Two nights left of Western Family Night at 4 Eagle Ranch in Wolcott |

Two nights left of Western Family Night at 4 Eagle Ranch in Wolcott

AE Western Family Night 5 KL 8-16-06

WOLCOTT ” Reject is intimidating ” at first. Just hearing his name sent mad science scenarios rolling through my brain. But he’s no experiment, I thought, watching the gentle giant graze on pasture grass in his large pen.

Up close, however, Reject’s sheer size made me unconsciously stumble backward from the fence. That’s when the kids started taunting me.

“He won’t hurt you,” one said with a giggle, fearlessly shoving his hand through the barbed wire to tug on Reject’s dark, woolly fur.

“Don’t you want to feed him?” another one asked, as if I would be missing out on the most fun thing at the ranch if I didn’t.

“Sure I do,” I said in defense, once again inching closer to the head of the 6-foot-tall body, weighing about 2,000 pounds.

Reject snorted and softly butted his horns against the fence, taunting me too, I suspected. So I reached into the coffee tin, pulled out an alfalfa cube, slipped my hand through the fence, palm facing up and fed the beast.

Reject happily accepted, lapping up the cube with his heavy, sandpaper tongue more like a kitten than a buffalo.

“His whole herd rejected him. He was bottle fed from day one,” Tom Backhus said. “He doesn’t bite, but he slobbers a whole lot.”

Backhus, who owns 4 Eagle Ranch in Wolcott, adopted Reject from a couple who raise bison for butchering. He was in line to become veal, but the wife who nurtured him from birth just couldn’t do it. She sent him to Backhus to live in 4 Eagle’s menagerie.

Reject quickly becomes the center of attention during Western Family Nights Wednesday evenings at the ranch from July to August. But he’s only the star momentarily. There are too many exciting activities at 4 Eagle to concentrate on fluffy old Reject for too long.

Family Nights begin at 5 p.m. A cowgirl greets you at the entrance, but after that, families have the run of the ranch, as if it were your own, free to explore the original homesteader cabins, barn, or to throw horseshoes, practice your fly-fishing cast or just relax and enjoy the mountain views and sunset.

“It reminds me of stuff I did when I was little,” said Shelly Hendry of Houston, who was at family night for the second time in two weeks while on vacation in Vail. “Anything where my kids can be busy and happy makes me happy.”

Families tend to hit the barbecue buffet in the barn first, piling steak and chicken breast on their plates before settling into the outdoor dining area. There are plenty of sides too, for finicky eaters, like “cowboy” baked beans, roasted potato wedges and corn on the cob cooked on the grill. Leave room in your belly for homemade fruit cobbler and chocolate chip cookies, too.

Feed the little cow hands quickly, as 4 Eagle is all about wholesome distractions, especially when Rich Ganson takes his post in the dining area. In minutes, the musician has a miniature band at his feet playing the washboard and spoons to “You Are My Sunshine.”

“I’m a child who hasn’t grown up,” Ganson said about his kid-friendly act. “Any kind of involvement and they’re having fun.”

Ian Adams, 9, of Iowa was jamming with Ganson on a string-less banjo to a Santana tune. It was the third time Ian and his family have been to Western Family Night.

“It’s sweet,” Ian said. “The mountains, it’s so peaceful here.”

Tables are abandoned fast for campfire and marshmallows, horse-drawn wagon rides or steer-head roping. Cory Nasstrom, 12, and his sister Kayla, 9, of Littleton were practicing their lasso work.

“The trick is to aim at the horn,” Cory said of the fake cattle target. “You need a lot of slack.”

Parents linger at the tables finishing their beer or wine from the cash bar and meeting other ranch-goers. It’s hard not to feel relaxed when the only worry is how many marshmallows their kids are eating at the campfire.

“I’m here to compare Texas ranch life with Colorado ranch life,” Harold Pollman of Dallas said. He was at the ranch with his grandkids. “This measures up every bit as well as a Texas dude ranch party, and I’ve been going to those parties for 85 years. This is as good as it gets.”

Even for DINKS (dual income, no kids), Western Family Night is worth the drive because of its fountain-of-youth quality. The minute the adrenaline hits from feeding a large beast you’ll feel like a kid again ” and then you will find yourself chasing after the wagon for the last hayride of the night.

Arts and Entertainment Editor Cassie Pence can be reached at 748-2938 or

Vail, Colorado

What: Western Family Night.

When: Wednesday and Aug. 30

from 5-9:30 p.m.

Where: 4 Eagle Ranch

in Wolcott.

Cost: $40 for adults, $20 for children ages 5-12 and seniors age 62 and older. Kids ages 4 and younger are free. Price includes dinner and horse-drawn wagon rides. There is a cash bar.

Directions: Eagle Ranch is located in a private valley just 30 minutes west of Vail and 20 minutes west of Beaver Creek. Take Interstate-70 west to Wolcott exit 157; Drive four miles north of Wolcott on Colorado Highway 131.

Information: Call 926-3372 for more information.

Vail Colorado

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