Can tourism save the ranching legacy of the American West?
From the top of my horse Cinco, a seemingly endless landscape of high desert scrub, barren sagebrush, and sandy plains unfolds before me. Behind me, a herd of bison strolls against the backdrop of snow-capped peaks. For a girl who grew up in the claustrophobic New Jersey suburbs, this vast expanse of wild land is something that only existed in the films of John Ford and the paintings of Charles Russell. The mythical American West, with its cowboys and cattle ranchers, was a romantic notion in my imagination – a distinctive chapter that I had relegated to our country’s past.
But as I walk through the 50,000 acre pastures of Medano Ranch in southern Colorado, I begin to understand that ranching is truly part of the present in the West and is crucial to its future. Medano is half of the Medano-Zapata Ranch, a 103,000 acre working ranch located east of the San Luis Valley, adjacent to the geological wonder of Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. Owned by the Nature Conservancy and managed by Ranchlands, a fourth generation, family owned and operated ranch management company, the property is home to a herd of 2,000 wild bison, Angus cattle, horses and the world’s largest business. Ranchlands home.