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!

Growing up on a dude ranch

By Steph-

I passed by the mares the other afternoon, and noticed that they were alone.  The foal weaning has begun.  It’s a big step in a little horse’s life, and our little friends took that step this week.  Once they are old enough, we move the foals away from their momma’s so they can take the next step in growing up to be civilized dude ranch horses.  I asked Terry for an update on how they are doing, and here is what he had to say:

“We brought them up to the cow pen, right next to the Arena, so we could keep a close eye on them, and they would be far from their momma’s.

They have had a great start on training from the guests who visited our dude ranch all summer, and now they all are trying to find friends in the horse staff who go work with them daily (work is mostly petting and fellowship).  Jr. really loves his mom and is still calling out to her so he’s keeping the girls awake in the barn apartments (barndominiums as we call them).  Jr is the smallest and always will be, and just like Terry, he has “littleman complex”.  So, he is really tough with his siblings yet he has plenty of time to be sweet and remains Nickys’ choice for “favorite baby”.  Thermond (Hopalong Cassidy) is still struggling with trust; but we try to reassure him that all is well.  He genuinely likes the ladies better than he likes the authority figure (ranch trainer Terry Wegener) so T-dub is trying to let him know all is well and safe.  Chisholm is the most loving and kind and accepting of people. We must have gotten some sweet folks on his lead line….  Bailey loves Peggy. That was the big connect of the summer which was very sweet.  These things just happen, and you never know who will be the one who the foal picks.  Gemmy and Rascal were sold together to one of our guests and will winter as best friends. We will stay in touch with them and watch their development with great excitement.  Rocket gets more elegant everyday and right now is showing the most changes.  He is aptly named as he exudes speed and shows a mischievous nature that is really fun.”

As we get closer to our winter resort season, and the snow starts flying, we will send most of the foals down to the Front Range of Colorado to spend the winter growing up in a big, open pasture.  They will be able to frolic with each other, and get bigger and stronger.  Being at a winter resort with all the snow isn’t the best place for them, and so we’ll wait until next spring to bring them back and start their more official training.

Autumn Comforts

by Alaya
Fall at the ranch. What a beautiful time of year!

Last week marked the official transition into autumn, but our season had already begun. The aspen leaves have changed from bright green to a blazing yellow – punchy and vibrant.

The nights have gotten cold, and the mornings are just as brisk. It makes for a good night’s sleep, but the days of leaving the windows wide open at night are over.

This time of year, one steps outside at the end of the evening to the indescribable scent of… fall – the deep, rich scent of earth and fallen leaves, mixed with the warm, comforting scent of smoke from the wood-burning stoves in each of our guest cabins.
Looking up at the hillside, one sees the row of cabins, lights glimmering tucked against the hills. Depnding on the night, the sweet scent of autumn may be accompanied by the yipping of coyotes, bugling elk or ribbons of laughter pouring from a cabin deck.

As the days progress, the temperatures begin to drop and you can sense that snow is not too far off.

I’m bracing myself for my first winter in the mountains, my first winter in northern Colorado. I’m not sure I’m ready for the season’s length (or the snow’s depth!) but I am looking forward to the cozy comfort I know that this ranch will offer during the long winter months.

And until then, I will continue to marvel at the vibrant landscape.

Travelsavvymom.com – September 2012

Jamie Pearson wrote this fun story for Travelsavvymom.com.

Just when you thought dude ranch vacations couldn’t get any better

A couple of years ago, my family took a Colorado dude ranch vacation.   Maybe you read about it here?  If not, I’ll summarize it for you in a few words:  boots, horses, hot tubs, cattle drives, and jaw-dropping scenery.  A good time was had by all, but especially by me since there was also no shopping, cooking, or cleaning for a week.

I wouldn’t have guessed that the folks at Vista Verde could improve the experience, but I would have been wrong.

Baby animals are as silly as baby humans. Maybe this is why they get along so well?

First, they remodeled the (already awesome) cabins.  Then they built a swimming pool.  Now, they’ve introduced a weekly foal clinic.

Baby horses!

One of the highlights of our vacation, was tiptoeing into a darkened barn to see a newborn foal.   Just hours old, she was all legs and eyes.  While it was special to us, it was business as usual for the ranch staff.  Because they have a breeding program, there are babies every summer.

I want a lap horse!

In an effort to get guests involved, Vista Verde started a weekly foal clinic where guests of all ages get to help halter-train, gentle, and socialize the baby horses (seven in all this summer).  Not only does it turn the people into horse lovers, it also turns the foals into people lovers — an important quality for guest ranch horses

Follow this link to find out more about Vista Verde Ranch.  They are open (mostly) year-round, but due to Colorado weather, baby horses are a summer phenomenon.

The dude ranch vacation that follows you home

One of our goals at Vista Verde is to provide a compelling dude ranch vacation experience that creates memories that last long past the final adventure.  We hear great stories from folks of how they go to their “happy ranch place” when in the depths of a crazy day back at home.

Every once in a while, the Vista Verde ranch experience follows a guest home with a little more of a physical presence.  The past couple weeks have been some fun reminders of those cases.
Earlier in the month, Joe and Linda visited us during our first adult only week.  It was a great group of people, and a lively dynamic.  Linda is an avid horsewoman, but Joe found himself exploring some other adventures.  One of those was mountain biking with Steve.  Now, those of you who have spent time with Steve know quite well what a gear-head he can be about his bikes and skis, among other things.  Joe had such a great time mountain biking on his vacation with Steve, that he decided to extend the experience and bought a bike.  We are now enjoying the stories of Joe making sure the UPS driver knows the bike is coming, getting his bike, and his first ride…..which translated into a new pair of padded biking shorts.  We love that he has found this new hobby, and one that is so healthy too!

Last week, Wendy and Eric joined us for one of our cattle round up weeks.  Wendy is another guest who has found Vista Verde following her home.  In this case, it was a horse several years ago.  Yep, book a dude ranch vacation, and come home with a horse!  Sounds crazy, but it’s not the first time that’s happened.  It was fun to talk to Wendy as they were heading home about how when she misses the ranch, she can always look at Sally’s brand and be reminded of her time here.  Now, that’s one heck of a souvenir!

There are more fun stories like this.  Not everyone will have a piece of Vista Verde follow them home to that extent, but it’s fun to think of the different ways the ranch stays in peoples hearts and minds when they aren’t here with all of us.  Share your story as we’d love to hear how Vista Verde stays with you, in big ways or small ways.

Kitty love at the ranch

Melissa gives us the inside scoop on the kitties

Being on a ranch, it’s not rare to be surprised by an unlikely visitor. This summer we’ve had a guest wake up to a deer peeking through their window, rustling noises from a bear walking alongside a cabin, porcupines making themselves at home on porches, and coyotes howling off in the pasture. In the wilderness you never know what you’ll find. And recently, we’ve had a few other visitors.

There used to be several cats at the ranch, but as they moved on in life, it became just Harley (also known with endearment as Nappy Cat).  She had her hands full, being the sole hunter.  But, she has recently had some new friends.

