Zapata Ranch Sandhill Crane Workshop


Searching for owls – pygmy, Western screech, saw-whet, and great horned with naturalist John Rawinski as our guide. Zapata Ranch in Colorado’s San Luis Valley.

Michael Forsberg and I led our third annual Sandhill Crane Photo Workshop at Zapata Ranch from March 11-15. The class was full with 12 photographers, and featured John Rawinski returning as naturalist guide, 15,000 or so sandhill cranes stopping on their migration route to Yellowstone, amazing Zapata hospitality (one of the Top 50 Ranches In The World), close-up views of bison, the historic Medano Ranch homestead, no wind, Great Sand Dunes National Park, night photography of one of America’s best night skies, great food – even appetizers in the field, and fun photographers from all over the country who made many wonderful images. Continue reading “Zapata Ranch Sandhill Crane Workshop”

Moving Bison

zapata ranch, the nature conservancy

Bison Stampede : Prints Available

In a scene reminiscent of the old west, American bison are moved to a holding pen during the annual autumn roundup at The Nature Conservancy's Zapata Ranch. The bison had just burst through a gate and resumed grazing a few minutes later. 

It is said that bison can be moved – when they want to. American Bison, once nearly extirpated from the Great Plains, stand up to six feet tall and weigh as much as a ton (males). They are among the most impressive creatures on this continent. In the late 1800’s, few bison had survived the slaughter during Western expansion. From 1873 to 1889, six men captured 88 bison that remained on the North American plains. Charles “Buffalo” Jones, Frederic Dupree, Walking Coyote, Charles Goodnight, Charles Alloway and James McKay each had their own reasons for saving the disappearing species; some had an altruistic vision of saving bison from extinction while others saw possible business opportunities. Later, William Hornaday convinced Teddy Roosevelt to establish the American Bison Society in 1905 “for the permanent preservation and increase of the American bison.” Today, more than 400,000 bison graze public and private lands, contributing to the health of plains habitat that supports life in the West. Although bison dominate the Zapata landscape, a host of other creatures benefit from these nomadic grazers. And don’t be fooled, they may be a domestic herd, but they’re not domesticated. They go where they want to go, when they’re darn good and ready. Continue reading “Moving Bison”

Culebra Peak, Colorado’s Private 14er

culebra peak, cielo vista ranch

Culebra Sunset : Prints Available

 Warm sunset light turns sagebrush gold below Culebra Peak (14,069') on Cielo Vista Ranch. We were paying guests of the ranch, there to climb the only Colorado 14er on private land. 

The 3rd and final chapter of this Sangre De Cristo story…

I wasn’t sure we’d ever be here, but Annie invited us via Steph, who’s down to her last three 14ers, and well, here we are outside of the gate to Cielo Vista Ranch with plans to climb the only Colorado 14,000 foot peak on private land. We’re just a few miles from New Mexico and there’s a festive atmosphere, with climbers setting up camp, cooking, and talking about 14ers. A lot of climbers save this one for the end, choosing to climb all of the free mountains on public land first. This one costs $100 for camping and a day of climbing – another $50 if you want to tackle Red Mountain, and surrounded by like-minded folks, I’m warming to the experience. There’s no logical explanation for paying to climb, Colorado has thousands of beautiful peaks on public land; but if you want to summit all of the 14ers, you’ll wind up here eventually. Landowners these days are diversifying all sorts of ways, and we had just come from Zapata Ranch, where dude ranch hospitality compliments bison and cattle ranching. Cielo Vista opens the gates of the 77,500 acre ranch to paying guests climbing Culebra and private elk hunts in fall. Hunters pay ten large for the chance at a trophy elk. Our plan was to camp out as guests of the ranch, meet Carlos, the ranch manager at 6 a.m. when he opens the gate, take care of formalities, and climb the peak the next day. Continue reading “Culebra Peak, Colorado’s Private 14er”

Zapata Ranch Ahhhh!

sangre de cristo range, rocky mountain bee plant

Bee Plant and Crestones : Prints Available

 A wet July leads to a breakout in the Rocky Mountain bee plant bloom on Zapata Ranch. The high peaks of the Sangre De Cristo Range form a rugged backdrop.

Part 2 of 3 – Sangre De Cristos

Needing a shower, chef-prepared meals, and a comfy bed, we naturally headed for Zapata Ranch, just down the road a piece from Crestone. It was great to see friends from previous visits while teaching at Zapata and view the ranch in a green summer season, with everything in bloom. After a month and a half of 90+ degree days on the Front Range, low 80’s with an afternoon shower felt great! We enjoyed Chef Mike’s gourmet creations and met nice folks from all over the country – even a group from Ireland. Zapata is a Nature Conservancy working ranch managed holistically by the Phillips family. They were running a woman’s horsemanship clinic led by Cam Schryver. The clinic is one of many special events on the year-round calendar at Z-ranch. I’m fortunate to be able to teach a sandhill crane photo workshop with Michael Forsberg in the spring, another Z-ranch special event. I was hoping to get Marla on a horse – she loves to ride and it’s been too long – what I didn’t know was that I’d be riding too… on a cattle drive. Continue reading “Zapata Ranch Ahhhh!”