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!

Chef’s Corner: Naranjillo Spanish Appetizer [Recipe]

Today is Chef Cholly’s birthday, and to  celebrate we’re sharing the recipe for his Naranjillos (or “Little Oranges.”)

Guests get a hand at making these small golden delights each week in Chef Cholly’s Friday afternoon cooking class. They are then served as an appetizer before the Friday-night meal – a continuation of our Spanish-themed Friday lunch. (Think: aromatic paella, cool and zesty gazpacho, nutty chickpea salad…)

These are a twist on the Italian arancini (also meaning “little orange.”) They get their name from their size, shape, and the deep golden hue they acquire in the frying process. In Chef Cholly’s Spanish version, the saffron-infused paella-style rice imparts an extra hit of gold. Breaded, fried, and filled with a tangy Spanish sheep cheese, these “little oranges” are a real treat!

Perfect as an appetizer, these “little oranges” always snatched up and enjoyed thoroughly. The best part? They’re easy to make! Kids are great at shaping the rice balls, making them a great family cooking activity. (Just watch those small hands near the hot oil!)

Start with Chef Cholly’s recipe below. If you’re feeling adventurous, try using different ingredients. Pair chorizo or olives with the Manchego to punch-up the Spanish theme. Ground meat, mozzarella, marinara, and peas will give you an Italian classic. You might even try a curried version with potatoes and peas to capture the flavors of India. (You can skip the saffron with these.) The possibilities are endless!

Recipe: Naranjillo (Little Oranges) – makes 20


½  pound semi-soft Manchego cheese – diced into 1 /2 inch pieces
  • 2 cups bomba rice 
5 cups chicken or vegetable broth, simmering
15 threads of saffron
½ cup olive oil
  • Salt
  • Flour for dusting
4 eggs
  • Fine panko bread crumbs (or fine regular bread crumbs)
    (Make regular breadcrumbs fine by pulsing them in a food processor
  • Oil for frying (Canola, peanut, or other high-temp oil)


  1. Heat a skillet on medium-high on the stove and add olive oil, then add rice and “toast” the rice in the skillet until it is almost translucent (10Mins.). Add the saffron, let the oils run and then add the stock (or water), salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Cook the rice until all the water is absorbed and the rice is over-cooked but still maintains its shape (mostly). Transfer to a flat pan to cool.
  3. In the meantime, gather your flour, bread crumbs and eggs (crack and beat the eggs), and place each in its own pan, bowl or container.
  4. Go back to the cheese and rice, take a piece of cheese and “wrap” rice around it to form a rice ball (with Manchego cheese in the middle). The rice should be sticky from over cooking and shape into a ball nicely.
  5. When all balls have been formed, dust the rice balls in seasoned flour, then dip in egg and finally into bread crumbs. Make sure rice balls are evenly coated.
  6. Cover and refrigerate the Naranjillo until cool and ready to use.
  7. Heat oil in a tall-sided pan (or use a fry daddy!) to 350 degrees F/(177 degrees C). Drop the Naranjillo into the oil for 1 -2 minutes until golden and heated through.
  8. Drain over paper towel and let cool a few minutes before eating so as not to burn the roof of your mouth!  Enjoy!

The romance factor at Vista Verde

Yesterday’s post by Alaya, along with receiving some great photos from a wedding of former staff members got me thinking.  There are so many couples who met at Vista Verde as staff, who have now turned into wonderful marriages.  What is it about this place?  Between romantic honeymoon vacations, surprise engagement getaways and couples rekindling the flame over long winter weekend stays, Vista Verde does have a strong romance factor.  But, it doesn’t stop with the guests.  In fact, there is a pretty big track record of this place being a meeting spot for young folks who work at the ranch, who then go on to date and get married.
To start off, we should all send a great Congrats to Stacy and Daniel Knapp, who just tied the knot this past weekend.  The two of them worked at our Colorado ranch several years ago, and began a relationship as they were making their plans to move on to the real world.  What is even more fun is that there were several other Vista Verde alumni included in their wedding.  Jess, Kimmie, Cliff and Lindsey were all in attendance, and a very special part of the event.  We wish all the best to the Knapp’s in their marriage, and hope the Vista Verde magic continues to make it a wonderful relationship.

This got me thinking about where we are in the marriage count.  I can only count back as long as I’ve been at the ranch, but here is what I come up with.  If any former staff are reading this, please comment and let me know if I’ve missed a couple:

Robin and Aaron

Sarah and Mark

Meredith and Tom

Adair and Dusty

Ashley and Ryan

Jill and Doug

Alaya and Cholly

Ashley and Jonathan

Julie and Austin

Bekah and Rusty

Rachael and Brett

Stacy and Daniel

Johanna and Javin

Who are we missing?

Love is in the Air at Vista Verde Guest Ranch!

It is something in the air?

Romance  seems to abound here at Vista Verde. I wrote last week about how I met my (now) husband here six years ago, and know several other couples who met here and are still together years later.

There’s something about the west that is just plain romantic. Gorgeous mountain vistas, a light breeze, adventure in the air – makes for the perfect romantic setting. Even an east coast girl like me can get wrapped up in the draw of rugged cowboy chivalry.

A few weeks ago, we had a young couple stay with us. Kelly worked for us years ago (actually the same summer I met my man!), so she knew she was in for the ultimate Colorado ranch experience, but I’m not sure she had any idea just how romantic it would get.

Her man worked with us behind the scenes to plan a private afternoon horseback ride to the cliffs. Chocolate-dipped strawberries, a bottle of bubbly and a beautiful view… plus, the all-important element of surprise. It doesn’t get much more romantic than that!

She got to say “Yes!” to a modern cowboy, fresh out of the stirrups and down on one knee – boots, hat and all!

Congratulations and best wishes to the newly engaged couple!

Who knows…. maybe they’ll be back to celebrate their honeymoon with us?

Feels Like Home to Me

The word home has embedded itself deeply in both my head and heart since moving back to Vista Verde last month with my husband, Cholly. We met here six years ago – me as a housekeeper for the summer, and him with several years as sous chef under his belt.

At the end of that summer, I stole him back east for several years, to be near friends and family, and to eventually get married in my hometown.

Eventually we found ourselves yearning for adventure and our return to Colorado was plotted. At first we chose a more urban version of the Colorado dream, landing in Boulder and living there for over a year. Even during this time we would fantasize:

“What if we could go back to Vista Verde?”

You can imagine our surprise and delight when we heard that there was an opening for a chef position.

As we explained the move to our friends and family, I kept hearing Cholly say to them, “It’s my second home.” And he’s right. There is just something about this place. And as good as it felt to be here six years ago, it somehow feels even better now.

And so here we are. The summer season began last Sunday, and with it the excitement and inevitable hustle of preparing for the first guests to arrive. (You know the feeling. It’s the anticipation you feel on the morning on Thanksgiving morning; you’ve been cooking & cleaning for hours and you can’t help checking the drive every few minutes to see who might have arrived while you were peeling the final carrot.)

