What’s Happening on the Ranch?

There’s always something happening at Vista Verde Ranch. Foals are born, new recipes are created, or the wranglers are playing tricks on each other. Come here to read the latest news!

Colorado All-Inclusive Resorts

By Steph

Out of curiosity (that’s the marketing geek in me coming out) I did a search this morning for “Colorado all-inclusive resorts”.  I was pretty surprised at what I found, and in some ways more surprised by what I didn’t find.

Top of the list were a bunch of paid ads.  Some of them were for Colorado dude ranches, some were for website that bunch vacation destinations together, and some were for places like Sandals.  The one that made me laugh the most was the one for an all-inclusive resort in Mexico.

In digging a little deeper, I found that when I visited the websites that list a bunch of places, those listings were exclusively dude ranches. The only non-dude ranch listing that I could find was for a Club Med in Crested Butte.

The other lists that came up were articles that have been written about some of the best all-inclusive resorts, but most of them were not in Colorado.  I am biased towards the Travel + Leisure article titled “America’s Best All-Inclusive Resorts“, as we did get a nice mention in that story.  But, it’s still not a Colorado only listing.

So, the moral of the story?  Besides fun sleuthing around, I think someone needs to write an article on the best all-inclusive resorts in Colorado.  I am a firm believer that all-inclusive resorts are a big draw for people who want to simplify their vacation planning.  So, it would be great to provide a platform for folks to find places in Colorado.  I guess dude ranches are truly the original all-inclusive vacation, but I’d love to find out more about other types of resorts that exist in this beautiful state!

June Fly-Fishing report

 By Brandon

Greetings friends!  It’s June and we’re now a few weeks into our anticipated summer guest season! While we still wait for the rivers to shape up a bit from spring runoff, the fishing couldn’t be much better on some of our nearby lakes and smaller creeks.  Hahn’s Peak Lake, Pearl Lake, and Steamboat Lake are offering some great early season action with fish beginning to feed hungrily on or near the surface after a winter spent beneath the ice.  Some nearby smaller creeks have been producing, as well, while our beloved Elk River and its tributaries slowly return to their normal summertime flows.  In addition to getting on the water with some of our wonderful guests, my wife, Rachelle and I had the pleasure of hosting Nate and Jamie Bennett from Jackson Hole, Wyoming and were able to show them some of our favorite early season fishing spots.  Nate owns and operates Teton Fly Fishing in Jackson and is a long time friend and fishing partner.  For a great day on some Wyoming water be sure to give Nate a call if you’re ever up in their neck of the woods.

We got the chance to christen Vista Verde’s newly-acquired float tubes on Pearl Lake and were fortunate enough to land a number of Cutthroat Trout and Grayling we found cruising the shallows.  The action has kept up through our first couple of weeks and it’s been an absolute joy spending time stalking fish and swapping stories with our guests.  The highlights and have been many thus far, but we’ve especially enjoyed creating some memorable family fly fishing trips for our guests.  Getting parents and the kids on the water is what it’s all about and there’s no better place to do it than the high mountain lakes and creeks that surround Vista Verde Ranch.  For those of you who we’ve had the opportunity to get out with already this season, thanks for spending some time with Bubba and I.  And, if you’ve already booked your western family dude ranch vacation with us for this summer, we very much look forward to spending some time with you!

Chicago Parent- June 2013

By Andrea Guthmann

This isn’t my first rodeo. Well, actually it is. Maybe that’s why I’m having so much fun living out my cowgirl fantasy on our family’s dude ranch vacation!

Prime rib, Caesar salad, shrimp and a dessert table? Whatever happened to franks-n-beans? Apparently, they’re long gone, like much of what I expected to find at a dude ranch. Thankfully, some of the iconic images are still here. There’s a lot of horseback riding, as well as an occasional old-fashioned chuckwagon cookout, complete with a country-western crooner and cowboy doing incredible rope tricks. But you’ll also get to indulge in spa treatments, a luxurious pool, wine tastings and cooking lessons.

Free-range kids

Most importantly for our family, Tucson’s Tanque Verde Ranchhas plenty to keep every age group happy. Tweens meet up at the basketball court, while teens have their own dining table in the restaurant. Since the ranch is all-inclusive, our kids were pretty much free to get their meals whenever they felt like it, and the terrific kids club took my 4-year-old on pony rides in the corral, allowing me to horseback ride and mountain bike with my 12- and 14-year-old sons.

