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Live from the Ranch

This is the official Ranch Journal, a collection of short reports about daily life on the ranch. Postings are made by all ranch staff, but mostly by Tess Leach & Kate Matheson, Guest Services Managers, David Leach, Business & Marketing Manager and Jeff Gossage, Ranch Manager. (Banner photo 3 by Stephen Weaver)

Storm Coming In
You can usually see the storms roll in before they hit.

They build up behind the Sangres and dunes and at first you see a cloud layer built up and slowly consuming the sky above the mountains. Then it slowly descends down the mountains and over the dunes - it's neat to see the whole thing slowly, sometimes quickly taking place.

This storm is said to be bringing cold, cold weather and a little snow - tomorrow's high is a roasty toasty 2 degress followed by 5 degrees the next day. Lows are negative 18 degrees tomorrow and negative nine on Wednesday and then all back to normal on Thursday.

Weather plays a huge role in what we do and at the Chico over the weekend they were already changing plans for these super cold days that previously involved all day riding and moving cattle, and changed gears to instead meet up and finish grazing plans.

Here is a good shot of the storm rolling in over the Sangre de Cristos to the North of us. Like a sea fog rolling in!

Posted by David L. on 01/31/2011

Want more pictures?
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Here's a link to our page:

And here's a picture, just for good riddance.

Posted by Tess L. on 01/31/2011

Wednesday, Jan 26, 2011

On our bison tours this summer, we occasionally had some non-believers when we told them about the porcupines that live in the trees surronding the Medano headquarters. Well, we now have one eating in a cottonwood right near the lodge and I was able to capture him on camera! From my office window, I was able to see him crawling into the pipe under the drive to the lodge a couple days in a row earlier this week; this is where he spends his evenings. This morning I saw him up in the tree where he has been snacking on the bark; this prompted me to do some further research.
Porcupines are often found in Colorado, especially in the thickly wooded areas of the pinyon and pine trees. They do eat tree bark, especially in the winter. They can do significant damage to a tree, but luckily they tend to feed on herbs in the summer. They are rather large mammals, weighing on average 33 pounds. While there quills are around 4 inches long, when you look at them you see the guard hairs, which are even longer. Their quills are needle sharp and have tiny barbs that will grab a hold of the flesh of any animals or human. Luckily, they can not "throw" their quills, as is often thought, but any animal that sniffs them is sure to get some quills in their nose. We have had several dogs at the ranch, as well as a horse and our bottle-fed calf, all come in with quills in their noses. Both David and Mike's dogs have had to take trips to the vet after their encounters with porcupines!
They are born, after a long 7 month gestation period, with wide-eyes and quills all over their body. Their quills harden once they are exposed to the air. On average, their bodies are covered in 15,000 to 30,000 quills. They are not generally aggressive, but when put on the defensive, they can deliver a good hurtin. I will be sure to keep my new puppy in close eye sight- I certainly don't want him to have his first run in the a porcupine at this young age!

Posted by Asta R. on 01/26/2011

Different Mountains
Tess and I just got back from the 85th annual Dude Rancher's Association convention in Tucson, Arizona.

This is a picture from a ride we took through the Saguaro National Park.

The mountains are much different and the foliage as you can see is drastically different. We learned all about the different types of cactus, the birds that live in the Saguaro cactus and all other types of wildlife.

Seeing such drastically different landscape makes you appreciate what others have to offer and get to experience everyday around the world. It was a nice change of pace to be wearing light weight shirts and baking in 74 degree sun. It also makes you appreciate what you have at home and just through various conversations at the convention I began to appreciate even more how special the bison are and how unique it is that we get to work with them everyday.

The new things that are going on here with the bison and how they are becoming a tool for conservation is truly a special thing and we are excited to share it with everyone this coming season!
Posted by David L. on 01/25/2011

2011 Events JUST OUT!
In an effort to further appeal to our guests, we've created a line-up of themed weeks for 2011. Our website tells all the details, but here's a snapshot:

Sandhill Crane Photo Trip led by Michael Forsberg, Dave Showalter and John Rawinski- MARCH 23-27 (SOLD OUT)

Colorado Cowboy Week: A week split between the Zapata and Chico Basin Ranches that allows you to help us with a 2-day branding, working the bison and a ride through the Sand Dunes National park. MAY 15-22.

