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!

Rafting and kayaking adventures at a Colorado resort

By Krista Coy- Front Desk Extraordinaire
Coming from the core of the corn belt in Indiana, it seems Colorado has it all from the golden-lit snow-capped mountains to the calm cool lakes. In particular, Steamboat aka Ski Town USA, is best known for its winter ski resort, but The Boat’s motto “Come for the winter and stay for the summer.”, suggests there is more to see in the “off” season.

Although I haven’t spent a winter here yet, I would have to agree this area is worth seeing in the summer. After all, the champagne powder snow has to melt which makes water sports an unavoidable part of Steamboat’s culture. Whether its avoiding a drifter that washed out part of the road or choosing your own adventure in a kayak or raft, Colorado’s waters bring an experience all their own.

This year the quick snow melt caused the waters to be raging, which makes for a great excuse to take advantage of. I’m not brave (or niave) enough to take on the river waters on my own, so I jumped in on trips with the guests here at Vista Verde dude ranch on my days off.

With the unpredicitablity of mother nature, the rushing waters at over 3,500 cfs, gave us a unique experience on both the kayaking and rafting trips. For kayaking we headed off with the great men at Mountain Sports Kayaking School. The class for beginners was a great way to get acquainted with the water and learning how to handle a kayak. We paddled and got instructions in a small pond before heading down the river to bear the high raging waters of the Yampa. We zipped through the waters in Steamboat in nearly half of the time a regular trip would take, but stopped in a few eddies to practice maneuvers and to chat about the area. Since we had the time, we played around a bit and tried paddling up stream. With every stroke it was a struggle to even keep up the pace to stay in the same spot which was enough to work up an appetite. Although there were a few close calls, luckily, we all stayed upright and got back just in time for lunch.

After my kayaking experience I wanted more and decided to head out the next week with the rafting group. Even two hours away on the Colorado River, the waters were still so high that our trip started a few miles down from its original departure. Our relaxing ride turned out to be a true ladies day out with all the rafters being women. Dana our guide couldn’t have been more entertaining as she pointed out an old covered wagon trail and took us off the beaten path to scope out dinosaur footprints.

With the high waters, some of the rapids were covered, but sitting in the front of the raft still proved to be a “swimmingly” good time. Not that any of us fell in, but it felt that way as the water crashed on our faces. Note to future rafters, never try to turn and have a conversation from the front of the boat or the tricksters in the raft may succeed in “drowning” out your conversation.

Thanks Krista for your story!  We look forward to hearing more about your adventures at our Colorado dude ranch.

Rain, rain, go away!

2011 may officially be the craziest year of weather, and I’m saying that only half way through the year. You all probably heard enough of my talk about the winter with immense amounts of snow we had at our Colorado dude ranch. And then there was the spring …… with immense amounts of snow. As we moved into June, in a panic that the snow wasn’t going away, the sun finally came out and things started to dry up. June was sunny, warm and pleasant. The start of a nice summer.

But, July has thrown us a curve ball, with a wet weather pattern like I’ve never seen here before. Cloudy days, rainy afternoons, and just a little sunshine here and there. The upside? No dust, no pollen, cool temps, and crystal clear skies when the sun does appear. But, even my children have decided that they have done enough stomping in puddles. My 3 year old told me yesterday she wants the sun to come out. I’m with her. So, there are times we do snow dances, and right now we are doing sun dances! Start dancing friends, we could use all the help we can get!

July 4th – Colorado Guest Ranch style

Yesterday was a fun day at the ranch. Ok, most days are pretty fun, but it’s always a bit more special to celebrate a holiday at a ranch.

The morning started out with our regular orientation ride. The guests got a chance to get to know their horses, learn a little more about where we’re going this week with their horsemanship skills, and get some basic tools for understanding how to communicate better with their horse.

Lunch was a festive affair with the whole Lodge decorated in red, white and blue. Compliments to the tireless Sarah and her crew for all their efforts to make it look so good!

After lunch out on the deck, we held the first ever Vista Verde Ranch egg toss competition. It was a fierce and messy battle, but one by one each team was eliminated. Some were a bit more messy on their exit than others. After finishing, the guys had to take it one step further, so both Dace and Ben had to take turns trying to lob an egg over the pond to Clay, who was part of the winning team. Hey, when else is it socially acceptable to throw raw eggs around?

Everyone headed out for a variety of activities- riding, biking, fishing, hiking…and even some just relaxing by the pool. We gathered up again at the corral later in the afternoon to paint the white horses with red and blue paint. The festivities capped off just before dinner with the star spangled stampede. Hard to describe the fun of this annual 4th of July event at our Colorado guest ranch, but everyone should have the chance to witness it at some point.

It’s great to be able to celebrate being an American while vacationing at a dude ranch. We wish you all a wonderful Independence Day, and continue to appreciate those who serve our country as they allow us to live here and share this place with others.

The Long Term Effects of Dude Ranching

Most people enter the dude ranching business because they love people, horses, the outdoors, or just the Western way of life. Most don’t know that entering the business will have a profound impact on their lives.

It starts with finding out that the people you serve daily are really amazing folks. Wait a sec, suddenly you are becoming friends with those very people you take in as guests. And the staff you hire to make the dude ranch operation a success? Hey, you kind of like them too!

