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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)

This weekend we went rafting in Browns Canyon on the Arkansas river.

The trip was a blast and the weather was amazing. Three quarters of the way through the trip we stopped at a swimming hole and it was warm enough that most of us had no problem jumping into the 42 degree water. There was a little 15 foot ledge to jump off of and most of us took our turns leaping into the cold water.

We saw a lot of great rock formations along the way including Elvis rock, the sleeping lion, the raven and a handful of other formations. Each rock legitimately looked like it's name with the Elvis rock having huge sideburns and a clearly distinguishable face and the lion resting on it's paw. Everyone on the boat could immediately recognize each one.

Julie spent a chunk of the trip "riding the bull", sitting on the front of the boat holding on to the rope as we went through the rapids. It was rigged up so that if she lost her balance she would just fall back into the boat and she stayed on the whole time.

Everyone had a blast in the sunny weather and we're looking forward to taking more guests out on the water. We're even looking at doing some overnight float trips as well!
Posted by David L. on 05/31/2011

Summer Concerts
Because of the success that we had last year in having Corb Lund out the Chico Basin for a concert, we have decided to bring him back this summer, AND bring Hayes Carll as well. Corb will be performing on Saturday, July 23rd, and Hayes on Friday, June 24th in the Bell Park at the Chico Basin Ranch. Take a look at their website for details ( All proceeds from these 2 concerts will benefit the Ranchlands Education Programs which allows the Chico to provide educational programs on ranching and conservation to school children from across the state and Western United States.

Furthermore, James Mcmurtry will be coming to Zapata on July 10th to put on a concert. The proceeds from this concert will go towards the Shriver/Wright Memorial Project, which will establish a commemorative memorial area in Monte Vista for 2 dynamic local men who passed away last winter. A lunch will be served before the concert from 12-1:30 and the show will begin at 2:00. A large stage will be set up on the grounds surrounding the lodge and tickets will be sold for $21 prior to the show (they'll be available through our website in the next couple of weeks). Stay tuned for more details, which will be posted on our facebook page and blog.

David and I are currently traveling around Northern Colorado promoting the concerts-- hanging posters in local shops and trying to spread the word. Please let us know if you'd like to receive a flyer and we'll get it off to you right away!

Here's a shot of James Mcmurtry.

Posted by Tess L. on 05/26/2011

Moving Horses
On Saturday Jeff, Carla, Nick, our guest Carlie and I moved the horses to a southern pasture with better grass.

It was a great day, great weather and the horses moved right along at a fast trot the whole way. I don't think there are too many sights that are more pretty than seeing a group of horses running across the land.

After we moved the horses we moved the bulls into the same pasture and were done before lunch. It was a quick morning and that afternoon we met up with the rest of the guests and crew and rode through the Medano seeing huge herds of elk. We finished the day with a roping competition with Oli, Eileen, Claire and Hayden who all picked it up quickly. Jeff gave a demo on how to build a loop and throw the rope and then we spent the next hour roping a stick we stuck in the ground, which is a lot more fun than it sounds. Nick compared it to standing around shooting hoops - good analogy - it's a great way to pass the time hanging out, talking and trying to get proficient at throwing the rope.

It was a great way to spend a Saturday.
Posted by David L. on 05/24/2011

Friday, May 20, 2011
It's a busy time of year but also one of my favorites.  As you've seen on the previous blogs, we've been branding at Chico and next week we will brand here at the MZ.  Along with branding comes camping, time with people you don't see often, and many hours on a horse.  Aside from branding our cattle, we also trade work with some friends and neighbors by helping brand on their ranches.  We call it "neighboring".  It's a fun way to get people you enjoy working with to come help and in turn it's fun to get off the ranch and go see other places.   
Posted by Jeff G. on 05/20/2011

Joint Week & Rain
We are in the midst of our first Joint Week right now (a.k.a. Colorado Cowboy Week). Our guests have been over at our sister ranch, Chico Basin, all week branding, moving cattle and camping out and just returned back to Zapata late last night-- about 10:30! I haven't had a chance to talk with them too much yet about their experience, but I'm having dinner at the lodge tonight and can't wait to hear about everything. One thing that I do know is that the powers that be finally decided to rain at the Chico for the past 2 days, just our luck. But despite the poor timing, we're not complaining because we needed rain. We still need rain on both ranches. 

