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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)

Catching Up

The last month here on the ranch has been very busy, but also very fun! We have had so many amazing guests here to stay with us, as well as exciting activities, including the pack trip that Jeff wrote about. The pack trip was highly successful- we all had a blast. A big thank you to Jeff for spending a great deal of time organizing all of our equipment, as well as lending a great deal of his equipment to us for the trip. Jason was a great addition to our team, making the process of packing all our belongings onto the horses much quicker. And Jack was a wonderful "camp boy"- I think he may have been a guest favorite.
In mid-June we spent 3 days preparing our cattle for breeding season. We had to sort of all the dry cows and preg check them to be sure they were in fact not pregnant. The picture above is of one of our returning guests, Kim, helping Jeff preg check a cow- way to go Kim! The following day we rode out to the Antelope pasture to gather the bulls and bring them into the corrals. We sorted off the bulls that were to go to sale, and then turned the rest out with the cows. On Thursday, Jeff, assisted by our guest Bob, took a couple loads of cows and bulls down to the sale in Monte Vista.
The day after we returned from the pack trip we had a big crew go out to move the bison. Not only did we have most of our guests from the pack trip- Carlin, Maria, Rachel and Bernhard (Gaby and Kim unfortunately had a flight to catch back to Germany), but we also had the Ives and Steffans who had spent the week back here at the ranch, and the Kugushev family to help us move. It was one of easiest moves I can remember. The bison hooked onto the feed truck well and were more or less able to follow the sandy 2 trakc road down to the tri-tanks. Once they saw the open gate, they took off sprinting through the gate- it was a sight to see.
Thanks to all of our guests for a wonderful month!

Posted by Asta R. on 06/30/2011

Wednesday, Jun 29, 2011
Last week four of our staff, including myself, took six guests on the first pack trip of the year. We left the trailhead at the Pinon Flats Campground in the Great Sand Dunes National Park and followed the Sand Ramp Trail behind the dune field into the mountains. The scenery on the trail is spectacular and extremely unique where the massive dune field meets the steep and rugged Sangre De Cristo Mountains. Just before arriving at camp there is a huge sand hill that challenges both riders and horses in getting down. The sand is deep; the hill is extremely steep and long. At the bottom is Cold Creek, our camping destination. It took us a few minutes to decide exactly where to camp and then proceeded to set up our “home away from home”. We stayed two days riding and exploring some of the canyons and fishing Sand Creek for Brook, Rainbow, and Cutthroat Trout. On the fourth day we packed up all of our stuff, loaded it on the pack horses, and headed out. Instead of heading out the way we came in, we continued on the Sand Ramp Trail toward the town of Crestone. In the end the trip totaled 20 miles and four days. The guests were great and so was the weather and the horses. It’s something I thoroughly enjoy and look forward to the next one.      
Posted by Jeff G. on 06/29/2011

Hayes and McMurtry
Last week was spent preparing for the Hayes Carll concert at our sister ranch, Chico Basin. The show they put on was amazing and they played for over three hours.

The picture above is Hayes and the band at headquarters the day after.

Now we move on to getting ready for the James McMurtry concert at Zapata on July 10 and then after that, the Corb Lund concert and songwriting workshop at Chico the weekend of July 23.

The James McMurtry concert will be in the afternoon and is our first concert at Zapata. McMurtry is an extremely talented musician and songwriter and with his band he'll be putting on an amazing performance.

Be sure to tell all of your friends, family and neighbors about the show as it is supporting the Shriver/Wright Memorial project, honoring Doug Shriver and Ray Wright who were two outstanding leaders in the San Luis Valley. We'll also be holding a silent auction for a custom-made bamboo fly rod and a day of fishing at the Rio Oxbow! 
Posted by David L. on 06/28/2011

Sand Creek
The snowfall that the Sangre de Cristo Mountains receive during the winter turns into melting snow, forming a free-flowing stream called Sand Creek. The amount of water at Sand Creek depends on the amount of snowfall we receive. This past winter, the amount of snow was slim, making the amount of water low. With Sand Creek only flowing for about 2 weeks of the year, it is thought to be a celebration- a mark of the melting snow and the beginning of warm weather.

The free-flowing stream is located on the northern side of the ranch and 7 miles from the Sand Ramp Trail Head within The Great Sand Dunes National Park.  Last week, we took a few hours in the afternoon to make our way to see the flowing creek. On our way, we passed the herd of 2,000 bison lazing around the grove of the Wedding Trees to enjoy the afternoon shade. Hisa Ota, the previous owner of the ranch, was married under the grove of trees, giving the name Wedding Trees.  

Nearing closer to Sand Creek, a 20-head herd of elk were seen in the distance enjoying the water.  Seeing the elk herd stampede and trample the sand behind them was such a beautiful site.

Posted by Anonymous A. on 06/21/2011


I write today with some exciting news about the ranch-- we got piglets! Technically, they belong to me and David, but everyone seems pretty excited about them. The plan is to save all of the scraps from the lodge for their slop which will not only provide ample, delicious food for these 2 girls, but also reduce our waste at the lodge. Unfortunately The Girls aren't very friendly yet, actually they're pretty scared of people, but we're spending a lot of time with them and hope that they'll be tame in no time.

Here's a picture of them in their first mud bath right when we brought them home:


Everything else is great on the ranch right now-- spring has turned way to summer, and the guests have been wonderful! Right now we are spending the week with Dee Dee, Kim and Pat from CA, they're back from last spring and we've loved having them!, Bob from IL, Rich and Janie from MO and Jon from Denver. It's a really fun group of folks and we're looking forward to meeting everyone that's coming soon!
Posted by Tess L. on 06/16/2011

Lone Bison Calf
A few weeks ago I saw a small little figure moving out of the corner of my eye and turned to see a lone bison calf walking across the ranch. He sat down nearby and lay in the grass resting for a while and it was so weird to see something so tiny and helpless walking around the middle of the ranch by itself.