We ended up enjoying the mountain biking as much as the horseback riding. Tanque Verde sets you up with top-of-the-line mountain bikes, helmets, gloves and a friendly guide who takes you through trails in the surrounding Saguaro National Park. At the end of the day everyone’s exhausted, which, of course, has plenty of benefits for mom and dad.

When we were done horsin’ around, we’d head over to the pool, with its waterfall and postcard-perfect view of the surrounding mountains. The cute cowboy saloon right next to this sophisticated swimming hole has a pool table or you could just pick up your drink and lounge by the water.

Ranch roundup

Not all dude ranches are as luxurious or kid-friendly. Some ranches have incredible kids’ programs, making vacation feel like summer camp. Want to really immerse yourself in the great outdoors? Consider Montana’s Nine Quarter Circle Ranch in the northwest corner of Yellowstone National Park.

When you’re visiting matters as well. We wanted a warm spring break escape-Arizona was an obvious choice. But you can visit ranches in the winter-Vista Verde Ranch and The Home Ranch, both near Steamboat Springs, Colo., allow you to spend time skiing while also making yourself at home on the ranch.

The Dude Ranchers’ Association, representing more than 100 of the best dude ranches in the United States and Canada, will steer you in the right direction. Its website, duderanch.org, allows you to search ranches by size, location and activities.

Chicago-area families looking for a sunny adventure will not be disappointed at Tanque Verde Ranch. Besides the horseback riding and mountain biking, daily guided hikes allow you to comfortably explore the desert landscape of Saguaro National Park, so exotically different from our own. As you plan your family’s next vacation, consider saddling up at a dude ranch.

Summer has arrived

By Steph

The 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

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

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

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

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

Spring fishing in Colorado

By Brandon

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

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

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

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

The valley comes back to life

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

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

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

As the aspens turn

By Steph

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

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

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

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

Planning your family dude ranch vacation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talented Guests

By Steph

There 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

‘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.

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

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.

The Fly- the appearance of spring

By Brandon

Well, there’s no doubt that spring is here at Vista Verde; the snow is making its rapid retreat, green grass is beginning to emerge and birds’ songs are punctuating the warming air.  Yes, aside from the random spring snow squall, all signs point toward the end of winter.  For me, however, nothing marks spring’s arrival like the disappearance of ice on the Elk River and trout feeding hungrily on emerging flies.

For those of you whom I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting this past season, allow me to introduce myself.  My name is Brandon Martin and I’ve been given the wonderful opportunity to serve as manager of the fly fishing program here at Vista Verde Ranch.  Some of you coming this summer may be looking for a bit of variety during your dude ranch vacation, and I’m looking forward to the upcoming season and the opportunity to spend time on the water with you!

I jumped on the chance to take the afternoon on Monday to get a little fishing in now that the Elk River is running freely and the water level has not yet risen from the inevitable snow melt that will occur high in the Zirkel Range in the upcoming weeks.  It may be true that I still have some tackle orders to complete, some flies to tie and some projects to finish up around the ranch but the sun was shining, the water was running clear and my opportunistic spirit bet on the fish being hungry.  I justified and rationalized this as a “scouting trip” to get a jump on the springtime fishing; you know, part of the job that somebody has to do.

The afternoon started just across the road from the ranch where the Elk River parallels Seedhouse Road.  Access only required a short trudge through some remnant snow before stepping into the cold rushing water.  There’s always a moment of calming relief after entering 37-degree water and realizing that your waders haven’t formed any leaks since their last use.  I spent several minutes first doing a little in-stream investigation to determine what the fish might be dining on now that their metabolic rates are on the rise with the warming temps.  After examining some rocks from beneath the current it was clear to see that small stonefly nymphs were abundant and were likely on the trout’s menu.  This is great news for both the feeding trout and the angler attempting to fool them.  However, when I put myself in the stoneflies’ shoes it seems altogether like bad news.  But alas, I’m here to fish and stoneflies don’t wear shoes, anyway.  Earlier I had tied up some imitations that I hoped would be passable and made my first casts into tight pockets where I presumed trout would be holding in the slower water behind some of the large rocks that give the Elk its wild and tumbling character.  An up-close and tight line technique proved to be just the trick as my first two fish came to the net within ten minutes, or so.

