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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)

Jeff and Nick headed up to the Chico Basin to help them with their first brading of the season, while I'm in the office feeling a bit jealous. Branding season is a favorite time of the year on both ranches- it gives us a chance to all get together a few times and work hard doing something we all love. While my roping skills aren't quite good enough, it is always fun to watch everyone else rope the calves. For those of us who are on the ground, flanking calves never gets old, even when you are getting exhausted towards the end of the day. It is a very rewarding feeling when all calves are branded, ear clipped, and vaccinated at the end of the a day's work. But like I said, getting to see the guys from the other ranch, as well as neighbors, always adds the most fun to the day.
We have several opporunities in our schedule in the next couple months for guests to join us for branding. During our joint week (May 15-22), we will spend 2-3 nights camping out and branding at the Chico. We will ride out and set up camp one afternoon, then get up early the next morning to have breakfast adn gather the herd. We will spend the day branding, then eat delicious camp food and spend the night under the stars to wake up and do it all again the next day. For those who really want to experience the cowboy life, this is not to be missed! Our branding here at Zapata is scheduled during the week of May 23-27, so if you would like to join us for branding without the camping, that is the week to be at the ranch. We still have space available during both week, so if you are interested in seeing what branding is all about (and all the fun we have), give us a call!
Posted by Asta R. on 03/29/2011

Mt Blanca History
Mt. Blanca, technically called Blanca Peak, is the southern most point of the Sangre de Cristo Range that makes up the greater Sangre de Cristo Mountains, that extends into New Mexico. Blanca Peak is the tallest peak in both, standing at 14,345 feet.

The Sangre de Cristo Mountains are the southernmost range of the Rocky Mountains and run from Poncha Pass in South Central Colorado to Glorietta Pass, just southeast of Santa Fe.

The neat history of Blanca Peak comes into play with the Navajo people. To the Navajo Blanca Peak was known as the Sacred Mountain of the East and was translated as the Dawn or White Shell Mountain. The peak represented a very important landmark in the Navajo country and was a physical reference point marking the Eastern boundary of the Dinetah, the entire traditional Navajo homeland. Blanca Peak was believed to be fastened to the ground by lightning, male by gender, associated with the color white and covered in daylight and dawn.

A lot of great history and I'm sure there is more that we don't know about as the peak itself is made of granite that is 1.8 billion years old. 

Posted by David L. on 03/29/2011

Saturday, Mar 26, 2011
We have had a busy and very fun week! We had our first ranch guests of the season here this week- Sharon and Frank came back to join us again this year, as well as Erika who is here visiting for the first time. We have also had our photography worskhop, led by Mike Forsberg, Dave Showalter, and John Rawinski, occurring this week (there are lots of great photos on facebook)! On Monday, Margot, Frank, Sharon and I took a lovely ride into the dunes. It was our first time out in the park this season and it was really nice to be back out. Then on Tuesday, we headed out to move our bulls for the first time since turning them out back in October. Since we only have 13 bulls here, we were able to leave them in one of our big pastures all winter with plenty of feed. Since they hadn't seen us much this winter, and hadn't been moved at all, they made us chase them a little in order to get them where we wanted, but we were successful in the end! I was riding Snickers, who is one of our young horses purchased last fall, and I was really happy with her performance. She was really trying to line out on the bulls and stay right with them so none could get by us.
Wedensday, Sharon, Nick, Carla and I headed out to move the bison, while Frank rode with Jeff in the feed truck. This was our first experience moving our bison herd with guests and I am confident that everyone had a blast! The bison were well behaved and really fun to work with. The picture above is of a few of the bison drinking at the trough after our long move. The wind picked up on Thursday, but there were still about 50 bison left we hadn't moved Wednesday, so Jeff, Carla, Margot and Erika headed out to finish the move- they came back covered in dust, but with big smiles on their faces! We rode out on the Medano yesterday and are about to head back out there again today to enjoy the sunny weather and beautiful landscapes, enhanced by the snow son the mountain peaks in the background.
Make sure you check out our facebook page for some photos taken by our workshop participants. This was certianly a workshop not to be missed in the future!!
Posted by Asta R. on 03/26/2011

Tuesday, Mar 22, 2011

Here in southern Colorado we’ve had an extremely dry winter, hardly any snow and relatively warm weather.  Although snow in the winter time can be a hardship, we still depend on it for the moisture it provides when the warmer weather shows up.  Winter snow tends to be light and fluffy with not a lot of moisture in it.  On the valley floor that kind of snow can disappear without ever melting and going into the ground.  However, when it snows on the valley floor, it means it snowed a lot more on the mountains.  Not only us as ranchers, but the entire natural system depends on the snowpack in the mountains to liven up the valley below when summer rolls around.  We are currently at about 50% of our normal snowpack in the mountains.  March and April are our wettest months, usually bringing two or three good snows.  The snow in March and April is heavy, full of water.  Also, the sun usually comes out the day after the storm and all that good water goes straight into the ground and a couple weeks after that the grass comes on strong.  So far in March we have had nothing.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that something comes through in the next 50 days or so.            

