History of the Ranch

How did this amazing piece of the Elk River Valley end up as the home for a luxury dude ranch and winter resort?  Well, here’s the story…..

The Ute Indians

history of the ranch

Before white explorers and trappers, the Ute Indians ranged across much of the Northern Colorado plateau beginning at least 2000 years B.P. Ute means ‘High Land’ or “Land of the Sun” and it is the root of the word Utah.

Seven different bands of Utes lived in the western territories. The Yamparica (Laughing people) was the band that hunted and gathered in the Elk River Valley. Yampa is the Ute word for Bear and also a plant in the Umble family, (carrot family). Our valley is full of this sweet tasting little root. Hemlock is in the same plant family, so pick with care.

Prior to the acquisition of horses from the Spanish in the 1500s, the Ute wandered on foot, moving through hunting and gathering territories on a seasonal basis. Men hunted deer, antelope, elk, buffalo, rabbits, and other small mammals and birds. Women gathered seed grasses, nuts, berries, roots, and greens in woven baskets and processed and stored meats and plants for winter use.

Once the Ute’s obtained Spanish horses and livestock from the pueblo peoples of Northern New Mexico, the Ute began to raise horses, cattle and sheep and began raiding and trading. In this region the Ute remained largely independent aside from the Mormon settlers trying to convert them to farmers and colonial control trying to “win the west.” As more of their land was appropriated by the Mormons and others the Utes retaliated and that was the beginning of reservation initiative for Native Ute’s. After the Meeker massacre in 1879 the remaining Utes in this area were relocated to the Uintah – Ouray Reservation near Fort Duchesne in Northeastern Utah.

Homestead Act

the first visitors to the ranch

President Lincoln signed the Homestead Act in 1862, after the secession of the Southern States, to try and move more people out west. 270 million acres or 10% of the area of the U.S. was claimed and settled under the Homestead Act, including what would become Vista Verde Ranch.

To Homestead your 160 acres you had to be at least 21 years old, live on the land, build a home, make improvements and stay 6 months of the year for 5 years. Once you “Proved Up” your land you were eligible to purchase the land for a $18.00 filing fee. The Homesteader needed to find two neighbors that were willing to vouch for the truth of their improvements and sign the “Proof Document.”

Loren Blair and John Hay were the original homesteaders of what would soon become Vista Verde Ranch in 1916. They built a small home where the Parlor now stands and a  barn near our  current barn. Remnants of these structures stood until 2008 when they were no longer safe to stand. They proved up their land and received the deed in 1919.

In 1921 the 160 acre Hallet Homested (where the mare barn now stands) was purchased by Blair and Hay.  Blair & Hay put in the main irrigation ditch which runs from Hinman creek across the ranch in front of cabin row.

The start of dude ranching

history of a colorado dude ranch

In 1928 Arthur “Daddy Art” and Salome Tufly moved to Clark from Grand Junction.  The  family purchased the Blair/Hay Homestead in 1933.  It was Salome’s sister Jennie, a Spanish teacher, who exclaimed “Vista Verde” when looking out on the newly irrigated lush “green view” of the hay fields in what we now call Sunday pasture as she looked south from the Homestead cabin. The Tufly’s grew hay and grazed cattle at the ranch.

The Tufly’s boy, Hollis bought VVR in 1958 from his parents. It was Hollis who built the Homestead cabin for his bride, Jean, that now sits in the pasture south of the main lodge. He and Orvel Bedell’s father started dairy cow operations near each other in Clark, and teamed up with their hay operations so the young boys in both families were good friends.

In 1954, Bill Adams bought the property at the entrance of the ranch and he and his wife built their small cabin. Bill and his family still own this property.

In 1968 the Steamboat Springs Ski area opened. Hollis saw an opportunity for tourism income and started the first hunting, fishing, horseback riding and pack trips at this time.

Dude Ranching becomes the model

vista verde becomes a dude ranch

Frank and Winton Brophy purchased the Ranch in 1975, after having left the East Coast behind in search of a family lodge at the base of a ski resort.  Not finding what they were looking for, and discovering the concept of dude ranching, they ended up purchasing Vista Verde after being turned down from their original offer in 1974.

Frank and Winton are responsible for turning Vista Verde into a full scale dude ranch. The Brophys built and named many of the cabins we use today. They have all been remodeled several times since then, but the Brophys got the ball rolling to be sure.

The Brophys used to entertain their guests in the Main Lodge that stood where the parlor stands today.  Frank was looking to expand the season and make the ranch more of a multi-season operation so in 1978 employees Mark and Brenda Weir started the winter ski program at Vista Verde.  Brenda was also involved in all the humming bird research and banding.  There is an old article about the hummingbird project up in the Adventure Center.

Dude ranch meets luxury

winter resort becomes luxury resort

John and Susanne Munn purchased Vista Verde in 1991, with a dream and a vision for retiring to the quiet life of dude ranching. John had been deeply involved in the auto industry, and then he owned Wheel Horse Corporation before selling it to Toro.

The Munn’s did a complete ranch make over and brought in Bill Backer, and he has overseen every new project since then.  During the makeover, every cabin was gutted and remodeled, a new Lodge was built, and a new barn replaced the historic old barn.  Suzanne’s love of gardening was the ticket for a full landscaping plan to be put into play.

John’s love of good food and wine spurred the shift of the culinary program to a focus on gourmet and creative food and wine.  The multi-sport aspect of the ranch was enhanced with the addition of a mountain bike program, photography workshops, wine tastings, and horsemanship clinics.  During the Munn’s time at the ranch, the coveted Mobil 4-star ranking was awarded year after year.

Many of the staff who John and Suzanne brought in during their time as owners continue at the ranch today, always working towards “betterness,” which is one of John’s challenges to us over the years.

Going to the next level

jerrys ranch

In 2006 Jerry and Peggy Throgmartin became the next stewards of the ranch as they pursued a dream of owning a ranch.  Originally wanting a private ranch, their plans shifted when they found Vista Verde.  Realizing the great gift they would have to share with others, they moved forward and jumped into dude ranching with both feet.

With great enthusiasm for continuing the direction the ranch had been headed they invested in a new indoor riding arena, the beautiful Great Room addition tied in with a remodel of the existing Lodge, remodels on a majority of the cabins, the addition of a swimming pool, and a totally new Kid’s Hut.

Jerry and Peggy’s desire to leave a lasting impact on the many staff and guests who call the ranch home is why they set out to establish a culture of sustainability for their staff, and a focus on developing leaders while also role modeling a healthy and positive lifestyle.  Not to be satisfied with the past improvements, the commitment to improve every year propelleds the leadership team to always look for ways to improve the guest experience as well as that of our amazing staff.

Keeping up with the Joneses

And, now onto the present and future.  On December 12, 2016 the ranch came under the ownership of Laura and Chris Jones and their family.  You can read more about them in our announcement of the purchase, but rest assured knowing that Laura and Chris as committed to continuing the tradition of providing a compelling dude ranch ranch experience that is authentic while still being luxurious, and at the end of the day connects our guests hearts with home.  That has been our mission and that continues to be our mission, and Laura and Chris have rolled up their sleeves and are our biggest cheerleaders in continuing what was started so many years ago for Vista Verde Ranch.  Onward and upward!