Our cats Cookie and Lovey once lived at the mare barn. Their job: hunting mice. But it turns out they like the company of people a lot more than horses so they decided to move up the driveway and hang around the cabins. Not only are they patrolling a new area, but they’ve made themselves at home.  (Please keep in mind we do not let cats in our cabins or buildings, so do not fear if you are allergic.)

After a relaxing afternoon in the hot-tub last week, our guests Mark and Kim left their towels lying on top of the hot-tub cover. When they woke up the next morning they realized one of the cats, Cookie, had nestled herself in the towels making a nice little bed for the night. She was just too cute to move, so they left a note for the housekeepers asking if it was ok to keep the bed for their new friend.  Who could say no to that! From then on, Cookie joined Mark and Kim almost every night this week on their porch.  Who can deny that a warm hot tub cover makes for a cozy place to cuddle up on a chilly evening?

Let’s hope Cookie and Lovey don’t forget about the mice, as they live in the lap of luxury at Vista Verde!

Even Big Kids Love Ice Cream!

This week we were surprised with a nice little treat: Vinny’s mom visited in her ice cream truck!

Vinny is one of our esteemed chefs, who just happens to be from nearby Steamboat Springs. His mom is Buffalo Gal, and drives the neighborhood ice cream truck. (World’s coolest job? Aside from working at a guest ranch, I think so!)

She pulled up just after lunchtime today, a special treat for staff and guests. You could barely hear the nostalgic ice-cream-truck music because the excited cheers were so loud!

Surprisingly, several of the staff had never had ice cream trucks visit their neighborhoods, so it was a first!  (We caught Reid skipping to the truck!)

Even Rosey got into it.  She went right up to the truck, made her choice and then sat down until Ruth gave her a Frosty Paws treat.

What a fun treat… by the end, everyone had big smiles (and even bigger ice cream mustaches!)

There’s something about an ice cream truck that brings out the kid in everyone (as evidenced in the photos above), and that’s just fine with us!

As for the favorite treat… it was a mix, just like the staff, no one treat was chosen over the other.

The four-legged staff at our dude ranch

Every dude ranch should have a great staff.  But, what some don’t realize is that the staff includes 4 legged critters too.  We love to sing the praise of our crew, and we highlight our wonderful horses regularly, but we often overlook the smaller members of our dude ranch team.

The ranch dogs don’t provide a whole lot of function at the ranch, but do a bang up job in the hospitality department.  From greeting guests to providing comedic relief as they dive into the pond daily, they have their role.

Trooper is Terry’s wanna-be cattle dog.  Typically ranchers have a cattle dog to help herd the cows.  Trooper has disowned his lab background and has claimed a cattle dog pedigree with the way he jumps in and helps Terry move the cows.  Please don’t tell him otherwise, and just buy into his story.  He would be crushed otherwise.

Rosey is Steve and Kelli’s lab, who has grown up as a guide dog.  Not the kind of guide dog you might imagine, but a dog that has been guiding ski trips, hiking trips and other adventures her whole life.  When your mom and dad are ace guides, that’s just how you learn to roll.

Many of our guests this past winter fell in love with Reid’s new puppy, Dodger.  He has now morphed into more of a teenager, testing the system and harassing the older dogs.   But, they do help teach him the ropes, and he is learning the rules and guidelines to being a great guest ranch dog.
Sadly, two of our wonderful friends passed on earlier this summer.  Dakota and Cheyenne were our Great Pyrenees power puffs.   Time and time again, they would sneak out of their pen and wander down the road to visit some neighbors (yes, we do have a couple neighbors out here!).  It was a weekly event that we would get a call at night telling us the “white dogs” were at their house.  With their sweet personalities and kind hearts, they were hard not to love though.  We all miss them, but love that their stories will be with us always.

Over the years, we have had many ranch cats.  They truly are an important part of the team, and have a specific job.  As much as Vista Verde works hard to provide a luxury ranch experience, did you notice that there is one important word that is always a part of us?  Ranch.  And, with that goes wildlife.  And with wildlife goes some that we’d rather not see as much of…..mice.  You can build a very nice cabin, but when you build it on a 600 acre ranch, surrounded by millions of acres of national forest, the mice just don’t care how nice that cabin is, or whether it has granite countertops or not.  They just want in.  So, our cats have played an important guest service role over the years.  When left to their job, they are actually very effective.   More to follow on them tomorrow, as they have their own stories.

The animals come and go in our lives.  We have loved so many pets over the years- Bessie and Bailey, Aspen, Tillie, Slim, Red, Miss Kitty, Whopper, Babe, and the list goes on.  They all have brought stories, laughter, and joy to our lives.   So, go hug your pet today, if you have one.  If not, you can always hug one of ours.

Chef’s Corner: The Best Fried Chicken (Ever!) [Recipe]

by Alaya

As the chef’s wife, I am in the unique position of taste-testing the dishes that come out of his kitchen. This classic-with-a-twist fried chicken is one of my favorites!

Gourmet comfort food? It might seem like an oxymoron, but once you try it, you realize it’s the best of both worlds: your favorite familiar foods elevated to the next level in flavor and presentation. And that’s exactly what this dish represents.

This dish starts with perfectly fried chicken: juicy, tender with crisp-battered skin. (Lip-smacking, finger licking –  even with this elevated version, you’ll want to lick your fingers clean and that’s okay with us!)

The added punch of unexpected flavors (tangy pickled vegetables, mellow blueberry sauce, and a sweet/nutty corn flour pancake) turns this fried chicken from a familiar favorite into a dish with bold personality.

This is a great meal for a dinner party or family gathering. The warm, familiar feeling of a home-cooked meal is amplified by the addition of a delicate and distinctive collection of bold flavors, making it the perfect meal to share with loved ones.

See for yourself… the recipe has several steps and components, but don’t let that overwhelm you!  It’s hardly as elaborate as it seems, and the results are well worth the small bit of extra effort.

The Best Fried Chicken (Ever!) – Serves 8
with Pickled Vegetables, Cornmeal Pancakes & Savory Blueberry Sauce  

Ingredients

For the Brine:

  • 2 lemons, halved
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 2 ounces flat leaf parsley
  • 4-5 springs of thyme
  • 2 ounces honey
  • 4 cloves garlic peeled and smashed
  • 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
  • 2 ounces kosher salt
  • 3 quarts water

For Frying the Chicken:

  • One 2 ½ -to 3-pound chicken
  • Chicken brine, cold (recipe to follow)
  • Canola oil for frying
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 T garlic powder
  • 2 T onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

For the Pickled Vegetables:

  • 2 carrots, peeled and sliced 1/8 inch on a bias
  • 2 english cucumbers, sliced ¼ inch on a bias
  • 1 red onion, peeled and thinly sliced into rings
  • 3 cups white vinegar
  • 6 ounces granulated sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 10 allspice berries
  • 10 whole cloves
  • 2 small diced chile peppers

For the Cornmeal Pancakes

  • ¾ cup flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup cornmeal
  • 1 ½ Tablespoon unsalted butter
  • ½ cup red onion, minced
  • ¼ cup grana padano cheese, grated (you can substitute parmesan cheese)
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • ¼ cup chopped parsley
  • 2 sprigs thyme, chopped

For the Savory Blueberry Sauce:

  • 2 quarts homemade chicken stock
  • 2 pints fresh blueberries
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Procedure

Brining the Chicken

  1. In a large pot combine chicken brine ingredients and bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute until the salt is dissolved. Remove from the heat, cool, and then refrigerate until chilled.
  2. Break the chicken down into wings, thighs, drumsticks and breasts (save the carcass for more chicken stock), and cut the breast in equal halves.
  3. Place the chicken in the brine for 24 hours. When ready to use, remove from brine and rinse under cold water.