Here’s where the warning comes for those who consider the dude ranch business. Now that your friends with these folks, life becomes more meaningful. You find your self engaged in their lives. I think of the folks who I’ve cried for, wished for, and had heart ache for- Don, Guy, and Carol come to mind immediately. But I also think about those who joys I’ve been able to share. The new grand babies, new careers, new family ventures, marriages, beating the odds, and all those success that come in life. Long after guests leave from their dude ranch vacation, we get to hear those updates and rejoice with our friends. The multiple invites to amazing places that all of us receive from grateful guests are overwhelming. I’ve whooped it up in Bermuda, Chelsea and Amanda just had a memorable dinner in London, Ben is looking forward to front row seats at a big game, Steve and Kelli had a heartwarming visit in Montana, and Dace has sat at too many dining room tables reconnecting with guests to mention. Mary, we will make it to Florida one day!

And then there’s the staff. Those pesky young people who you have to put up with in order to get the job done, right? Not at this Colorado dude ranch. I just reluctantly sent an RSVP to Gabriella to decline attending her wedding. We’ve been able to watch these great people go into the world and do powerful things, fall in love, start families, and continue to grow. The notes of thanks from past staff in all of our desk drawers keep each of us going on the tough days.

Yes, it’s a rough job to work at a guest ranch, but we’ll take it a little longer. We hope to have many more of you cross our cattle guard as guests the first time, and drive across it on your way home as friends and family.

Macaroni Kid- June 2011

Dude, Where’s My Ranch?  By Joyce Shulman

The west is overflowing with guest ranches that range from uber-luxury to affordable.  Here are a few to check out.

Vista Verde Ranch in Steamboat Springs, Colorado is a small luxury ranch with beautiful facilities and accommodations.  An extensive family program is coupled with an effort to maintain its down-to-earth, warm and friendly vibe. With only about 40 guests at a time, Vista Verde strives to provide a personal and tailored experience for its guests. With a new pool, a mountain setting and lots of other activities, like most guest ranches, the horses are at the center. “Everyone is matched with an appropriate horse for the week and for many that results in a sad farewell at the end of their stay,” says the Resort.  We can imagine.  The fun for the kids extends beyond the riding program, with treasure hunts, pow wows, campfires, boat races, gold panning and a ride on a fire truck to the local store for ice cream help to round out the week. Their teen program is a nod to the reality that teens need their own space to explore at their own pace.  Of course, adventure for the entire family the experience together abounds, with family horseback riding, hiking, mountain biking, fly fishing, rock climbing and more.  Vista Verde looks to us like one to check out.

The Vee Bar Guest and Dude ranch near Laramie, Wyoming is a family-friendly ranch that emphasizes horseback riding, but that is only the beginning of this Wyoming family vacation. The ranch activities include hiking, fishing, river tubing, trap shooting, camping, herding cattle, hayrides and more.  A historical setting at the base of the Snowy Range Mountains, the Vee Bar ranch prides itself on providing True Western Hospitality. Vacation activities center around western horseback riding and the Vee Bar claims one of the best horseback riding programs to be found at any guest ranch and offers a range of riding experiences … from the meadows to riding across the top of Sheep Mountain in the Medicine Bow National Forest. Children six and older are eligible for horseback riding activities with parents or other children. All children can work on their horsemanship skills by competing in the gymkhana or moving cattle while receiving pointers and coaching from family-friendly wranglers.

Harmel’s Ranch Resort in Almont, Colorado delivers family fun at affordable prices in a superb location, near Crested Butte and Gunnison. This family dude ranch has been operating since 1958 and brings a touch of old world style to everything they do.  No fancy-schmancy accommodations, just cozy cabins and tons of action and fun … horseback riding, fly-fishing, white water rafting, evening hay rides and more.  Their overnight ride to high camp, junior wrangler program and weekly steak/crab cookout have gotten two thumbs up from loyal guests.  Unlike many guest ranches, Harmel’s gives families the flexibility to arrive any day of the week and to stay as long as they wish.  And, for those of us who hate to leave our dogs behind, Harmel’s is pet friendly (though there are breed restrictions, so be sure to check their website).

Health News- June 2011

5 Fun and Fantastic Resorts for Families – by Kayt Sukel

Trying to figure out where to take the family on your next trip?  Here are five of Travel Savvy Mom’s favorite family-oriented resorts.

Walt Disney World Resorts. Even though I harbor a bit of an allergy to pixie dust, I must admit that Disney knows how to do family travel. And they do it well. Whether you are staying at a Disney branded property in Florida, Hawaii, France or California—or taking one of their fantastic cruises—you can expect good food, attention to detail and plenty of activities that the whole family will love.
Dreams Resorts. Offering resorts in Mexico and the Dominican Republic, don’t call Dreams an all-inclusive—it doesn’t quite fit. Their unlimited luxury concept is all-inclusive the way it was meant to be. And quite a dream for families looking for a great beach vacation. You can eat and drink excellent fare (no starchy buffets or well drinks here!) when you want and how you want on the property without worrying about your kids losing paper wristbands. Dreams also allows kids under 12 to stay (and eat) for free. With beautiful grounds, gorgeous white sand beaches and fun amenities, it’s a place that the whole family will want to keep coming back to.
Vedema Resort. They said Santorini, arguably one of the most beautiful Greek Islands, wasn’t for families. They said there was nothing for you there. Obviously, they didn’t know about Vedema Resort. This beautiful property is modeled after a small, whitewashed Greek village. Surrounded by vineyards in the middle of the island, it offers only suite-type rooms and plenty of space for your kids to run around when they’re not splashing in the pool.
Vista Verde Guest Ranch. What family doesn’t want the opportunity to unleash their inner cowboy? There are plenty of dude ranches peppering the Colorado countryside, but Vista Verde in Steamboat Springs offers an all-inclusive deal and an activity list that will make your kids giddy with anticipation. Participate in a cattle drive one day and then do some rock climbing the next. And the kids-only programs will make you a little giddy, too.
Mohonk Mountain House. This incredible resort in New Pfalz, New York has remained a favorite for families for decades—and you’ll see why as soon as it comes into view. The spectacular (yet somewhat crazy) collection of buildings and grounds are second only to the service, food and amenities on offer. There is plenty here for the whole family whether you like to hike, bike, swim or play a little golf.