As we were preparing at the front desk to start checking families in, one of our young guests (returning after a stay with us last summer) came bursting through the doors, pink-cheeked and slightly out of breath, and a giant smile on her face.

She was so excited to be here that she had asked her family to drop her off down the driveway, figuring she could get herself here faster than the car could drive (or at least have a place to channel her excitement!)

When her family finally caught up, her grandmother told us: “She’s been talking all week about this. She kept saying, ‘We’re going home!’”I couldn’t help but smile and feel my heart warm. This girl felt the same thing that Cholly and I felt. Even though she spends the majority of her year thousands of miles a way, and spends one mere week of her summer here at Vista Verde, it still feels like coming home.

And that’s just the thing about Vista Verde. Staff returns. Guests return. Because here it feels like home, and it feels like family.

Equitrekking.com – June 2012

Luxury Dude Ranch Vacations

June 4, 2012

Interested in “roughing it” in style? Don’t want to sacrifice comfort while communing with nature? Here’s what to expect on a luxury dude ranch vacation.

by Darley Newman

If camping out under the stars isn’t your thing, but you like to ride horses or want a very comfortable ranch vacation, a luxury dude ranch vacation might be a good fit for you. After researching upscale ranch holidays across the United States and Canada, I came up with answers to some common questions travelers may have about what type of vacation they’ll experience at one of these luxury ranches and some fun photos from ranches that you might want to choose.


One of the biggest modern luxuries for riders who visit Home Ranch in Colorado is the million acres of Rocky Mountain Wilderness.

What are the accommodations like at a luxury dude ranch?

As in with any upscale vacation, accommodations vary, but many luxury dude ranches offer beautiful Western decor. You may recline on handmade log furniture. You may be staying in your own cabin, an elegantly furnished log structure or entire ranch style home with grand stone fireplaces, a hot tub and fully stocked bar.

At BC’s Siwash Lake Ranch, suites and luxury tents have plush linens, private baths, balconies and beautiful lake and wilderness views.

Other ranches help you feel closer to nature in plush tents–– tents that you won’t be pitching yourself. Many are constructed on wooden floors and have en suite bathrooms, art decorating the walls, and even electricity.


Adobe-style log beams, Native American rugs, and king beds with down comforters decorate rooms at Home Ranch. 

How much does a luxury ranch vacation cost?

Riding vacations in general can be economical, which surprises many people when they think about how expensive it is to keep a horse! Ranch vacations average from around $1000 or $2000 per person for an all-inclusive week to around $3500. Considering that this includes all riding, meals, accommodations and sometimes transportation, this can be a good deal. Another advantage of many ranch and riding vacations is that you can know your budget well ahead of time.

Luxury ranch vacations that I came across ranged from $250 a night per person double occupancy to $7,500 and more. The sky is the limit, as are the perks!

What are some fun perks those prices include on luxury dude ranch holidays?

Your vacation package may include private guides for hiking, fly-fishing or horse riding, golf, gourmet meals, dinner shows, fitness centers, indoor riding arenas, hot tubs, personal chefs, spa time and private cabins with fully stocked bars.


Rancho de los Caballeros in Arizona offers Home Sweet Home Milk Baths, brown sugar scrubs and peppermint essential oil body wraps. 
For instance at Home Ranch in Colorado, food is a major focus. Dinner may consist of pan-seared quail stuffed with dates and prosciutto topped with a demi-glace and Maytag bleu cheese crumbles over soft polenta with manchego cheese and asparagus or crispy seared Alaskan halibut with braised spinach, wild rice pilaf and glazed baby carrots. Is your mouth watering yet?

At Vista Verde Ranch, a Colorado luxury ranch resort, an Executive Chef hosts a hands-on cooking classes and wine tastings. House wines, beer and a variety of sodas are included in your stay.


Vista Verde Ranch hosts formal multi-course dinners to delight ranch “foodies.”

Learn about luxury ranch vacations and other upscale equestrian vacation destinations in the luxury ranch guide in the Equitrekking Vacation Guide.

Cowboys and Kayaks

An unlikely combination, cowboys and kayaks, yet it was reality at the ranch this week.  During our orientation weeks, we do try to have a bit of fun.  After spending all day packing information into their brains, it’s nice for the staff to laugh a bit, have some fun and blow off a bit of steam.  The other night, a grill party out on the patio quickly turned into kayak races on the pond when Terry brought out the kayaks he’s been keeping over at his house.

Maybe it is because we have staff who are all high achievers and like to be the best.  I’m not a psychologist, but I have noticed that our staff in general tend to be fairly competitive and always want to win.  With that trait, something like a leisurely boat ride instantly turns into a competition.  So, the paddles were flying, and the peanut gallery was cheering.  Official results will not be posted publicly, as we didn’t have an official scorekeepers.  But, I will say that Dace is awfully aggressive with his paddle when it comes close to the finish line, and it seems that it wasn’t always being used to propel his boat forward.

And, once again, Melissa proved that she is good at everything.  I’ve been hearing these urban legends of her golden touch, and how she is good at anything.  At first, it’s hard to believe, with her quiet manner.  But, I’ve now witnessed her, in just one week,  pull out the unexpected win in bowling and kayaking.  So, keep that in mind when you call the ranch to book your dude ranch vacation and speak with this soft spoke, mild mannered lady.  She’s secretly planning how she will obliterate you in team penning.

The dude ranch staff map

It’s that time of year again.  It’s the time of year when Dace pulls out the big map, and we start sticking pins in it.

Twice a year (once in summer, once in winter), during orientation, the first morning is spent getting to know the crew who will be working for the ranch that season.  Everyone gets pulled up to that frightful (for some) place in front of the fireplace to tell the crew a bit about themselves before grabbing a push pin and placing it on their hometown.  I always get a kick out of looking at the map, and seeing the distribution.  With our strong Indiana ties, it’s always the case that there is a cluster of pins in that state.  But, for a born and bred California girl, I was tickled this year to see so much West Coast representation.  That’s a first that we’ve had so many pins planted West of Colorado.

Today is day two of the 2 week orientation.  In the coming days, we will be spending a lot of time with each crew learning the ins and outs of their department, as well as the dude ranch as a whole.  There is so much to learn, and when you set a goal to be the best dude ranch out there, the pressure is on the staff to learn the ropes quickly and well!  There is also some fun to be had as Dace does a great job of working in some fun evening activities as well as enjoying the mock rides, meals and guided activities.  You see, the servers and kitchen staff get to run through several meals with the staff as their guinea pigs.  The wranglers take out a few rides with the staff.  The guides lead the housekeepers on a bike ride.  All of these fun times are great trial runs for the crews to make sure they have the flow and pacing down right so we are ready for all of you to jump in starting June 3!

For those of you in the last minute stages of planning your dude ranch vacation for this summer, we do have a few spots open due to cancellations.  Right now, we are working on filling a cabin the week of June 10-17 as well as July 29-August 5.  If you can come either of those weeks, give us a call!