Pickling the Vegetables

  1. Combine all the ingredients, except the vegetables, into a pot and bring to a boil.
  2. While waiting for the pickling liquid to boil, prepare your vegetables and place in a large canning jar big enough to hold the vegetables and the liquid.
  3. Pour the boiled liquid over the vegetables and allow to cool completely. Refrigerate pickled vegetables for up to one month.

Making the Cornmeal Pancakes

  1. Sift together the dry ingredients into a large bowl.
  2. Heat the butter in a skillet and sauté the onion until translucent, remove from the heat, stir in the cheese and allow to cool.
  3. Whisk together the buttermilk and the egg yolks, fold in the cooled onion-cheese mixture. Fold in the dry ingredients.
  4. When ready to fry the pancakes, whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form and fold into the existing batter, fold in the chopped herbs.
  5. Ladle into a heated skillet 2 ounces of cornmeal batter, flip when ready, keep warm until ready to use.

Making the Blueberry Sauce

  1. In a large pot on the stove begin reducing the chicken stock until reduced to 2 cups
  2. Meanwhile, heat a sauce pan on the stove and add the blueberries, when they start to burst, drizzle in the honey and allow it to simmer. Add the lemon juice and then add the reduced chicken stock.
  3. Simmer for 10 minutes to allow flavors to blend, season to taste with salt and black pepper. Keep sauce warm until ready to use.
  4. Bring the sauce to a simmer again when ready to use and swirl in the butter until it is dissolved. Taste again for seasoning.

Frying the Chicken

  1. In a large frying pan, heat the canola oil to 325 degrees F.
  2. Combine the dry ingredients together and then split into 2 different bowls. Add buttermilk to a third bowl.
  3. Dredge the chicken pieces in the seasoned flour, then into the buttermilk, and then into the next seasoned flour.
  4. Place the chicken in hot oil for 2 minutes and then begin moving the chicken around to fry evenly for a total of 10-12 minutes, until chicken is dark golden and cooked thoroughly.
  5. On a plate, place a cornmeal pancake, a dark piece and a white piece of chicken on top, drape the pickled vegetables on the side and drizzle the blueberry sauce lightly over the chicken. Enjoy!

Adventures in Housekeeping

Guest bloggerm, and all-star housekeeper, Lasha shares a fun story from last week’s Adventures in Housekeeping.

It was the last week in August at Vista Verde; the first week of “Adults Only” here at the ranch.  For Housekeepers, this generally means that the cabins are not quite as messy, towels don’t have potato chip grease stains on them, and typically, there are just a few less piles of clothes on the floor to maneuver.  One of the biggest changes though is that “Willie” the moose doesn’t get hidden in cabins anymore at evening turn-downs.  Willie (a very cute stuffed animal) is usually cleverly hidden every night, accompanied with a snack, for the kiddos to find.  It’s a fun game for both Housekeepers and the kids.

Willie thought wrong when he assumed he was done hiding every night just because it was an “Adults Only” week.  Monday morning came and much to the Housekeepers surprise, Janie and Nigel had left a note asking where Willie was, and wondered why he wasn’t hidden for them to find the night before.  Naturally, this started a friendly game of hide and seek.  The Housekeepers were all too pleased to come up with even more clever hiding spots for Willie.  Tuesday morning came and the Housekeepers arrived to Janie and Nigel’s cabin to find a note saying that it had taken them an hour and a half to find Willie and just when they were about to drain the hot tub and tear down the fire place, they collapsed with exhaustion onto the living room floor only to find him hiding under the sofa cushion with a snack bag of teddy grahams.

The notes exchanged throughout the week were humorous, at times even poetic, and the hiding places were epic.  At the end of the week Willie left the Vista Verde to continue his journey in life, with a promise from Janie and Nigel that he would be well taken care of.  Needless to say, the Housekeepers were sad to say farewell to their friends but as always looked forward to a new week of adventures in Housekeeping!

Hard work has its rewards

Ben and Holly’s son Jack, learned about the rewards of hard work this summer.  In the spring, he had asked if he could help out at the ranch a bit, and earn some money.  Of course, being the loving father, Ben told him he could help with washing dishes.  As it turns out, Jack was a lifesaver for our staff as he would jump in and help during the day with dishes, and make all of their lives much easier, and a bit more fun.  In between dish duty, he would learn from the chefs, and has gained an appreciation for the culinary arts.

But, the big payoff for Jack was when he cashed in his paychecks and bought himself an Ipad.  He bought it all by himself, with the money he earned helping out around the ranch this summer.

It’s fun to watch staff grow and develop, but I have to say we all took some serious pleasure in watching Jack enjoy the materialistic benefits of hard work on the day his Ipad arrived.   Now, it’s time to get ready to go back to school.  We hope Jack returns to school with some new life skills, pride in himself, and an understanding of what it means to help others.  But, if nothing else, he’ll have a rocking new Ipad to enjoy!

Happy Trails, and come back home real soon

For those of you who have been at the ranch over the years, you may remember Dace standing in front of the campfire saying, “Around here, we don’t say goodbye.  We say come back home real soon.”  That is his hallmark statement for anyone leaving the ranch.  At this time, it becomes our turn to say that to Dace.

Much to the loss of all of us, it became Dace’s time to move on to a new venture.  After over 6 years at the ranch, and being an integral part of what Vista Verde is today, Dace has hung up his cowboy hat and loaded up his truck to head down the driveway.

Although Dace has been a hugely influential part of molding the ranch into today’s Vista Verde, his biggest contribution has been visioning and piecing together the amazing staff that we have had the joy of working with each season.  This is no small feat to find the talented and service minded folks who he has found over the years, place them in the right spot on the ranch, and build the community that defines the ranch experience.  We have a great template in place now, so moving forward will be easy with what Dace has put in place for all of us to enjoy.

Dace’s impact on the ranch came through in so many different ways as well.  The music, the special events, the daily operations all are what they are because of his love of the guest ranch experience, his care for making each moment just right for all of you, and his joy in celebrating the ways in which we can impact people at the ranch.

In saying goodbye to Dace, we all lose a great friend, a mentor and a partner in our mission at Vista Verde.  But, we rejoice with him as he moves on in life.  Next up?  First, a little time focusing on his family and helping with some big events going on in their lives.  After that, he’s heading back to school to pursue another Masters Degree.  It’s time for Dace to start checking off some items on his bucket list that were hard to do when he had so much energy going toward the ranch.

