you’ll enjoy it a second time.
  • Don’t interfere with something that ain’t botherin’ you none.
  • Timing has a lot to do with the outcome of a rain dance.
  • It’s better to be a has-been that a never-was.
  • The easiest way to eat crow is while it’s still warm.
    The colder it gets, the harder it is to swaller.
  • If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop diggin’.
  • If it don’t seem like it’s worth the effort, it probably ain’t.
  • It don’t take a genius to spot a goat in a flock of sheep.
  • Sometimes you get and sometimes you get got.
  • The biggest troublemaker you’ll probably ever have to deal with watches you shave his face in the mirror every morning.
  • Never ask a barber if you need a haircut.
  • If you get to thinkin’ you’re a person of some influence, try orderin’ somebody else’s dog around.
  • Don’t worry about bitin’ off more’n you can chew; your mouth is probably a whole lot bigger’n you think.
  • Always drink upstream from the herd.
  • Generally, you ain’t learnin’ nothing when your mouth’s a-jawin’.
  • Tellin’ a man to git lost and makin’ himdo it are two entirely different propositions.
  • If you’re ridin’ ahead of the herd, take a look back every now and then to make sure it’s still there with ya.
  • Good judgment comes from experience, and a lotta that comes from bad judgment.
  • When you give a personal lesson in meanness to a critter or to a person, don’t be surprised if they learn their lesson.
  • When you’re throwin’ your weight around, be ready to have it thrown around by somebody else.
  • Lettin’ the cat outta the bag is a whole lot easier than puttin’ it back.
  • Always take a good look at what you’re about to eat. It’s not so important to know what it is, but it’s sure crucial to know what it was.
  • The quickest way to double your money is to fold it over and put it back into your pocket.
  • You can’t tell how good a man or a watermelon is ’til they get thumped.(Character shows up best when tested.)
  • Never miss a good chance to shut up.
  • If lawyers are disbarred and clergymen are defrocked, shouldn’t it follow that cowboys would be deranged?
  • There never was a horse that couldn’t be rode;
    Never was a cowboy who couldn’t be throwed.

Foal Watch

Stormy MJ's filly

Stormy, MJ’s filly

‘Tis the season for late nights and early mornings if you’re a wrangler here at Vista Verde.  Terry, Nicky, John and Reid have been taking turns checking on the broodmares and keeping watch on new foals.  With the snowy weather we’ve had recently, it is even more important to make sure the mares are carefully watched for signs of impending deliveries.  Typically, the mares are brought in at night to their warm and cozy stalls.  Then, someone checks on them late at night.  Inevitably, the mares hold off until everyone leaves them alone, and whoever checks in early in the morning finds a new foal happily nursing away.  It’s amazing how animals just do this stuff naturally and without affair.

Flicka's filly

Flicka’s filly


So far, we can introduce you to Bella, a filly out of Houston.  Next up is Stormy, another filly by MJ.  Those of you who remember sweet Bailey from last year will believe me when I tell you that Stormy about crawled into my lap when I went down to meet her and take her photo.  Then Flicka delivered another cute filly, who we are calling Whimsey.  We are still waiting on Rachel, Lucky, Sassy and Patti.  It will be exciting to meet these new foals as they arrive.  We’ll continue to post photos of each of them on our Facebook page as they arrive.

For those of you coming this summer for a dude ranch vacation, don’t forget that you get a chance to help us train these youngsters in our weekly Foal Handling Clinic.  It’s always an amazing time, bonding and loving on these sweet little equines.  Everyone can use some baby love!

Planning a unique family vacation

Dreaming of sitting on a beach, reading a book, watching my kids play in the ocean.

Dreaming of sitting on a beach, reading a book, watching my kids play in the ocean.

