I have been staring at this blank page for far longer than I care to admit. I think that I have come to the conclusion that there is no possible combination of 26 letter that can accurately describe what I would like to write about…but I will give it a shot.
When I was in Asia I wrote about the different places that I visited and fun experiences that I had. However, I have never written about the spectacular place that I have spent my last two summers.
May of 2017. I just come back from studying abroad in Hong Kong; returning from the adventure of a lifetime, only to turn around and start a new one at Rainbow Trout Ranch! Many people have asked me what life is like on the ranch, what I do there, and how I got to working on a ranch. I always keep my answers short and sweet because I am never quite sure how to respond. Or how I could encapsulate everything that the ranch means to me in a small-talk conversation. So here, I will do my best to give everyone an idea of what my life is like on the ranch.
Here goes nothing.
Rainbow Trout Ranch is nestled in the Conejos River Valley of southern Colorado. We are just a few miles from the border of New Mexico and 45 minutes from the nearest gas station. The frequency in which I have reliable cell service at any point over the summer is … almost never. We live by land lines and slow Wi-Fi. RTR is a dude ranch, which means we have guests that come and stay with us for a week. They go horse-back riding, fly fishing, hiking, white water rafting, etc. Is there any better way to spend a summer vacation? I think not!! We have about 150 horses, a donkey, some cows, 5 cats, and three spoiled dogs. The number of guests ranges from 30-65 (ish) depending on where we are in the season.
Let me brag and tell you that the lodge is the most incredible structure you will ever lay eyes on (in my non-biased opinion)!! It is 18,000 square feet and almost 100 years old. It was built without a single nail and at the time of its completion was the largest wooden structure west of the Mississippi.
Okay, you’re not here to read statistics about this place, let’s get to the good stuff!!
There are about 35ish of us that live on the ranch all season long. Now, that’s a lot of college-aged kids to have working together, living together, and basically spending ALL of their time together. I have never been a particularly social person, but man, these are my people! Our boss, Linda, always seems to put together the most incredible group of people. I think that God took a little extra time and added just a bit more jaw-dropping wonder and beauty when creating the Conejos River Valley, and our string of horses is just about as strong as they come (Amarillo is a thing of beauty), but the people that I get to work with and work for…nothing compares to that. They are the ones who are crazy enough to drive over seven hours, just to go to Wyoming and stay up after midnight watching a meteor shower when we have to be up at 5:30 the next morning. They are the ones crazy enough to jump into a reservoir that I am convinced is just warm enough to not be frozen and hike a 14,000 foot mountain on our “off” day. We are a family. And that sometimes means fighting like siblings, but it always means having each other’s backs.
If only the ranch had eyes. It has seen lifelong friendships made. It has seen fits of uncontrollable laughter and late night roommate chats. It has seen lots of problems…and lots of resolutions. It has seen lessons learned and plans made.
The ranch has seen me gush with excitement every time ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ plays during dance night. It has seen my uncontainable happiness when we get to plan days off and use paper maps. It has seem me grow and mature like no other place has.
And I have always been your typical crazy horse girl. No seriously, there is a Polaroid picture I made my dad take of my stick horse when I was 6. She is eating a plastic ice cream cone and her name is Laura. But, now, to get to spend every day with 150 horses, that is dream come true! They all have their own quirks and unique personalities. I feel like a mom sometimes, I love watching them grow and improve at their jobs (taking care of guests) and find what they are good at!
We have this one horse, named The Dude, (from the Big Lebowski) and he was just not fitting in as a dude horse. He is quite quirky and if he was a person he would have special needs…this horse has a nervous tick. Anyways, he was on the short list and was going to be sold, until we started putting teenage boys on him!! Those kids loved The Dude and we used him almost every week this summer!! I am so proud of him and he is thriving!! Come on, just look at that smile!
If you have ever seen me post a picture from the ranch on social media, there is a good chance it is of a beautiful blue roan with an MJ brand. His name is King! Over the past two summers, King and I have become BFFs! I think that I will probably love this horse more than I will love my first born child. He has many hobbies, such as prancing around like a wannabe dressage horse, getting pats, and going fast. In fact, he likes going fast SO much that when we get on the logging road (where we trot and lope) he likes to jump up and down!! (…we are working on it!)
Horse people talk about how if you are lucky you get a once-in-a-lifetime horse. A horse that you form an unbreakable bond with. A horse that teaches you innumerable lessons. A horse that will never again be matched. For me, this horse is King! I am so lucky that Jane lets me ride him and if I do not stop myself now, I will write the rest of this post about King.
For the past two summers I have spent almost every day riding through the Rio Grande National Forest. Now, on paper, doing the same thing every day for two summers might sound monotonous. And if you think that, it is because you have never seen the Rio Grande National Forest. There are aspen groves that will stop you in your tracks. Meadows that will tempt you to build a cabin and live off the land. And cliffs that rise up from the valley floors in the most dramatic fashion. Now, nothing’s boring about that!
We end every Saturday night and send away the week’s guests by singing the RTR song. It is a song that one of our bosses, Jane, wrote 18 years ago! She refers to the ranch as “this magic little part of Colorado.”
Rainbow Trout Ranch is truly a magic little part of Colorado, a place untouched by cell service and tourists. A secret hideaway from the real world.
The magic of the ranch manifests itself in different ways for different people. For me, the magic comes in early mornings, late nights, and long days. The magic comes in cotton candy sunrises, starry nights, and living out my wildest dreams in the backcountry of Southern Colorado.
The magic of the ranch is that it feels like home. Home is where you return to. A place for rest and rejuvenation. A place where you are surrounded by family and the feelings of love are abundant. The ranch is where I’ve met my very best friends; where I feel the most like myself; and where I know that I can conquer anything!
As I write this I become nostalgic for a place that I always leave far too soon.
Fleeting images of the ranch fill my mind. The first time I came over the hill to Duck Lake or came to the Wrangler’s Point cliff. Rainy days with the cowpokes. King following me around like a puppy at the barn. Late nights playing corn hole in the fort. Bonfires. Stargazing at the pass. These images conjure up nothing but pure magic.
I am in the midst of my senior year of college (crazy, huh?)! In the near future there will be lots of exciting changes and new travels! Be on the look out 🙂
P.S. Sorry for the excessive length of this post, but this place is just too special!!!