It’s a girl thing at Vista Verde

Our foal crop was not as large as expected, but we ended up with two fillies and are thrilled. Tele Tubby delivered this sweet and spunky filly over the holiday weekend. She’s still pretty shy, but full of energy and ready to get out and play. Over the weekend the weather was pretty cold and wet, so she had to stay inside. But the sun is shining beautifully today, so she gets to go out and explore the big world around the mare barn at our luxury dude ranch.

Opening day is Sunday, and we are just hoping for lots of warm weather and sunshine to dry out the mountains. It’s been a record setting spring with weather that none of us have ever seen this time of year. We’ll get out and have a great time with our guests at our Colorado guest ranch, but we may have a little mud on our boots at the end of the day for the first couple weeks.

Cue the sun and let the fillies play!

Rocking out in the Barn

Things were jamming in the barn this week. No, it wasn’t the staff orientation, or getting the new horses ready for our summer dude ranch season. It was a real life group of rock stars (although they may not like me referring to them that way!). Through a connection with one of the band members, we agreed to host the band Dispatch as they prepped for their upcoming tour, which begins at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Denver this Friday. The staff and horses have been able to enjoy listening to the group practice, and get to know the guys and their crew. As a thank you, and special treat for the staff, the band gave tickets to our crew so most of our crew will be able to attend one of the shows this weekend.
In addition, the band members made a trip to the North Routt Charter School to meet with the kids, talk a bit about music and play a few songs for them. Maybe a few of these kids will pick up an instrument as a result of this inspiration!

Are any of you diehard Dispatch fans? Check out their Facebook page for more info. And we’ll keep the rockin’ atmosphere going on at the barn long after they leave our luxury dude ranch.


Years ago we had the great folks from Ricola out at the ranch for a family vacation. After their visit, they kindly sent us some tubs of Ricola drops to share with our guests. Over the years, it has become a tradition to have a stash of Ricola in our amenity baskets for our guests. They are great in our dry climate!

We ran out at the end of the winter, and I just got an email from them that another case is on the way. So, I just wanted to send a shout out and a big Thank you to the folks at Ricola!

So, the question is…..where around the ranch would you wan to shout out, “Riiiii-col-la!”? I’m going to pick the hill right above Hinman Lake so water carries my call. How about you?

Denver Post- May 2011

Hands-on fun with some real cowpokes– by Kyle Wagner

Over the years, we’ve visited many dude ranches, one of the top reasons folks come to Colorado. If you’ve never been, this summer could be your chance to check out one. Here are a few of our top picks, and if one of these doesn’t catch your fancy, visit www.coloradoranch.com for more.

C Lazy U Ranch, 3640 Colorado 125, Granby, 970-887-3344, clazyu.com. One of the more modern dude ranches, an upscale experience that pairs a superior horse program (on the trail or in an arena) with fly-fishing and other area outdoor pursuits.

Colorado Cattle Co. & Guest Ranch, 70008 County Road 132, New Raymer, 970-437-5345, coloradocattlecompany.com. Adults-only, the Cattle Co. takes you out on a true cattle drive, branding, fencing and roping with the staff.

Devil’s Thumb Ranch, 3 miles east of U.S. 40 on County Road 83, Tabernash, 800-933-4339, devilsthumbranch.com. Luxurious cabins and a new lodge (with bowling alley!), and a horse program that truly encourages riders to spread out and achieve new skills, and a world-class spa.

The Home Ranch, 54880 Routt County Road 129, Clark, 970-879-1780, homeranch.com. Amazing gourmet food is served at this 1,500-acre Relais & Châteaux property with the Elk River running through it and the Routt National Forest as a next-door neighbor.

North Fork Guest Ranch, 55395 U.S. 285, Shawnee, 303-838-9873, 800-843-7895, northforkranch.com. An Orvis-endorsed fly-fishing lodge, North Fork has the vigorous North Fork of the South Platte River zooming smack through it. Rafting and massage are among the amenities offered, along with horseback riding, hiking, swimming, target, trap and bow-and-arrow shooting, square dancing and day trips to Breckenridge.

Smith Fork Ranch, 8 miles west of Crawford on Needle Rock Road; 970-921-3454, smithforkranch.com. Get a massage, try a wine from the well-stocked cellar, look at the stars through a high-powered telescope, learn how to rope a steer or shoot with a bow and arrow. The family-friendly spot caters to kids, and special weekends, such as the popular culinary and cowgirl ones, fill up fast.

Sundance Trail Guest Ranch, 17931 Red Feather Lakes Road, Red Feather Lakes, 800-357-4930 or 970-224-1222, sundancetrail.com. Laid-back and nurturing, this well-situated ranch with spacious cabins is 140 acres of fun and casual comfort.

Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch, 2939 N. County Road 31D, Loveland, 877-667-3999, sylvandale.com. Guests can help move, pen and brand cattle at this working ranch, once they demonstrate adequate horsemanship skills. Fishing in the Big Thompson and tennis on the well-maintained courts are other popular pursuits.

