Home on the Range

Experience the Colorado Prairie from Beneath the Brim of a Rancher’s Hat

Article by Marley Jeranko

Photography by Chico Basin Ranch

Originally published in Boulder Lifestyle

If you’ve ever dreamt of stepping into Westworld and living the cowboy dream, it’s closer than you might think. But rest assured, it’s not all whiskey and wranglin’ – you’ve got to take modern conservation and ecology practices by the reigns and get a taste of true grit to earn your spurs. 

It’s a concept called ecotourism: or in other words, vacation with a purpose. At Ranchlands Camp, you’re invited to join in gathering a pasture, moving a herd, branding and helping in the leather room — a rare opportunity to go beyond being merely an observer of real-life ranching and make an impact.

Set on the vast prairie just south of Colorado Springs on the 87,000-acre Chico Basin Ranch, Ranchlands prides itself as an economically self-sufficient, agricultural-based business. It uses its livestock as a tool for manipulating the land to achieve biodiversity, management of invasive plant species, and restored riparian areas. While they recognize that this way of life is important in our nation’s cultural history, they believe that embracing new ways of thinking is a kind of duty – after all, preserving the land and preserving the American legacy is one and the same. 

When Ranchlands Camp opened its gates to visitors in 2017, it was never a question that this commitment to sustainability would be sacrificed. Instead, they would apply it to the typical camping experience and make it something entirely its own. With a mission to work together to live with the land, folks not only experience the beauty and simplicity that is nostalgic of the Old West, they learn about nature, ranching and the role they play in protecting the ecosystem.

Picture this: you rise on a cool morning among sagebrush and vibrant wildflowers, and a hearty, wood-fired meal awaits. You fill up on fried eggs, blueberry cornmeal pancakes, granola and yogurt, and bison-potato hash; and devour a book from the ranch library. As camp host Kate Matheson, head wrangler Frankie Zwick, and camp cook Colby Richards show you the ropes of camp life, antelope stream across the plains, while cattle and their young calves graze nearby. A little exploration leads you to the leather shop, where you find Madi Hester and learn to make your own goods. Jill Soukup is nearby teaching horse painting and Cam Schryver, the World Champion cowboy, guides students through proper horsemanship. Learning and leisure carefully blend together: the sound of collective clamor harmonizes with coyotes howling on the arroyos.

In the evening, you enjoy a hot outdoor shower just twenty steps from your tent, wash away the dust from a long day on the ranch, and gather ‘round the campfire for live music, where the sun dips behind Pike’s Peak. You fall asleep under the stars. A kerosene lamp flickers against the canvas tent. You’re exhausted but satisfied

Some describe this feeling like joy, others as fulfillment. Being a steward of the environment: it takes you beyond the appreciation of its visual beauty. That's because out here; you’re connected to your surroundings. 

Starting summer 2019, there will be several camps available for you to find out for yourself just what it feels like to experience natural Colorado from beneath the brim of a rancher’s hat: 

  • Cam Schryver Horsemanship – May 5-10, 2019 
  • Cam Schryver Cowboy + Roping Week with traditional branding – May 12-17, 2019 
  • A private group buy-out (includes custom itinerary and traditional branding) – May 19-24, 2019 and June 2-7, 2019
  • Jill Soukup Painting workshop – May 26-31, 2019

So, go ahead – saddle up! 

For more information, contact or call 719-428-5006. 

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