By our third morning at Zapata Ranch, we finally started to understand the rhythm of life here. The coyotes were yipping, stars hung in the sky, and dawn started breaking behind a mountain range.
“They’re coming!” Emily, the head wrangler, texted me. And there in the distance: a dust cloud and the sound of 200 hooves beating against the ground. Fifty horses galloped past, their heads high and their manes flying just as the sky started turning peach-pink. It was surreal. We arrived at breakfast breathless: partly from excitement, but mainly because our city lungs were still struggling to acclimate to 7,000 feet.
“Fifty horses galloped past, their heads high and their manes flying, just as the sky started turning peach-pink. It was surreal.”
Ranchland’s Zapata Ranch is the backdrop for our Tio y Tia winter shoot and one of the West’s most beautiful hidden gems. Set among the rugged beauty of Colorado’s San Luis Valley, the 103,000-acre working bison and cattle ranch borders Great Sand Dunes National Park and sits below the towering sentinels of the Sangre de Christo range. And serendipitously we had scheduled our shoot at the most photogenic time of year—just as the cottonwoods were turning orange and the first dusting of snow was landing on the peaks.
Zapata encourages guests to pitch in with the daily running of the ranch, which can include driving cattle, roping calves, fixing fences, and monitoring the 2,000 bison who live in the Medano pasture. (For those less inclined toward life in the saddle, there are also outings to see wildlife, painting retreats, and photography workshops.) Every evening, we gathered at the lodge, traded stories with guests, and listened to live music or an occasional poetry reading.
“Zapata encourages guests to pitch in with the daily running of the ranch, which can include driving cattle, roping calves, fixing fences, and monitoring the 2,000 bison who live in the Medano pasture.”
We were looked after by a super capable and mostly female team (who happen to have an enviable uniform: high-waisted, faded Wranglers and vintage Carhartt jackets). They paired us with our horses: Rudy, Murphy, and Fred. By the end of the shoot, we had all fallen in love. This place has that effect on people.
Zapata Ranch is available for all-inclusive stays of three nights or more, starting at $1,530 per person. More details here.