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Leaving dude ranch life behind to fish the Green River

Set the hook” I heard Zach yell from upstream, “that’s a monster”. I looked up and saw Cholly tight on what was either a log floating downstream or a large green river rainbow trout. As it turned I saw that the latter was true. Zach stood just down stream from him, net in hand. You don’t land a fish like that without a friend. The look on Cholly’s face was pure focus. Any Angler knows that a big fish has a way of pulling a Houdini escape, given the slightest lapse of attention. As the fish came closer I could see the brilliant red, olive, and white coloration along its side. “I’m not going to try netting it until it’s completely tired” Zach said. Cholly did his best to steer the fish into the shallow slow water, despite the fish’s attempts to run out in the fast current. Finally the fish started to tire. The first chance he came close Zach scooped him up in one smooth motion. “Whoo!” cue the handshakes and high fives.

As I came up river to get a better look at the catch, I could see smiles from ear to ear on both their faces. Its not everyday you get to interact with a wild fish of this caliber and it has a way of making the rest of the world melt away. Even from a distance I could sense how special the moment was for Cholly. A busy work schedule and family life have a way of reducing time spent fishing, so each opportunity for him is that much more cherished. After a few quick pictures the fish slipped back into the turquoise depths of the pristine river. Despite being a fantastic chef (as many of you know) Cholly is also an avid conservationist, and would rather allow a fish to swim free for others to enjoy, than cook it for dinner. I couldn’t help but feeling content with my own day.

We had driven out the day before and despite the only directions being “turn left 5 miles from the Utah border” everyone had found the unmarked camp site. The group consisted of HR manager Zach, chefs Cholly and Jason (pictured here with me), adventure center manager Ben, former dining room manager Bubba, Steph’s husband Todd, Home Ranch chef Jonathan, and myself. The weekend was going to be one of our last chances to all camp and spend time together before the season picked up, and free-time no longer aligned. More importantly, it was our chance to celebrate Cholly and Todd’s birthdays. The campsite was one Cholly had been staying at for nearly 20 years and it was obviously special to him. The site was a hidden gem surrounded by cottonwoods right on the banks of the magnificent green river, an oasis in the middle of the Utah desert. Each night the cool river air carried the smell of sage through the valley. The soft sound of the river flowing by was occasionally disturbed by the honking of geese, searching for a mate. The setting sun lit the whole valley on fire as we cooked. Camping with three chefs guarantees camp food that could be served in a 5-star restaurant. Add in great fishing, perfect weather, and good friends–you can’t go wrong.

After each meal we sat around the crackling fire, watching the smoke rise into the dry desert air. We talked and laughed about our day on the water, recounting the fish that we had fooled and the ones that had gotten the better of us. After discussing our plans for the next day, the conversation usually shifted more philosophical (Put any passionate group of outdoorsmen around a fire and its bound to happen). We listened as Cholly told us some of his favorite memories from his 50 years on earth. They ranged from great meals to weeklong rafting trips through the Grand Canyon. Todd Wilson recounted his days as an Olympic ski jumper, travelling and competing. One common theme was that most of their stories involved time spent with family. Spending time with such incredible people has a way of putting things in perspective. As the flames receded into glowing coals I found myself trying to absorb as much of what they were saying as I could.

Leaving was hard. As we drove away I tried to remember as much as I could about every detail. All the jokes, the great meals, and the ultra selective green river trout. I thought about the upcoming season at the ranch and all the new staff members we were about to meet. I know that this core group is going to be there to lead and mentor them, I know as long as they’re at Vista Verde the community’s values are safe. I feel honored to be a part of that group. I know one thing for sure; we will all be back to fish the Green River again.

kids on winter vacation

My winter ranch vacation: Poppy’s 5 perfect days at VVR

It has been fun to ask different guests about what their 5 perfect days at the ranch look like to them. Twelve-year-old Poppy represents the age that I want to be at the ranch–when you get to enjoy all the fun, but don’t have to foot the bill! I interviewed her when she was at the ranch over the holidays, and here is how she broke down her perfect 5 days of a winter vacation at Vista Verde.

