Mary Gostelow goes to the most unique ranch in the USA

Girlahead treks into northern New Mexico

Want to visit not only one of the largest ranches in the USA but one that is the pride and joy of conservationist and CNN conceptor, Ted Turner? Vermejo Park Ranch, just west of Raton in New Mexico, is just a four-hour drive south of Denver or a four-hour drive north-west of Albuquerque.

Vermejo is the place for space. There is a maximum of 80 guests at any one time on a 239,098-hectare ranch named for the local ‘red’ creek. You stay in one of several heritage mansions. I was allocated the ground-floor master suite, #701, in the seven-room Casa Grande mansion, built between 1907 and 1909 by Frank Lloyd Wright’s teacher, Joseph Silsbee, for the ranch’s owner, William Bartlett. Enter a lobby of tiny-tile flooring, uncovered years ago by Turner’s ex-wife, Jane Fonda. To one side is Mr Bartlett’s office, with a door-high safe and an ear tube telephone switchboard. Casa Grande’s eight-seat dining room hosts cooking and wine-tasting classes. My suite, with warm oak floors, has been authentically restored, with added modern heat control.

I walk 10 metres to the main lodge to be greeted by two taxidermist treasures: a local turkey and a thrusting Montana elk. In the main restaurant, they have kept some of tonight’s barbecue, bison slices with sauce on the side and a mixed salad with asparagus. After in the bar, I hear stories of what others did today – one found a pair of shed antlers, an annual elk rite of spring – the sheddings can later be sold, about US$1,400 a pair, to dealers.

I sleep like a log. Breakfast is a help-yourself buffet, bowls of fresh berries, cut fruit salad, half grapefruits and cereals. Is there anything else I would like? I am brought an enormous omelette as I sit under a chandelier of about 12 elk horns. As Sydney prepares a paper cup of coffee to-go, I muse that really Africa and India safari experiences are seriously going to be threatened by this all-American outfit, which apart from anything else offers so much to do.

GM Jade McBride, who came from Amangiri, believes that looking after staff ultimately leads to better service. He and 70 colleagues nearly all live in what is essentially the Vermejo village, detached and well spread-out houses modernised from early ranch days (on days off, staff do just as guests do, archery, fishing, hiking, shooting and so on – the Vermejo is home to around 7,00 elk and about 3,500 mule deer, 1,600 bison, plus black bears, mountain lion and rattlesnakes).

I go hiking with Lee, a former tiler whose current hobby is designing and building his own house. It is silence and an eternal vista to a skyline of wooded hills with snow-capped Sangre de Cristo mountains beyond. We follow a nature trail, more generally used for mountain biking. Later, it is time for a three-hour ranch tour in a Ford F150 that is already so covered in mud it looks like post-motocross. We go up Spring Canyon, with thousands of ponderosa pines, and see some feral horses and Rocky Mountain bluebirds and lots of mule deer, with big ears. We go to a line of 14 identical red-brick beehives, 10 metres high: 200 years ago these were kilns, a reminder that charcoal production was an anchor for what was a thriving small town – today it is nearly-flat grass, with those 14 beehives, nothing else. America’s past, and today’s nature.

Mary Gostelow’s travelogue is girlahead.com

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