Latigo Ranch, Kremmling, Colorado: A Cowgirl’s Coming Home

Latigo Ranch welcome wagon with wrangler Colorado

Welcome to Latigo Ranch, a dude ranch in the Colorado mountains that feels like coming home.

Clouds, some whisper-thin and lacy, others billowy white, dance across a wide, cobalt blue sky. Mountains, shades of green, brown, grey, and burnt umber, stack layer upon layer to the horizon. Before us, broad green valleys stretch and undulate across the landscape. The beauty makes me to catch my breath.

I’ve never been to a dude ranch, places where people come for a week or two to experience life as cowboys or cowgirls. The spectrum of dude ranches ranges from high-end, pampering with full-service spas and staff who are practically butlers to basic ride ‘em and feed ‘em beans and burgers places.

Latigo Ranch sunset, Colorado

At Latigo, you can ride and rope or just watch the clouds drift.

On the pampering scale, Latigo is somewhere in the middle. The accommodations are comfortable and spotlessly clean cabins decorated with pine log furniture and Western style art and bedding. Guest needs are certainly taken care of and they’ll cook to your dietary needs.

What makes Latigo different is the genuine sense of welcome. Co-owners Randy and Lisa George and Jim and Cathy Yost have owned this 450-acre spread at what feels like the end of the earth in Grand County, Colorado, for more than 25 years and they know how to encircle their guests with warmth and generosity.

Chef making dinner rolls at Latigo Ranch

Lisa George bakes all the bread and rolls, including these delicious dinner rolls.

“We love what we do,” says Lisa, a comfortably round middle-aged woman with silvery hair pulled back from her tan face with a simple comb. Deep smile lines surround her lively eyes. She’s a woman you immediately want to count among your dearest friends. “We really love the people and serving guests who come here.”

One of their mottos is “like family coming home” and that’s exactly what it feels like. On arrival, we’re greeted with a big canister of handmade caramel corn in our cozy cabin. It’s sweet and delicious, just like my grandmother used to make.

Prime rib dinner on plate from Latigo Ranch

You’ll never go hungry at Latigo Ranch.

Food is a big part of Latigo’s hospitable atmosphere and Lisa and Randy and their grown children, Spencer and Hannah, make nearly everything–sauces, salad dressings, even breads and rolls–from scratch in their small kitchen. “We want our food to be tasty and filling,” says Randy, a lean balding man with wire-rimmed glasses and an impressive mustache. “Our guests are physically active so we want our food to be hearty without being pretentious. For us, food is about relationships. What goes on around the table between people is as important as what’s on the table. If the food contributes to those relationships, so much the better.”

Guests in buffet line at Latigo Ranch, Colorado

The George’s make sure there’s plenty of choice at each meal.

The light-filled, knotty pine dining room overlooks the kids’ fishing pond and a spectacular view of the valley and mountains. There are tables to fit any group–fours, sixes, and long tables that can be pushed together for bigger groups.

Lisa George at Latigo Ranch

Lisa George shares a laugh with a guest.

It’s meeting guest needs that makes Latigo’s food different from many “today we’re having steak” dude ranches. The choices are varied and delicious. Breakfast offerings include fruit, cereal, and juice options or eggs, potatoes, meats, waffles, pancakes, or burritos made to your liking. Lunch always features a wide range of meats, cheese, and breads for sandwiches, a large salad bar with an amazing array of toppings (we counted 28), and dressings, as well as hot choices like pasta with five different sauces. For dinner, the choices are even broader with meat, chicken, fish, and vegetarian entrées offered at every meal. In addition, they’ll custom make food to guests’ individual tastes or dietary restrictions.

“We want people to feel like they’re guests and part of our family,” says Lisa “If they don’t like mushrooms, for instance, we want them to feel comfortable asking, ‘“What do you have without mushrooms?’”

Three cowboys barbecuing at Latigo Ranch

Randy George and his son whip up a cowboy BBQ for guests, including juicy bison burgers and portabello mushrooms.

This variety and choice is part of what compelled the Gottliebs to bring their large family to Latigo to celebrate Mr. Gotlieb’s 70th birthday and his and his wife’s 45th wedding anniversary. “A lot of places just offer meats like steaks,” he says. “We’re a big group so we need choices. We did some research and found that Latigo offers lots of food options like fish, chicken, and vegetarian. We really like that.”

