lower lake, fed by Little Fountain Creek, is just
big enough for boating.
SPRINGS, Colo. — I was returning from a hike up Mount
Vigil, the peak you can see from the Ranch at Emerald
Valley, near Colorado Springs, when a leathery-faced
cowboy walked by, humming a tune and leading a horse.
At the same
moment, a car pulled up and the driver, eyes masked behind
dark sunglasses, leaned out and asked for directions to
the ranch, which just happened to be where I was staying.
have answered, but at that moment the old cowboy stopped
dead, looked at the license plate — “Texas,” he
muttered — looped the reins around the saddle horn and
unwrapped a piece of gum. Then he pointed down the road.
“That way,” he said.
said the driver, hesitating. “I’m Tony,” he added.
“Say, do you know why they call it Emerald Valley? Was
there a gold mine here? Gemstones, maybe?”
myself, and still out of breath, I stepped closer, the
better to hear.
now, I couldn’t say,” replied the cowboy, pulling a
dented army canteen off his belt. “I’ve wondered on it
myself. Might be for them green trees, a hideaway-like,
where a person can git away and think.
used to call it Camp Vigil, after that mountain there.
Real special for old Mr. Penrose, Spencer Penrose he was,
the man who built the first lodge up there on Cheyenne
Mountain. Back in the 1920s, that was.”
paused for another long swallow. “The way they tell
it,” he said, “he’d git down here with his friends,
sittin’ up late, telling stories about mountain climbing
and all. That’s a purty fine log cabin he had, the one
they still got. It’s renovated now, with a real bar, all
chinked up, nice and tight. You’ll see. No rain gittin’
of trees shades them log cabins, and your creek has a
waterfall and lakes stocked regular with trout. The cabin
on the hill is a palace, big enough for weddings and such.
The cook’s in the kitchen most days, handy with the
fixin’s. I stop in now and then and he makes me a
cowboy took another swallow I spoke up. “Is Spencer
Penrose the one who built the zoo at the bottom of the
mountain, and every time there was a parade he rode the
elephant through town?”
ma’am,” said the cowboy. “He bought the land for
them animals. It’s what happens to folks from the east
when they git to this here west. The land took old Penrose
and it’s took the new owner, too. The rocks, the hills
and your meadows, they call you to put down roots.
an acre, build a cabin, git some chickens and you think
you’re done. Then the place next door gits a sale sign
so you buy it, git a rail fence and a cow and call it a
ranch. Then that homestead down by the creek, well, you
need water in these parts, so you buy it, too. That’s
the old cowboy tipped his hat, nodded to both of us,
clucked to the horse and they disappeared down the road.
I’ll see it for myself,” said the driver, adjusting
his sunglasses and revving the engine. “Can I give you a
thanks, I’ll walk,” I said. “The ranch is pretty
close now, down around the corner.”
again, I got to thinking. That cowboy was right. Gossip is
just another word for history, especially in ranch
country. In the late 1890s, the dirt track here was known
as Gold Road. I’d seen the mine tailings myself, a heap
of yellow dirt pushed up past the trail, where our
horseback ride turned toward the corral. And for all that,
they never did find gold.
last gold strike petered out, arrivals included a settler,
a Girl Scout Camp and finally Spencer Penrose, who leased
the 16-acre parcel from the Pike National Forest for his
newly created social club, the Pikes Peak Camping and
Mountain Trails Association. The club didn’t last, but
the cabin survived the years, including an interval as a
dude ranch, in the 1970s.
Broadmoor Hotel changed hands, in 2011, the new owner,
Philip Anschutz, bought the property, eventually restoring
and enlarging the lodge and building guest cabins, hoping
to re-create the ranch and its era, along with an
authentic touch of wilderness.
work was finished, it was so accurate that I couldn’t
tell the old walls from the new ones, or the antiques from
the reproductions. The interior furnishings, custom made,
not only echoed the era but added a decided touch of
luxury. The 10 guest cabins — sized for two, four or
eight guests — had their own chinked logs and period décor;
all outfitted, of course, with modern amenities.
