I have to admit I am spoiled. In my role with M4 Ranch Group, I regularly visit and experience the wonders of some of the finest ranches in the western United States. Having explored literally hundreds of ranching properties in the past two decades, I have learned to look beyond the majestic landscapes and finely appointed ranch homes to see the significant level of investment—emotional, financial and physical—that owners have made toward preserving a ranch’s history and lands, its legacy. Ranches deemed “legacy” ranches are steeped in historical significance, natural resources and bountiful wildlife. They are often the result of careful cultivation, great effort, passion and commitment to building a lasting monument to the ranching tradition of the West.
In today’s world, where commodities and resources have become largely disposable, legacy ranches represent an impressive effort to maintain and protect not only a piece of the western frontier, but a way of life.
In today’s culture of rapid-pace, multi-screen and readily available information, we often hear of big business tycoons, such as Ted Turner, who own hundreds of thousands of acres of ranchland but we do not ider their dedication to preserving the very heritage and life of those lands. Such accomplished people have invested financial resources needed to amass and protect these ever rarer legacy properties, iconcic ranches such as the Wagner Ranch that spans the North Texas plain, the Vermejo Park Ranch of Northern New Mexico, the stunning Belle Ranch located in the antelope plains of New Mexico or the infamous King Ranch of South Texas.
But seldom do you see a legacy ranch lying at the foot of 14,000-foot peaks or backed into 100,000s acres of public lands that include designated wilderness areas, national parks and national forests. With as few remaining legacy ranches now dotting the western plains, there are even fewer that have been built and maintained that are located in the high-elevation Mountains of the West. Historically, miners typically settled the high country or mountain regions of the West, with patented mining claims typically being only 10.3 acres. In some larger mineral strikes, hundreds of miners lived together on the multitude of 10.3-acre mineral claims, each miner working to make his stake of pending wealth. Further down the valleys from these lofty mining claims, “placer” claims began to emerge, with “placer” claims allotted in 160-acre tracts that were typically located along the high alpine valley floors. These types of land claims where originally patented in areas where the forward-thinking entrepreneurs planned to mill tons of gold or silver ore on the path to riches. Township communities formed further down the valleys to serve as supply lines for mining camps in places like Telluride, Durango or Crested Butte, Colorado. Just beyond these high alpine townships were the first deeded agricultural grounds in the West, with land parcels comprised of 160-acre homesteads, where hard-working “meat and potatoes” families worked to grow potatoes, harvest hay and run cattle.
Given the history and function of land across the western highlands, settled in 160-acre increments by the West’s toughest immigrants, cowboys and dirt farmers, imagine the not-so-simple task of cobbling together rocky and treacherous sections to develop a legacy ranch. This task became even more challenging as, over time, these high country towns went from boom to bust, taking the demand for local beef and potatoes to a standstill. Many producing families did all they could to hang on, many leveraged there homesteads with the local grocer or mercantile to keep staples on the table and farms equipped. As the bills mounted and demand for goods, services and labor disappeared, many western settlers traded their land as a means of settling old debts. To this day, some of the mountain valley’s top ranching families are descended from these former shop owners. So it is with that there is a sincere lack of legacy ranch inventory existing in the high alpine mountains of the West.
So few legacy ranches can be found in mountainous regions that meet “true” legacy standard that discovering and exploring one can be the experience of a lifetime. The Wolf Springs Ranch, a high-altitude alpine ranch that lies at the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, is just such a ranch. It backs into jagged peaks and spans from the bases of peaks to the expansive valley floor of Colorado’s Wet Mountain Range. My work with this ranch has given me the opportunity to truly understand and appreciate the depth of commitment needed to build a legacy ranch of such caliber. Over the course of 28 years, a forward-thinking and passionate ranch owner assembled dozens of land purchases, including land trades with the federal government, the State of Colorado and also lots negotiated as private land purchases. This decades-long commitment and dedication has resulted in the amassing of more than 55,000 deeded mountain acres, building what is seldom found—one of the largest high elevation ranches in the American West.
At one point, while standing on the deck of what the land owner calls “Eagles’ Nest Cabin East,” I realized that the owner of Wolf Springs Ranch literally owns the vista, every mesa, peak, river and plain that could be seen from this cabin. In Disney’s iconic animated film The Lion King, King Mufasa tells his son Simba to look out over the African savannah, explaining that their kingdom extends to “everything the light touches.” Standing on that deck, viewing a western skyline of jagged mountain peaks sprawled out before me that overlooked green valleys dotted with blue lakes, the tremendous scale and majesty of the 55,000-acre property overwhelms.
The plethora and vibrancy of the wildlife that roam Wolf Creek Ranch is unparalleled, even by Colorado standards. I was literally in awe, with the sound of dueling Elk bugles rising from the mesa below me, and the fall Aspen colors dotting the green of the pine-covered ridges. That evening, I saw three bears, meadows filled with dozens of trophy-quality, rutting bulls and some spectacular mule deer bucks. Having been a professional outfitter for more than 20 years, with ownership of camps in the most remote parts of Colorado, Montana and Alaska, I typically bedded in a sleeping bag at least 100 nights a year for most of those 20 years. I am no stranger to experiencing breathtaking landscapes and fraternizing with trophy-caliber wildlife. Even so, experiencing first-hand the raw power of those 55,000+ deeded and contiguous acres and their estimated herd of more than 1,000 resident elk, for me, bordered on the spectacular.
The Wolf Springs Ranch is so large it sets its own hunting seasons, and its owner has the right to determine which weapons will be used during those hunting seasons, with guaranteed licenses for friends, clients and family. The ranch also opens its doors each year to cow hunters who assist in controlling the herd, all while building a relationship of respect and appreciation with many of the local families. The ability to hunt Wolf Creek Ranch has become so prestigious that residents can wait a minimum of 18 years to draw the very few and extremely coveted Ranching for Wildlife bull tags.
Certainly, a variety of legacy-class ranches exist and can be purchased across the broad expanse of the American West. But for those who seek unparalleled privacy, beauty, serenity, luxury and their own piece of a rich history, ranches like Wolf Springs Ranch provide opportunity to authentically experience the American West. Perhaps more importantly, owning a ranch of Wolf Springs Ranch caliber provides opportunity to own a piece of the “Pride Lands” by become an integral part of a living legacy.