Made in America

Charlie, Kyle, Carson and Jason have been busy working on our new cattle pen.  The pen is about 3 times the size of our old one, and designed so we can more easily move cattle in and out.  What I found to be the coolest thing about this pen is that the wood harvested and milled right here on the Vista Verde property.  The guys spent much of the spring milling the wood, and then the last week building the pen.

Because of our growing horse program, we also included four holding pens for any extra horses that need to be kept in from pasture overnight.  This will allow Terry to have a few more horses close to the arena to train.

While the management team spends all day today in our annual spring meetings, the guys are going to enjoy this gorgeous spring day working on finishing the pens, so they are ready for the cows this summer!

The baby stories

Nicky guest blogs for us this week.  She has spent the spring keeping an eye on the broodmares and helping with the new foals.  Her fun stories will give you more insights into foaling season at Vista Verde.

We have talked about having some pregnant broodmares this year with our own studs Whiskey and Gunny. We bred five of our broodmares to Whiskey and two of our broodmares to Gunny.  We first started our breeding program with 5 foals in 2010.  In 2011 we just had 2 foals, and now, in 2012 we decided to go all out and have 7 foals this year.   WOW!  That makes for lots of playing time with foals this year!  I love it when it comes spring time because we have foals on the ground and we get excited because we all start a betting pool on what broodmare will have their foal on what date, and try to also guess what color and gender as well.

If you remember from one of Steph’s past blogs, Marilyn, one of our guest at VVR, got the best experience ever to witness MJ deliever her foal in February.
So MJ (Mary Jane Reyn) was the first broodmare to foal this year.  She delievered a filly named “Bailey” around 6:15am on Feb 18th.  MJ was bred to our stud Whiskey this year so Bailey is going to have red roan hairs on her predominately chestnut body.  She is the smartest out of the other foals we have so far.  Bailey was excited to have a friend to play with finally when Hopalong was born.
Sunday was the second broodmare to foal. This was Sunday’s first time to foal. She delivered a colt named Hopper (also called Hopalong) around 5: 30am On March 27th. We name him Hopalong because he hops every time he takes a step to move. He is the strongest so far out of the four and loves to play with his new friend Bailey and get lots of attention as well since he was the only colt for a while. Sunday was also bred to our stud Whiskey as well.
Then came along Flicka, who was the third broodmare to foal. This is Flicka’s first time to foal. She was bred to Whiskey. She delievered a colt named Rocketman around 5:30am on April 18th. If you have seen the cartoon Looney Tunes, then you’ll understand that we named Rocketman after the character of roadrunner. Rocketman is also going to be a roan as well.
Chex was our fourth broodmare to foal. She was also bred to Whiskey. She delievered a colt named “Chisholm“ on April 25th at at 10 pm. Jess and Reid got to witness the delivery. Also Jess got to video record the delievery as well and you can watch it on the Vista Verde Facebook page called “First steps”. Chisholm is the sweetest out of the five we have so far. He also is the tinyest little guy I have ever seen. He, too, will be a roan.
Lokota is our fifth broodmare to foal. She was bred to Gunny. She delivered a filly named Moonshine or Moonlight Dancing (still debating on name) on May 5 at 10pm, the night of the super moon.  Moonlight is a paint who looks just like her mother. She is the cutest little paint I have seen.

We are just waiting on Rachael and Sassy to decide when to deliver thier foals. We are excited to see what colors and gender the mares will surprise us with. We are just excited for you all to see our new babies this year. I love them all.

So this year Whiskey ruled the ladies, but both boys will have a good harem for the 2013 foal season.

We will keep you posted once the rest of the mares deliever thier babies as well. So get excited because we will have lots of play time with these foals in our weanling clinic we offer in the summer.

Signs of Spring

I returned from a great vacation yesterday, and it was so great to be back at the ranch.  It’s amazing how the place can change so fast.  When I left, there were still little bits of snow on the hillside behind the cabins, some here and there in the pastures, and plenty of mud.  Upon return, I find pastures mostly dried up, grass peeking out, and aspen leaves starting to show their brilliant spring green.  Two foals were born while I was gone, so there are babies romping around all over the pasture at the mare barn.  And, Lakota is due any day now…so many signs of life.

We’re in the official countdown to opening day with just a month to go.  I’m busy getting the guest packet information all trued up and ready to send to those of you coming this summer.  Dace is putting the final touches on the amazing team of people he’s rounded up for the summer dude ranch season.  Terry and Reid and a slew of helpers are tuning up horses, getting them ready for all of you to ride.  We are lucky to have the ability to spend so much time working on our horses in order to improve our guests’ riding experience.  The kitchen is closed down for a couple weeks, so we are all brown bagging it for meals, which is a shock here when we are all so spoiled by great meals the rest of the year.  Charlie and a few ranch hands were moving in new hot tubs on a few cabins yesterday, fixing fence, and getting everything outside tuned up.  Bill is chipping away at his off-season hit list for the cabins, the vehicles and all the ever demanding water system.  So much to do, so little time.

It does seem to be the season for cancellations.  While I was gone, we had 4 cabins fall through, so Melissa was busy calling people on the wait list, and I am trying to fill back in those holes now that I’m back.  If you are still interested in a summer visit, let me know as we may have a spot!  There isn’t a whole lot for July or August, but there is some room in June at this point if you still want to plan a family vacation in Colorado.

This week I will get some photos up on Facebook and on this blog so you can see the transition of the seasons at the ranch.  It’s exciting to feel it in the air!

5280 Magazine – May 2012

Back at the Ranch – 5280 Magazine – by Lindsey Koehler

Vista Verde Guest Ranch

Steamboat Springs, Colorado

The sound of cowboy boots two-stepping across a wooden floor isn’t something you hear often within Denver city limits. But at Vista Verde Guest Ranch, you can listen to that heavy plodding—that is, big-belt-buckle-wearing men dancing with ladies in black Stetson hats—at its weekly old-fashioned barn dance. And if you’re sitting alone, tapping those newly purchased boots, it’ll only be a matter of moments before a polite young wrangler puts out his hand.

That well-mannered, congenial attitude permeates this small guest ranch situated on a petite parcel of land 27 miles outside of Steamboat Springs. No matter what you happen to be doing—sitting by the lake taking in the sunset or watching a band of horses graze in a nearby pasture—someone from the Vista Verde staff will ask if you need anything, and then smile and give a tip of the hat when you say you’re doing just fine. The truth is, you likely are doing better than fine because you spent the morning on a cattle roundup, ate a hearty lunch on the outdoor patio, took a short hike in the Zirkel Wilderness Area in the early afternoon, and now you’re nursing a beer while you wait for dinner to be served in the main dining room. Life is good here at the ranch.

In fact, at Vista Verde, the most stress-inducing decisions come in two categories: what to eat for dinner (there’s a choice of three entrées each night) and what to do after dinner (check out that barn dance or retire to your cabin’s outdoor hot tub to look at the stars). Fortunately, you can’t really go wrong with whatever choice you make.