Tarryall River Ranch, 27001.5 County Road 77, Lake George, 719-748-1214, 800-408-8407, tarryallriverranch.com. Very family-oriented, with appealing kids programs, rodeos for the guests to strut their stuff and evening talent shows. Adjacent to the Lost Creek Wilderness Area with a clear view of Pikes Peak and the Tarryall River, activities include horseback riding, fly-fishing, river-rafting, hiking, swimming, square dancing and sand volleyball.

Vista Verde, 58000 Cowboy Way, Clark, 800-526-7433, www.vistaverde.com. The stand-alone cabins with private hot tubs and stoves have mountain views, and the swimming pool and endless trails in this alpine setting mean exercise and kid-friendly. An indoor arena offers one-on-one time with your horse, and you can fly-fish, mountain bike, rock-climb and raft on the property or nearby.

Penguin Plunge

In order to get the landscaping completed around our new pool, we had to get the snow blowers out and remove the snow this spring. That wasn’t quite in the plans, but with the record snowfall we received this winter and early spring, it was quite a task. Charlie and the ranch hands took it all in stride, and now we are putting the finishing touches on the beautiful new amenity.

Although we have added a pool for our guests enjoyment, we are not planning on making the pool a major part of our program. With so many amazing activities, and so many great experiences, we want to keep the focus of our programs on these Colorado experiences. But, for those of you who just want to relax a bit or take a quick dip with your kids, the pool will be ready and waiting come opening day. Until then, we’ll leave the swimming to the penguins.

The Daily Meal- May 2011

9 Wild West Dude Ranches – by Nicole Campoy-Leffler

Spurs and all, these are more than just your average horseback riding adventure

In this digital modern age, John Wayne’s dusty Wild West seems a novel, old fashioned place. And while the Gold Rush may be over, it’s comforting to note that this gun-slinging, iPhone-less cowboy lifestyle is still alive and well on dude ranches across the U.S.

More than just tumbleweeds and cowboy hats, these dude ranches have amenities that would spoil even the toughest ranch hand. Swimming pools, live country music, wine cellars, and river rafting trips are all becoming dude ranch standard with fine dining, lavish spa treatments, and tennis courts rounding out some of the more luxurious offerings. Central California’s Alisal Ranch, for example, asks guests to “dress” for dinner and boasts a wine club with three levels of membership.

Whether you’re a seasoned horseback rider or got inspired by watching Rio Grande, the activities and itineraries available at each dude ranch can be tailor-made to fit your every whim. Wyoming’s storied A Bar A Ranch offers everything from fly fishing to skeet shooting and from horseback riding to golfing, ensuring you’ll earn your stripes in no time. And nothing goes with saddling up better than a fresh, epicurean meal.

Montana’s Triple Creek Ranch offers mahi mahi ceviche and braised Guinea fowl and organic chicken with seasonal vegetables and rice in their main dining room while Colorado’s Vista Verde Ranch has scheduled seasonal wine tastings and cooking classes throughout the year.

Harking back to the old West, these ranches let you get a taste of ranch life without actually making you wake up to do farm work at 5 a.m. Here are nine great ranches worth visiting all across the U.S.; go for the horses, stay for the food.

Colorado’s Vista Verde Ranch seems like it was made for the food-loving rancher. With cooking classes and wine tasting events, the ranch’s other activities like mountain biking, horseback riding, snowshoeing, and rock climbing are an added bonus. Changing based on the season, the ranch’s culinary adventures take place all throughout the property from hearty breakfasts (like honey wheat pancakes with caramelized apples on top) to outdoor grilling and from a quick lunch between activities to tasting the ranch’s inspiring wine collection.

Turning up the heat

With many of us squeezing in vacation time the past couple weeks (yes, you may have noticed an absence of blog posts…that would be me sneaking away for a bit), it’s been pretty quiet around the ranch. This week the long term crew begins to roll back in. Ben is the last one to arrive back, hot off the beaches of Mexico where he and Holly snuck away for a little R&R. Our pre-season kick-off meeting with all the managers will be this Thursday, and then we’ll all go running with our to-do lists. As we race around getting ready for the staff to arrive, and the ensuing orientation weeks, we’re anxiously watching the sun melt the snow. It turns out we have had a blockbuster, off the charts winter. The news is saying that the Steamboat area has set an all-time record for the state of Colorado. In April, we got 27 days of snow. Too bad the Steamboat Ski Area didn’t extend it’s winter vacation season! So, the hiking guides may be doing their training on snowshoes as we wait for the snow pack around our dude ranch to melt away prior to opening day. We’re going to have some fun adventures with snow still up in the high country. It will be like no summer I’ve ever seen. I bet we’ll be able to find snow up at the highest peaks in August…so get ready for snowball fights on your all-day hike!

With the sun shining and the birds singing, we are also enjoying other new life….BABIES! The Elk River Valley is dotted with baby cows, running and frolicking with their friends. And we have had our first foal of the year. Rachel gave us a Cinco de Mayo filly, a little bay with a white star. She is so adorable and so sweet. I believe Charlie won the bet on when that first foal would come. No surprise there.

For those of you coming this summer, we look forward to a full house of interesting and lively guests at our dude ranch. For those still thinking about coming, we are down to the wire with one cabin open in early June, and then a couple spots later in September during our adult only weeks.

Come on sunshine, melt it away!