Here's a picture of the ranch taken last Spring about this time. Hopefully in no time, we'll be this green again!

Posted by Tess L. on 05/20/2011

Bison Tour
One of our most popular guided tours we provide to our guests is a Bison Tour, which is offered everyday 9am or 2pm with a reservation. In order to be comfortable and knowledgeable to lead these tours throughout the season, I’ve had the privilege to attend 3 bison tours this past week. The 2-hour tour gives us the opportunity to teach our guests about our 1,500-head wild bison herd and how we use them to conserve the 50,000-acre pasture in which they live. We drive our guests through the pasture for an up-close view of the bison and their home. Along the route, we are sure to keep an eye out for other types of wildlife such as, elk, pronghorn antelope, porcupines, and coyotes.  We make a stop at the original Medano Headquarters, which dates back to the 1870’s and on the historic registry, as well as the bison working facility, a Temple Grandin creation.
DID YOU KNOW:  The terms “buffalo” and “bison” are often used simultaneously. However, “buffalo” refers to Water Buffalo found in Africa.

Take a look at Zapata's facebook page for a pictures I took on yesterday's tour.

Posted by Anonymous A. on 05/18/2011

Having a Sit-Down
The bison on the Medano have been hanging out around the old headquarters and pastures nearby, so we've been able to see lots of calves and shedding of coats for the season. The bison's thick wooly coat starts to shed as the weather warms up and pieces fall off in patches, so they all have funny designs that remain on their backs and sides.

Last week a group of bison spent the day lounging by our house. This is a picture of them and how they spent most of the day, just lounging around, laying down and hanging out.
Posted by David L. on 05/17/2011

Bison Calves
Each year, Spring doesn't really sink in until we see our first group of bison mamas with calves trailing behind them. Their color is recognizable-- red beyond all of the other bison, and their bodies almost extraterrestrial in shape.

I saw my first one about a month ago when out riding with the Ciavola and Reed Families near Sand Creek. I think I wrote about it, but Kendra, Jordan, Max and I came upon a bison who had just given birth. My horse wasn't too fond of the sight, so we didn't really get to see too much, but it was a really cool experience, one that you rarely if ever see with a wild bison herd.

Now it seems that each time I see the bison I see a few babies. Yesterday on my drive into work I spotted the below-pictured crowd watering in Little Spring. Slowly the numbers are increasing, and simultaneously the grass is greening, birds chirping earlier and earlier in the day, days are light longer. It will be summer before we know it.

Posted by Tess L. on 05/13/2011

Branding at the Chico
Last Friday and Saturday, the folks here at Zapata drove out to Colorado Springs to help our sister ranch, Chico Basin Ranch with branding 150 calves. We set out early Saturday morning to the pasture and wrangled the cattle into a bordered fence.  Since my riding skills are not yet up to standard, I rode along in the horse-drawn wagon, where we stored the branding equipment.  The ranchers at Chico used the traditional method by roping the calf, holding it to the ground and applying a branding iron that was heated in a fire. While 2 ranchers secured each calf to the ground, others took turns giving shots to the inside of the front leg, earmarking, and castrating.  I was more of a bystander at first, but soon clung to the action of holding the calves to the ground. With many helping hands, we managed to brand the calves in 4 hours.  I’m hoping to have another similar opportunity of branding in the near future!
Posted by Anonymous A. on 05/13/2011