So, at this time, please join us in saying Happy Trails to Dace.  But, it’s not goodbye.  It’s come back home real soon.  Thanks for being part of this great adventure that is Vista Verde.

About.com – August 2012

Vista Verde Ranch, Colorado

By , About.com Guide

This luxury guest ranch near Steamboat Springs ski resort welcomes families year-round. Price includes gourmet meals, snacks, beverages (including beer and wine), evening entertainment, airport transfers, gratuities for staff, horseriding and many other outdoors activities. Accommodation-only rates are also available, whereby guests can pay for activities a la carte.

Families can stay in a lodge room or a luxury log cabin; the cabins are standalone units and have up to three bedrooms, with a woodstove and a private hot tub on the deck; fridges are stocked with complimentary beverages. Be prepared to relax and disconnect: there are no phones or tvs in the rooms. (Complimentary wireless is available, though.)

For evening meals, parents can opt for family-style dining, or indulge in a candlelight dinner while the young’uns have their own kid-friendly meal.

The ranch also has a kid’s hut play zone, a Great Room (photo above) with a nightly fire in winter months, and an indoor riding arena. Vista Verde has received a AAA Four Diamond Award.

Seasonal Activities

The all-inclusive rates at Vista Verde offer lots of outdoors fun that families can sample as much or as little as they like. In summer this include horseback riding, clinics with horse trainers and wranglers, guided hikes, guided mountain biking on trails or in a terrain park, use of bikes, guided fly fishing with gear, rock-climbing, river rafting and kayaking, a photography workshop, cooking classes, kids and teens programs, transport to Steamboat, and evening entertainment such as barn dances.* Guests can also enjoy the ranch’s swimming pool.

In winter, rates include guided backcountry skiing, snowshoe tours and cross-country trails, as well as the gear you’ll need for these activities. Winter also offers sledding, horseback rides, sleigh rides, a photography workshop, cooking classes, teen programs during holidays, and evening entertainment. Transportation is provided to and from Steamboat for ski days. Guests can also pay extra for dog sledding, snowmobiling, ice climbing, and massage treatments.

The holiday season is a top time to visit. Before Christmas, each family has its own tree in the lodge to decorate. Families can also try seasonal activities such as making decorations, and take a horse drawn sleigh ride to go caroling.

Kids and Teen Programs

Naturally, horse-riding is a primary focus for all ages, and kids are matched to an appropriate horse for the week. For other fun, “kid wranglers” take kids age 6 to 11 to treasure hunts, powwows in the tepee, boat races in the creek, gold-panning in the river, fishing, campfires… Meanwhile, teens age 12 and up have a separate program, with movie night, adventure rides, and other activities.

Foxnews.com – August 2012

Top 10 family resorts in the US

Geographically diverse, the U.S. offers an overwhelming range of destinations when it comes to planning family getaways. From Wild West ranches to laidback beaches to urban escapes, this list will help you hone in on a place for every interest. It also takes the adult factor into account. You may be a parent, but this is your vacation too, which means you want more than just water slides and bingo nights. What’s wrong with a great wine list, spa treatments and golf for mom and dad, along with circus activities, scavenger hunts and fire truck rides for the kids? Understanding the needs of adults and children, these properties are not only for staying together, but for playing together — and apart — while on holiday.

CALIFORNIA
Ojai
Ojai Valley Inn & Spa 
Popular as a weekend spa and golf escape for Angelenos, the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa offers an ideal retreat for both adults and kids. Dating back to the 1920s, this sumptuous property features kid-oriented adult activities such as biking and fishing, as well as Camp Ojai (ages five to twelve), where offerings include animal yoga, Chumash rock painting (based on local Native American traditions) and history hikes. Teens also enjoy dedicated programs, ranging from Friday night “dive-in” movies at the kid’s pool and Latin groove dance classes to tennis clinics, golf clinics and special spa treatments. Accommodations are residential in style, with comfy, contemporary ranch décor, and dining celebrates California produce and products. In short, this is the place to go when you want to combine luxury with an enriching experience for all ages. For more information, read a complete hotel review of Ojai Valley Inn & Spa

COLORADO
Steamboat Springs
Vista Verde 
You gotta love a place that boasts its own Kids Wranglers. No, these babysitters in boots don’t round ’em up and rope ’em in. Instead, they teach horseback riding basics, host powwows in teepees and fill tiny bellies with nutritious food while you enjoy a wine tasting class or dinner by candlelight. From the welcoming day hayride to the marshmallow roast on the last night, Vista Verde’s all-inclusive getaways are filled with traditional ranch activities and a few unusual extras, such as gold panning, hunting for animal tracks and fire truck rides — complete with sirens blaring — into town for hand-cranked ice cream. The ranch has separate programs for younger children and teens, so the older kids can play it cool while taking an adventure ride or embarking on an overnight campout. And if you’d like to come in the winter, kids will find just as much to do, with skiing, snowshoe outings and igloo building. Just outside Steamboat Springs, this working ranch offers lodge accommodation and private cabins with up to three bedrooms. For more information, visit VistaVerde.

FLORIDA
Orlando
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge 
Antelopes, gazelles and giraffes, oh my! Leave it to Disney — creators of “The Lion King” — to bring the savannas of Africa to Orlando. Four tropical savannas, to be precise, separated by guest room wings. Make sure to ask for a room with a balcony overlooking the wildlife … and don’t be surprised when a zebra or wildebeest strolls by (at a safe distance). African style pervades this resort and 43-acre wildlife preserve, from the thatched roofs to handcrafted artifacts to regional cuisines. Kids are invited to participate in cultural safaris, night vision animal viewing and junior research projects; as well, they can hit the waterslide at Uzima pool or check out the flamingos while they play at Hakuna Matata Playground. Adults who want a night out on their own can entrust kids aged three to twelve to Simba’s Cubhouse, featuring supervised activities, Disney movies (big surprise) and dinner. Read a complete hotel review of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

HAWAII
Honolulu
Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort & Spa 
Kids’ clubs are an art form at luxury resorts in Hawaii, but the Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort & Spa offers more than just a few youth-oriented activities. Everything about the property feels as if it was made to accommodate parents traveling with their offspring, from Atlantis submarine tours (check out the sunken coastal freighter and old passenger plane) to the Friday night fireworks show with hula dancing. This 22-acre beachfront “village” in Waikiki also offers more than a dozen restaurant options, daily wildlife feedings on the grounds and Camp Penguin for ages five to twelve. The half- and full-day programs (for a fee) include diversions such as supervised Hawaiian crafts, lei-making, Hawaiian storytelling and outside visits to places like the Waikiki Museum.