Summer Crew 2011

Dace, our Jack of all trades with the title of ranch GM, resident cowboy, and artist/singer is also responsible for hiring our awesome staff each season. The process is intense, with multiple interviews, extensive reference checks, among other things. Each season we are amazed at how he is able to put together such a hard working, intelligent, energetic, travelled and personable group. He must have the touch. This magic not only comes from the new faces that arrive each season, anxious to experience life at a guest ranch and the grandeur of the Colorado mountains, but also the returners who add a mature and experienced component to the mix. We are thankful for the balance and have seen season after season how this combination makes for the perfect team. For those guests who are returning this summer you will be excited to see the familiar faces of: Chef Matt, Sous Chef Lewis, Chef Lisa, Chef Vinny, Johanna, Nicky, Kyle, Trey, Adam, Javin, Beka, Nathan, Reid, John I., Carson, John H., Camie, Chelsea, Steph S., and Ashley. A couple returners who are new to our management team are Steph Fredline, our new head housekeeper and Sarah Dreyer who is leading our server girls. What is remarkable about this summer’s team is the number of states which will be represented, atop the list is Indiana with 10 of our crew members! We will also have staff coming from PA, CA, AZ, OK, CO, NY, ME, WI, MI, MS, IL, WA, OH, FL, TN, MN, GA, NC, ID and TX. Whew! Be sure to stay tuned to our website for staff profiles that will give you a more detailed look at this season’s crew!

By Guest Blogger and Front Desk Mgr, representing the state of AZ: Christi Cline

Mud Season

When it’s not quite still winter, and not quite yet summer here in Steamboat Springs, we don’t refer to it as Spring but call it by another name. Mud Season.

Most years, it’s just an affectionate term that we all use as we slop through the melting snow and ensuing mud underneath, trying to be diligent about wiping off our boots before coming inside. Because most years the sun is shining, the birds are singing and you can almost feel the grass pushing with all it’s might to explode up out of it’s dormancy. You just know summer, and our dude ranch season, is about to begin.

However, this year, it doesn’t seem to be such a laughing matter. The birds are still singing, those little optimists. But the sun has hardly been shining. Rain, snow, sleet and various other forms of precipitation keep lingering. And it’s becoming all that anyone talks about these days.

Yesterday, I had to drive over for my final board meeting (we take the summer off as everyone is too busy to meet) of the Colorado Dude Ranch Association. What is normally a picturesque drive, with majestic mountains peaks still covered in snow, but green meadows busting with young grass and baby calves was replaces by a slow slog through a blizzard in four wheel drive.

Those poor little calves out there don’t know any different. But, as soon as spring finally decides to join us, and stay, the valleys are going to explode with vegetation and those little birds are going to have something to sing about for sure. Heck, you might just hear me singing at that point!

Springtime means babies!

With the sun shining more and more, and the snow falling less and less, we’re starting to think that spring is actually here! That means we can start getting ready for our summer dude ranch season. It also means that we can start anticipating the arrival of our 2011 foals.

The mares are due anytime between mid-May and early-June, so those of you coming early in the season are guaranteed some snuggle time with brand new babies. And those of you coming later in the dude ranch season will be able to take part in getting these little ones halter broke and ready to be members of our herd.

Just for fun, do any of you want to put in a guess for what order the mares foal? Heck, let’s take it a step further and you can even try to guess the gender of the foal!

Here is what Terry is predicting as far as the order of when the mares foal, and what they’ll produce:
Emmy- colt
Tele Tubby- filly
Rachael- he’s not sure
Chex- colt

What’s your best guess?

Travelsavvymom.com – April 2011

Dude Ranch Vacations
Five things to know before you go – by Jamie Pearson www.travelsavvymom.com

I brought a lot of things with me to my Colorado dude ranch vacation last summer, such as jeans, boots, a brand new cowboy hat, and really, really high expectations. With all that beautiful scenery and horsey fun, I just knew it was going to be the trip of a lifetime. Luckily, I was right.

If you’re considering heading out west with your family this summer (and you totally should), here are a few things to know before you go.

1. Find the right ranch

I know you wish the ranch fairy would fly down and just tell you which ranch is perfect for your family. I wished that too, but it didn’t happen. So I made a list of all the things we wanted (not too many guests at a time, a high staff to guest ratio, riding clinics at no extra cost, luxury accommodations, and river rafting), and then researched until I was cross eyed.

After talking to some horsey friends and Googling myself silly, I chose Vista Verde Ranch in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. If you don’t know a working ranch from a guest ranch and have no idea what you’re looking for in terms of amenities, I highly recommend you start with The Dude Rancher’s Association website.

Knowing your family helps. If you have shy kids, don’t choose a ranch with mandatory separate kid and adult activities every day. If you don’t care about anything but riding, don’t pay extra for activities you won’t try.

2. Book the right week

Once you’ve decided on a ranch, the next step is choosing a week to book. Weather is obviously a consideration and holiday weeks (such as July 4th) may cost more. We went the third week in July and were lucky to be able to participate in a cattle drive. Had we gone in June, it would have been too wet and boggy.

Also, call the ranch and ask who has already booked the week you’re considering. Ideally you want there to be kids your kids’ ages. I’d also recommend avoiding weeks with big family reunions—these groups tend to be very self contained, which limits socializing opportunities.

3. Bring a sports bra

I won’t go into too much detail on this one, but suffice it to say there’s a lot of trotting and galloping at dude ranches. Hours and hours of trotting and galloping, in fact. And running around with your kids. And mountain biking. And rock climbing. You get the point.

4. Pack more clothes than you think you’ll need

I travel extensively, often, and all over the place with my kids and I flatter myself that I know how to pack. I could have done a lot better on our dude ranch vacation, however. Every time we stepped outside the door of our cabin, we got really, really dirty. My husband and I could have used another two or three outfits each. The kids were so perpetually filthy (and happy) that I’m not sure that would have helped.