Green Is Here
It is amazing how quickly spring hits here in the valley. A week ago today, the cottownwood trees surronding the lodge were just beginning to bud and today they are all green. This past weekend, we had sunny, clear skies and the temperature hit 80, but today, it feels like winter again. At this moment, I am looking out my office window at snowing falling to the ground. Though it makes for a cold and dreary day, I am always grateful for moisture, however we can get it. The grass has been growing and turning the meadows green, which makes riding around the ranch gorgeous. Julie returned yesterday for the summer and we went out on a nice morning ride today, mainly to get her mustang back in gear. He has had off since the day I turned him out in November, so we started him in the roundpen to be sure he wouldn't buck or act sour. Much to my surprise, he was a perfect gentleman and we were able to take a ride down the lane and out to the pivot. It is wonderful to have Julie back- she is such a great help and one of my dear friends!
The other benefit of green grass is of course the condition of our animals. Our horses are loving the frash green grass and are looking good. We do have to rotate them frequently in order to keep them from harming the plants as they grow. We have been moving the horses, and bulls who currently live with them, about every 4 days.
I hope everyone else is enjoying spring weather and getting a chance to spend some time outdoors!
Posted by Asta R. on 05/11/2011

Wednesday, May 11, 2011
For me, May is the month when you finally get a reprieve from the cold, windy spring weather and start to have some nice days somewhat consistently. It marks the time of calving for our bison herd too. In mid April we’ll see our first bison calves of the year and a couple more as we approach May. Just like clockwork, the calves start to appear by the dozens when May finally rolls around. A bison calf is an interesting looking creature. They are red in color and lack the beard and horns of their older relatives. It seems that at about two months of age their look evolves and they start to resemble a bison. They start to get a little beard, their color changes from red to blackish brown, and their horns get big enough to be seen. 
Posted by Jeff G. on 05/11/2011

Humboldt Peak
Humboldt Peak, the last of the Crestones we've covered so far, stands at 14,064 ft.

Humboldt Peak is the easiest of the Crestones to climb and often recommended to beginners. The hike up is on an easy trail that goes almost to the top. Closer to the top a little rock traversing is required and is not very challenging.

So if you're looking to climb your first fourteener, Humboldt Peak is a good place to start.

*Picture and info from Wikipedia
Posted by David L. on 05/11/2011

Monday, May 09, 2011
I travelled from Ontario, Canada to Zapata Ranch to participate as an Intern for the next 6 months in the fields of hospitality and tourism. During my time here, I will be working in areas such as reservations and bookings, marketing, food and beverage service, leading bison tours and assist in horseback riding tours and children’s programs.

During my first week on the ranch, I have already experienced so much, indoor and outdoor. A favourite site was leading a herd of 400 bison by a feed truck from one pasture to another. A project of mine this week was creating a children’s outdoor scavenger hunt with clues referring to the history, wildlife, and natural objects in and around the ranch. In the evenings, I enjoy working in the restaurant assisting with dinner and dining with our guests, while sharing experiences here on the ranch.

With my first week coming to an end, I can truly say that my coworkers welcomed me and made me feel at home. By waking up every morning with deer roaming the ranch, the bright sun and blue skies, and the friendly staff and guests - I am truly grateful to have this experience at Zapata Ranch!
Here's a picture that I took of a neat stump that's on the Scavenger Hunt.

Posted by Anonymous A. on 05/09/2011

Tom The Elk Skull
Over Easter, we had the pleasure of hosting the Ciavola Family from Florida. About 5 days into their week-long stay, the two 12 year old boys, affectionately called Rexasaurous and Hommie G, found an elk skull while roaming around in the field south of the lodge. They hauled it back, dubbed it Tom and proudly placed it atop the barrel just outside of the main entrance to the lodge. Over the next couple of days, it acquired goodies: a piece of gum, a sucker and a name tag. It developed a personality and became part of the group. 

After they left, we had a hard time moving it-- him, rather-- and drug our feet about doing so. Finally, we resorted to wedging him between the rock wall and a tree in the back yard so that he's still around. We'll see how long he lasts...