Posted by Jeff G. on 03/22/2011

Thursday, Mar 17, 2011

Every winter I expect the work load to slow down a bit and be able to get to things that I didn't have time to do such as get some young horses started.  Here it is mid March and I am finally getting around to those horses.  For about a week now Nick and I have been catching our four year old mares every evening and working with them in the round pen.  They are both very mild tempered horses and have taken to everything we have done with them in stride.  With each ride the mares are more excepting of us on their backs and are less spooky of hand movements and other things like clothes flapping in the wind.  Our goal is to, in another week, have them trotting out to move buffs.  Pepper is a little bit sensitive about her ears so Nick has spent quite a bit of time to help her get over this which is what’s shown in the picture.      

Posted by Jeff G. on 03/17/2011

Spanish Settlement of the San Luis Valley

History Continued...

Spanish Settlement of the San Luis Valley

Early European explorers, mistaking the plains bison for water buffalo, tried to domesticate the animals. One of the earliest recorded histories of the San Luis Valley includes an account of one such incident. The tale involves Spaniards who entered the Valley around 1599 in search of gold, meat and religious conquest. Upon hearing of the bison in the north, a small party of Spaniards was sent to domesticate the animals. On the East Side of the Valley the Ute, who gave an elaborate demonstration of bison hunting, greeted the party. With little knowledge of the temperament of bison, the would-be Vaqueros stampeded a herd of 500 bison. Many of the horses were killed, and the idea of domestication was abandoned.


With winter approaching, the initial friendliness between the Native Americans and the Spaniards deteriorated rapidly. The Spanish needed food and shelter, so they commandeered the Native Americans’ corn and enslaved them. For nearly a century the Spaniards enslaved the native peoples. When the slaves finally rebelled, they drove the Spaniards down from the mountains, across the sand dunes, and into makeshift rafts on the Rio Grande River. Francisco Torres, a Catholic missionary, had been mortally wounded in the uprising. Too weak to make it into the raft, his dying vision was of the mountain peaks tinged blood red by the setting sun. As he lay dying in great pain, he cried out, “Sangre de Cristo!” (Meaning blood of Christ) giving the mountains their name.

Posted by Tess L. on 03/17/2011

Mt Blanca - The Tallest Peak in the Sangre de Cristo Range
This is a close-up I took of Mt. Blanca over the weekend.

Mt. Blanca is a very prominent peak, technically called Blanca Peak, that stands at 14,345 feet - the tallest peak in the entire Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range, fourth highest in Colorado and seventh highest in the whole country.

The Sangre de Cristo Mountains are full of 14,000 foot peaks that have become popular hiking milestones for people in and out of Colorado. There is even a whole website dedicated to helping inspired hikers knock off every single 14,000 foot peak in the state

With all of this great hiking right in our backyard and a handful of other outdoor activities like rafting, fishing and birding we have an entire program dedicated to exploring the outdoors. Some people visit strictly for this program and others mix and match outdoor exploration activities with ranch experiences. There is a lot to do out here and a lot to explore!

Over the next few weeks I'll be detailing the rest of the notable peaks in the range and will start with writing more on the history of Mt. Blanca and why it is such a sacred landmark to the Navajo.
Posted by David L. on 03/14/2011

We've been compiling a new in-room booklet for each of our guest rooms. The layout will be as follows:

Helpful Reminders
Who We Are & What We Do
What We Offer
Tips for Ranch Vacationers
Meet Our Staff
Local Attractions

The section that we've had the most fun putting together is the History section. I'm going to begin posting snippets from the History Section in my blog posts. There are about 7 in all, and they're really interesting!

Can you imagine what it would have been like to be an early settler in the San Luis Valley? Begin by picturing clouds of dust moving closer from the other side of the valley. Until the 1800's that would have signified the approach of Native Americans or a herd of bison. The Southern Ute tribe claimed the SLV as home, but several other tribes, such as the Hopi, Apache and Kiowa, are known to have lived here. Pueblo Indians, from New Mexico, came north to the Valley in search of feathers for ceremonial garmets and to mine turquoise. In fact, there are several archeological sites on the Ranch where various artifacts have been found. One such site is a Folsom bison kill site and a pit-house. These sites have been discovered and studied by a team of two archaeologists, Pegi Jodry and Dennis Stanford, from the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, who have been conducting digs on the ranch for over 20 years. On one of their early excursions they uncovered bison bones thought to be roughly 11,000 years old!