Dinners were casual, but I wished I had cuter clothes. Not to mention clothes that weren’t covered in dust and horse slobber. Laundry service was convenient and inexpensive, but I wasn’t willing to part with my favorite jeans to have them washed.

If you choose a ranch in Colorado, throw in a rain jacket for everyone too. It rained briefly (or threatened to) nearly every afternoon of our trip.

5. Don’t expect to relax too much

There are so many exciting things to do at dude ranches that it can be hard to relax. I wasn’t able to just sit down with a book and read because I felt like I’d be missing something fun. Worse, I felt like I’d be paying to miss something fun.

If you’re the kind of person who prefers to lounge around a pool or on a beach doing nothing for seven consecutive days, this might not be the right vacation for you. There are evening activities too, like campfires, rodeos, and barn dances, so you won’t go to bed early very often. Even the kids got a little worn out by the end of the week.

Spring, where are you? And other dude ranch ramblings

As many of you know, we closed down a little over a week ago. It was a great winter season, and now we are all excited about spring and looking forward to summer. However, there is one minor problem. Spring doesn’t seem to be anywhere in sight. We keep getting snow! Steve and Kelli already packed up all the skis and brought out the bikes. But I’m thinking I should dig out my skis and go out today for a little jaunt around the ranch in the powder.

Getting all the bikes out got Steve excited about biking, so he packed up and headed down to Moab with Beka, Cliff and Lewis. That would be Chef Lewis. Yep, he’s become quite the outdoor adventurer. He’s been back country skiing all winter, and I had the pleasure of having him join me on a snowshoe trip just before we closed. I love that the staff get chances to get out and play on our dude ranch, not just work here.

Speaking of staff, we did say goodbye to some great members of our team at the close of the winter resort season. As always, some of the seasonal staff were moving on to other opportunities and we wish them all the best in their next ventures. We love having such talented, interesting individuals join us each season, and recognize that with their qualities, they can only stop here for a while on their way to greatness. Hopefully we can help them become better people in their time at the ranch. And as dude ranch guests, you get to enjoy their wonderful contributions. One particularly sad goodbye was to Sallie, who has lead our dining room team for the past 3 seasons. She was ready to be back in the South, closer to her family. We will all miss Sallie greatly, and appreciate all she brought to Vista Verde in her time at the ranch.
Just before Sallie left, I lured her into modeling for a shot I needed for our new brochure. This isn’t the one we used, but I thought you all would get a kick out of it. We needed a shot of a couple relaxing at the ranch to help show the romantic winter vacation aspect of our ranch stays. Sallie and the aforementioned Lewis were my victims as I was trying to find a good looking “couple” to model. No, don’t read too much into their adoring gazes….it was just work folks. But if a girl ever asks me if Lewis is a good listener, I can show her this photo and say, yes, he can sure act like he’s listening!

Off to shovel….and dream of spring.

Meetings, meetings, meetings….at a dude ranch?

Yep, we’re immersed in meetings here at Vista Verde Ranch this week. Dace, Ben and I spent Sunday, Monday and Tuesday in Denver at the Colorado Dude and Guest Ranch Association Spring meetings. We drove back through a huge snowstorm that hit Steamboat Springs on Tuesday afternoon, and went right into meetings here at our dude ranch on starting Wednesday. It’s partly end of season wrap up as we closed last Sunday, part strategy and planning and part planning for summer. After today’s meetings, I think we’ll all need to get out and ride a horse or go for a ski outside in the fresh air. None of us are complaining to sit in our beautiful Great Room and devote some time to all of this, but most of us are used to moving around a lot outside, so we’ll be blowing off some energy this weekend!
We did take a little break to take a group picture with our Mardi Gras beads that Tiffany and Andrew brought us last week. Don’t we all look very thoughtful and focused? Maybe not your typical description of the management team at a luxury dude ranch!

Thanks to everyone who made this past winter season at Vista Verde so wonderful. We’re busy looking at what worked and what didn’t, tweaking things to be better and starting to get organized and ready for a busy summer season. We hope to play with you soon!

Travelsavvymom.com – March 2011

Horseback Riding Vacations
5 reasons to consider a family dude ranch vacation this summer

Last summer I finally lived out my dream of taking a dude ranch vacation. At 8 and 10, my kids were finally old enough to pull on boots and saddle up for seven consecutive days. I launched an exhaustive search for the perfect place and finally decided on Vista Verde Ranch in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

Both the ranch and the experience exceeded my expectations in every way. If you and your kids love horses, beautiful scenery, and the outdoors, a luxury guest ranch makes an unforgettable family vacation. Here are five reasons to consider one for your next trip:

1. You get to play dress up for a week

I don’t know about you, but my suburban life affords me relatively few opportunities to get completely decked out in Western wear without looking like a complete jackass.

On dude ranches, it’s the people without the hats and boots that feel like idiots. A baseball hat? I don’t think so. You’ll even see chaps and really big belt buckles every now and then (more on the staff than the guests, but still).

By the end of the week I was pretty much swaggering around and talking like John Wayne. I wish I were kidding.

2. You’re spoiled for choice

It’s not just horses either. Vista Verde offered fly fishing, mountain biking, river rafting, kayaking, hiking, and hot air ballooning too. There were cooking classes, yoga classes, photography clinics, wine tastings, songs around the campfire, and even a barn dance. In the winter, they offer cross country skiing, snowmobiling, dog sledding, and snowshoeing too.