Day 1
Definitely need to start the trip off right with a tubing party with the kids and the kid wranglers. What makes it even better is a break in the middle of the fun for hot chocolate and apple cider.
Poppy has figured out that the best way to play out her time at Vista Verde is to spend some time enjoying the kids program mixed in with sharing experiences with her family. So, in the afternoon, she would rally her mum, dad, and brother to go out on a family snow shoe tour with a guide. There are so many places to explore, that she would leave it up to the guide to pick the best spot where the powder is the most fresh that day.

Day 2
After breakfast with her family, Poppy would head over to the indoor arena to join the kids and play games, and learn how to stay on her horse. This is a big deal for Poppy, as she has been a little nervous about riding. Zip is her main man, and despite his tall size, his gentle spirit shines through and comforts her a bit. After some instruction as well as horseback games, she starts feeling a lot more comfortable on Zip and the smile gets bigger and bigger on her face.
Once again, following a hearty lunch in the dining room with the staff, other guests, and her family, her parents and brother strap on skis with her and they go out to explore the back country with one of the ranch guides.

Day 3
Today Poppy is going to start off the morning with an invigorating ski with her folks. A stop to build a snow pit and make a fire only make the adventure even more fun. Hot chocolate again? You bet!!
After burning all those calories skiing, everyone in the family is hungry so they make sure not to miss the lunch bell and warm up by the fire.
Next up is a trail ride with the kids program crew, followed by grooming Zip and braiding his mane and tail. It’s nice to get that time to pamper her horse, and Poppy enjoys making Zip look fabulous.

Day 4
It’s been a while since she’s been on the tubing hill, and it is such a highlight for a kid who likes to giggle, so she heads up on the snowmobiles with all the other kids joining the kids program that morning. The squeals of delight are heard all the way down at the lodge as the kids sail down the hill on the tubes. And, the icing on the cake is that Poppy gets a ride back up the hill on the back of a snowmobile after each trip down. Hot chocolate and apple cider again mid-morning? Yep!
Following lunch, Poppy heads back up to the kids hut to join the kids in making ice sculptures and snow treats. What, you haven’t made a snow treat at Vista Verde before? Well, you might need to track down Poppy to find out the secret recipe.

Day 5
Oh boy, it’s the last day….how hard it is to pick the grand finale! Poppy decided that a snowshoe with her family in the morning would be a great way to wrap up a wonderful family vacation. Of course, stopping for treats along the way is a must.
Just because it is a family vacation, and Poppy knows she has a great family, she is going to opt for a trail ride all together for their last afternoon. Even better would be to order up some light snow falling from the sky to mute the sounds and make the ride even more peaceful and enjoyable.

Dude Ranch Life: Observations from a ranch baby

This past month we were joined by Cori and Dan Ford, two of our ranch alum who met at the ranch and are now married.  Cori and Dan have come back over the years, during breaks in Dan’s medical school schedule, to help out during busy times.  We always love having them at the ranch, and they always jump right into the mix and help out in so many ways.  This holiday season we had the extra special fun of having 4 month old baby Tyler along for the ride.  We’re all pretty sure Tyler is the cutest baby ever…..ok, well maybe right in there with Saoirse.  And Eamon.  And Wy-Guy, Scotlyn, and Coulton.  Oh, and Althea.  And Maggie and Ella.  Ok, the list goes on and on.  Maybe it’s just fun having ranch babies!?

Having Tyler cruising around the ranch in various arms, we’re pretty sure he came to some conclusions and still has some questions about spending the holidays at a dude ranch.  They most likely go something like this:

  1. What is with the forest inside a building?  I thought big trees belong outside?
  2. I will never learn to walk as the people here just hand me around all day long. By the way, has anyone seen my parents lately?
  3. When those furry creatures breath on me it tickles.
  4. Why is everyone here so nice?
  5. I like celebrating New Year’s Eve on East Coast time, as it was already long past my bedtime and the dancing was exhausting to watch.
  6. Wow, those desserts look REALLY good, but I can’t eat them yet.
  7. Wow, that dinner looks REALLY good, but I can’t eat it yet.
  8. Oh look, another person just took me and carried me away.  By the way has anyone seen my parents lately?
  9. Wow, that bacon looks REALLY good…….are you sure I can’t just gum it for a little while?
  10. What’s up with Beka’s belly?  It’s so round.

