How the west was fun |

How the west was fun

Ted AlvarezVail, CO Colorado
AE western family KA 6-28-07

WOLCOTT While driving to visit 4 Eagle Ranchs Western Family Night a few weeks ago, peace was the furthest thing from my mind schedules, work, and other obligations crowded my mind as I sped down a dusty, lonesome Highway 131. Grabbing my notepad and walking briskly towards the gates, I was barely thinking about why I was even there.But as soon as I passed those gates, time slowed down. I could smell barbecue wafting in from the kitchen, past the red-checkered tables of the dining hall. House country band Airborn played a lazy, hazy rendition of All My Exes Live In Texas, and several young kids gathered around a docile donkey and a sleepy sled dog. The dogs owner, a white-bearded, pelt-wearing storyteller named Red Tail, kept a circle of kids and parents around the fire enraptured with his mountain-man tales of Old-West survival. Boys and girls played cowboys and Indians and practiced roping calves on an emerald lawn, while the last snows of the New York Mountains sparkled in the background. So long, real-world troubles: The West had won.I feel that this one of the last places that captures the feel of the old Rocky Mountain homesteads, said Red Tail, who comes by 4 Eagle Ranchs Western Family Night to trade visits for vittles. You really get a taste of what it was like in the old days of the West. You still have the acreage, and you still have the traditions. Its one of my favorite places to come. Of course, I also love the vittles.4 Eagle Ranch owner and manager Tom Backhus caters most of the ranchs business to private events and parties, but once a week he opens the ranch to the public and puts on the best hoe-down for miles. Admission is $40 for adults, $20 for seniors and kids 5-12 and free for kids 4 and under; tickets include everything but bar drinks and horseback riding.The meals are great, the music is a big draw and of course the wagon rides and mountain-man storyteller are very popular, Backhus said. Its the perfect place for the whole family, with roasting marshmallows and ranch games for the kids, and dancing for the adults. Everybody can find something to love here.

San Franciscan Michelle Brasch knew about 4 Eagle Ranch before: She had her rehearsal dinner here, and shed returned with her children (Aidian, 5, Ava, 4 and Donovan, 2) to both experience the West and visit their grandparents, who live in Cordillera.It was the best rehearsal dinner ever you get your crew together, and everybody was dancing into the night with this great country-rock band and the beautiful mountain backdrop, Brasch said. It was so much fun we were worried the actual wedding at the Sonnenalp wouldnt stand up to it! But they did a great job, too. It was fantastic to have a really fun, casual party as a balance to the formal, elegant wedding.Lelia Brougher came with her husband and children from Atlanta to meet with family from all over California at Beaver Creek. Shed attended Western family Night once before, and planned to bring everyone back.I knew it was Wednesdays and that wed be staying over a Wednesday, she said. I love that we can bring our kids here to listen to the storyteller or take hayrides, but the grown-ups have a lot to do, too.Broughers daughter Elizabeth, 7, struggles when asked to pick a favorite activity.I like the hayride no, I like playing with the donkey and roasting marshmallows, she says. The chocolate smeared at the corners of her mouth seems to indicate she might like the cookies best of all.Mary and Paul Von Mohr, who live on Amelia Island in Florida, heard about Western Family night from their hotel in Bachelor Gulch and decided to try it on a whim with children Alex, 9, Christian, 6, and Sarah, 3.The food is to die for, and youre in the middle of this supreme environment, with all the music and atmosphere its really neat, Mary Von Mohr said. When we rode on the hayride, Saul, the ranch hand, allowed Christian to sit with him next to the cattle. Its pretty special.I didnt have amy expectations, but this is very cool and impressive, said Paul Von Mohr. Its a wonderful way to end a vacation.

As the sun began to set, some visitors left, but several stayed to request yet another encore from outdoor acoustic guitarist Rich Ganson, who often let children sing the words to James Taylor or John Denver songs, whether they knew them or not. A fresh batch of marshmallows sent a pack of kids running full bore for the fire pit, and they scrambled to snatch their favorite poking stick.Families Id already seen leaving towards the parking lot kept reappearing for one last photo, or to indulge the kids with another game of horeshoe throwing or a final roasted ear of corn. Red Tail put down his vittles to tell one more story to a load of kids fresh off the last hayride.They get excited about the muskets and the knives, but they really enjoy learning about what it was really like, and how we survived one in four of us didnt survive, Red Tail said. Life was very primitive. I try to let them get a feel for what it was really like.Hazel and Matthew Murray, the parents of Michelle Brasch who live in Cordillera, call their in-laws while they finish their red wine to reminisce about the fantastic rehearsal dinner party they threw at 4 Eagle Ranch.Its so nice to come up here, and Im sure my kids cant wait to come back, Brasch said. You get to feel the west.As her son copper-haired son Aidan blows past in a reddish blur towards the marshmallow fire, I attempted to get his perspective on Western Family Night.Whats my favorite thing? he repeated.This whole place.Arts & Entertainment writer Ted Alvarez can be reached at 748-2939 or Daily, Vail, Colorado

===================While everyone else went home at the conclusion of Western Family Night, my experience was just beginning. This year, 4 Eagle Ranch introduced Toms Tent, a deluxe campground just down the road from the ranch, and I was spending the night.Campers expecting primitive conditions are in for a shock: The large canvas tent is actually more like a yurt, and it features practically all the comforts of home in wild setting. Foot-pump running water, clean bathrooms and gas stoves make living easy, while an elevated wood floor covered in fur rugs and a comfy futon ensures a cozy nights sleep.The campsite is designed to hold as many as six people, but I had the place all to myself. The property features a placid pond, a natural running stream, a hammock and a canopied picnic table, all lit by lanterns and spread out under looming trees. Since I was solo, I set to work building the tallest fire I could using the ample fuel from the pre-cut woodpile. Then, sitting in an Adirondack chair, I kicked back with a cup of tea to watch the shooting stars.The first thing people do when they walk in is say, oh my god it surprises them how nice everything looks, said Tom Backhus. Its perfect for grandparents who want to take the grandkids camping, but without having to worry about the extra effort. We had one grandfather ride over with the kids on a horse cart, and the grandmother came by car later for dinner.I bedded down that night in my sleeping bag on the futon, so I awoke without the customary chills or cricks in my back from rocks on the ground. A cup of fresh coffee (with a marshmallow or two from the stocked pantry) and my time at Toms Tent was over. I was less than ten miles from my house, but I felt a world away. Toms Tent accomodates four for $300 and up to six for an additional $50 per person. Special conditions can allow for more than six people (parties, etc). Queen size mattresses can be brought in for guests, and a personal chef is available. To book Toms Tent, visit or call 970-926-3372.=====================

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