Working in Colorado on a dude ranch

1st July 2007 – 22nd September 2007

In between first and second year at University I worked on a dude ranch (meaning ranch with accommodation and activities for holiday guests) in Colorado under the BUNAC work America scheme. I was there for just over 3 months. Taz and I had been together for 9 months, much of which he had spent working away in Milton Keynes. So it seems absence really might make the heart grow fonder!

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I landed at Gunnison airport and was picked up by one of the other workers and driven up to the ranch, Sean. On the way I was soaking in the sights, winding mountain roads, loads of trees and the beautiful Gunnison river. The ranch its self is just as beautiful to look at and the river passes right through it. Some mornings I’d wake up convinced it was raining hard, and then remembered it’s just gushing water 15 meters away from our bunk! It was pretty much shorts and t-shirt weather the whole time.

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I broke even, maybe even made a few hundred dollars by working here. My ticket cost me £576 return to a small airport called Gunnison, via Philadelphia and Denver. I think we got payed $120 a week, around £60 at the time. There was little to spend your money on, I spent most of it when Taz visited me 2 months in and we went to Crested Butte for 6 days. I had stacked up 6 days off to get a good break with him! Accommodation in bunks was provided and a really good breakfast, dinner and tea everyday. 3 times a week there was a “cook out” which is basically a huge BBQ with cowboy songs and dancing. I had steak and crab legs every time. We worked 6 days a week and as a housekeeper our hours were generally 8am – 3 or 4pm and then the rest of the time was ours.



A couple of weeks in I took a trip with a few others to Montrose to register locally that we foreigners were working in Colorado. We stopped by the Blue Mesa Reservoir.


Sometimes I’d use the swimming pool and the sauna in my free time, and as I had just run the London marathon a few months ago, I ran 5 miles up the road and then 5 miles back down a couple of times a week because it was too beautiful not too. My first run at altitude was so incredibly difficult. My legs were like lead and I couldn’t breath. I also had a nose bleed for nearly 2 weeks here because of altitude! Once I went rock climbing outside, I wasn’t so into rock climbing then, but when in the Rockies it seems like a good idea. Sometimes I borrowed a car to use a climbing wall in Gunnison.


On 4th July I hopped in with other staff and visited Crested Butte for a fireworks show and there were cowboy bands everywhere. Here’s a picture with my bunk mate Brandy on the left and Sarah from Stockport on the right.

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Gunnison was the nearest town, 17 miles away. It’s a decent sized town and we’d go there sometimes in a car to the off licence and send somebody over 21 in for alcohol. I was 20 at the time and felt like a right criminal having a drink, they’re so strict! Crested Butte is a much nicer, ski resort town, and this is about 25 miles away. Occasionally we’d go for drinks in the town and I’d get asked for ID and that was that, I was out! So usually I was the designated driver. But usually we’d only be drinking at the ranch because of the age problem for many of us. So we had regular wrangler bunk parties, and occasionally  anything but clothes parties!



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After 1 night out in Crested Butte we were camping 5 minutes walk away from the ranch. The camp ground has no lights or anything on it and you’ve to be very aware of bears. Bears would regularly try to break into the kitchen and if the bunk room door is ever left open, they have pushed their way inside before! On the way back in the car there were 3 of us in the “boot” of a 4×4 and the road is so winding that I threw up when I got out, right by the tent. So then you’re thinking “can a bear smell this?!”


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Going to a real rodeo was VERY high on the to do list in my llife, so seeing the bull riding and cowboys at the Gunnison rodeo was very very very cool! Booze in coke bottle essential due to continued ID-ing 😦

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Staff BBQ’s, nights with a keg round the fire and trips to nearby towns for food made this adventure really nice and I felt at home surrounded by friendly, like minded people.



Juan who lives in Albany, New York remains a good friend and we have managed to meet up at both side of the Atlantic since working at the ranch! Juan worked in the kitchen and made very good guacamole, always a good man to know.


With a few days off in a row I went to Colorado Springs with Kelly, a teacher from Las Vegas. I saw the highest suspension bridge in the world (Royal Gorge) and the Garden of the Gods. We also went up Pikes Peak and saw nothing but fog, saw a mine, and trekked up a cool waterfall. Good trip! 

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Taz came to visit me in Colorado. I came to pick him up at Gunnison airport after he’d spent a night in Denver where somebody tried to mug him when he went to a shop at night!!

We went to Crested Butte to a beautiful bed and breakfast that was run (coincidentally) by a British couple that won the green card lottery and moved to Colorado. It’s called Cristiana Guesthaus. They do the best apple spiced tea and the outdoor hot tub was great. The nice couple actually drove us back to the ranch, we had cycled there on bikes that weren’t really fit for purpose and it took like 4 hours or something ridiculous over the steep mountain path. It was dark as we wheeled in Crested Butte.

We had our 1st anniversary of getting together 🙂 What a great place to celebrate!

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We ventured further afield and saw a massive dam out driving one day, and the Black Canyon.


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We also managed to go white water rafting down the Taylor river!


Taz went home and I had a couple of weeks and I was back too, straight back into my second year at University, but not before a couple of rides out into the mountains. The reason I came here after all was the horses, and to ride with a western saddle… like a cowgirl!



Great summer. Great memories.

2 thoughts on “Working in Colorado on a dude ranch

  1. Brilliant Jemma,
    It sounds nearly exactly the same as my summer, 5 years after you did! I miss Harmels!!

  2. That was brilliant Jemma! I wish more past employees would blog about their experiences here at Harmel’s 🙂

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