Pack Trip Week: Venture into the high mountains above the Sand Dunes National Park where you'll set up base camp and spend the subsequent couple days exploring old mining towns, alpine lakes and taking rides into the forests. JUNE 19-26.

Horsemanship Clinic led by Duke Phillips: Designed to help you better understand the relationship between horses and cattle, this workshop will show you (and your horse, if you'd like to bring him/her), how to work together. JULY 24-31

Photo Workshop led by Bobbi Goodrich & Susan Burns: Capture the ranch and San Luis Valley in all it's glory and hone your images to perfection with post-production techniques taught by Bobbie. After a successful 2010 workshop, Bobbie and Susan are back for round two. OCTOBER 20-26

Take a look at our events page for more information and call today to book your spot! Space is limited.

Posted by Tess L. on 01/20/2011

Cotton Lake
Here is a picture of Cotton Lake last night during the sunset. You can see it just below the mountains as a thin white sliver.

Cotton Lake is a pretty little lake just to the West of the old headquarters on the Medano. The Sandhill Cranes gather here each year and you can hear them squawking and calling as they make their way in to the lake and as they all sit around in the water. It is amazing how much the sound carries and how clearly you can hear them, as if they were standing right next to you. So a few weeks out of the year the cranes are our neighbors and are a fun site to see and this is their home that they'll be coming back to sometime in March.

Here is another picture of Cotton Lake from last night - thin sliver just below the clouds. Now picture this in a few months with hundreds of cranes circling in preparation for landing, all with 6-8 foot wingspans - an impressive and awe inspiring site to see!

Posted by David L. on 01/18/2011

Last chance for 10% off deal!
We've been running a special since just before Christmas that offers 10% off to anyone who books a stay with us before January 15th. This can be applied to all ranch vacations, regardless of the length of time. Give us a call today or tomorrow to book your stay!! 888-5-ZAPATA.

Here's a neat shot from a ride up Sand Creek. 

Posted by Tess L. on 01/13/2011

Wednesday, Jan 12, 2011
Tuesday morning found us out on the fenceline re-building an existing fence that once held cattle but is marginal for keeping in buffalo.  Since our decision to run bison on this side of the ranch, we now face the huge project of re-building/adding to every fence whether perimeter or pasture fence, barbed wire or electric.  Pat Creeden and my brother Keith have been steadily working at this for a couple of weeks now and will continue for next few months.  We were able to aquire the help of Duke IV, Cooper, Armando, and Erica from the Chico for Tuesday and Wednesday to get a certain long stretch of fence done which greatly sped up the process for a couple of days.  Not only did we accomplish a lot with this big crew but we had what could have been the best fencing party of all time!  
Posted by Jeff G. on 01/12/2011

Tuesday, Jan 11, 2011

Thanks to the lovely weather we had over the weekend, we decided to take a hike into the Sangres on Sunday. I haven't spent a lot of time exploring these mountains, even though they border right up to the ranch, so it was a great experience for me. We started out on flat ground, hiked up through the pinon trees, and then hiked up one side of a canyon. The Sangres are rugged mountains with steep slopes. Once we reached our destination, I looked down to my left and it was a straight drop down to the bottom of the canyon; for someone who isn't thrilled about heights, it was a little intimidating. But the view was well worth the bit of nerves and the sore legs. It was the first time I had really been hiking in snow and I have to say, I was sore afterwards! The picture above is one I took while on top of the ridge.
We still have a small dusting of snow on the ground, as the temperature didn't get much above freezing today. Fortunately, it is not enough snow to effect the animals; they are able to graze perfectly fine. As the temperatures have been dropping, a couple of our older horses, as well as a couple who have not yet spent a winter in the valley, have started to loose weight. In order to stop the weight loss before it becomes an issue, I have started graining these horses each morning. This is the first full winter for my horses, who I brought from Maryland, so they all need to be fed each day. Of course, they also enjoy the attention! Tomorrow I will ride out to check on our horses turned out on pasture, so I hope for a nice sunny day again!

Posted by Asta R. on 01/11/2011

Prairie Snow
Most of Colorado received snow over the weekend, including the Zapata and our sister ranch, Chico Basin.

This is a picture of the Chico Basin prairie today and as you can see the sky is cold and clear with temperatures staying well below freezing all day. The Zapata was cold as well with a high of 9 today and a low of -8 tonight...good thing those buffs are so furry!