NEW YORK
New York City
Four Seasons Hotel New York 
We have always loved the Four Seasons hotel group for its efforts to pamper little ones. Call before you arrive, give the names and ages of your kids, and they will be welcomed with special amenities, appropriately sized robes, board games, coloring books, children’s DVDs and complimentary toiletries (for babies). Kids’ dishes are offered in the restaurant and on the room service menu, and the range of freebies is seemingly endless: childproofing, cribs and rollaways, Diaper Genies, bottle warmers and even strollers for perambulating Park and Madison Avenues. Take advantage of babysitting services while you hit the spa, and ask the concierge to help arrange carriage rides, museum tours and helicopter excursions. Best of all, there’s no extra charge for kids seventeen and under to share a room with their folks. Read a complete hotel review of Four Seasons Hotel New York

NORTH CAROLINA 
Lake Toxaway 
Earthshine Mountain Lodge 
All-inclusive, Earthshine Mountain Lodge introduces kids and parents to an eclectic range of experiences. On Pioneer Mornings, you can apprentice in a blacksmith shop, press apple cider and make candles. And on Cherokee Mornings, you can learn the traditional ways of the Cherokee tribe, with activities that include making pottery and throwing tomahawks. Educational opportunities include the Destination 1840 immersion in living history, and Earth Explorers, where folktales become reality as kids discover their natural surroundings. Because the resort believes that family vacations are about more than just dropping your children off at the “kids’ club” and then heading to the spa and golf course, activities here are made for the entire family — creek hikes, turtle tracking and zip-lining are just the beginning. There are even Hunger Games weekends for fans of the popular book. Storybook rooms are available in the hand-built cedar lodge, while the Sunrise Cottage offers a selection of larger family suites. For more information, visit Earthshinemtnlodge.com

ARIZONA
Scottsdale
Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch 
With its scenic championship golf and pampering Spa Avania, this 27-acre Hyatt Regency knows how to meet adult needs. And if those adults happen to be traveling with their youngsters, they can rest assured that they can actually get some R&R while their offspring are entertained at Camp Hyatt Kachina (with two programs for ages three to five and six to twelve). Heavily influenced by Native American culture, the camp offers a wealth of activities, including arrowhead arts and crafts and Apache relay races, as well as desert scavenger hunts, mining at the Lost Dutchman’s mine, cactus garden tours, Western sand art and Mexican bark painting. Enhancing the resort’s draw for families even further is a 2.5-acre water playground with ten pools and a sand beach. For more information, visit Scottsdale.hyatt.com

PENNSYLVANIA
Hershey
The Hotel Hershey 
When it comes to product placement, it doesn’t get more scrumptious than this. Willy Wonka, eat your heart out. Just one aspect of the Hershey, Pennsylvania experience, The Hotel Hershey pairs adult pastimes such as golf and spa treatments (chocolate-themed, of course) with the Cocoa Kids Club, a daily supervised program (for a fee) featuring tennis, basketball, swimming and arts and crafts. For guests thirteen to seventeen years of age, Club Adventure sessions include hiking and woodland exploration, team-building activities, skating and scavenger hunts. Nearby Hershey Park boasts eleven different roller coasters. And the hands-on, interactive Hershey’s Chocolate World will tempt sweet tooths of all ages with an inside look at chocolate making: take a simulated ride through the Hershey’s factory, create your own candy bar (including packaging) and save your appetite for a chocolate tasting adventure. Surprisingly — and pleasantly — the hotel itself avoids kitsch; Spanish in style, it was built in the 1930s (though it has been renovated and expanded) and is a member of Historic Hotels of America. For more information, visit Thehotelhershey.com

TEXAS
Austin
Barton Creek Resort & Spa 
From the Kids Club (six months to eight years) to Camp Barton (with no more than five kids per counselor), Barton Creek Resort & Spa will keep your offspring entertained. Swimming, nature trail hikes and scavenger hunts are just a few of the standard activities on offer, while fishing excursions and Friday Field Trips offer new experiences for young guests. During the summer, weeks at the camp are themed — for example, Buckaroo Blow-Out Week focuses on cowboy activities, while Party with the Planets Week gives kids the chance to discover the mysteries of outer space. Although this property has all of the expected kid-centric amenities, they have a hard time competing with the outdoor allure of this 4,000-acre Texas Hill Country resort. As for mom and dad, relaxation comes in many forms: unwind in the spa, play a round on the golf course or curl up with the kiddies for family movie night on weekend evenings. For more information, visit Bartoncreek.com

VERMONT
Highgate Springs 
The Tyler Place Family Resort 
Since 1933, Tyler Place Family Resort has been specializing in family vacations. Unlike many resorts that focus on the kindergarten and grade school crowds, this one caters to all ages, from newborns (musical games, bikes with baby seats, a fleet of strollers) to teens (water skiing, ropes courses, campouts). Those who came as kids when Tyler Place first opened now bring their great-grandchildren. It’s hard to name an experience you won’t find at this 165-acre lakefront property: it offers lake trampolines, circus activities, family field days and pontoon boat rides. There are special weekend and weeklong family retreats, and plenty of adult pursuits, like meditative yoga, pottery classes and Champagne cruises. With a picturesque setting on Lake Champlain, the resort features a selection of cottages and suites, all with separate parents’ bedrooms. Though they’re rustic rather than swanky, the accommodations are just right for a casual family escape. For more information, visit Tylerplace.com

MORE ON GAYOT.com

The Unexpected Guest

Every once in awhile we have a guest show up without a reservation – it’s okay though, because they’re not really looking for a place to stay. Just something to nibble on before they get back on the trail.

I’m talking about our wildlife visitors! Chipmunks and songbirds are ubiquitous. Deer are also common. They sometimes sidle up to the salt lick while the horses are distracted.  I remember a dramatic sight during staff orientation when a moose raced in front of the Great Room windows. We regularly hear the call of the sandhill crane, or the yapping of coyotes. On a walk the other day, I surprised a badger on the trail.

Recently we’ve had an extra exciting visitor come down from the hills: a female black bear!
It’s been so dry up in the hills that the (not so) little one has found her way down to the ranch. In looking for food, she found the motherload – a bunch of spilled bird seed underneath the bird feeders. Footprints and droppings were the first sign of her. Since then we’ve set up a trail camera and have been watching her every move (literally) for the past few days. She comes, eats, rests, and then goes.

It’s pretty clear that she’s timid. She comes only at night. Other than what is captured on the trail camera, no one has actually seen her in the flesh. We have been extra diligent about keeping our trash locked up!

In native Ute mythology, the bear represents strength, wisdom and survival skills. Each spring they come together for the annual Bear Dance – speculated to perhaps be the original line dance. They celebrate the end of the winter and the emergence of the bear out of hibernation. Traditionally, it was a time when the people, too, would come out of hibernation. They would come together once again after a long cold winter to celebrate, play and tell stories.

It may be late summer, but we continue to carry a bit of that spirit in what we do here. All summer long, Vista Verde is a place to come together to adventure, to play, to celebrate and to enjoy one another’s company!

We’ll continue to watch the bear by way of the trail camera. Her stays are already getting shorter as the spilled seed runs out. We are grateful for the excitement and story-telling value of her visit – but for the time being, we’ll continue to keep our trash locked up tight!

Bread making success

I received this wonderful email the other day, and it was a great reminder of the little ways people take home pieces of Vista Verde in their hearts, and in their kitchens in this case.