As for the
so-called “palace,” that’s where I stayed. By the
time I tried to make a reservation, every cabin was
booked, except that one up the hill. Climbing uphill on a
winding stone path, I thought I’d been banished to the
barn. Then I saw the flagstone patio — large enough for
a 50-guest reception, and opened the front door. The
living room, furnished with hand-tooled leather chairs,
luxurious sofas and a man-sized fireplace, begged me to
sit down; the walls, hung with western and Native American
art, insisted that I take a closer look.
kitchen, large-party sized, included a long center island,
surrounded by walls covered with cupboards, and counters
with three sinks and the latest appliances. With bedrooms
upstairs and down (and bathrooms for each) there was room
no day was like another. You could sleep late, or eat
breakfast early, then climb the ridge to see the views.
Five or six other trails climbed peaks or crossed through
the forest, or you could ride horseback. A hot lunch and
farm-fresh salad or sandwich was followed by a game of
Scrabble, a walk around the perimeter or a nap in the
Come 4 p.m,
I fetched the fly rod and headed for the lake where the
rainbow and brown trout were breaking the surface. Used
the wrong fly and came away empty. Cocktail hour followed,
improved by the chef’s hors d’oeuvres. Dinner time
lasted as long as you could eat or talk, in the dining
room or stargazing around the campfire.
and Saturday evening campfires, when recording artist and
cowboy singer Jeff Houlton entertained, were the biggest
surprise of all. Corny, you’re thinking? Maybe, but
don’t laugh yet.
watching the fire toss up sparks and sipping a smooth
cabernet, expecting to hear the usual background
thrumming, elevator music, usually, when Houlton tuned the
strings and tore into the “Orange Blossom Special,”
astonishing everyone with his lightning-fast picking and
perfect rhythm. Not only did he wow us with some of the
smartest flat picking ever — and faultless two and
three-finger work — but he sang each song differently,
turning the most ordinary lyrics into a drama with an
guests called out requests, he called on the vast
repertoire he hides under that cowboy hat and performed as
asked. Country & western, pop, bluegrass, Pete Seeger,
Elton John, the Grateful Dead — he knew them all.
I couldn’t help wondering why it felt so familiar. Then
I remembered. The evening reminded me of Stead’s Ranch,
founded in 1904 and long gone now, a historic guest ranch
and lodge tucked among the pines, beneath snowy peaks, in
Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park.
For many a
golden summer, a worldwide procession of guests came
through Stead’s, from mountain climbers and presidents
to stage celebrities, opera singers and families with
kids, all sitting around the campfire together, sharing
the West’s special brand of hospitality.
just how it felt that night at the Ranch at Emerald
Valley, at the end of the track they once called the Gold
Road. I think they’ve hit pay dirt after all.
half-dozen hiking trails and climbs start at the ranch and
explore the surrounding Pike National Forest. For guests
combining a visit to Cloud Camp and to the Ranch at
Emerald Valley, the 5.3-mile hike from the top of Cheyenne
Mountain down to the ranch is a favorite.
information: Learn more about the Ranch at Emerald Valley;
about Cloud Camp, the lodge atop Cheyenne Mountain; and
about the parent property, the Broadmoor Hotel, in
Colorado Springs, at www.broadmoor.com. Rates vary
depending on the season and weather.
daily rates: Transportation between the Ranch at Emerald
Valley and the Broadmoor Hotel, a nine-mile drive. On-site
activities and equipment, trail hikes, nature walks,
fishing gear, horseback rides, all meals, snacks,
beverages, wine, beer and bar drinks. Because the Old
Stage Riding Stable is a concession, long horseback rides,
such as the popular cattle drives, are priced separately.
there: Fly into Denver; then drive or fly to Colorado