The first, a small rainbow still sporting adolescent par marks and the second a healthy cutthroat that put up a surprisingly sporty fight for having just recently shaken off the winter blues.  While the rate of success didn’t quite hold up throughout the afternoon, I did manage to land a couple more – both rainbows – before getting off the river under the threat of an advancing storm.  Before making my way up the bank and back to my truck I stopped to clip off my flies – the true unsung heroes of any successful outing – and took a minute to take in my surroundings.  The low and static roar of the tumbling water, the faint smell of pine, the majestic view of white mountains heaving skyward and the way that energy courses through the air as the land awakens from its winter slumber all served to remind me of my fortune in where I call home and what I call “my job”.

So here’s to new beginnings and what I know will be a season full of good times and lasting memories made with some of the finest folks we’re honored to call “our guests”.  Until next time, take care and come see us soon, or check out our fly fishing information as you dream of your next 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!

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

Ironically, 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.

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

Some 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!

Sacramento Bee – February 2013

Travelgirl recommends: Vista Verde guest ranch

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013 – 5:08 am


After one visit to Vista Verde you’ll be hooked on this premier Colorado guest ranch. This luxurious, all-inclusive resort is a haven for those who love the outdoors, especially in the wintertime. From tantalizing cuisine to an educated and accommodating in-house staff, Vista Verde offers a wealth of activities to keep maestros and novices equally engaged. Go during snow season and you’ll find a magnificent setting guaranteed to stimulate the senses. Snow-covered rooftops and fields that are groomed daily are part of the stunning landscape. Guests can partake in snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, back-country skiing or perhaps enjoy an exhilarating snowmobile ride. Ardent skiers often choose to slalom downhill in nearby Steamboat Springs; the Vista Verde staff will pack your lunch and happily drive you there. If you are not yet an aficionado with a pair of skis, the able-bodied staff will help you become one. Lessons are part of the all-inclusive rate and in a short while you’ll be enjoying the breathtaking scenery as you glide along with confidence.

Cowgirls, if you love to ride or even if you’ve never saddled up, Vista Verde is an ideal setting to delight in a horseback ride.

At the end of the winter season, the ranch offers clinics that will teach even an anxious rider how to handle a horse. Guests can spend quality time in an indoor facility with experienced staff who work to teach you the basics, so that you’re in the know and feeling safe before you ever step out to ride. In 2013, clinic dates are March 17-21. The four-night stay is $1,600 per person and other ranch activities are not offered at this time, allowing riders to focus on their riding style during this horsemanship retreat.

The icing on the cake at Vista Verde is the spectacular cuisine. Food and wine are an art form; from Kobe beef to lobster, the food is delectably prepared. Guests’ preferences are noted and remembered; you’ll find your favorites awaiting you when you choose to visit again. Enjoy some excellent wines with your meals and be sure to enroll in a wine tasting class; Chef Matt chooses some exquisite vintages. Later, relax in first-class accommodations, many equipped with hot tubs. It’s an extraordinary and energetic escape that has guests returning again and again to savor the experience. www.vistaverde.com

-Renee Werbin

A wedding, a sleigh driver and his horse

By Reid  

What are some of the most memorable days of your life? Many of you married folks would probably say your wedding day was a pretty big one. Unfortunately, for many folks, those days that hold such significance can also create some of the most stressful situations as some pour their lives into making those days play out exactly how they want them. Well, a couple of our guests this past week decided to make their wedding day as stress free as possible, and it was truly beautiful. I had the pleasure of driving this love-struck couple out to the Homestead cabin by one-horse opened sleigh, where they were married right there on the porch, with only a pastor and her husband, myself, and Ben, the draft horse, as witnesses. The ceremony took no longer than 15 minutes, vows and rings were exchanged, and under the endless blue-bird sky of that pristine winter day, the new couple was pronounced to all the world. Funny how so many of us are so steeped in tradition and the way it “should be” that we feel surprised by this story. I was stunned as well when I heard (the day before) that I would be participating in a wedding! “Aren’t those things supposed to take months to plan?” I thought. Well, they don’t have to.  What an honor it was to be reminded, standing on the porch that day, watching this man and this women confessing their undying and eternal love for each other, that a marriage celebration is not about a party, a guest list, a cake, or a string quartet giving life to Pachelbel’s cannon, but that a marriage celebration is a moment in time to stop, still your heart, and revel in the miracle of two souls becoming one – even if the only living things witnessing that miracle is a sleigh driver, and his horse.