Steph,

It’s a miracle! Thanks to Cholly and his wonderful cooking class on Bread-making. I finally know how to make Sourdough bread.

I tried all of 2011 and gave up finally after trying many recipes.

Well, I began the starter after we returned from the ranch and today made the bread. It is wonderful!

Tell Cholly he made my YEAR!

Love to you all.

Terry

New Adventures in the Old West

When most of us think of a western dude ranch, we think of horses, cowboys, and possibly the cattle. Our minds conjure up images of open vistas, traversing the open-range on horseback.

But what does the west have to offer someone who – gasp – isn’t into horses?

Believe it or not, we do have guests that aren’t interested in riding a horse at all during the week. It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it’s okay. Because the west (and this ranch) have a surprising amount to offer in the non-equine department.

Most of these activities fall into the category that our lead guide Steve enthusiastically refers to as “new west.” This includes adventure activities such as hiking, mountain biking, fly fishing, yoga, rock-climbing, kayaking and rafting.

Each provides an opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors –  the fresh air, beautiful vistas and impressive landscapes – while engaged in unique and challenging physical activity.

Just like horseback riding at the ranch, these activities can be tailored for any level of experience or fitness acuity. Which means it’s a great place to start a new hobby – or, if you’re already an experienced athelete in the chosen activity, to take yourself to the next level.

New west provides adventure, athleticism, and appreciation for the natural environment.

The beauty of Vista Verde is that we offer this menu of “new west” activities in harmony with our “traditional” trail-riding and horse training and breeding programs.

With a menu of so many options to choose from, there really is something for everyone.

So, the next time you’re here and need a break from the saddle, trade in your cowboy boots and hop on the back of a mountain bike instead and see what “new west” has to offer.

The power of a photo

Often times, guests get better photos than any professional photographer can capture at the ranch.  That is the advantage   of staying at a place for an extended period of time- you have more chances of being at the right place at the right time.   We always appreciate it when our guests share a great photo, or several great photos, they took during their stay.

Earlier this summer, we shared on our Facebook page, some great shots taken by John on the 4th of July, that blew me away.  This one of Nicky coming home from our Star Spangled Stampede, was powerful.

Last week, Tammy shared an amazing photo she took during her stay.  It was a very special photo, and I put it up on our Facebook page Sunday morning.  Well, the photo went completely viral, and took off on Facebook.  The marketing geek in me found it fascinating to watch the stats grow through that day, and the following days.  As of this morning, the photo had been seen by almost 15,000 people.  61 people shared that photo on their wall, about 750 people “liked” the photo, and we have had 82 people make comments to us about the photo.  For a little dude ranch in Northwest Colorado, those are significant numbers!

I love the light in this photo, and it is real, for those of you who asked.  We do truly get sunsets like this at Vista Verde!

Another great photo from the summer is this shot taken by Debbie, who shared a group of her photos with us this past week as well.  I think it really captures the magic of the morning round up at Vista Verde.  It’s always a peaceful time, with amazing morning light, until the horses come charging into the corral.  They kick up dust, raise the energy level and stir up the calm that is sitting over the ranch.

Thanks to all our wonderful guests who share photos of their stays with the ranch.  We greatly appreciate having the shots, and love sharing them with all of you too!  Even if you don’t get a chance to visit the ranch, you can enjoy a bit of an armchair voyage through photos.

Vista Verde Has Bold Western Style

There’s nothing quite like cowboy style. The distinctive hat, the yoke-backed shirt, the big belt buckle, boots, and chaps. Add spurs and a bandana around the neck and you’ve got yourself a western hero.

Whether it’s because of his Texas roots or his handlebar moustache, no one has western style quite like our wrangler Nathan. Nathan is known for wearing incredible graphic shirts with bold western themes. Paired with his hat, boots and chaps,  he represents the real deal.

A few weeks ago, Sarah came across one of his shirts available at a discounted price. She purchased several of them and handed one to each of the servers.

They waited expectantly for Nathan to wear his shirt again, and when he finally did weeks later – they were ready. He showed up to lunch that day to find a gaggle of girls wearing the same bold shirt as he was.

There is no doubt about it: we have fun here at Vista Verde.

Check out the photo of Nathan and the girls. Kind of looks like the album cover for a country-western family band, doesn’t it?

Chef’s Corner: Tempura Battered Summer Vegetables with a Ponzu Dipping Sauce [Recipe]

Chef Cholly’s has another delightful summertime appetizer for us this month: a summer vegetable tempura paired with a light and flavorful ponzu dipping sauce. Delicious!

Although fried, the light tempura batter keeps this vegetable appetizer fresh and crisp and the zesty ponzu dipping sauce adds an Asian twist – perfect for a hot summer day.

When making it at home, you can use the summer veggies Chef Cholly has listed below, or get creative and work with what is abundant locally for you this time of year.

Looking for a wine to pair with it? Lisa, our Sous Chef and Sommelier recommends this pick:

 

2009 SOUVERAIN CHARDONNAY, SONOMA COUNTY
This Chardonnay introduces itself with clean aromas of citrus, apples, butter and oak spice. The palate is dominated by pronounced flavors of tropical fruits, brown baking spices, butter and toast. (Source: souverain.com)

 

Recipe: Tempura Battered Summer Vegetables
with a Ponzu Dipping Sauce

serves 4 as an appetizer

Tempura Battered Summer Vegetables

Ingredients:

  • 1 summer squash
  • 1 zucchini
  • 16  asparagus spears
  • 20 green beans
  • 4 medium chanterelle or hen of the wood mushrooms
  • 2 cups of oil for frying
  • Tempura batter (recipe to follow)
  • Ponzu dipping sauce (recipe to follow)

Procedure:

  1. Heat the oil in a cast iron skillet to 350 degrees F.
  2. Wash and dry the squash and zucchini and slice ¼ inch thick, trim asparagus and green beans, and brush any debris that may be on the mushrooms.
  3. Using one variety of vegetable at a time, dredge in the tempura batter enough to make one layer of veggies in the skillet. Allow excess batter to drip off briefly. Fry on both sides until crisp and golden. Remove to a pan lined with paper towel to absorb excess oil. Keep the pan in a pre-heated oven to keep veggies hot. Continue with each vegetable variety until all are fried.
  4. Arrange the veggies evenly on 4 plates and serve with warm ponzu sauce on the side for dipping.

Tempura Batter

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • 1 ½ cups cake or pastry flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 ¼ cups sparkling water or beer

Procedure

  1. Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl. When ready to use, add the sparkling water or beer and whisk until incorporated. The batter is ready to use.

Ponzu Dipping Sauce

Ingredients

  • 2 oz. soy sauce
  • 2 oz. lemon Juice
  • 2 oz. chicken stock
  • 2 oz. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. grated ginger root
  • 1/8 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 green onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp. minced garlic
  • ¼ cup diced tomato

Procedure

  1. Combine the soy sauce, lemon juice, chicken stock, olive oil, ginger root, and black pepper in a small pot and bring to a simmer.
  2. Remove the pot from the stove and stir in the other ingredients. Serve warm.