The same can be said for the ranch’s recreational options. Most guests choose Vista Verde for its well-regarded horse program, which mixes clinics with trail rides and caters to every ability level. Ranch trainer Terry Wegener, along with a group of wranglers, seems to be able to teach guests more about horsemanship in one week than most others could in months. But if four-legged fun isn’t your thing, Vista Verde employs a host of guides—usually college-age kids with a ton of energy and skill—that can take you mountain biking, fly-fishing, and hiking whenever the mood strikes. And to be honest, it’s the overall mood—that balance of eager-to-please service, casual friendliness, and upscale amenities—at Vista Verde that makes it so darn enticing.

The Details

You’ll Love It If… You’re a wannabe horseman or horsewoman—or an advanced equestrian—looking to improve your skills at a riding-oriented ranch.

High Praise The accommodations here are sublime. The two-story Little Agnes “cabin” has plush linens, a small kitchen, a sitting room with a wood stove, a king-bed master suite, a queen-bed guest room, two bathrooms (one with a giant shower), and a front deck with a hot tub.

The Low Down Although Vista Verde offers fly-fishing, hiking, mountain biking, rafting, and other activities, many are not available on the ranch’s nearly 600-acre property, which can mean a long drive to reach your adventure.

Cost All-inclusive rates depend on accommodations and time of year, but a cabin generally runs $3,900 per week per person. Vista Verde does stay open for much of the winter season.

Prisoners, mustangs and a dude ranch?

The real West is still alive and kicking at Vista Verde!  But, it’s alive in a much more civilized fashion these days.  Terry and Reid just returned from a trip to the Front Range to check out some new horses for the ranch herd.  The guys had been put in touch with the man who heads up the Wild Horse Inmate Program at Canon City, Colorado.  With this program, inmates are given the job of training and gentling wild mustangs.  Throw away your preconceived notions of wild men and wild horses.  This program teaches the inmates great skills in learning how to gentle a horse, work with and communicate with a 1,000 lb animal.  You can only imagine what that does for a person who has struggled in life, and the confidence and relationship skills it can teach them.  So, Terry and Reid decided to check it out to see if there were any prospects for the ranch.  And, they found some.

Caddy (as in Cadillac)  is a 4 year old stout bay gelding came from the Wells Creek Herd Management area in Wyoming as a two year old.  I think to have a Cadillac horse at a luxury dude ranch is kind of fitting.

Cuatro is an adorable 3 year old gelding who also came from the Wells Creek Herd Management area in Wyoming as a yearling.  He is as sweet as they get, and apparently Charlie already has a bit of a crush on him, so you may see Charlie in the saddle a bit more this summer playing with this little guy.

Cheyenne is a 6 year old pinto mare who came from the South Steen herd management area in Oregon as a 3 year old.  She was described as “easy on the eyes” and that is quite true.

We have had great luck with a mustang in our herd already, as those of you who know and love Crow are aware that he is a mustang as well.  They are hardy horses, with courage and great heart.  All of that makes a great horses for a Colorado dude ranch.  With a little polishing, we are hoping these three will be ready for our guests by next summer, if not sometime this summer.

While the guys were down on the Front Range, they also picked up two other horses, and some saddles to add to our collection.

Skip is a 9 year old paint gelding and Mo is a tall sorrel gelding.

We’re excited to get to know these new horses, and work them into the herd as they get more comfortable in their new home!

Mending the Fence

It’s that time of year.  The mud is oozing around as the snow melts, and the ranch has a quiet hush as there are no guests and very few staff.  As much as we are all people orientated folks who work here, it is nice to have some down time to get projects done, regroup and then prepare for the upcoming summer dude ranch season.
One of the projects that falls into the regroup category is going through all the Mending the Fence sheets from the previous season.  Mending the Fence is our version of a comment sheet, as one of the tasks ranchers have to do to keep up their ranch is to mend the fences.  Last week, Emily undertook the Herculean task of organizing and typing up all the comments so we could look at them by department.  Most seasons we get great feedback- from suggestions on ways to improve our programs, facilities, food and more, to comments like, “Don’t change a thing”, or special thanks to certain staff.  Some of them make us laugh, some make us pause and think about how we can tweak things to make the ranch vacation experience better.

However, this winter there was one suggestion that just keeps me laughing, and I can’t get out of my head.

“Can you please change the physics so water boils at a higher temperature enabling tear to brew properly”

We’ll get right to work on that!

Thanks to all our guests who shared their observations, whether serious or in jest, with us this past winter ranch resort season.  We do take it seriously, and are always working on making things better at Vista Verde!

Closing down the ranch

Wow, it seems like just a couple weeks ago that I was blogging about our winter dude ranch season kicking into gear with orientation for the staff.  The winter did fly by.  Yesterday our Horsemanship retreat guests checked out and we completed to final steps to closing down the ranch for the season.  Any of your former staff can remember fondly the kitchen clean.  Big messes, loud music and face masks.  It’s not pretty, but it makes for some good laughs.  Since it is a bit hard to cook dinner for everyone after that clean, the crew headed into Steamboat and came over to my house for dinner.  Then, a bunch of them headed to the hot springs to soak away their kitchen grime and celebrate the close of the season.  Today we get some more cleaning done, roll up the rugs, put out the mud mats, and then most of the staff head out for their next adventure, or just a little time off before summer.

The past couple weeks have been a mix of mud and snow and sun.  We call it “Mud Season” and it did come a bit early this year.  So, as we head into the off-season, we are already ahead of the game.  I don’t suspect you’ll be seeing pictures of Sarah shoveling off the patio the day before we open, like you did last year.  But, Mother Nature does like to remind us all of our insignificance, so you never know!

For those of you who joined us this winter, thank you for coming to play with us.  As we regroup and reflect on this past winter ranch resort season, we will look at what worked well, what we can do better, and keep working towards improving the experience for all of you.  Then it’s time to start getting ready for the summer dude ranch season, which is just around the corner!

Speaking of summer, I am going to start highlighting the spots we do have open still on Facebook.  There isn’t much space left for the season, but there are a few spots here and there.  Maybe one of them will work for you?

Saddle Up – MN Good Age – March 2012

We loved this article by MN Good Age Editor Kathleen Stoehr about our luxury dude ranch.


Colorado dude ranch offers truly memorable stay

Picture a quiet September morning; quiet, but in some way … charged. I am standing alone on a dirt road, hands in my pockets to keep them warm. My breath puffs out in front of me, but I know that as soon as the sun peeks over the faraway hills, the day will warm up measurably.

My attention is drawn to a little black dog running toward me on the road, tongue lolling, ears pricked. He has a look about him: some may call it trouble; others might say he’s just very alert and aware.

It’s then that a nicker punctures the stillness. I shift my position and move off the road, behind the short fence.

A horse, maybe two, crests at the bend in the road. Before I can exhale, three more horses appear. The little black dog runs back toward them, then forward, then back again. I understand now — he’s herding.

