The clouds meandering overhead take on the tones of candlelight and campfires, as the jagged mountains encircling you settle into inky indigo silhouettes. The smell of leather, dirt, sweet hay, and hard work hangs in the air. Pause for a moment and you’ll hear a soundtrack of quiet conversation, boots and hooves on hard-packed ground, and the soft nickering of the horses nearby. This is sundown at Palisade Ranch.
Part of Gateway Canyons Resort & Spa, the on-property ranch sprawls out across 500 acres at the base of the Uncompahgre Plateau and is designed to immerse guests in the ultimate western experience. Expect trail rides, cattle drives, even roping lessons – all a reflection of Colorado’s long history of cattle ranching.
Colorado’s Cattle Ranching – A Day in the Life
Cattle ranching in Colorado began somewhere in the 1800s, when Texas cowboys began moving cattle into western Colorado, drawn by the abundant grasses in the area. In the mid-1850s, Colorado began to fill up with gold prospectors and miners, all of whom were hungry for beef, and the cattle industry boomed.
Though there is a romantic, nostalgia-fueled perception of life on a ranch, the reality is more threadbare. Ranchers will tell you that the days are dawn to dusk, seven days a week, and the chores never end, but that working outside with the animals is bliss. A cattle rancher’s days are spent riding to pasturelands to check on the herd, especially the calves, as well as the hard work of branding and marking ears (for tracking), feeding, and vaccinating the herd.
In addition, the herd needs to be moved regularly to fresh fields, and it’s in that period of intense activity that you’ll catch a glimpse of the iconic scene of cowboys in the saddle, corraling cattle in an orderly pack. The work is physically exhausting, often dangerous, but always fulfilling.
The enduring legacy of America’s archetypal cowboy is symbolic of the rugged, tireless figures of cattle ranching’s history, and part of the reason why so many are drawn to the allure of life on the range. For those who spend their days behind a desk, what could be a more appealing fantasy than fresh air, honest work, and an escape from the monotony of a 9-to-5 job?
The Palisades Ranch Experience [Gateway, CO]
Instead of a peaceful, pampered, pleasantly uneventful vacation, guests at Gateway Canyons Resort & Spa embark on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get a taste of what it might have been like to walk in a cowboy’s well-worn boots. Inclusive packages at Palisades Ranch, one of Colorado’s elite working cattle ranches, push guests to experience aspects of a bygone era and indulge in a sense of adventure – without the extreme hardship.
A network of horseback riding trails that crisscross the ranch’s 500 acres leads riders to the base of the towering Uncompahgre Plateau, through the surrounding expanses of flat desert, between the glowing red rock canyons, climbing more than 1,500 feet in elevation, led by the confident and experienced wranglers of the ranch.
Saturday Morning on the Range
An old-fashioned cattle drive occurs each Saturday morning, when guests learn how to properly herd cattle and then assist the ranch hands as they gather scattered cattle from several hundred acres of gorgeous, red rock canyon country.
The Three-Day Western Experience
The three-day, fully immersive Western Experience Package includes lessons on ranching, roping, and horsemanship; cattle drives; trail rides; even a little friendly penning competition. After a morning out on the range, lunches are devoured at the Stables, before guests head back out for more time in the saddle. The nights spent in Gateway Canyon’s luxe rooms and a daily breakfast at the resort may be the only reminders of your real, non-ranching life, as you become fully immersed in the work, the wildlife, the horsemanship, and the spectacular wilderness of Palisade Ranch. A fireside cookout beneath a star-filled sky against the backdrop of the mesa serves as the endcap for the three-day adventure.