As I sit here and watch the snow fall outside, I’m dreaming of my very own family vacation coming up soon.  It’s true, even those of us who live in paradise do need to leave the valley to see other scenery from time to time.  What has struck me in the process of trying to find a great place for my family to vacation is how much work it is to find a unique family vacation destination.  I’ve always heard it on the phone, when a desparate mom calls up, completely overwhelmed by the process of sorting through the myriad options.  For someone who has narrowed down the choice to knowing they want a dude ranch, it’s still not easy as there are dozens and dozens of great options.  But, for those who haven’t even narrowed down their search to a specific kind of vacation, it’s enough to send one back into their shell and stay home and watch movies.

So, what tips are there for finding the perfect spot for your family vacation?  Here are some of my thoughts, but I’d love to have all of you comment to help others who are on the hunt.

1) Just book at Vista Verde Ranch- it’s one stop shopping, the experience is magical, and then you can get back to your life.  (Ok, sorry, my geeky humor popped out here)

2) Budget- this sounds obvious, but I found myself struggling because I didn’t set a budget initially, so I was all over the place.  From renting a condo on the beach to luxury all-inclusive resorts.  It wasn’t apples to apples, and that made it harder.  Just commit to what you can/want to spend and then use that as your filter.

3) Experiences- Do you want to be on your own for planning all activities and cooking meals, or do you want to be pampered a bit?  Again, it seems like a no-brainer, but sit down as a family and decide what your vision for how much you want to do on your own and how much you want taken care of for your family.

4) Setting- Do you want a remote, peaceful setting (like Vista Verde) or do you want to be in the heat of the action (in the heart of the city) or somewhere in between?

5) Advice- Once you have the above decided, start asking your friends.  Social media is an unbelievable tool for vacation planning.  If you’re a Facebook user, post a status update asking your friends if they have any recommendations on a great place for what you are looking for based on the above credentials.  I have been amazed at how many times we find out that one of our guests knows someone else who has been to the ranch before, but they didn’t realize it until after their trip.  Not everyone goes to cocktail parties ready to tell all their acquaintances about the great vacation they just had at Vista Verde.  Well, I may know a few, but most don’t and there is a hidden arsenal of great ideas and recommendations among your peers.

6) Tripadvisor- It is my go-to.  Although I’m spoiled by us having really good reviews for the ranch, not all properties have that going for them, and it’s helpful to know the pro’s and con’s of any resort or destination.  However, I do have to say that you need to keep in mind that there are always some reviews by people who just can’t be pleased.  Somehow, our guests are so incredibly wonderful that it seems like we don’t have to deal with folks like that, but they are out there.  I tend to take a 10% rule on reviews.  If there are 10% that rip apart a vacation destination with 90% raving about it, I take that in to account, but also recognize that there people out there who can’t be pleased.

7) Call- We live in such an email age, but I have to say there is something amazing about the good old fashion telephone.  Pick it up.  Call the places you are considering.  The person on the other end will tell you a lot about the property you’re considering.  For better or worse, Melissa and I have been told time and time again that we were the reason someone chose Vista Verde for their vacation.  We recognize that it’s likely that for every person who chose the ranch for that reason, there are likely others who chose not to come here because of our presentation on the phone.  But, our hope is that we get the kind of people who will really enjoy their ranch vacation at Vista Verde because of that reason.  If you feel good about the place because of the person on the other end of the line, it’s very likely that that person reflects the personality of the property so you will be happy.  Trust your gut!

7) Dream- Hopefully by now you have found a great spot.  Now it’s time to sit back and start dreaming about your wonderful upcoming family vacation….maybe it’s to Colorado this time?

Speaking of, I’m going to get my beach chair out and go sit out in the falling snow to read a good book.  I need to gear up for my escape from paradise!  Please help others by sharing your tips for planning a unique family vacation.

