The Home Ranch
June - October, 2003

Since I last updated these pages, I've been up and down some new and interesting trails. It began last June, when, after turning in my final grades for my English classes at Analy High School in Sebastopol, I loaded up the trusty Red Ranger (after replacing the transmission!) with saddle and flyfishing gear, gee-tars and mando, and as many hats and boots as I could cram in, then headed east.

Two days of hard driving later, I pulled into The Home Ranch located twenty miles north of Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Tucked up into the northwest corner of the state just west of the Continental Divide, Steamboat is not only a hip and happening ski resort, but also great summertime destination dappled with guest ranches and some of the prettiest country this side of the Sierras. Though hired primarily as the flyfishing instructor, I spent a goodly amount of time wrangling as well, or, as they say, ďat the barn.Ē It was a treat to work again with good horses and ride that beautiful country. The Home Ranch sits in the heart of the Elk River valley, surrounded by hills blanketed with aspens. To watch them over the course of the months turn from green to gold and orange was a great treat.

In addition to land, the ranch holdings include three stretches of the Elk River. The river runs southwest out of the Zirkel wilderness, high country that butts up right against the Continental Divide, then doglegs south at the ranch and continues on to where it finally feeds into the Yampa River west of Steamboat. Because of the late winter, the river ran high and wasn't truly fishable until mid July. Learning new water was a challenge for me, but fortunately I had the help of a few long-time ranch guests who had been fishing it for years. As well as learning the water, I had to learn the bottom. The Elk, a freestone river blanketed with round, smooth rocks from softball to spare tire size and all wickedly slick with moss, is a challenge to wade for the most experienced fishermen, let alone a novice. One misstep would literally spun you around then fling you with impudence into the icy drink. I took many humbling falls, which made me intermittently laugh and curse. But, finally, I had admit that it is only right that such a fine and proud river as the Elk should be allowed to extract a price for what it yields.

As the waters gradually receded and slowed, the fishing got better...and better. 15-20" rainbow trout were often the order of the day. Simply put, the fishing was the best I had ever experienced, and it was a pleasure to share it with the guests. What a treat to get to fish a river to the extent where you not only get to know each run, but sometimes even the individual fish who lurk there.

The third "hat" that I wore at the ranch was that of a cowboy entertainer. Each Tuesday after dinner, I'd spin my songs and poems and tales of the West. After being in a western swing band for the last couple of years, it was interesting to go back to flying solo. I enjoy doing both. While playing with fine musicians like the Bunkhouse Boys is always a treat, being a lone gun gives me chance to chat and joke with the audiences and be more an entertainer.

People ask what made me go from teaching high school to working on a dude ranch. For certain, ever since my days at the Mammoth Lakes Pack Outfit back the 1970s and 80s, I've thought about working once again in the out of doors. And while teaching school was interesting and intense and a great challenge, I was ready for a change. Lucky for me, my fishing, riding, and musical skills fit nicely into the dude ranch world. So I went for it.

Between the staff and guests and locals, I made a raft of new friends too numerous to name. Our hours were often long and hard, but the horses and fish and country and people certainly made it all worth it. And as I always reminded myself, getting paid to fish, ride, and play music ainít bad.

Click here to join the journey as I head out for points east...

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