I feel the ground begin to tremble slightly as the road erupts in horses of all colors and sizes, manes and tails flying. There must be at least 70 of them. They trot past me, up the road, and into a nearby corral, and there they greet each other and nuzzle as the ranch hands ready them for their day.

I feel so fortunate to be able to witness this spectacle that long after the dust on the road has settled, I stand and absorb the feeling that I just lived a dream. I’m in Colorado at a ranch called Vista Verde, and I’m happier than I’ve been in a very long time.

Riding at the ranch
My husband and I had arrived at Vista Verde a few days prior not really knowing what to expect, save for what the ranch’s website touted. We were both eager to ride horses in the way they are meant to be ridden — not those awful “nose to tail” rides, but honest to goodness trot, cantor, and gallop-style rides. Vista Verde promised we’d have our own horses for the length of the stay and rides would be more akin to “bushwacking” (as in, off trail). Sold.

At the entrance a young woman on horseback, clad in dusty jeans, plaid shirt, and well-loved hat, waved to my husband and I. We’d later learn that was Jo, one of the ranch hands, an expert horsewoman. This was just the first of many friendly greetings we would receive during the stay.

Within an hour of arrival, I had my horse selected for me (“Chief” — who I discovered had a penchant for frequent food trolling), and a glass of wine placed in my hand. Our bags were sent to our cabin (its name: Big Agnes, after a nearby mountain range) and then we were seated at dinner, a robust meal prepared by the talented Chef Matt. And it was during this whirlwind that we were asked, “So, what would you like to do tomorrow?” Guests buzzed amongst one another at dinner, making acquaintance and talking about their chosen itineraries.

For the next few days, my life (and stomach) was full. While there was always horseback riding available, from individually guided rides to various riding clinics, there was also a plethora of other activities to explore. Each ran about two or so hours long, providing ample time to prep for the next gourmet meal, sometimes served al fresco on a beautiful patio overlooking a small trout pond; sometimes served in the expansive dining room. If you weren’t hungry enough for a full meal, the fridge in your cabin was stocked with beer, wine, juices, and water; and a nearby basket harbored fruit, trail mix, locally produced candies, and chips.

Horsing around

So I was assigned Chief, the “grass eater.” In a testament to the pull of this place, one of the guests riding with me that first day cooed, “Aw, you got Chief? I rode Chief last year when I was here. He’s such a sweetheart! Just yank up on the reins if he eats too much.” Yes, she was a return guest who chose this particular week, as it was the last week of cattle round up. Guests begin their stay by brushing up (or learning) riding skills and also training in cowmanship, culminating in a two day round up in which the outlying area is bushwhacked for the last few straggling bovines needing to be brought into the winter pasture.

In just two days, I was able to “relearn” all of my old skills as a rider, and some new skills too. We formed and named teams (such as the “Four Riders of the Cow-pocalypse”), and earned points for the ease in which we were able to intimidate cows through a small area set up with orange cones. Great fun.

For those who love the ranch experience but didn’t have much interest in riding, there were vast possibilities for entertainment. Mountain biking, river rafting, a hot air balloon ride, a gourmet cooking class, yoga — the good folks at this ranch were poised to ensure a memorable time was had by all. One fellow chose to forego an afternoon of activity and sat down by the trout pond with his cigar and a book. A mother/daughter team asked for a ride into Steamboat Springs for a day of shopping.

Happy hour with the horses? Check. Fly fishing? Yes, I actually caught two trout from a lovely stream about 15 minutes away from the ranch, within the Routt National Forest. Cattle wrangling? I am now an expert. (Okay, well, maybe not an expert but you know what? Not too many people can say they have done it!) I also participated in a wine tasting; a photography tour; rode Chief to an early morning breakfast set around a campfire; listened to a toe-tapping cowboy band; attended a barn dance; and sat in a hot tub on a star-filled night, contemplating the beauty of silence, lush pine forests, and stars. And I ate more than I ever should, but simply couldn’t say no.

At five o’clock in the evening, “happy hour with the horses” commences. With full wine glasses or bottles of beer, guests were allowed access to the pasture to walk among the gentle beauties, ply them with apples, and learn from their wranglers about herd dynamics. It’s a casual, easy affair should you choose to do it.

I can’t say this was an inexpensive trip. But with so many vacations where one might gamble on the quality of campsites, hotels, and restaurants; where you cook when you’d rather be served; where you scrimp even as you are spending; where you spend more time in your car than on a hike, or find yourself paying for an unsatisfying trail ride just so that you can have a horseback experience … and then you can have an vacation like this? It means everything. You total up your expenses from one; you total up your expenses from another and you think — wow. The difference isn’t that much compared to the value. An all-inclusive experience suddenly sounds less like indulgence and more like what a true, relaxing getaway should be. I highly recommend you do it.


Getting there:Vista Verde Ranch is in a far-reaching area of Colorado, near Steamboat Springs. You can fly into Denver and drive about four hours across the state. It’s a lovely drive on easy roads through mountains and high plains. You can also choose to fly into Steamboat/Hayden and the ranch will pick you up at the airport and bring you to the ranch. This option is the best in the winter, when the roads from Denver can be snowy, depending upon the day.

Accommodations: The cabins and lodge rooms are authentic log structures, in keeping with the northwest Colorado locale. But rustic stops at the front door. Modern, elegantly furnished and spacious living quarters await, along with spa robes and your own outdoor hot tub.

Meals: All inclusive, the meals bring the gap between ranch-y and fancy, casual and also elegant — but always, always delicious.

Adventures: The hallmark of a stay is the diversity of activities offered. As a guest, you choose from myriad activities offered each day. Whether you want to try it all, or immerse yourself in one program, the depth is there and the options abound. With such diverse offerings, you could easily call this an adventure ranch vacation instead of a dude ranch. And with a one-to-one staff to guest ratio, the program is quite flexible. Visit Vistaverde.com for more information.

Emily’s Backcountry Ski adventure

Knees bent, arms out, holding tightly to the metal bar in front of me, I could feel the slippery wind at my ears and feel the bumps in the road making my arm muscles tense and release over and over again. Who knew that today I’d be riding on the back of a dog-type sled being pulled by a snowmobile headed into the mountain range.  I guess it’s all part of working at a ranch that offers cross country ski vacations.

I neither expected or planned for this as part of my backcountry ski adventure.  What fun!   Twenty minutes later we pulled up beside the Routt Forest Campground, popped on our skis, and trekked down to North Fork of the Elk River with the sun reflecting off everything and begging us to take layers off and enjoy the Spring like day.   The creek was piled up with 4 feet snow caps that looked like giant marshmallows stabilized on top of moving water, yet somehow we were able to trek over the top of it without falling into a sticky situation!

It was intriguing to pursue a beautiful stream that weaves itself into landscape full evergreens and aspens.   We were each mesmerized by the different shaped portals along the way that displayed clear pools of water gurgled through the underworld we were all standing on.  Amazing that it held us up!