It’s a Dog’s Life

By Steph

During the off-season, the pace at the ranch slows down a bit.  I know, those of you who are laughing, thinking we always live at a slower pace are wondering how that can be possible?  Well, in our perspective, it does seem slower!  There are no guests to take care of or play with, which can be lonely, and definitely not as exciting and fun, but also a nice change of pace.  There are very few staff to look out for and no figurative traffic to direct.  While I cherish the quiet and the ability to crank through my mile-long to-do list that accumulated during the season, it also makes it a little harder to find “news” to share with all of you.  But, then these serendipitous events happen and I suddenly have an a-ha moment!

dude ranch puppy


Last week, as I was giving Nicky’s new puppy (more later) some love, it hit me that it would be fun to update everyone on Sidney.  At the same moment, Art, the UPS driver (don’t you all know your UPS driver by name?) showed up with box after box from California.  As we opened the boxes, we realized that our great friends Lucy and Charlie Postins had sent us treats, food and goodies for the ranch dogs from their business The Honest Kitchen.  What a fun surprise, and now I had a topic!




I walked around the ranch with some of their natural dog treats, trying to get the dogs to pose for photos.  Unfortunately, as I was getting mobbed, it was a little challenging to get a decent photo.  Estatic dogs, mud, melting snow….it wasn’t pretty.  I finally recruited Kristen, who was busy ordering new ipod docks for the cabins (I told you, it’s kind of quiet around here in the off-season) to come out and help me get the dogs to pose.  Still, not much luck, as you can see.  So, instead the doggies just got to enjoy their special treats, and now think I am the coolest person on the planet.  Thanks Lucy for putting me on that platform in the dog’s eyes.

colorado ski resort guide god


With that, I do think I owe all these wonderful, less heralded four legged ranch creatures a chance at the spotlight.  First of all, we have to introduce Sidney.  Nicky fell in love and brought Sidney home to the ranch toward the end of the season.  Cute, small and fluffy right now, she will not be that way in another year as she is a Bernese Mountain Dog.  She is sweet, smart and completely lovable.

winter resort wrangler dog





Those of you who have been here before know Rosie, Dodger and Trouper.  Rosie (black lab) is Steve and Kelli’s guide dog.  Nope, not because of vision issues, but because she helps them guide ski trips in the winter and hiking trips in the summer.  She even attended yoga with us last summer and had the best down dog of the group.    Dodger (cattle dog mix) is Reid’s teenage pup.  He is about 1 1/2 years old, and full of energy and enthusiasm.  Trouper (yellow lab) is Terry’s buddy.  Trouper hangs around the indoor arena as much as possible, as he just loves being with his dad.  He’s a staple in the stable, so to speak.

family friendly resort dog


There are a few other ranch dogs who don’t make appearances, as they stay inside with their “parents” most of the time.  But, you can always count on the ones mentioned here to have a great sense of Western hospitality.  They seem to have attended our orientations, as they know how to treat people well when they come on a dude ranch vacation!  And, if you’re a dog lover in your own life, don’t forget to check out The Honest Kitchen and their line of natural dog food.

A Poem for VVR

And this is why we love what we do here- who else gets thank you poems from their guests??

We left on a Friday; all filled with good cheer
Anxious for fun, home in the rear mirror.

Days of driving ahead, some adventure, some fun
Me and my wife, and our daughter and son.

Adventure we got, more than you know
Blizzards and such – You know, high winds and snow?!

After a long journey, we finally had a fair day
We arrived on a Sunday to Vista Verde.

We were welcomed by the staff, with actual smiles, not pretend
With the same familiarity and comfort of an old friend.

We planned our next day, hugged our kids and then kissed ’em
We sat down and ate a Thanksgiving dinner with Kristen.

A pair of Robs took us snowshoeing; they had a great time in store
Hot chocolate at the Homestead, and then ate some s’mores.

Delicious lunch followed, we talked and we talked
About our awesomely fun snowshoeing walk.

We wanted a trail ride, with horses and such
A trail ride we got, with our guide called Hutch.

Tonto Bob and Slider, Ranger and Smokey
(Smokey was stubborn and a little slow pokey).