There was even the option of just relaxing in our cabin, soaking in our Jacuzzi, or sitting in an Adirondack chair near the pond with a book. We didn’t do too much of that (we were afraid we’d miss something fun), but theoretically it was possible.

3. No cooking! No cleaning!

Because of the kind of travel I usually do, I haven’t had very much experience with all-inclusive vacations. The only two that come to mind are a cruise to the Bahamas and a long ago semi-debauched week at Club Med. When we travel, we usually rent condos and apartments. From a chore standpoint, it’s a lot like being at home.

Our cabin at Vista Verde had every luxury we could have needed (no phone or TV though), including a little fridge and coffee maker, but it didn’t have a kitchen. It didn’t have a washer and dryer either. We didn’t need them since the food was plentiful and superb and the ranch offered same-day laundry service.

The week I spent on the ranch was the longest I’ve ever gone without cooking and cleaning since I moved out of my own parents’ house. Can you spell v-a-c-a-t-i-o-n?

4. Free range kids

Most people I know of my generation roamed the neighborhood with packs of feral children every day after school until it got dark. We called this “childhood”. Our own kids? Not so much. They take violin, Spanish, and chess.

Dude ranches offer a comparatively safe place to let children off leash a little (after a quick chat about not jumping in the pond or sneaking up on dozing horses, that is). Our kids were able to mostly come and go as they pleased.

At Vista Verde, there are kids-only activities every day that include things like panning for gold, ziplining, riding a fire truck to town for ice cream, and riding horses to the mares’ barn to see the newborn foals. There are also lots of dogs and cats on the ranch to play with. I have to imagine it’s the same at dude ranches everywhere.

Teens have their own cool counselors (called wranglers) and even more freedom. Though not too much, if you know what I mean.

5. Cattle drives and rodeos? Yeehaw!

The activities that really made our dude ranch vacation special were the ones we couldn’t do anywhere else. For my husband and me, it was the all-day cattle drive. There aren’t many vacations that teach you how to herd cattle and then actually let you do it. Seven hours was a long time to be in the saddle, but they were seven child-free hours so they flew by.

For the kids, the highlight was the end-of-the-week kids’ rodeo. The kid wranglers divided everyone into two teams (red and blue, with matching war paint) and every kid got to show off their stuff in relay events like barrel racing and pole bending. It was beyond cute and made us want to come back every year for the rest of our lives. If only.

Closing Day and a Fundraiser

Wow, the clock is counting down to closing day, and I can’t believe it’s that time already. Guests tell us that their stays fly by, but the seasons seem to fly by even when you live here year-round. What’s that saying about time flying when you’re having fun? Hmmm…

Saturday night brings and end to our Colorado winter resort season. On Sunday, the last guests check out from the ranch and then we open the doors to locals for a community day and fundraiser for the North Routt Pre-School. We’ll have the trails groomed, the sledding hill open and a big, fabulous lunch served in our Lodge.

For anyone interested in coming out for the fundraiser, or making a donation to the North Routt Pre-School, give Morgan a call at 303-589-2172.

Targetvacations.ca – March 2011

Travel For Families That Don’t Get Along
March 14, 2011 – by Lisa Rogak

“This is a family vacation and you’re gonna have a good time whether you like it or not!”

I don’t recall if this line was from National Lampoon’s Vacation or from an ex-husband’s childhood memories, but it does seem to capture the forced happiness that is part and parcel of many families who vacation together.

So I dug up a few travel packages and offers from resorts and destinations that cater to this distinct group, at least some of the time. Here’s what came up:

*Stephanie Wilson of Vista Verde, a luxury guest ranch in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, believes it has the perfect vacation for the disagreeing family. “Not every family shares the exact same interests, and with the addition of our full-size, heated indoor riding arena, winter riding has taken off so there is just one more option for those who want to try different activities,” she says. “One can spa, another ski, another can go wine tasting, and another can ride.” Then they can all reconnect over meals in the Lodge…or not.

*Annette Walton tells of Redland House, a vacation rental home in North Devon, England that is ideal for families that dont get along. “The house has 11 bedrooms and can sleep up to 22,” she says. “There’s a dining room where everyone can congregate in the evening, but be sure to get the caterers in so there are no arguments as to who is cooking! We have a large garden to the front, side and rear so there’s plenty of space to hide if you want. There are also nearby beaches for little kids and surfers.” Families can also go quad biking, kayaking, do the high ropes, visit gardens, tea shops, and theme parks.

*Phil Marino runs Mouse Counselors, a travel agency that specializes in travel to Disney Destinations. “We deal with this issue quite often,” he says. “With the family reunions and large gatherings that many families plan at Disney World Resort, some involve delicate family dynamics.

“Many people think of Disney World of just having rides and character meals, but there are plenty of activities suited to any type of vacationer,” he adds. Some include: spa treatments, parasailing, horseback riding, Segway tours, golf, fishing excursions, Cirque de Soleil, dinner shows, the Richard Petty Driving Experience, and much more.”

*Eileen P. Gunn, who’s launching an upcoming family-travel website called FamiliesGo!, has gone on several triple-generation vacations herself, and though she doesn’t consider herself to be a cruise person, she prefers cruises for families that don’t necessarily like to spend most of their vacation together. “There’s absolutely something for everyone,” she says.

“I got up every morning, did yoga, and got a foot and scalp massage at the spa while my husband went to an art auction and cooking demonstration. Then we went to a beer tasting together. My father-in-law went to martini tastings and won the ship’s poker tournament and my mother in law mostly laid around the pool. And we all took turns watching my daughter at the kiddie pool, which she loved. We could make our own way to breakfast but also run into each other there. We ate dinner together a few nights and on our own a few nights. Even if we were together we didn’t necessarily need to eat at the same time. We could take turns drifting from the pool to the buffet.”