Nextavenue.org – July 2012

Summer Camps That Cater to Grown-Ups – By Heather Larson

A new generation of adult camps offers everything from sports to performing arts to cattle-herding

No longer must we settle for living vicariously through our kids’ or grandkids’ summer camp experiences. Now we can relive, or experience for the first time, the joys of nature and hone our skills or pursue our passions — with like-minded grown-ups.

Today’s adult camps offer everything from music to sports, from cattle ranching to performing arts, and from weight loss to spiritual study. And the timing and costs also cover a wide range: You can go to a three-day day camp for as little as $150 or a weeklong camp with upscale residential quarters for as much as $2,700.

According to the American Camp Association, more than half a million adults attend camp each year, and that doesn’t include people who go to family camp with their offspring. The association has kept records on adult attendance for only the past five years, but it notes that in that period, the numbers are up by 20 percent.

Hitting the Camp Trail

Bruce Henderson is a 60-something school psychologist in North Carolina by day. But by night but he’s an amateur saxophone player whose dream is to perform in lounges and jazz clubs when he retires. Six years ago, in an effort to improve his skills, he enrolled at a summer jazz camp on the campus of California State University, Northridge. It was there he met members of one of his favorite groups, the Gordon Goodwin Big Phat Band, who were serving as faculty.

Henderson was hooked. So much so that each summer he checks out a different jazz camp. Last year he discovered Tritone Jazz at Naz at Nazareth College in Rochester, N.Y., which inspired him so much he says he’s returning this year.

“Jazz camp is an experience like no other,” Henderson says. “I keep coming back because of the bonding I have with fellow musicians through creating art and sharing a love of musical expression. And it’s not all work — we have some really great laughs.”

Whatever your fancy, there’s probably a summer (or winter) camp that specializes in it. Here’s just a sampling of what’s out there for the kid in us all.

(MORE: Life From the View of a Canoe)

Jazz Camp

A typical day at Naz, on the campus’ 150 wooded acres, includes six hours of professional instruction for saxophone, clarinet, trumpet, trombone, piano, guitar, bass, drum, voice and, starting this year, violin.

For 90 minutes each day, campers play in combos and are coached by professional player/educators. Throughout the week they learn and practice the tunes they’ll perform at the final camp concert for a local audience.

As it has for the past 14 years, this camp runs the last full week in July (July 22–27, 2012). Tuition is $775; meals and lodging in the college dorms are an additional $520. Campers can also stay in nearby hotels, motels or B&Bs. Registration ends July 15, and when this story published, there was room for two more drummers, three trumpeters and a bassist.

Circus Camp

If you’re traveling near Lake Merritt in Oakland, Calif., and happen to see a crowd of people waving brightly colored banners outside a monumental Colonial church building, you’ve found Stagebridge. And if you’ve ever fantasized about being a carney or joining the circus, this is the camp for you.

The Sixth Annual Performing Arts for Adults 50+ Camp, housed inside that Colonial church, welcomes novices as well as skilled performers. All the instructors have performing arts backgrounds. The clowning teacher, for example, worked with the Pickle Family Circus and is a faculty member at the San Francisco Circus Center.

Intensive classes are offered in acting, storytelling, clowning, mime, movement, Zumba, percussion and more. On the last day of camp, all participants perform in a videotaped “Big Show,” a copy of which is available for $10.

Every summer has a different theme; this year’s is “Under the Big Top: Run Away With the Circus,” and it runs from July 16 to 20 (9:30–4); cost, $285. Participants stay “off-campus” in hotels in downtown Oakland and can drive or take public transportation to Stagebridge. Snacks are provided throughout the day, but attendees are advised to bring a light lunch.

Fantasy Camp 

For those who believe space is the place, the Adult Space Academy at the Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala., will be a dream come true. Surrounded by icons of American history, like the Saturn V restored to its Apollo-era condition, and the Pathfinder Shuttle, campers may actually brush shoulders with famous astronauts.

During the three-day session, participants study historic space flights, train like a real astronaut then apply what they’ve learned in a simulator (though they won’t experience weightlessness; that happens only in advanced camp, underwater). Each camper gets to build a miniature two-stage loadstar rocket (23 inches long) and launch it himself. Weather-permitting, the rockets can soar higher than 1,000 feet. While space camp is open to people of all ages, roughly half the 184 participants in 2011 were at least 50 years old. (Space Camp for kids runs all year long.)

Adult Space Camp is from Aug. 24 to Sept. 15 this year and costs $549, which includes room and board. Campers sleep onsite in dorm-style rooms that accommodate up to seven people. Meals are taken communally, and yes, they serve Tang. Currently all slots have openings.

(MORE: Pursuing Passions in New Places)

Cattle-Herding Camp

Vista Verde Ranch might bring Billy Crystal’s City Slickers to mind, but it offers a much more comfortable experience. Situated in the middle of a national forest in Northwest Colorado just 45 minutes form Steamboat Springs, the ranch offers lodging in authentic log cabins and serves haute cuisine. Think of it as an all-inclusive resort, with horses.

Originally built as a private ranch in the 1920s, Vista Verde became a full-fledged dude ranch in the 1970s. Summer season, for guests, runs from June through September; during the off-season, the owners attend to ranch projects.

This summer is Vista Verde’s Fourth Annual Cattle Round-Up, where campers actually ride over the ranch’s 16,000 acres searching for 400 head of cattle. Some days the cows are elusive, but when participants hit the mother lode, they’ll be driving a large herd — in an actual roundup.

The first day campers learn to communicate with their horse, and skills are honed in clinics throughout the week. The resident horse trainer helps riders of all levels improve their skills. All equipment is provided, but guests must bring their own jeans and hats. (Boots and helmets can be borrowed.)

On average, there are 25 guests per week, with more couples than singles, but everyone interacts so no one feels left out. The biggest payoff is the luxurious accommodations in private cabins plus gourmet meals paired with fine wines. A weeklong stay (Sunday to Sunday) costs $2,700 per person.

(MORE: Beginner’s Mind: A Joyful and Beneficial Way to Learn)

Outdoor Recreation Camps

Campers challenge their body and mind at Vermont’s Grafton Ponds Outdoor Center, flanked by Bear Mountain and two small reflective ponds at its base. Nearly 1,500 acres of conserved land have been set aside for recreational use and agricultural purposes. Big Kids Camps in Grafton offers hiking, swimming and a low ropes course plus instruction in mountain biking and canoeing. During the session campers visit the local town blacksmith and learn his craft.

But the real draw is the annual biathlon, a competitive event that combines cycling or running around a cross-country track with two to four shooting rounds of a laser gun, half of which are done standing, the other half prone.

Big Kids Camps are offered every Tuesday through Thursday (9–4) from June 25 until Aug. 3. Tuition is $150, which includes lunch. There’s no on-site housing: Campers usually stay in the nearby Grafton Inn.