On the way back I was offered to be left off the snowmobile near a ski trail so I could get in a longer ski if I so desired.  So I ventured out on my own through a lush forest about a mile from the ranch.  The extra ski was exactly what I needed and was a perfect work out for a perfect day at this Colorado ski lodge!


On a regular basis, we have experiences at the ranch that are unbelievable.  Here’s an example.  None of us went into the guest ranch business to make money.  We’re all here because we love taking care of people, playing in the outdoors and living this life.  Having said all that, we are still running a business, and there are real transactions that take place.  Each day, we check out guests and they pay for their time at the ranch.  After having paid for their ranch vacation, you would think guests would see it as a fair transaction.  But, this is when the surprise happens.  We start receiving gifts of all manner.  It might be a card or an email saying thank you.   Or, it might be one of those amazing reviews on Tripadvisor.  Or, a Facebook post sharing a special memory of their time at the ranch.  Then, we get photos sent to us- amazing photos from their many adventures.  Sometimes, it’s even a gift, some sort of goody, or a phone call saying they miss the ranch.  As the recipient, there are not enough thanks for all those kinds of gifts.  Not only do we get to play with fun people in the outdoors, share stories, learn about their worlds and enjoy them at their happiest time.  We get paid for it, and then we get thanked too.   The past couple weeks, I have been overwhelmed with emails filled with photos and words of thanks.  Cards have shown up on my desk.  I’ve picked up presents at the post office for staff, and found little goodies left for the crew in the staff room.  The Facebook posts and the Tripadvisor reviews are enough to make my heart beam with pride.  How lucky are we to be able to call this place home, and get thanked for doing what we love every day?  So Lucky, it’s unbelievable.


March is coming in like a lion, how with it leave?

As I woke up to another 4 inches of snow this morning, and looked at the snow-filled forecast for the next couple days, the old saying “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb” came to mind.  Of course, in typically Steph style, I had to google that saying to find out a little more about it.  I thought this article from the Farmer’s Almanac was kind of fun.  Read on if you have a quirky sense of intellectual curiosity, like me.

“If March comes in like a lion, it will go out like a lamb?”

Is there any truth to this saying??? Weather sayings are as colorful as our imagination. While many sayings are based on careful observations and turn out to be accurate, others are merely rhymes or beliefs of the people who came before us.

Those people often believed that bad spirits could affect the weather adversely, so they were cautious as to what they did or did not do in certain situations. Those beliefs often included ideas that there should be a balance in weather and life. So, if a month came in bad (like a lion), it should go out good and calm (like a lamb).

With March being such a changeable month, in which we can see warm spring-like temperatures or late-season snowstorms, you can understand how this saying might hold true in some instances. We can only hope that if March starts off cold and stormy it will end warm and sunny, but the key word is hope. However, this saying seems be to more of a rhyme  rather than a true weather predictor.

Some other March related lore includes:

A dry March and a wet May?Fill barns and bays with corn and hay.

As it rains in March so it rains in June.

March winds and April showers? Bring forth May flowers.

So, the question at Vista Verde remains, how will March leave?  In this month, we have honeymooners, a wedding, a business retreat, a bunch of spring break families and to close us down, the horsemanship retreat.  After all that, will it still be snowing, or will we have little lambs leaping around in the sunshine?

Winning a winter dude ranch vacation

Back in the fall, we agreed to offer a winter vacation to Sur La Table for a holiday baking contest.  We have a connection with one of the board members of the company, and we had co-oped with them in the past so were happy to do it again.   When I was contacted by the winner, he kindly included a photo of the winning creation.  I was blown away, and taken by the story.  So, I asked Jeffrey to share it with me, so I may share it with all of you.  Enjoy the fun adventure that led them to their winter stay next week.
“We had started a small holiday cooking decorating party for other children when my daughter was in elementary school. (The moms got to visit over and have refreshments while the children were busy!). Over the years, we had a succession of gingerbread houses as centerpieces. In later years, we also had each attendee decorate some cookies for donation to a shelter.

So for weeks we were always baking holiday cookies!
As a family project, we started the cathedral one Labor Day weekend, starting from a description in Rose’s Christmas Cookies. The initial effort was just to organize the templates for all the over-200 pieces.
My daughter Charlotte researched stained glass in European cathedrals. The stained glass is made from pulverized Life Savers and similar candies, which are melted in the oven with the gingerbread. Charlotte also used a color-coded computer spreadsheet to track the various stages of fabrication of each of the 200-plus pieces. My wife Marilyn Mery is responsible for all the piped exterior royal icing decoration. Our dog Sasha also ate a few of the pieces one day, which was an awkward moment!
The gingerbread is all fastened together using royal icing. The cathedral is illuminated from inside using LED lights used in dollhouses. Some of the exterior, such as the piping around the rose window) is gilded, using a mixture of gold and vodka (the vodka evaporates, leaving the gold!).
I entered the project as team leader, but it was truly a family effort. (Charlotte, of course, could not enter it, since the entrant had to be over 21).
Charlotte is very excited at visiting Vista Verde!! We are all nervously trying to make sure we have appropriate gear, and hoping you have great snow.”
If any of you want to share tips or suggestions for Jeffrey and his family on their first foray into our winter wonderland, please share them here.  We’re excited to introduce them to our Colorado winter resort!

A new filly

We have all been anticipating the arrival of MJ’s foal.  We thought she would come sometime in early February, but nothing, nothing, nothing.  Then, Saturday morning, we woke up to a great gift.  A perfect little filly.  The story below was sent to me from Marilyn, who was staying with us at the time.  What makes this so fun is that all of us watched Marilyn come into the ranch as the organizer of a retreat group from Finishmaster.  Marilyn came out a few days in advance of her group to prepare for their arrival.  In between all the work she had to do, we did get her out a couple times for some fun on the ranch.  She fell in love with the horses and became enamored with MJ and the anticipated foal.   As the days went on, and we saw that MJ wasn’t getting much quiet time with the constant flow of traffic, we finally asked all the guests and staff to stay out of the barn all night.  Horses are more private about delivering babies, and they prefer to do it alone in peace and quiet.  So, Marilyn did her best to stay out, and waited until morning to come see her….and here is the story of her discovery:

Hi, Steph!

I can’t believe MJ finally had her before I left!!! I cannot begin to describe to you the amount of love and emotion I felt at seeing that beautiful filly. When I arrived at the barn about 6:10 AM this morning to the wonderful greeting of neighs, I peaked in MJ’s stall and all looked normal (in the dark!) and I said, “Oh, shoot, Mama, another long day”; Gunny then started his ritual kicking for attention so I went over to say hello and as I was giving him kisses, I heard kicking from MJ’s stall, which is unusual (at least in my short week experience) for her, so I popped back over and peered from behind the feed tray so as not to startle her and she was standing with her backside to me with her head toward the corner.