It was cold, with cold snow and wind blowing
But the warm smiles on all is what kept us all going.

The trail ride ended with laughter and glee
Hutch took some great pictures of my family.

We went back to our cabin, relaxation in sight
The kids went to kids club for our special date night.

The kids went off with the VVR staff
My wife and I looked at each other and laughed.

‘What a great place; they think of it all…’
I said as we feasted and both had a ball!

The succulent servings, the perfection … Good golly!
The balance of flavors from the head chef named Cholly.

The snow was still falling as we lay down that night
We awoke to fresh snow, a ten inch blanket of white!

We ate some breakfast and talked about our next outing
All of us so excited, we were nearly shouting.

Let me explain because some may not know
How awesome it is to go tubing in fresh fallen snow!

We met our guide JJ; his face lit up with a smile
‘Are you ready for tubing? Let’s go for a while!’

We rode to our hill in a snowmobile-pulled sled
JJ turned around, and here’s what he said…

“You guys slide down, all the way till you stop…
… then me and my snowmobile will take you back to the top!”

My family and I made some memories that day
Superb reminiscences that don’t go away
All fueled by VVR and our guide JJ.

We had lunch and we cured our hunger and thirst
Then went and saw mares that were ready to burst!

They were pregnant, you see, and very much so!
Within a few days they’d be ready to go.

At the mare barn, another treat to behold
We spent some time with the colts who were just a year old!

My kids were lit up with glee, while petting the horses
VVR has made magic with their equine resources.

Our guide Nathan was so full of pride
Of the VVR ranch and the good things inside.

The kids had a thousand questions, they grilled Nate for a while
And he answered each one with a warm gentle smile.

We finished up and went back towards the cabin
But then I noticed the snow Tyler was grabbin’.

He turned around with his eight year old grace
And threw a fat snowball right in my face.

We played in the snow and enjoyed ourselves fully
We made a great snowman, we called him ‘Wully’.

We had our last dinner and I have to say
We were all a bit mopey since we had to leave the next day.

We stayed up and talked about the vacation we’d taken
And then we talked about the awesome bacon.
“That bacon, That bacon, That Cholly be makin!”

My wife and I laughed, we laid down for the night
Thinking of all the snow filled sights.

We had one sad thought, one thing had been missed
One thing to leave on the ol’ bucket list…

The snow had melted a bit in the day
Making it dangerous for a horse to pull us on a sleigh.

Alas we had missed a whole lot of fun
And it was at the fault of no one.

We woke and ate our breakfast that day
They surprised us and said they were preparing the sleigh!

VVR spent some time and put their heads together
To get us a sleigh ride, no matter the weather!

They made a safe route for the horse to pull
And made sure that our vacation was completely full.

This was the vacation of a lifetime, I just have to mention
How thankful we are for every bit of attention.

The VVR magic was the same with all staff
Their hospitality; much more than a craft.

Always caring and helpful, with superb attitudes
Words will never express our deep gratitude.

We were initially blessed with a gift won online
We now have our memories of a vacation sublime.

With much thanks and appreciation,

The Wullaert Family (Andy, Shera, Tyler, Brooklyn)

And that’s a wrap

By Steph

sleigh ride

With yesterday’s guest departures, our season comes to an end.  How does it go by so fast?  You know that saying, and yep, we are having fun here at Vista Verde.  I just took a little tour through photos of our guests and our staff, and it put a great perspective on the winter of 2012-13.

It started with Ben and Alaya putting together a great team.  Then, a sprinkling of snow (ok, we’ll a big, huge dump of fresh powder really) to start us off right in December.  Mix in some interesting, adventurous guests and the recipe was almost done.  What topped it off was snow, snow and more snow.

snowbikeIronically, we normally close as the snow is melting and the mud starting to find it’s way out from hiding.  But, this year we seem to be closing when it feels like mid-winter.  We’ve had over a foot of snow in the past week, and we’re finding ourselves still having to plow the driveway and shovel the walkways.  If only we had known what Mother Nature would give us this year, and we could have stayed open a bit longer!  I guess it’s just some bonus fun time for all of us sticking around.  I’m not packing up my skis yet this year!