You did what?

Last week my daughter spent an afternoon playing with some kids who were visiting our luxury guest ranch with their family (names withheld to protect their entrepreneurial identities). That night, and for days after, she kept talking about wanting to have a lemonade stand and sell drinks to the guests. I just blew it off as random six year old talk until a cup showed up on my desk, filled with $1’s and a note saying “for the staff”. I asked Hannah if she knew what it was, and she said, “Yes, sure, it was from the kids last week selling drinks to the guests”. What? I’m sorry, did I hear that right?

Apparently, these creative kids (again, still keeping those names private, but Erica, I may have to recruit them for marketing projects going forward) decided to set up a drink stand during our happy half hour and sell slushies (aka Snowdas) to the guests. They got snow from outside the Lodge, and had a selection of flavors for guests to choose. And wouldn’t you know it, they raked in the cash. I even hear that they were using the statement, “It’s a fundraiser for the staff” as their clincher to seal the deal. Yep, you heard that right.

So, thank you to you en genius kids. Not only did we love having you here last week, but now we have $46 extra dollars to help everyone with their gas money getting home after we close for the season! I am still laughing every time I think about it. And my daughter is convinced now that we should be selling slushies to the guests all the time. Oh boy…..

The Dangers of Dude Ranching

Kelsey, one of our stupendous servers who have rocked the ranch this winter, found out this week that life can be dangerous at a dude ranch in Colorado. Here she recounts her tale:

Winter time at Vista Verde means lots of wonderful outdoor activities for the staff to participate in during their time off. From skiing and sledding, to nighttime snowshoeing, there is always something to do in the great outdoors. But this winter, our evenings have been spent dancing. Country swing dancing has been a very new and exciting experience for me. I’ve always wanted to learn how to do cool spins, dips and the 2-step, but my lack of rhythm and balance have usually prevented me from lasting more than three minutes on the dance floor. But I have had a breakthrough here at the ranch! I can actually follow the steps and spin without getting dizzy most of the time, especially when dancing with Nathan, who is very good and patient.

The other night Sarah, Nathan and I decided to practice some of the aerials and spins we have been working on for the last few weeks in the kid’s hut. We felt confident with the old material so decided to try some new aerials and flips. After Sarah and Nathan perfected the can opener, we decided to finish with a new back-flip move. This involved standing back to back, linking arms, and the girl crunching her knees as the guy pulls her over his head. The first attempt was satisfactory so we decided to try it again. This time, I knew I needed to loosen my arms a little sooner so that we could stand up straight at the end. Unfortunately, I let go a little too early and I landed off balance. My feet instantly slipped out from under me and I landed on the right side of my face and shoulder.

I now understand the cartoon portrayal of stars flying around someone’s head-I must have seen 10 shooting stars by the time Sarah and Nathan got me back on my feet. After making sure I was ok, they led me to a mirror so I could see my face. A very large bump on my right eyebrow left me looking somewhat like Quasimodo. I started laughing so hard! I couldn’t imagine what it was going to look like the next day and was embarrassed thinking about how I was going to serve the guests in the dining room without them thinking I had been in a fight. In the morning, I bravely tried to cover it with my bangs but of course they never stayed in place and everyone ended up noticing anyways. I came up with a couple different stories to try to make it sound like I had this injury due to a heroic action. One such story involved saving Nicky from the horses in the pasture when the feeding sled broke down. Another story involved doing a double back-flip while back country skiing. But alas, none of the stories were as entertaining as the truth- I fell while dancing. I don’t think I will be asked to lead any dance lessons here at the ranch anytime soon.

So if you thought there aren’t any adventures at our luxury dude ranch, you were wrong! But when you come out, how about no black eyes!

Banana Crunch Muffins

As I was searching around for a healthy treat to send into school for a kiddo’s birthday, Chef Matt handed me this recipe. Our winter guest ranch guests enjoy these fresh from the over, sitting in front of the fireplace. Our summer guest ranch guests find these out on the breakfast ride most of the time. Enjoy!

Banana crunch muffins
Makes: 2 dozen
10 oz. – All Purpose Flour (roughly 2 cups)
1 tbsp. -baking powder
½ tsp. – salt
1- Egg
1 cup – sugar
2 oz. – butter melted
1 ¼ cups – sour cream
1 ½ cups – chopped bananas
¼ cup- granola
¼ – cup- toasted pecan pieces
1/8 cup- coarse sugar
1. Arrange 2 dozen muffin papers in a muffin tin and spray with baking spray
2. Mix together the melted butter, 1 tsp. – vanilla, sour cream, and eggs until homogeneous in a stand mixer. Add in the sugar mixing until all ingredients are blended
3. Sift together the dry ingredients, and add into the mix on low speed, then add in the bananas, granola, and pecans.
4. Scoop into greased muffin papers, sprinkle with coarse sugar and bake at 350 F until golden brown. Makes about 2 dozen

Depending on the size of the muffin tins and the oven muffins may take a little longer than it does for us so there really is not a specific time. How many you get will vary slightly also. I use a 2 0z. Cookie scoop for the size tins we have here at the dude ranch. I start out setting the timer for about 7 minutes, checking with a tooth pick when the tops brown up, and then baking longer if necessary.

If you want to tweak the recipe and make it your own you can use different kinds of extract, fruit or nut. Sometimes I will do the same recipe with fresh apricots and pistachios. The possibilities are endless.