Hmmm, did you see how I slipped that one in there?  In case you all hadn’t already figured it out we’re expecting another ranch baby soon!  Beka and Michael have a little one coming in March.  So, even though Tyler is heading back home this weekend with his parents, we won’t have long to wait for another ranch baby to show up!  And maybe there will even be more right behind……but that story will have to wait until next time.

Dude Ranch Life: Wrapping up and Saying Goodbye

Looking back on photos from this summer it seems so long ago that we opened the doors for the season in early June.  But, then again, the time just flew by too fast.  Here we are in our final week of the season, and with that we prepare for sad goodbyes as some of our great staff head off for new adventures in life.  Notably, we have two folks heading off who we’d like to recognize as they have been instrumental in the VVR family for a long time.

Brandon was being recruited to come work at the ranch long before he even realized we had our sights set on him.  As Ben’s nephew and based in Colorado Springs for his military service he came up to visit often.  After completing his tours in Afghanistan, we finally were able to get Brandon and Rachelle to come join us at the ranch in 2012.  With high expectations for his competence and performance, the poor guy was getting signed up for responsibilities before he even arrived.  Well, he rose to the challenge, and even took on more.  Over the past 5 years Brandon has been a critical player in helping us fulfill the mission of the ranch.  He took on running the fly fishing program, led the charge for the ranch hand crew, launched the snowmobiling program as well as was the lead rock star of the Farwell Mountain Boys.  The number of man-crushes that have been had for Brandon are countless, but nonetheless we can all agree that we wish we we could be like Brandon.

After starting their family while here at the ranch, Brandon and Rachelle fulfilled their promise to move back home to Pennsylvania to be closer to their families.  Wyatt (Wy-Guy), Scotlyn, and Coulton will never know how lucky they were to start their lives in the mountains of Colorado, but we’re rooting for them to be applying to work here sometime around 2027.  Until then, we’re pretty sure we’ll still get the chance to see this great family from time to time, as the pull of VVR is pretty strong.  Thanks to Brandon for being such a great part of our team, and thanks to Rachelle for supporting him being gone on those late nights playing bass guitar and those early morning grooming ski trails.  We have loved having them and their sweet family here, and will miss all of them dearly!

Right on Brandon’s heels is another great person, but one who had a more quiet role in the operation.  Trish first came to the ranch to cover some massage work for our therapist at the time.  It only took us a short while to know she belonged here as part of our team.  Over the years, she grew the massage therapy program, and then, because every massage therapist is a perfect fit for accounting, she added bookkeeper to her role at the ranch.  We all knew when Trish was here in the office, as there was always a zen vibe that arrived as soon as she walked in the door.  She heads out this fall to move closer to her folks in Rhode Island, unfortunately further away than her arms can reach to continue to provide our guests relief through massage therapy!

As Brandon and Trish, and the many younger staff head down the drive for the last time this week we give our most sincere thanks for their contributions to making the ranch a better place.  Happy trails, until we meet again!!

obstacle course

Dude Ranch Life: Dancing and history and Pilates, oh my!

With opening day nearing quickly, we are putting the finishing touches on all the old favorite aspects of the ranch, but also some “new and improved” features.  It’s an exciting time, and a little frantic.  The summer season of 2016 is going to be a launch pad for a few new activities and opportunities for our guests.  From the horse and bike-friendly obstacle course to the dance lessons, Pilates, history on wheels, and the new Confidence Course, there are a lot of new additions.