I thought for sure it was an orphan calf and would be a gonner in a matter of minutes, but I looked around the corner from where I was standing and saw a small herd a few hundred yards away. The calf ended up traveling in that direction and might have just been wandering about, doing some serious exploring.

We've been seeing a lot of elk on the ranch that from a distance look like a herd of bison until your eyes adjust and you realize they are much skinnier and taller. It's been great to see the big herds wandering around the ranch and the last ride I went on, on the Medano, we saw several impressive herds. We've also seen several smaller bunches of just one or two elk. A few weekends ago we were out with Tess' grandparents and family and were lucky enough to come upon a large bison herd, two elk and a coyote roaming around as the sun was setting.

Summer is in full swing and it's been a lot of fun. Only 10 days too until our first concert at Chico Basin!
Posted by David L. on 06/13/2011

Tuesday, Jun 07, 2011
In the 1990's, a golf course was built in the meadows among the cottonwood trees near the lodge here at the ranch.  Around 2000, The Nature Conservancy bought the ranch and therefore the end had come to the golf course.  The native grasses and plants that were replaced by golf course grasses are now trying to reclaim there old place.  For the past three summers, we have intensively grazed this area with cattle to help expedite the process of the revegitation of native plants.  By putting cattle in high densities for short amounts of time on the disturbed area, we are able to speed up the mineral cycle and the water cycle and restore this area much faster than would naturally happen with plants alone.  The hooves help to knock down old plant material which becomes mulch, which in turn creates a perfect enviroment for new seeds to germinate and the mulch feeds the soil with nutrients.  We have 88 cows (each with their calf) to use for this restoration project.  The type of densities we will achieve will usually be 88 cows on two acres for two to six hours, so the land will essentially see grazing for only six hours for the entire growing season!  That leaves a lot of time for new seeds to germinate and grow and the "mulch" to break down and feed the soil.  Every year, we see an increase in native plants and a decrease in bare soil and weeds which is what dominated this area after the course was abandoned.  This year's grazing of the old golf course starts tomorrow! 
Posted by Jeff G. on 06/07/2011

Saguache Branding
On Saturday several of us went to Saguache to help our friends George and Julie with their branding. As you can see from the picture it is dry there as well but the cows looked good and healthy. It was neat country with a lot of big hills like the one you see behind Jeff in the picture.

Our guests Jess and Carrie from New York camped out the night before with several of the crew and were close by in the morning to help bring the herd in through the hills for branding.

Duke and Grace were also in town from Chico, with Duke starting things off roping the better part of the morning. Nick, Jeff and Carlos also did some roping and sadly it was Nick's last day in Colorado before heading off to his old school in California, Deep Springs, to help with their operation this summer. Nick was a great addition to the team and he will definitely be missed.

It was a great group of people at the branding and with no wind and therefore no dust it made for a great day being with friends and family.
Posted by David L. on 06/06/2011

Goodbye Winter, Hello Spring!

May was an important month at the lodge- a time to clear away the remnants of winter and add a “springtime” feeling. Janet Phillips and a good friend, Diane, spent a few days with us to renew the landscape around the lodge. Flowers were planted, shrubs were trimmed, and hummingbird feeders were set out.

It was a really nice to spend a couple of days outside in the sun. The weather cooperated for the most part, though it did get a bit windy for a day or two, but the temperatures were cool and the sun was out.

Ever since we planted flowers, the robins have been coming closer to the lodge, and lounging lazily in the sprinklers and pecking the ground in search of worms. The hummingbirds are all over the place, too, and are loving the sugar water that fills their feeders. AND, unfortunately, the flowers have brought the deer a bit closer as well. I say unfortunately because not only are they coming closer, but they're also snacking on the flowers that we so carefully planted and now so conscientiously water. We're planning to put some pinwheels in the gardens to keep the deer away-- fingers crossed!

Posted by Anonymous A. on 06/02/2011

Wednesday, Jun 01, 2011

Sorry its been a while since I've posted, but now there is lots to talk about! It has been an amazing couple of weeks, thanks in part to a great group of guests over the past couple of weeks. The week before last was our joint week and it was a huge success. The picture above is of the whole crew at Chico after a long few days. We had 3 guests join us on the trip, Claire, Ollie, and Eileen and each had a unique and wonderful experience. Eileen became at pro at vaccinating, while Ollie and Claire both became calf wrestlers. We had rain throughout the second night, and a hail storm while branding, but we all faired quite well and decided it would always be a memorable experience!
This past week we had another fun week, including our branding here at the Zapata. I had 4 friends from MD out to join us for branding and a few days of riding, and they were a blast to have here! We also had Jerry back from last fall and he became quite the calf wrestler as well, not too mention that he helped us with cattle work almost everyday he was here- thanks Jerry! Eileen kept her post as vaccinator, while Sherri and Cheryl helped with wrestling as well, and let me tell you, these were no small calves. Everyone was a big help and again we had a great branding.
On Friday several of us went for a long ride all the way around the Sand Dunes to Liberty Trail, ending near Crestone. We spent 7 hours in the saddle, but it was well worth it to see the amazing views we saw. For anyone coming out to visit us, if you are game for a long day in the saddle, this ride is not to be missed!
We are enjoying a bit of a slow down, as Jeff and I spend a great deal of time preparing for the pack trip!

Posted by Asta R. on 06/01/2011

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