Posted by Tess L. on 05/05/2011

Wednesday, May 04, 2011
The weather has been changing so frequently lately that it is hard to keep up! Our guests have been asking us what layers to bring with them and I say "ALL of them." We go from sunny, clear skies with temperatures in the 60's, to cloudy, snowy skies with temperatures hovering around 40 in the middle of the day. Then there are days when the wind blows all day long, it is a bit relentless. We always welcome moisture, as we always need more for our grass growth. It is hard to imagine that there are places in the country that get as much rain in 2 days as we get all year long, but it is true. We also welcome fresh snow on the mountains, especially since the overall snowfall down here was below average this year. As the snow melts off the mountains, it provides a great deal of our yearly moisture. Sand Creek flows down on the ranch for about 1 month each year, and this is completely dependent on the amount of snow that melts. The more snow runoff, the longer and harder Sand Creek runs. We also rely on snow runoff to operate our center pivot, as well as irrigate the meadows near the lodge.
I have hiked up to Zapata Falls a few times in the last couple weeks, and it was very interesting to see how much melting occurred in a short period of time. One day the falls themselves were more than 75% frozen still and the water flowing at the bottom (only a couple inches) was frozen enough to walk on. 5 days later, the falls were only about 50% frozen and we had to walk through the shallow water to reach the base of the falls. They are really pretty, regardless of the time of year, but I really enjoy seeing them frozen as the frozen falls look blue. The picture above is from a couple weeks ago, at this point, they are melting significantly. Make sure you check them out when you are here to visit! It is just a short drive from te lodge and a nice little hike!
Posted by Asta R. on 05/04/2011

Kit Carson Peak
It snowed in the mountains yesterday and looks like it is picking up again this afternoon. Hopefully it keeps coming, even though it's supposed to clear up tomorrow. We'll see. 

Kit Carson Peak, standing at 14,165 ft, is one of those mountains getting some snow and is named after famous frontiersman Kit Carson.

Kit Carson Peak is also one of the Crestones, made up by Crestone Peak, Crestone Needle and Humboldt Peak.

In the picture above you can see the majority of the Crestones, with Kit Carson Peak being the second peak from the right.

The peak is a part of the Baca Ranch just outside of Crestone. Last year a few of us went to a branding at the Baca for George Whitten's cattle that was a lot of fun. We'll be going again this year and are looking forward to it!

*Picture and info from Wikipedia

Posted by David L. on 05/02/2011

Sunday, May 01, 2011
I somehow managed to forget one of the most important parts of last week- I had two good friends, Katilyn and Alex, here visiting me. I taught them both riding lessons before I moved to Zapata, and they made the journey out to Colorado for their spring break. They were a huge help to me all week, up bright and early saddling horses to helping me in the kitchen each evening. A HUGE thank you to both of them for all their help and I'm so glad you were finally able to come and enjoy the ranch with me! Above is a picture of them with Jeff and Carla during our bison move.
Speaking of moving bison, the recent moves have gone really well. During this last move, we didn't even use the feed truck. When we arrived at the tri-tank, most of the herd was near the trough, so Jeff was able to open the gate and call to them and they came right through. It is amazing to see how well they have learned the call of feed. Their "reward" for following Jeff was fresh, declicious green grass in the new pasture. During the growing season (which we are now in), the grass in the pastures is young and fresh, a nice treat for all our animals. There was a small herd of about 50 that were not near the gate, so after a nice lunch, we rode out to them. I was able to take most of our guests and ride around the herd, while Jeff and a few others stayed in front calling to them. They followed him, with all of us pushing from behind, up to the gate. It was a bit difficult to get them through the gate, but with patience and calm riding, we were able to get them through and into the new pasture. It was a great expereince for us and all of our guests!
On Monday we will be moving the bison again, so stay tuned for more photos. We also have a video crew joining us, as they are doing a documentary on bison, so hopefully we will have some footage to share in the coming months. 
Posted by Asta R. on 05/01/2011

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