Much of that choice comes from Lisa’s creative drive. “I’m an inveterate recipe clipper,” admits Lisa. “I’m always trying different dishes.”

View of Dining Room at Latigo Ranch

Guests eat together in Latigo’s comfy dining room overlooking the stocked lake.

So many recipes that she produces a new cookbook for guests each year with dishes they’ve served that season. Recipes in the 2011 cookbook include crunchy granola, crescent rolls, sweet potato braided bread, Latigo marinara sauce, sweet potato bake, peanut butter bars, strawberry trifle, and many others.

Horses, Fishes, and More

When guests aren’t eating at Latigo, there’s plenty to do. You can ride horses, play pool or foosball, swim in the pool, take a hot tub, fish in the stocked pond in front of the lodge (a favorite of both kids and adults), read, lounge, hike, whitewater raft, and go on overnight camping trips. Or you can simply sit on the porch swing, look at the beautiful scenery, and watch the broad-tailed hummingbirds buzz around the feeders. Unlike many dude ranches, all of it is included in the ranch’s pay-one-price.

Young cowgirl learning how to rope

A staffer coaches a young cowgirl in the fine art of roping.

Co-owner Jim Yost, a skilled horseman, runs the ranch’s riding program. During our first full day, the adults join Jim in a meadow out by the barn. Guests can ride horses every day, even twice a day if they want. However, the folks at Latigo want guests to be safe and to improve their riding skills.

Jim Yost horseman Latigo Ranch

Co-owner and veteran horseman Jim Yost puts his horse through its paces.

We’re gathered around Jim and a horse he’s using for demonstration. First, he introduces us to some horse trivia like where horses first appeared on the planet (surprisingly in North America). Then he talks about the anatomy of horses, how it contributes to their survival, and impacts their behavior. “You can use all of a horse’s natural behavior to make your experience with a horse better,” he tells us. “You want to work with the horse’s nature, not against it.”

After a thorough orientation and conversation about our riding experience and skill level, we’re assigned horses. My mount, Shoshone, is a tall, handsome grey with plenty of spunk. We’re divided into small groups and three of us follow our young wrangler out of the barnyard and up into the hills. These smaller groups feel intimate like you’re riding with friends instead of on a standard rental horse trail ride. We’ve signed up for the walk, trot, lope group, which means we’ll do all three.

We follow a narrow dirt path that winds through stands of white-barked aspen. “Ready to trot some?” asks our wrangler.

Latigo Ranch Cowgirl

One of the wranglers at Latigo Ranch checks the saddle for a guest.

Off we go, a fast walk, then a trot. I’d forgotten how physical it feels to ride a horse. After some initial jarring, I get into the posting rhythm with my horse, rising up and down on the balls of my feel to minimize the trot’s bounce.

We climb up and down hills, alternating between walking and trotting. Then it’s time to lope. The wrangler’s horse takes off and, with a bit of urging, Shoshone breaks from his trot into an easy gallop. The rocking rhythm, familiar from my childhood days of riding my own horse, feels comfortable and easy.

We stop along Red Dirt Reservoir to let our horses rest. It’s early in the season and in the high altitude, the horses are a bit out of shape from winter’s rest. I slip off my horse and my stiff knees remind me that it’s been a long time since I trotted and loped like when I was a young girl. I, too, am a bit out of shape.

Riding horses at Latigo Ranch

After plenty of trotting and loping, a stop along Red Dirt Reservoir was a welcome respite for out-of-shape greenhorns.

On the way back to the ranch, we trot and gallop some more. Shoshone has experienced a second wind and doesn’t want to allow the horse in front to leave him behind. Instead of an easy lope, he wants to gallop full out and I lean slightly forward and allow him to fly.

After several breathless sprints, we pause at the top of a ridge. To the west, mountain after mountain reach to the horizon. Valleys, green and broad, stretch before us. Clouds in fantastical shapes and whiter than white, float in an endless blue sky. It is all heartbreakingly beautiful and I feel like crying. I have come home to Latigo. – by Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor, Photographs by Anne Weaver, RFT Editor

www.latigotrails.com/

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  • Gaylene Ore

    Latigo Ranch is an amazing place. The photos are incredible.
    Nice job.