As I squinted in the dark, I saw something in the corner! I ran to the tack room and turned on the light and low and behold, there was the beautiful filly laying in the corner of the stall and MJ checking on her!!! Oh, my gosh, I thought my heart would swell. After a few seconds of just gazing, I ran to the employee stairs (sorry!) and tried to yell up to someone from mid-way up to no avail. I then ran across to the building that houses machinery and yelled in there for someone to no avail. I ran back to the barn, and of course, had to peak again!, and then tried calling someone on the phone from the office, but couldn’t get it to work. And, after peaking again (and getting several photos of course), I was just about to run back upstairs when Nathan came in!!! I then told him there was a new baby and proceeded to hug him (he must think I’m nuts!) and he got the lights on and there she was!!! She tried to stand, but couldn’t as the umbilical cord was still attached to her, and with it dragging, it kept pulling her back down. Of course, all the horses were in a tizz to be fed but Nathan needed to make some calls.

So, I offered to grain if he’d show me how much and get things rolling while he made the calls. And, Steph, I haven’t enjoyed myself as much in 8 long years! I gave everyone grain (except MJ of course) and a flake which Nathan helped me with while he got hold of Terry, etc. I think Terry must have said the umbilical cord will come off on its own. So, after several more pictures, we (Nathan) decided it best to let her be, and I offered to help him get to the other horses and so I filled water buckets while he grained and flaked. When we came back, Little Miss Filly was standing and wobbling around trying to find Mama’s milk. The umbilical cord had come off and I took more pictures and video, and then helped fill the front water buckets while Nathan finished other chores and talking to Terry. And, last, but far from least, I watched as Nathan tried to catch Little Miss Filly under Mama’s very watchful and observant eye to put medicine on the umbilical cord break-area. Well, he needed help! So, while he held that beautiful baby in his arms, I got to pour the medicine over her little belly button area (of course being very careful to move slowly and let MJ accept me). Steph, as much as I loved the ranch – you, everyone that works there, the beauty of it all, clinics, horses, skiing, etc., etc., etc…..NOTHING compares to this morning! It was so VERY AWESOME and I feel so amazingly blessed to have been a part of it!

I just wanted you to know the full, amazing story to share with the ranch family as I feel like I’ve been a part of your family this past week! My only sadness is not getting to say good-bye to Little Miss Filly so I am just going to have to figure out how to afford to come out this summer and see her! Please keep me updated with photos and let me know her name. Let me know VVR’s facebook page and I’ll keep up to date there also. I tried to attach a video, but it’s too big, so here are some of the first pictures from early this morning and I’ll figure out how to get the rest to you tomorrow.

Please give my love and thanks to all! Miss you already (I’m in the air still on the way to Indy, but this will send when I land)!

Hugs, M

CourtneyHammonds.com – The fashion foodie- February 2012

I arrived at Hayden Airport near Steamboat Springs, Colorado on Thursday 1/26/12 dressed in my Haute Couture attire (Vintage Fur and Prada bag to be specific), only to find a nice young man named Tom, from the Vista Verde Ranch waiting my arrival. After a 45-minute ride to our destination, the blankets of snow and open fields of horses pleasantly surprised me.  I was greeted once again to a southern inspired staff at the ranch. I was given a detailed tour of the ranch and then off to lunch. First impressions of lunch (it made me think of the bayou). Anytime you offer a southern gentlemen catfish in the form of a po-boy sandwich accompanied w/ a refreshing salad, sweet tea and dessert, you have me hooked.

I was gifted to three days of food, entertainment, sleigh rides, horse feeding and massages. I stayed in the biggest cabin on the ranch entitled Wapiti. (Named after one of the nearby mountains). The cabin was furnished with the most up to date amenities and a plethora of added treats. To add sugar to my tea (No pun intended) they had wine, vanilla cokes, assortments of beer, Gatorade and more wine all awaiting my arrival. Needless to say, I would not dehydrate. I neglected to mention having a hot tub on the front porch, which was often ornamented by the ranch cat (nappy). How could a fashion-ado and food critic go wrong?

Since reviewing culinary arts at Vista Verde was the primary focus of my stay, let me paint a vivid picture of my day-to-day experience. Breakfast started promptly at 8:00am w/ a detailed menu listing of options to choose from. Before one of the friendly and cowgirl chic wait staff took my order, I started with a continental plate of fresh fruit, an assortment of hot teas, coffee, yogurt, fresh bagels, etc. If that wasn’t enough, I was then given three selections to choose from the menu.

Lunch started each day at 12 noon. Lunch was typically served buffet style, but sometimes plated and served. Portion control was not my goal! There were options of salads, and hot soups to compliment each meal!  After each meal I was treated to tasty desserts often garnished with nuts, berries and or some kind of savory sauce.

Dinner was served in two types of formats. First, in a buffet style and the second being a formal plated dinner with friendly servers. No matter the format, the food options were superlative. Words cant express the options granted on a daily basis. I have to take a moment to give reverence to the executive Chef of Vista Verde Ranch Chef Matt, Chef Lewis and Chef Scott Wolf. All three gentlemen afforded me the opportunity to get a detailed glance into the world of culinary, married with the daily accountabilities of the ranch. With experiences ranging from England, France and California it’s easy to see how the menu selections are so rich in character, style and taste. Thanks chefs Matt, Lewis and Scott for a job well done and the opportunity to taste, smell and sample some of the finest of cuisines west of my Atlanta, Georgia dwelling.

Well, all good things have expiration. To sum up my stay at the ranch, I would say it was filled with peace, serenity and a newfound appreciation for the concept of a luxury Dude ranch. Would I go back to Vista Verde? The choir shouts YES! Thanks to the entire staff and management team for luxury ranch experience that set the standard without loosing the personal appeal! Until… I say farewell in the name of all things fashionable and food.

Yours in Fashion and Food,

Courtney A. Hammonds – The Image Archietect

Trekaroo- February 2012

Winter Vacation at Vista Verde Ranch; “Mommy Travel Agent” takes a day off- by Ann Anderson for Trekaroo

I’m a Mommy Travel Agent for a family that loves road trips: lodging, dining, activities, maps, schedules, …another thankless Mommy job. This winter we visited Vista Verde Ranch, an all-inclusive luxury guest ranch located near Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and I (aka, “Mommy Travel Agent”) actually had a vacation where I wasn’t responsible for every family member’s wants, needs and desires!

It all became evident that I could have a real vacation during our first meal at Vista Verde Ranch; a good looking ranch hand sat down at the table and asked every one of us just exactly what we wanted to do that day. Hubby’s response: “Anything with horses.” Eleven-year-old’s response: “Snow tubing.” Seven-year-old’s response: “Horse riding lessons.” My response: “Really? You care what I want to do?……Okay; I’d like to learn how to cross-country ski.” On day one, the kids became horse riding experts and were adequately spoiled tubing down and then snowmobiling up a perfect snow covered hill. Hubby, adorned with cowboy boots and hat, trotted along snow-covered forested trails; me, I learned that I’m a natural cross country skiing genetically Nordic hero (or at least that is what Steve, Jess, and Zack, my wonderful guides suggested).

