There is so much that goes on in the background at the ranch, and we asked Michael to share some notes about how his ranch hand crew spends their time. He reflected on all they accomplished last summer, and it’s pretty tremendous! For those of you who enjoy hearing the backstory, read on and insert Danish accent for better effect.
After the usual orientation work of prepping the ranch–bringing out the deck furniture from winter storage, cleaning up the grounds, repairing the fences, and helping other departments get ready with their small projects, we jumped on the first big job for the summer.
Over the years, the footing in the outdoor arena had deteriorated and wouldn’t drain properly anymore. We started to pull out all the footing using the old dump truck, and that truck earned its keep as we ran around 100 loads to the “boneyard” (the area where we store building supplies, materials, and staff who didn’t make the cut). There was a lot of machinery work involved in this project, and the ranch hands all got to practice running the equipment. But there was also a lot of manual work involved with digging out the footing around the fence line. In less than a week, the old footing was out, and we brought in the new footing and got it all spread out and leveled. It was rewarding to see the wranglers and guests start to enjoy the nice new footing, and the arena just looks better now as well. All this could only be done in that short time because the ranch hands were willing to get early up and go late to bed, and they jumped in with the attitude of doing whatever it takes to get the job done.
The next project was the outdoor arena seating structure. This became a big one for us, and the guys were very eager to work on it and excited to see a structure come out of the work of their hands. A lot of thought went into how to do it best to make it functional and comfortable, and to provide shade for the guests. I personally love this kind of work where you can see a product at the end, and the work involved a lot of small skills that the ranch hands can use later in their lives, such as building a deck at their future house, critical thinking and problem solving, and even applying their math skills in a practical manner. This project was on and off over the middle of the summer, but by mid-August we were pretty much done. We will see the first real use of it this coming summer.
In between these big projects and various small projects around the ranch, we next set our sights on leveling the ground behind the hay storage so that the round bail haystacks stand on a surface with more drainage. This involved a lot of heavy machinery work as well as hauling loads of surface material in again. We’re seeing the benefits this winter already, as this project will prevent the hay from molding and the barn has a more level ground for moving the big round bales with the tractor. We spend a crazy amount of money on hay each year, and this project helps reduce loss.
There was still time to do more, so we also continued the buck and rail fence line from Ben’s house toward the ranch driveway and a little way up the driveway. This makes the entrance to the ranch look much better with the new fence, and we also took out a bad stretch of barbed wire fence that was hard to repair every spring due to the rocky terrain. The buck and rail fencing looks nice, but it is also low maintenance. We have buck and rail fence standing at the ranch that is about 20 years old and is just now needing some repair work.
As the summer turned to fall, we jumped into the walkway project–widening them so we could use the Toolcat (a utility work machine) to blow snow on them in the winter and redoing them as they were starting to deteriorate. This was a project, like so many others, where the ranch hands gained skills and got to see a final product that will last for years at the ranch. We took out sections of stairs next to the Sand and Saddle cabins and added a ramp with railings and a rock wall so the Toolcat could blow snow in the winter. It has been great this winter to be blowing most of the walkways with the Toolcat. It takes about an hour to do all the walkways now, compared to several hours in past years, so we can get them done more efficiently and in time for the guests to come down to breakfast. We hope to complete the last few walkways next summer. We also redid the bridges crossing the creek, as many needed repair. Not only do they look nicer, but at the same time we widened them for the Toolcat as well as ease of carrying luggage across to the cabins.
As we neared the end of the season, we rented a mini excavator to remove the last rocks on the ski trails and the tubing hill. This means that if we have a year where the snow arrives late, we would be able to groom with only a little bit of snow. This work will also help to the preserve the Bombardier (the big snow groomer) and protect that machine, and on a low snow year we can go out and groom without the risk of hitting obstacles with the valuable machine.
Following the rock work, we went back to a project we started the year before–cleaning up some dead fall timber in the forest on the eastern perimeter of the ranch on the other side of Hinman creek. This will make it accessible and usable. The long-term goal is to get it fenced in and add a little more pasture for the horses. Weather and time made it hard for us to get very far on that project last year, but it is high on the priority this coming summer.
Suddenly it was the end of the season, and we needed to wrap up and get summer equipment and outdoor furniture stored away and winter equipment pulled out of storage and tuned up. The ski and horse trails need to be marked before too much snow accumulates, we change the tires on the fleet vehicles to winter tires, and we split and chop and split and chop firewood until we can’t lift our arms.
We had a very productive summer and got some big jobs done, and I owe this to a good crew that was willing to put in a lot of hard work. Zach has hired another great and strong crew again for this coming summer, which will allow us to continue the never-ending project of maintaining and improving a property like Vista Verde.