    • http://realfoodtraveler.com Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor

      Hi Gaylene,
      We agree. Latigo and the people who run the play are amazing. And yep, RFT Editor Anne Weaver’s photos are terrific. Thanks so much. Bobbie, RFT Editor

  • Karen Griffin

    Love your article, and love dude ranches! This one sounds just wonderful.

    • http://realfoodtraveler.com Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor

      Thanks, Karen, for the kind words. Latigo is a wonderful place and one where you’ll feel entirely and completely welcome. You should check it out. Bobbie, RFT Editor

  • Patt Talvanna

    The article says it well, Latigo is an wonderful place. A really must visit to experience everything described here!

    • http://realfoodtraveler.com Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor

      Hi Patt,
      Yep, I completely agree. Latigo Ranch is a must-visit for those who love the dude ranch experience. Obviously, I’m a big fan. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Cheers! — Bobbie, RFT Editor

  • Chelsea

    This article perfectly depicts the warmth you feel when at Latigo. I worked there for two summers as a wrangler and I still look back at them as the best summers of my life. The owners are even more wonderful than the author describes, the scenery indeed is breath taking, the horses perfectly suited to each rider, and the food…oh the food!! I feel very blessed to have enjoyed being apart of the Latigo Family. And that’s what happens after just a single week, you become family and develope friendships that last for years.

    • http://realfoodtraveler.com Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor

      Yea Chelsea. I feel the same way about Latigo. Thanks for sharing your experience. — Bobbie, RFT Editor

  • Cortney

    There is no place on earth like Latigo Ranch! It will always be in my heart!!

    • http://realfoodtraveler.com Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor

      Sounds like a lot of us love Latigo and the folks who make it a special place. Thanks, Cortney, for your thoughts. Cheers! Bobbie, RFT Editor

  • Nancy Hanson

    I was at Latigo for a week in Septebmer 2012. How I loved it. I called it “The Perfect Vacation.” I hope to return in a few years with my grandchildren. Randy, Lisa, Kathie and Jim are amazing. I miss them!

    • http://realfoodtraveler.com Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor

      Hi Nancy,
      Wow, we have lots of fans of Latigo. So glad your experience was as wonderful as our’s. Thanks for sharing. Bobbie, RFT Editor

  • http://www.HorseFlicksTV.com Jon & Jo

    One of the most welcoming places you will ever visit, the landscape is almost surreal and everything from start to finish is top drawer…and the food we still talk about ! You can readily tell that for Randy & Lisa, Jim & Kathy, this is not simply a business but their passion to make every guest feel welcomed as Family. One of the truly special places on earth. ADD IT to your BUCKET LIST.

    (Well…what are you waiting for?)

    • http://realfoodtraveler.com Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor

      Hi Jon and Jo,
      We agree! Latigo Ranch should be on every horse-lover’s must-do list. Thanks for writing. — Bobbie, RFT Editor

  • Dan

    We are heading to Latigo for the first time next year. We can’t wait to go!

    • http://realfoodtraveler.com Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor

      Good for you, Dan. You’ll have a wonderful time. Please tell Lisa, Randy, Jim, and Kathie howdy for us. Let us know how it goes. Thanks for sharing. — Bobbie, RFT Editor

  • Sue

    The ranch is truly set on one of the most beautiful places on earth. I worked there for many years, and it counts as one of my all time favorite places. What great employers! The staff is chosen for their wonderful attitudes and they are skilled, too. Spring, summer and fall are spectacular. Jim and I counted species of wildflowers over a couple summer and I think the count exceeded 200. Winter includes fabulous skiing. It’s the vacation of a lifetime that some experience more than once!

    • http://realfoodtraveler.com Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor

      Hi Sue,
      Yes, we agree with all of your kind comments about Latigo Ranch, its wonderful owners and staff. The editors of realfoodtraveler.com haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing Latigo in winter, but we’d love to and understand it’s truly spectacular. Thanks for writing. — Bobbie, RFT Editor