To top it off, in the middle of all of our wants, needs, and desires, we dined well. Sometimes just as a family with other guests and other times alongside Vista Verde Ranch’s staff , some of the most interesting ranch hands, ski guides, and managers, all with a story that engaged. These ranch hands are former accountants, medical students, sojourners back from visiting a long-lost Grandmother in Poland and even older folks who have given up a high-paying administration jobs to motivate others and ski. I could sit at a bar and converse with this interesting staff for hours and walk away with amazing lessons learned.

The following day I again heard the sweetest question a Mommy travel agent can ever hear: “What do you want to do today? Oh, and don’t forget tonight you and hubby get a gourmet dinner while the kids gather together for kid-food and some fun ranch activities with our awesome staff.” I think I had to wipe away a tear at this point.

Okay, so what about family time? I am the first to say that the number one reason we travel as a family is to strengthen bonds, play together and make more family memories. So why should we separate during our vacation and fulfill our individual wants, needs and desires? That is what I loved about Vista Verde Ranch, while you can choose your own itinerary on the spot, they offer both individual and family activities. If you’re so inclined, feel free to join in on the fun at the children’s program. Who doesn’t have the desire to build a snow fort or paint while riding a horse? Take a family trail ride together and be impressed with the new horse skills your kids have acquired while at the ranch. I learned that my 7 year old has an ingrained love of horses; my 11 year old is fearless on a snow tube, and my hubby can actually separate himself from a high-stress job while riding his horse through snow-covered pastures and blue skies. Me, must I remind you; I’m a natural cross country skiing genetically Nordic hero – don’t dare call me Mommy travel agent again!

Full Moon over the Ranch

Last night was the full moon, which is a really amazing thing here at the ranch during the winter.  When the ranch is covered in snow, the full moon’s reflection bounces off the white blanket and lights up the valley.  It’s amazing how bright it can be at the peak of the night!  You can even see your shadow on the snow in the middle of the night!

Ok, so I can’t take credit for this photo of the full moon, but I found it and it inspired me to write about the winter full moons.   This photo was taken in Steamboat during the January full moon.

With small children and a busy schedule, I don’t get the chance to get out and play as much as I used to in my earlier days.  But, I have fond memories of full moon snowshoes “back in the day”.  My favorite full moon memory was with my buddy Tim (do any of you remember ranch hand Tim, from way, way back in the late 90’s?).  We hiked up Hinman Mountain one of those full moon nights on snowshoes.  We didn’t take headlamps, and there was no path to the top so we just explored and found our way up there.  The hike started through a thick forest of trees, up a super steep hill.  It was pretty intense getting through that part.  Then, we broke out of the trees and into the open mountain side.  From there on, it was just serene and peaceful and we didn’t talk much.  We just watched our shadows and listened to the crunch of the snow.  Once at the top, we sat down and enjoyed looking out over the valley, down on the ranch.  It was bright enough with the light of the moon to see the whole valley.  We could see the Homestead cabin, sitting by itself out in the meadow.  The lights of the cabins seemed so far away, but the place looked cozy and inviting.   After enjoying the view for a bit, we made our way back down.  I don’t remember what we talked about, or if we even talked at that point.  It was just a special moment shared with someone who appreciated it as much as me.

Honestly, I think about that magical night every time we have a winter full moon.  One of these days I’ll strap on snowshoes and take my girls and Todd up to that spot.  The great part about these mountains is that they aren’t going anywhere.   I look forward to watching my shadow in the middle of the night the next time I’m up there.


Capturing the Verde in the Vista

Staff member and Front Desk superstar Krista Coy has been taking amazing panoramic shots at the ranch ranch.  Here are some tips from her to help you do the same on your next ranch visit!

Being Mother Nature’s playground, it is no wonder Colorado tourism has hit record highs in the past years. A breath of fresh air can be more than rejuvenating when the closest touch with nature is the smell of green tea from two cubicles down. When the chance does occur to be in nature, it’s one to be cherished and only natural to want to hold onto that memory. Luckily, we don’t have to solely rely on a brush and oils to capture the perfect landscape. Unfortunately, our autonomy seems to be thrown out the window when the top of Mt. Zirkel won’t fit into the camera frame. Don’t whip out the canvas just yet, because in 1839 the idea of combining photos to create one wide image was developed. In a matter of seconds many cameras can create their own panoramas without additional software. But if yours can’t, here are a few ways to easily capture a whole landscape.

How to Make a Panoramic Photo

Capturing the Image:

When shooting for a panoramic photo, a tripod is ideal, but a steady hand will typically do. Starting from the left (or right), take a sequence of three to seven photos. Overlapping each shot about one fourth of the way. During this step it is important to keep all settings (lighting, ISO, shutter speed) consistent for seamless editing later on.

Combining the Photos:

Using Picasa

Once you have captured a sequence of photos. It is necessary to open the photos in photo editing software. A free download of Picasa is available online and works decently if Photoshop or other editing programs aren’t available. Although Picasa doesn’t officially have a panoramic feature, you can make a one with the collage feature. Open the sequence in Picasa and align all photos in a row, so that the overlapping features match up. Now hit the make collage button. Your panoramic is now created. Using Picasa, you may have some seams in the photos; other editing programs may be able to get rid of this like PhotoStitch.

Using Photoshop

Photoshop makes this process extremely easy and quick.  Open Photoshop, go to File>Automate>Photomerge. From here, select all of the photos in your sequence. Make sure that they are in the correct order that you shot them in. If they aren’t this process won’t work. From here, choose the Auto format on the left side on the screen (or whatever formatting you want). Click ok. From here, your computer will probably be overwhelmed for a few seconds (or minutes), but be patient and soon enough your panorama will be ready. It will show up with jagged edges, and possibly some seams, but if you crop and use the clone stamp tool to fix the seams and fill in the edges, this will definitely take you back when you’re typing away in the office!

Horsemanship Retreats

We have had a lot of people ask for more details on our horsemanship clinics.  Our horsemanship clinics have been a lot of fun for us, and we have actually started casually calling them horsemanship retreats as that seems to be more of the feel to the guests.  We offer one annually, right at the end of our winter season.  The 4-night stay offers a time for our guests to immerse themselves in riding clinics during the day, while enjoying the solitude of the ranch in the evenings.

We meet for breakfast each day around 8am, then head off to the barn to work on the topic of the morning in the arena (usually in the indoor, but if the weather is nice we’ll go in the outdoor).  There isn’t a set agenda; the ranch trainers see where the group is and then pick something to focus on at each session.  Lunch is down in the Main Lodge, followed by another session on horseback in the afternoon.   Following dinner, guests get the chance to relax in their cabins, take a well-deserved soak in the hot tub, or visit in the Great room.

Our other ranch activities are not offered during this time as the focus is just on riding.  Typically these clinics are geared towards an intermediate rider who wants to learn more about understanding their horses and how to communicate better to them in a Western style ranch horse environment.

We hope to have you join us at some point for a Horsemanship Retreat!