Posted by Tess L. on 03/10/2011

Wednesday, Mar 09, 2011
Today I went out to help Nick with moving the bison within their pasture. In order to keep them from huddling up near the fence that borders Lane 6, we have been going out with the cake truck and on horseback to move them to more desired locations. Today, I drove the cake truck and Nick rode Snookie (on a side note, riding frequently with the bison has been a fantastic expereince for our new, younger horses)! When we got out to the pasture, about 75% of the bison were already walking towards the water tank (also known as the swimming pool), so I drove along in front of them and Nick pushed them along from behind. We let them sit at water for about an hour; the picture above is of them moving into the tank. After an hour, they started to mosey away, so we started moving them Southeast, towards better feed. I led in the cake truck (without the feeder turned on) and hollered to them, as Nick put pressure on them from behind. They all moved together really well and were really responsive to the pressure Nick was using. Along the way, the other 25% of the herd heard my holler and came to join the larger group, which was exactly as we had hoped. We ended up near the one lone tree in the Breaktree pasture, which is where I finally started to feed them. I never imagined the bison would take so well to being gentled and learning how to move off the pressure applied by horse and rider- it will be a real treat to be able to have guests helping us move this herd. They are in for a great experience!
On another note, we had Dr. Steph Hoke down to the ranch on Monday and Tuesday to complete some equine dentistry for us. We went through the whole herd to determine which horses needed to be done at this time, and then she floated those horses' teeth. She was very informative and let me, Josh, and Ani really look into each horses' mouth to see their individual problems. While some of the horses just needed the sharp edges of their teeth filed down, others had larger issues, such as teeth needing to be pulled. This was a great experience for our horses, as well as for those of us who were able to spend time watching and learning.
Posted by Asta R. on 03/09/2011

Snow, Cranes and Bald Eagles
Every March the Sandhill Cranes migrate through the valley and have slowly been making their way in each day since the end of last week. I saw my first group relaxing in a field on the way into town and could see their tall, skinny, grey frames poking about and forgot how tall they were. At first you think you are looking at the front side of a huge coyote, but then you quickly see several hundred of these grey bodies moving about and catch glimpses of the red patches under their necks.

Bald Eagles also migrate through the valley this time of year and Tess and Jeff have been seeing their fair share. Tess just last week saw one perched in a tree at the old Medano headquarters, where the owls usually hang out, so I wonder if there were any turf skirmishes. That would be an interesting fight to see!

The picture above is one I took this afternoon of the snow moving in and the light dusting above the dunes and on the mountains. Ten minutes after this picture was taken visibility went to zero, so I imagine the mountains will be getting hit with some decent snow along with other parts of the state.

If you are in the area this weekend be sure to check out the Monte Vista Crane Festival. There will be plenty of cranes, sites to see and interesting booths full of local art and handiwork.
Posted by David L. on 03/07/2011

Colorado Cowboy Week: SPECIAL PROMOTION
To express our thanks to all of our loyal blog readers, we would like to offer you the following promotion, applicable only to our Colorado Cowboy Week, May 15-21. 

Book you spot in the week by MARCH 11, 2011 and receive 10% off. This is $200 off of an adult's stay and $170 off of a child's! What a deal!  Please mention this post when you book your spot.

COLORADO COWBOY week will be split between the Zapata and our sister ranch, the Chico Basin Ranch, and is being held during the year's most intensive cattle works and branding. This time isn't typically open to the public because of how much work needs to be accomplished. It's a celebration of spring time and an annual gathering that we all look forward to.

This special will not be announced anywhere else, nor is it applicable in combination with any other deal.  

Posted by Tess L. on 03/03/2011

Wednesday, Mar 02, 2011
We have had quite a busy week! Today we spent the first part of the day processing bison and beef meat that we have for our staff. This was my first time processing the meat that we get to eat everyday, and I learned a fair amount. We had a lot of meat that needed to be ground, so we made italian sausage and breakfast sausage with seasonaings and beer. We tasted some after we were finished and I have to say, the result was pretty darn good! We also were able to cut a fair amount of steaks to keep all our staff well fed throughout the year. The picture above is of chef Mike working on a piece of bison.
On Monday, Jeff, Nick, Pat and I met all day to work on our grazing plans for all our animals for the year. We were able to develop grazing plans for our managed bison herd, our cattle herd, and our horse herd through October. These plans always have to be adjusted somewhat during the year, due to the amount of rainfall etc, but it is really nice to have a general idea of what are season will look like. We will be moving all herds frequently, which will mean a lot of work, but also a lot of fun!
Yesterday we all saddled up to head out to move the bison from the Wyatt to the Breaktree. Stay tuned for Jeff's post with more info about the move, but I have to say I am so excited about the progress we have made and how responsive the bison are to us!
Posted by Asta R. on 03/02/2011

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