Thanks to the wonderful crew who made it possible to pull off all that we do for our guests.  They are cleaning up, closing down and preparing the ranch for off-season today.  Some will be returning for summer, but many will move on to their next adventure starting this weekend.  We couldn’t do it without all of them, and it’s always a gift for those of us “lifers” to get to spend time with each season’s crew.  I only wish I had more time to get to know all of them better and learn from each of them.

Thank you also to our wonderful guests.  From the first time honeymooners, to those who have been coming for years and years, you each give us such a gift to share this place with you.  We appreciate the support, the loyalty and your belief in what we are doing at Vista Verde.

cross country skiing


And that’s a wrap for the winter.  On to preparing for summer, taking some time to re-charge, and maybe even playing in the snow before this belated spring arrives.

The end of the season draws near

It’s hard to believe that our winter dude ranch season will be coming to an end in less than a week.  In the coming week we will have the last of our regular dude ranch season guests check out on Sunday, host a big event that day, and then have our Horsemanship Retreat guests check in to the ranch.  All of our regular programs will close down at that time and those folks will be here riding, riding, riding, until Thursday.  Come next Thursday, the “Closed for the season” sign will go up on the entry gate, and we’ll start preparing the ranch for spring and summer.  Wow, time does fly.  It seems like just last week that we were preparing for our Christmas guests to arrive!

This winter has been a great one.  So many wonderful guests have come through our doors.  Honeymooners, families with kids new to snow and friends who have been coming here for years.  We have also been so lucky to have great snow this year.  That hasn’t been the case across all of the West, so we feel pretty lucky.  The skiing has been great, and the views pristine.

As we make our way towards the end of the season, we’ll be sad to see some of our great staff move on to bigger and better things.  But, we’ll look forward to having more time with those who are returning for the summer as well as the new ones who Ben and Alaya are working on getting hired right now!

Dude ranch kids

dude-ranch-kids-e1362505445339Some of you may have seen the video I posted on Facebook a week or so ago with baby Wyatt taking part in the Farwell Mountain Boys band. Today, I got another photo of that precious moment on a Sunday night a few weeks back. Brandon’s son Wyatt got to sit on dad’s lap while the guys were playing for our guests. It was a beautiful reminder of that fact that being a part of a place like Vista Verde is just different. It’s not like a hotel or a resort. Having guests here at Vista Verde is a little like having guests into our homes. As a guest, you may see our kids pop in and out, as this place is their home too.

What a treat it is to grow up as a dude ranch kid. My girls had the best time riding and playing with Abbi and Drew this weekend. Maggie told me that she wanted to skip school on Monday so she could come to the ranch and play with them again. As I was recounting the fun they had with Abbi and Drew’s grandparents this morning, it reminded me of stories of Maddie King, when she was a little kid here at the ranch. Now, as a teenager, I’m sure she’d rather run and hide than have me tell this story…..but, I do remember her sobbing at every Saturday night campfire in the summer, so sad to say goodbye to her friends from that week. Her parents, Steve and Kelli, finally realized that they couldn’t come to the Saturday night event, as it was just too traumatic for her! Then, I think of Jack Martin, learning that if you work hard, you get to earn enough money to buy something like an Ipad. That was a joy to watch him through that process. Jack’s sister, Annie, has fallen in love with horses and what a backyard she has for a horse lover!

It’s a great life, and we all know that. It’s even better when we get to watch our children enjoy it and gain an appreciation for nature, animals, serving others and hard work.

Even if you can only join us for a few days or a week, giving your kids a taste of this life is a phenomenal gift. Hopefully you can join us for a fun family vacation at some point!