Just a few weeks ago we were getting snow flurries at the Zapata but the temperatures were jumping pretty high during the day and all over the ranch you could see little snow puddles just like these - it looked as if the prairie was covered in little miniature ponds.

On a side note - the December art show in Denver was a hit, with lots of visitors and the buzz of conversation as everyone took in the art and visited with friends and the artists themselves. Columbine Showroom partnered up with us for the show and turned out to be the perfect setting with its beautiful furnishings and ample space for viewing art in its most natural setting.

The painting everyone saw when they walked in was this massive horse and rider by Duke Beardsley and from there you could either go a meandering right or left throughout the showroom to view all of the art and relax on fine furniture along the way. It was a fun night and all of the new art was inspiring and captured the heart of the Zapata.  

Posted by David L. on 01/10/2011

The DRA's 85th Convention
Asta, David and I will be headed out to Tuscon on the 19th for the 85th Annual DRA (Dude Ranch Association) Convention. We look forward to these and all other association meetings annually as they are great networking opportunities with other ranches across the US. The DRA also puts on a number of great meetings during the 3 days of the convention that talk about marketing strategies, social networking, and general industry-related topics that are very useful.

Here's a link to the DRA's website if you'd like more information about who they are and what being a member means.
Posted by Tess L. on 01/06/2011

Thursday, Jan 06, 2011
Well, we survived the holidays and are back into the routine.  As you may have read, our bison are turned out into the pivot, an irrigated pasture just north of the lodge.  Our focus right now is teaching them to eat cake (a protein/mineral pellet) and to follow the cake truck.  We started by driving right towards the main herd, letting out a really loud "whooooooo" and then start feeding.  We have a person or two on horseback that can push the less interested ones toward the truck so they can get a taste of some cake too.  It didn't take them but a few days to start following the truck around the pasture, knowing what the reward was if they followed well.  This lesson of following the cake truck is valuable to us to be able to move them to different pastures in the future.  The truck should be able to drive along leading the mob with several riders following the drag (back of the herd) to the new pasture.  So far our time spent in the corrals, riding through them on horseback, has paid off for they are very accepting of us on a horse now.  We can ride up to them without them running and push them in the direction we want to go.  It's going to be fun to see them, over time, become a very manageable herd that can be moved across the ranch in our planned grazing rotation.  Hopefully someday we can do away with the cake truck and be able to move pastures with only our horses. 
The picture I attached is of me after pushing the buffs toward the caking pickup which you can see is surrounded by the herd.  Most of them come running to the truck but the less interested ones need some coaxing.
Posted by Jeff G. on 01/06/2011

Wednesday, Jan 05, 2011

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season. I know for me it was nice to be able to fly back to Maryland and enjoy time with family and friends who I haven't seen much over the past year. But now things at the ranch are back into full swing and it is great to be back. On Monday I helped Duke feed the bison on the pivot and I was amazed by how well they are responding to the feed truck. When you drive into the pasture, most of them lift their heads up, see you, and start trotting towards the truck. It was even cooler to watch from my office window as Jeff fed them yesterday. It is really neat to see how well trained they have become- I didn't realize how quickly it would happen. In the next couple of weeks we will move them to a new pasture and it will be really interesting to see the differences in the way the move. I look forward to being able to share this unique experience with our guests this season.
I have been busy in the office, preparing for next season, and I am very excited for the season to begin. We have developed 2 new week long programs for this season. The first will be May 15th to 22nd and is a "Colorado Cowby" week. We will spend half the week here and half the week helping with intensive cattle work, including branding, at the Chico Basin Ranch. I love to spend time up there as the scenery is totally different, yet just as beautiful. To see pictures of Chico, check out their website at The second week we have planned is a pack trip week from June 19th to 26th. We had several requests for pack trips this season, so we are devoting a week to it this year. We will spend a couple nights here at the ranch before packing all our gear on horses and heading into the mountains. We will spend a few nights camping out, going on rides, hiking and fishing during the day. Then we will return to the ranch, so there will be time to spend exploring the ranch as well. For both of these opportunities, space is limited, so contact us if you would like to join us.
I am also busying developing new programs here on the ranch, and exploring the surronding area to find even more places to ride. The weather has been great, while it is cold, the sun has been shining and keeping us all warm!
I have attached a picture of one of the brandings at Chico last year.

Posted by Asta R. on 01/05/2011

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