  • History on Wheels- Join Charlie for a drive around the Elk River Valley to learn some of the history and a lot of great anecdotes about the area surrounding the ranch.  Wait, yes, you did read that correctly. Charlie is hosting an activity.  Hold onto your hats–the Suburban is going to fill up quickly!
  • Pilates- This is one for the early birds who aren’t ready to sleep in and relax.  Devyn will lead an all-levels Pilates class early one morning for those looking to sneak in one more activity during their stay.  Get your core fired up and ready to go for the day!
  • River Read- This activity developed organically over the past couple years, and we decided to formalize it as an option.  If you have a friend or family member heading out to fish, and would like some time on the river, but have no interest in casting a line, then the River Read is for you!  We will have a nice outdoor chair for you, a cool drink, and a beautiful setting for you to relax, read, and watch the river roll by you.  You just need to provide the book.
  • Dance Lessons- You’ve asked, we are delivering.  Get some in-depth instruction prior to all the dancing that MIGHT ensue during the week.  We’ll teach some couples dances, some line dances, and who knows what else.  You’ll be ready to show off your new tricks at the Barn Dance or Music Night.
  • Confidence Course- As our old horse obstacle course started to fall apart, and our mountain bike skills park needed some TLC, an idea sprung.  Why not build one that can accommodate both bikers and horses!  Crazy, right?  We don’t think so.  As we speak we are moving rocks, chainsawing logs, and creating a playground for both bikers and horses to gain confidence and skills.  It doesn’t hurt that the location is in an idyllic setting right by the river and just a short ride from the ranch.  This will be a work in progress, and we look forward to adding to it as the summer goes on and in future years.
  • Round ’em Up- Our fall cattle round-up weeks might look a little different this year, as we have some new cows to work with.  The ones we’ve had the past several years are just a little too scrappy and wild, which made rounding them up so challenging that there were still some left out in the forest at the start of winter time.  Since that is not good for the cows, the forest, or a cattle rancher’s pocket book, we’re starting out this year with some cow-calf pairs.  Rounding up the gals may be a bit more tame, but should also be a lot more successful.  We’re also looking to plan a unique all-day ride during those fall cattle round-up weeks to get out and explore some new terrain.

Whew, it looks like those of you coming to the ranch this summer might want to extend your stay for an extra week.  So much to do and so little time!

 

great dude ranches for skiing

Equitrekking- February 2016

Jocelyn from Equitrekking.com put together a round-up of “7 Guest Ranches that offer Top-Notch Skiing” with a nice list of ranches that are open during the winter months.  If you are looking to combine a dude ranch vacation with a ski vacation, take a look at her recommendations.  Read the article….

romantic cross country ski vacation

XCSkiResorts.com – January 2016

According the article titled “Glide your way to Romance with XC Valentine’s Day Getaways” cross country (XC) skiing and snowshoeing are some of the most romantic forms of recreation and Valentine’s Day is coming. So get away with your loved one to a winter wonderland of memories for some outdoor recreation and pampering that you deserve.  The folks at XCSkiResorts.com put together a great list of options for romantic getaways this Valentine’s Day weekend.  Read the article….

Chef’s Corner: Bison Short Ribs with Sweet Potato Gnocci

If you want a fun fall dish to impress all your friends, try this one from Chef Cholly!
Red Wine Marinade:

2 carrots

1 leek

1 yellow onion

1 small celery root

1 tablespoon salt

1 bottle (750mL) red wine

Method:

1. Clean and roughly chop the vegetables.
2. Cover with red wine and simmer for 4 minutes.
3. Remove from heat and cool together, then strain and discard vegetables and reserve liquid.

 

Marinated Short Ribs:

Red wine marinade (recipe above)

2 pounds boneless short rib

1 head garlic, halved

1 yellow onion, quartered

2 carrots, peeled

8 quarts beef stock, hot

1 rosemary sprig

2 tablespoons salt

Method:

1. Pour cold red wine marinade over the short ribs and let sit for 2 days, rotating meat twice a day.
2. After the second day, remove the beef from the marinade and place in a roasting pan with the garlic, onion, and carrots. Cover with hot beef bouillon; add rosemary and salt. Place a sheet of parchment paper over beef and weigh down slightly with a 10” plate. Place in a 250° F oven for eight hours.
3. Once beef is fork tender and almost breaking apart, remove from bouillon onto a draining rack. Save bouillon for a great soup or your next beef braising dinner.

 

Sweet potato Gnocchi

1 ½ pounds Roasted and Pureed sweet potato

6 ounces “00” Flour

1 egg

Method:

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil on the stove. Peel and Cut the sweet potatoes in half, season well and roast until tender.
2. Dry the sweet potatoes thoroughly and run through a food mill or potato ricer.
3. Sift the flour and incorporate with the egg into the sweet potato and taste for seasoning.
4. When the water has come to a boil, roll the dough out into a long cylinder about a half inch in diameter and with a knife cut one inch long pieces and plunge into boiling water until the gnocchi begin to float.
5. Skim the floating gnocchi off the water and into an ice bath to stop the cooking.
6. Drain all the gnocchi onto a towel to dry.
7. Heat a sauté pan on the stove, sauté the gnocchi in olive oil until crisp on all sides.
8. Serve.