Traditional Summer Camp — for Adults

YMCA Camp Chief Ouray, in the heart of the Colorado Rockies, is a good old-fashioned summer camp experience, with horseback riding, canoeing, archery, arts and crafts, nature hikes, water aerobics and wood-carving. (Yoga is the most “modern” concession.) Activities take place in Alpine meadows and stands of aspen and lodgepole pines, and campers raft down the mighty Colorado River. (In winter, the camp welcomes cross-country skiers and snow-shoers.)

Campers choose how adventurous or relaxed they want to be. Evening activities include square dancing, games, a talent show, campfires — pretty much everything except Color War.

There is an age limit here: No one under 50 is permitted. Sleeping quarters are off site, at nearby Snow Mountain Ranch, offering single and double beds or private rooms for an additional fee. The session runs from Aug. 26 to 31 and costs $280 for YMCA members and $300 for nonmembers, which includes lodging, all meals, snacks and most activities. (There are additional fees for horseback riding, rafting and ropes.)

How to Find the Right Camp for You

The obvious place to start is with personal recommendations or a Google search. Camp ParentsGrownup Camps and Shaw Guides are also good resources.

When researching a camp, the same rules apply as for kids’ camp, says Peg Smith, chief executive of the American Camp Association.

  • Ask a lot of questions.
  • Make sure the camp philosophy matches yours.
  • Find out what the expected fitness or skill level is.
  • Check to see if it is ACA-accredited (camps must meet nearly 300 standards in health safety and operations to earn this).

To maximize your camp experience, know what you want out of it before you attend, Smith says, and keep expectations realistic. “This is your opportunity to go beyond everyday life,” she says. “You’re never too old for a camp experience.”

Wild Yoga in the Wild West

I had the opportunity to join Steph and Kelli last Thursday for Wild Yoga. Where “old west” meets “new west,” this experience truly offers the best of both worlds. Guests have the option of riding horseback or hiking out the the serene outdoor yoga spot.

I opted to hike with Kelli, but many of the guests chose to ride with Steph. (Chaps over yoga pants: now there’s a unique challenge – and a unique look!)

Both routes provide scenic vistas and a serene experience. The destination: a small cluster of outdoor yoga platforms, nestled neatly in a shady aspen grove.

Kelli is trained through YogaFit®, the philosophy of which takes an inclusive approach to yoga. Hers is a mixed-level class accessible to folks at any level of fitness or ability. Though a former dancer, I am not as strong and flexible as I once once. I found the class challenging but encouraging and was easily able to follow the modified poses when needed. (Over my shoulder, I watched the obviously more experienced yogis of the group maximize the movements to match their more advanced capabilities.)
The flowing sequence was a gentle challenge to both my mind and body. Though the bugs were not bad, the occasional buzzing in my ear or tickle on my ankle was as additional challenge – a reminder to stay centered and focused and not give into distractions.

At one point, we had a surprise visitor. A deer circled by our site. He stopped when he noticed us, but eventually moved on. I guess he figured he was safe, us being yogis and all.

Tree pose was my favorite – standing tall and lifted, imagining being rooted into the ground, maintaining center and balance – it really does take on new meaning when you are encircled by a family of aspens.

We finished the class gently, laying on our backs with eyes closed in the rest position. What a treat to relax like that, feeling the dappled kiss of the sun through the canopy.

Afterward, as the riders mounted their horses and we prepared to hike out, I took one last look around. I felt calm, focused and restored. What a great way to begin my day!

Why I love our staff

There are so many reasons why I love the ranch staff at Vista Verde.  Overall, they are just fun people, and who doesn’t want to work with people who are fun?  But, I had a reminder of some of the other reasons I think they are all so great this past week.

Our housekeepers are often times overlooked.  Their job isn’t all that prestigious, and they deal with some pretty awkward situations from time to time.  Here are these smart, educated, talented people doing the dirty jobs with a smile on their face.  But, day after day, they show up with a great attitude to care for our guests behind the scenes.

The other day, as the girls were busy doing a deep clean on the Lodge, Sarah came by and asked if I had a rope or a strap. I was trying to figure out why she needed one as I looked around the office.  Finally I gave her the strap to my computer bag, still not sure what was going on.  Next thing, I see her strapping on what we call and edger (small vacuum to get the edges of the room, small corners, etc..).  She looked like she was straight out of Ghostbusters.   A little creativity, a little smarts, a little sense of humor, and suddenly her job of vacuuming around the Great room became fun.

So many more reasons to love them, but Sarah deserved a shout out for putting a smile on my face that day.  I’m sure all of you who have been to the ranch have fun stories of how our staff have done the same for you.  Feel free to share them with us!

Vista Verde Staff Glow in the Dark

Once a month during the summer, we try to gather our staff together for some good old-fashioned fun. It’s a chance to kick back, relax and let off some steam together. Last night, we gathered for a late-night game of Capture the Flag out at Homestead cabin – complete with all-black ninja-wear and color-coded glow sticks.

We played two rousing rounds (red versus blue in honor of the upcoming holiday.) The red team took it both times. Even this morning, team members were still talking strategy. We may have to have a re-match later in the summer.

After the game, we settled in around a makeshift campfire to sing songs and eat treats from the kitchen. While we missed the warmth and sweet smell of a real campfire, Colorado has seen too many flames this summer. We were happy to do our part by gathering around a Coleman lamp.

All in all it was a great night. With the moon three-quarters full and the call of the sand-hill crane audible (even over the chaos of the game), it was a gorgeous night to be out, active and spending time with one another.

Travel + Leisure – June 2012

America’s Best All-Inclusive Resorts by Suzanne Rowan Kelleher

Vista Verde Guest Ranch, Steamboat Springs, CO

“Picture this,” raves Jamie Pearson on her Travel Savvy Mom blog: “After an outrageously fun day of riding, learning to herd cattle, or watching your kids compete in a just-for-fun rodeo, you unwind on the porch of your private cabin in your private Jacuzzi. It’s heaven.” It’s otherwise known as Vista Verde Guest Ranch, where rates include meals and all beverages; horseback riding; guided hiking, biking, and fly-fishing; river rafting and kayaking; kids’ and teens’ programs; evening barn dances and rodeos; and shuttle service to and from Steamboat Springs.

Price Tag: Weekly rates from $2,900 per adult and $2,300 per child under 11 staying in the lodge; add $400 per person for a cabin.

Thelma and Louise take on Vista Verde Ranch

We had some fun visitors stop by the other day to see the ranch.  It was in the whirlwind of a Sunday turnover, as we were getting ready for some more families to arrive.  All of us were running several directions at once.  Lucky for me, I got a few minutes to show these gals around and hear their story.  Elaine and Marlene are two women with a strong travel bug.  After both of them got through raising children, and had some more free time, they decided to team up and start traveling the world.  Their trips have been inspired by the book, “1000 Places to Visit Before You Die”.  Their stop by on Sunday was because Vista Verde is part of this book.  Little did they know that they would be visiting a luxury dude ranch in Colorado when they first took on this adventure!

I didn’t get a chance to spend too much time with these gals, but I was so taken by their travel stories and reason for their visit that I took a picture of them before they headed off to see the Zirkel Wilderness area, just up the road from the ranch.

If you get a chance, check out their website and learn about the Wild Women Wanderers.