Steph’s notes: Congratulations to Richard and Monica on starting their lives as husband and wife together here at Vista Verde!  We wish you all the best!  In addition to their wedding, we also got to wish Andy and Amy on their engagement.  It was quite a romantic Valentine’s weekend here at Vista Verde!

What does winter in the West look like?

Every year the seasons change; spring, summer, fall, winter. Not only do they change; they fly by! While that long day at work may seem like it took days instead of hours, at the end of the week (or month…or year) we wonder where all of the time went. For many of us who have grown up in the city, this fact is especially true. This is one of the reasons that I love spending winter at a Colorado guest ranch located in a secluded area. You really get to witness firsthand the changing of the seasons. Fall starts to dwindle, and you can see the beginnings of winter; a few flurries here or there, and before you know it, the snow starts dumping everywhere. When winter begins in earnest, and even when it is on its way out, you can connect memories and experiences with the snow that blankets the ground. You remember what it was like to see the first few inches of accumulation; you relive the anticipation of snow and all of the joy and fun that it brings. You remember when the first foot or so covered the ground; that first cross-country ski sure was fun (even if you tripped over exposed branches and roots a few times)! You recall how wonderful it feels to be utterly exhausted after a hard days work snowshoeing through four feet of champagne powder and relish the chance to soak in the hot tub on your cabin’s porch and reflect on the great day you had. For all of us that work and live here, and those of you who come and visit us, this is winter in its most ideal state. Winter in the West connects the active, energetic, and fun nature of life on a ranch with the relaxing, restful, and memorable experience of being able to unplug from the world as we know it, and truly dig in to life as it should be; tranquil, simple, and profoundly beautiful. That, to me, is why a winter at Vista Verde is so special.

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

We received a request for this recipe the other day from one of our guests who wanted to make this for her sweetheart on Valentine’s Day.  We may be a bit late in getting this out there for all of you to try on Valentine’s Day, but why not celebrate a wonderful dinner another night?  Here’s to lots of love, laughter, and good food.  And, maybe a little romance.

Red Wine Marinade

  • 2 carrots
  • 1 leek
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 1 small celery root
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 bottle (750mL) red wine
  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
  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
  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.

What does Nature do for you?

By Steph

I suppose it goes without saying to acknowledge that I am a nature lover.  How could you live somewhere like this for over 15 years, without having it be a big part of your life?  As often as I can, I try to get outside into the Great Outdoors.  But, the reality of being busy at the ranch along with a mom of 2 is that I don’t get out all that far frequently.  The other day, the perfect combination of fresh snow, a couple kid free hours and a hall pass from work took me a bit further out than my normal jaunts.  And, it was magical.  Floating along on skis through fresh powder, feeling the terrain shifting under my skis gently, being surrounded by the muted silence that you only get on a snowy day and seeing no one else for over an hour was a powerful experience.  The high I experience during that back country tour, that lasted for hours and hours afterwards, reminded me of the power of escaping deep into nature.

So, I ask of you, what does nature do for you?  Does it “fill your bucket” like it did mine?  In what ways?  How do you hold onto your experiences here at the ranch or in nature elsewhere, to pull you through challenges?

And, here’s to finding time to get back into the natural world more often.  Strap on the skis, go for a walk, ride a horse, sit and watch the clouds soar by, pedal your bike, you name it….just get out.  It’s a good thing.

Spring break in Colorado

Are you trying to figure out what to do for Spring Break this year?  How about bringing your kids to snow and fun, at Vista Verde Ranch?  Our all-inclusive pricing makes the planning easy.  You just need to show up with your snow clothes, and we’ll take it from there.  Romance for Mom and Dad while on a family vacation?  Yes, it’s true.  The spacious luxurious cabins allow room for your family to spread out.  The private hot tub on your deck is perfect for late night soaks under a star-filled sky, while the little ones slumber.  Families can enjoy guided activities together.  Or Mom and Dad get a chance to enjoy activities as a couple while the kids frolic in the snow with our kid wranglers.  You can enjoy most of the meals together as a family, but there are several nights a week when the kids have a separate, more casual dinner while Mom and Dad relax, have a glass of wine and enjoy uninterrupted conversation with other adult dining companions.

There is still time to plan your Spring Break vacation in Colorado.  Enjoy the snow, the vistas and the fun without the crowds and excessive time spent planning at a big ski resort!  Call 800-526-7433 to reserve your cabin, or visit www.vistaverde.com for more info.