SAGUACHE — We were poking up a narrow, sage-scented drainage in the Rio Grande National Forest in central Colorado. My guide, John Engle, wore a gray vest and white hat and rode a tall, spirited white horse. I followed on a bay named Ranger with a jet black mane and a stubborn streak.
We pushed around trees and through patches of sticky, sucking mud while Engle, the ranch manager at Mill Creek Ranch at Old Cow Town Colorado, kept turning around to answer my questions.
“So where’s your nearest neighbor?” I asked, ducking another branch.
Mill Creek Ranch combines a dude ranch operation with a painstakingly reproduced 1880s-era frontier town, all surrounded by several million acres of public land. I’d accepted Engle’s invitation to take a sunset ride to try to get a better sense of the place.
“There aren’t any,” Engle said.
I believed him. Their property, located at the old Hoagland stage stop on the Barlow and Sanderson stagecoach line, was surrounded by vast tracts of National Forest and BLM land. I hadn’t seen any other homes on the dusty approach road.
The ranch and Old Cow Town consists of 15 buildings around the back of a natural horseshoe canyon, including a saloon, steakhouse, meeting and dance hall, 10-room guest hotel, a 5,500-square-foot luxury guest lodge and even a gorgeous little hardwood chapel. Though a few structures actually date back to those 19th-century stagecoach days — an onsite museum in the carriage house plays tribute to those times — the bulk of Old Cow Town was constructed by previous owner Myron Smith between 2006 and 2008. His attention to detail (imported copper ceiling tiles and light fixtures from Italy) is truly impressive, especially considering the remoteness of the site.
The ranch accommodates up to 28 guests at a time, making it attractive to everyone from equestrians, adventure travelers and hunting groups to those planning weddings and family reunions. They’ve also built several professional shooting ranges and offer firearms classes and competitions throughout the season. Some guests choose to ride and shoot every day, others go off property to try climbing, rafting or exploring the nearby San Luis Valley.
But my family was there for nothing more than a chuckwagon dinner, trail rides and a few rounds of Western-themed miniature golf with Old Cow Town for a backdrop. We were playing stagecoach travelers, stopping over on our way to Antonito, where we had tickets for the historic Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad the following morning.
Eventually, we turned around and Engle led us back to the ranch entrance. We sauntered through the wooden gate just as the sun was setting. My daughters spotted me from the tepee hole on the golf course and came running to meet us as we rode toward the stable.
If you go: Mill Creek Ranch & Resort opens for the season on Memorial Day weekend. Their standard three-night, all-inclusive package is normally $1,225/adult; two-night weekend deals are available at certain times of the year. 36710 County Road CC36, Saguache, 719-655-2224, millcreekcolorado.com.