Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Chico Basin Ranch Visit

By Maggie Haseman, Outreach Intern
Photo by: Maggie Haseman
Chico Basin Ranch Headquarters

Chico Basin Ranch is a working cattle ranch located 35 miles southeast of Colorado Springs. It is 87,000 acres of rangeland owned by the Colorado State Land Board and managed by Duke and Janet Phillips and their family. As part of my internship program with SRM, I spent two full days on the ranch helping out and learning about their operation. I went to Chico Basin Ranch not knowing what to expect and found myself having a very memorable and worthwhile experience. I have always considered myself to be a city girl and I had never even been to a ranch or thought of going to a ranch before the Phillips kindly allowed me to visit theirs. My two full days and two nights on the ranch were packed full with new learning experiences, a few minor bumps in the road, and a new found appreciation for what it means to work a ranch.

When I arrived at the headquarters on July 18th at about 5:30pm, I was greeted by three young women: two interns, Lesley and Kerstin, and the youngest child of Duke and Janet, Gracie. I was then sent in to meet Young Duke, Duke and Janet’s son. He sent me to May Camp, the home he shares with Cooper Hibbard and guests when they come, saying, “It’s very easy to find.” 

Photo by: Maggie Haseman
View of the Ranch Near May Camp

The roads are dirt and they veer off in every direction, luckily May Camp was easy to get to once you’ve already arrived. On the way, I distinctly remember thinking, “I’m lost, I’m lost, I’m lost!” and suddenly the house appeared. The house was very cute and cozy, with blue cabinets in the kitchen and thankfully, running water and electricity. They had made up a bed for me in a room off the dining room and I tried to get settled in. Around six, Cooper came in and introduced himself. We talked and got to know each other a little while he fixed dinner (beans, corn on the cob, and skillet veggies, yum!) After that I just busied myself with reading before bed time. Boy was it hot in that house!

The next day I woke up at 5:50am. Cooper took me around the ranch, to fix things and help me get used to the new setting, and he taught me a lot that day. Like I said, my ranch knowledge bucket was empty before I arrived, I learned a lot but I know my short adventure was not enough to fill it, not even close, there is so much to know. The first thing I learned was that there is something tricky you have to figure out about all vehicles you drive around the ranch, the one we were using didn’t open from the inside, another one didn’t have a windshield or doors, and a third you have to pull the door up and then close it or it will open while you drive.

After we had the truck loaded we drove for ages. 

Photo by: Maggie Haseman
View of the Ranch and Mountains
We had to check water tanks because there was something wrong with the system that Cooper had been working to fix the day before. Luckily, he succeeded, which meant it wasn’t a leak we had to find. I was shocked to find a drowned salamander and frog in one tank and tadpoles in another, it was so dry there, these critters just seemed out of place. We then went to a drained water tank to fix some holes with cement. It was only 9:00am or so and it was already hot, hot, hot! At another tank, we had to pump it dry so that Cooper could replace the water valve. It was so stinky and when Cooper asked me to get in the tank with that gooey greenish-black gunk I was very apprehensive; it turned out to not be that bad. The valve was so stuck we couldn’t get it to budge so Cooper resolved to leave it until he had some better tools.

Along the way, I was learning how to open and close fences. It seems like that should be an easy task that wouldn’t really take much to learn, but I kept closing the gate with Cooper and the truck on the right side and me stuck on the wrong side. I got a GIANT splinter from one gate and shocked by another, and my goodness did I let out a shriek at that shock. I then learned how to fix a fence and drive a fence post. Later, we drove along the fence to find where the charge was grounded; meaning the electricity of the fence wasn’t shocking at full power. We finally found it, fixed it and headed back to headquarters.

Photo by: Duke Phillips
Pikes Peak behind May Pond

I then met the third Intern, Raphael. Kerstin, Raphael and I ventured to the lake to cool down and play with some puppies (there were so many puppies, four from one mom and about seven from another). I longed to go swimming to cool down but I forgot to follow my mom’s number one packing rule: always bring a swim suit; it was probably for the best though because I would have psyched myself out by the teeny leeches I saw. It was fun to relax in the setting sun and cool my feet in the water. After a while, Cooper and I headed back to May Camp for dinner and bed.

On Wednesday I woke up at 4:00am. Cooper told me we were wrangling cattle and I was supposed to ride a horse but I kept thinking it was a joke. I had not ridden a horse since a birthday party in elementary school and what help would I be gathering cattle? But, it wasn’t a joke, and next thing I knew I stood facing Cricket the horse while she looked disapprovingly down her long nose at me. You have to learn fast once you’re on a horse: sit up straight, don’t be a sack of potatoes, hold the reins here, connect with her, trust her. Cricket had a lot of energy and spunk, and I’m pretty sure she thought she knew what to do better than I did, which is true. Duke sent Gracie, Kate, their guest from Portland, Oregon, and me off in another direction, he and about eight or nine other riders went somewhere else. So Gracie, Kate and I trotted along a fence and found a small herd of cattle coming toward us. We gathered them and followed/herded them toward a central water tank where we were meeting the others. I think they kept saying we were herding 1,500 head but to me it looked like zillions. The noise, the dust, the sun, I will never forget the way it looked. I felt transported to a different time and it was wonderful.

Photo by: Cooper Hibbard
The Dukes, Father and Son

Once the cattle were gathered we started moving them back toward headquarters. Duke showed me how to keep the line moving and we made our steady way into the corrals. In the corrals the cattle were a little scary and there was one point when I thought they were going to stampede over me, though it probably wasn’t as dangerous as it felt. Regardless, I was happy to sit to the side and watch at Duke’s instruction. As I dismounted my foot got stuck in the stirrup and down I went: aside from my bruised ego I was not injured.
Photo by: Michael Moon
Cattle Train

It was so interesting to see the professionals at work herding cattle. From what I understood they were sorting cattle by size to ship. They had so much control over the situation; it was impressive to watch, and cows are just about the funniest animals I’ve ever seen – I wish I had space to write about all the funny things I saw them do while in the corrals.

Photo by: Jonathan Tullar
Bell Park Event Center
After lunch Kerstin and I were sent down to Bell Park, the stage area. Chico Basin has been hosting concerts in the summer since the summer of 2010 and they are hoping to make it an annual event. Our task was to clean up the area for the concert on the 23rd of July. I have never done such hard work in the hot sun as I did that afternoon, but I have also never felt so rewarded by the results as I did that afternoon, when Bell Park looked much cleaner.

On Wednesday evening it was time for me to say goodbye to all the people who were so welcoming and patient with me. My stay at Chico Basin Ranch taught me about the value of a day of hard work, flexibility in new and sometimes uncomfortable situations, and the beauty of the ranching profession.

I would like to send a big thank you to all the people I met at Chico Basin Ranch during my short visit. It was an experience that I cannot compare to any other and that I will never forget.

Photo by: Maggie Haseman
Hello/Goodbye Cowboy sculpture

1 comment:

dhudiburg said...

I really enjoyed reading this Maggie. And, believe it or not, I'm a bit jealous. What a great experience to be out on the open range on a real working ranch. It reminded me of doing much the same things that you did when I was a kid on my grandparents cattle ranch in Oklahoma.