Meanwhile, back at the Ranch.

nicola at black mountain colorado dude ranch

NICOLA: Meanwhile back at the ranch…

So after dropping Mikey off at Denver airport for his banishment to the Caribbean, Vera, Banksy and I returned to the ranch for our summer in the saddle.

As staff photographer my new self described job was to try and capture everything that goes on at a week’s stay at Black Mountain Ranch. The aim being to provide the guests with images of those unguarded moments that occur when people are so engrossed in enjoying themselves that they don’t realise a photo has been taken as well as the general goings on around the place. To do this I rode out with different guests most days, parked myself at the shooting range, loitered most evenings in the saloon, and lurked around the corral and the kitchen. Basically try and be everywhere. Usually after a couple of days the guests got used to my stalking behaviour and became less conscious of me and my assortment of lenses. At the end of the week at the Saturday night cocktail party at Nowell’s place, the final selection of 300 or so photos were shown on his massive 60 inch screen. Then in the saloon afterwards I would make copies on a Black Mountain Ranch USB thumb drive for those that wanted to purchase them as a job lot. Flatteringly for me pretty much everyone did.  Then every Sunday as one set of guests left and the new lot arrived, I would send a selection to Kit who runs the phenomenally successful BMR Facebook page so she could post them, do laundry, shoot roping in the arena and start again. (You can see the FB page by clicking here.)

Unlike other ranches Black Mountain has a less structured approach when it comes to accommodating it’s ‘dudes’. There are so many wranglers that guests can choose how much or how little they want to ride, when they want to (and with whom), in groups rarely more than 4 or 5 people. In between riding you can shoot guns, swim in the pool, relax in a hot tub, shoot pool (or shuffleboard/fussball) in the saloon or simply chill out and do nothing. Nevertheless there are a number of regular events that take place throughout the week that most people like to participate in. The dinner ride, pack camp, whitewater rafting trip, cattle drive and a trip to the local Pro Rodeo at Steamboat Springs.

It’s a busy place and the staff work very hard. The wranglers do more than take rides out….they shovel shit, clear trails, mend fences, wash dishes, bartend, do airport pick ups and the housekeeping staff often do double duty too; for example when not making delicious bread and deserts Danni the pastry chef can usually be found in the laundry washing sheets. It’s intense, and with the long hours and everyone working in close proximity it’s a bit like the ‘Survivor’ reality show or as we liked to call it “As the Ranch Turns” when we mused about the latest behind the scenes gossip, (and no, I’m not going to tell). But despite it all, this disparate group approached their myriad of tasks with gusto, managed to help each other out whenever anyone needed it and made sure everyone who stayed had an amazing time.

nicola and lefty at black mountain ranch

The guests were a really mixed bag and consequently each week was very different. Some people were very horsey and had ridden all their lives (eg the Kentucky thoroughbred breeder and his family) and others had never been on a horse before. There were rocket scientists (yes really), grannies, 3 year old kids and hard core party animals. Couples, families (including some family reunions) and singles. The only common denominator was that they all wanted to experience a slice of ranch life. These folks not only came from the USA but also from the UK, Germany, Australia, and Hong Kong amongst other places. Apart from Denver being an international airport I wondered why people came so far and then it dawned on me….

America exports so much of its ‘culture‘ (food, TV, music) that we consume around the world that there is very little that is authentic which still remains in the country only accessible by visiting it. Ranch life is uniquely American and the west is the only place where you can sample it. It’s a piece of genuine Americana and if you haven’t tried it you definitely should. 

So in the end while it was difficult to be away from Mikey, if I had to be anywhere without him I couldn’t have asked for a better place to be. So at the risk of being sappy I’d like to send my thanks to the May family (Nowell, Kaylee, Brice, Cyndy, Ryan, Amy and Dianne) for making me feel so at home and thanks to my colleagues and now friends (Chad, Amy G, Jessi, Anna, Ethan, Kyle, Vic, Helen, Jacki, Bob, Andy, Betty, Danni, Maime, Flo, Jack, Polly, Andrea, Paige, and Jimmy) for letting me join their world and be a cowgirl for a while. It was a real privilege.

Originally posted at Van-Dalism by Nicola Cornwell.

Be sure to check out her rodeo shots and ranch shots too!