Double RL Ranch
The drive up Highway 145 out of Cortez towards Telluride takes the traveler along the scenic Dolores River and panoramic landscapes so breathtaking that it can cause a driver plenty of distraction. The San Juan Mountains of southern Colorado are as spectacular in real life as they are in postcard photographs. It’s hard to find a prettier setting than Double RL Ranch just out of Ridgway, which served as home to Cowboy Artists of America and guests for the 2006 Trail Ride.
Host Ralph Lauren and ranch General Manager Tom Harrington provided an unforgettable setting and a memorable experience for the CAA members and guests during the annual Trail Ride, held from June 18-21. The camp was nestled in a beautiful meadow adjacent to acres of old-growth Aspen, right beneath the towering peaks of the San Juan range. Sunrise brought magnificent hues to the peaks long before first light hit the meadow and canvas teepees of the cowboys.
Trail Ride 2006 was memorable for a number of reason, including the fact that this was the first time the Double RL served as host ranch. The CAA members had been in the neighborhood in 1999 just down the road on the Sleeping Indian Ranch. It was John Ivory, a long-time friend of the CAA, who introduced the concept of hosting a CAA Trail Ride to Tom Harrington and Ralph Lauren. After attending the 2004 ride at the Diamond Tail and the 2005 ride at the 6666’s, Tom Harrington was a ready, willing and most able host.
A 100-year-old barn that had once been a homestead served as headquarters for the meals and business meeting. The cooks set up shop with their Dutch ovens and grills adjacent to the barn. On Tuesday evening, the majestic old barn served as the San Juan’s version of the Grand Ole Opry with Red Steagall, Don Hedgpeth and Bill Nebeker providing the music for a grand finale with all of the wives in attendance.
Cowboys and guests gathered on Sunday afternoon and by evening, a community of “cowboy teepees” had sprung to life on the meadow. Monday morning dawned cool and crisp and everyone up that early was pleased to share a pot of coffee made the cowboy way by Bill Owen over the campfire. The business end of a CA trail ride commenced after breakfast with the signing of tip sheets and the semi-annual business meeting. The business was concluded at noon and some saddled up for a first look at the beautiful forest country.
Tuesday was a day in the saddle. Early riders rose for breakfast at 4 a.m. and drove down the mountain to a set of corrals where the horses had spent the night. They were saddled and on the go by 6 a.m. to gather 175 pairs of cows and calves that were headed for greener pastures. It took the most of the 24 mounted riders to keep the herd moving up Highway 62 amidst the traffic and the desire for the mother-cows to turn back looking for their young-uns. By late morning, the herd and cowboys had arrived at the destination pasture, but care was needed to ensure that each cow was paired with her calf. It was a good opportunity for working cow-horses in the bunch to get some cutting and sorting work in the holding pen. After lunch on the mountain, some of the riders took their tired bodies and horses back to camp while others mounted up for a beautiful cross-country ride back to camp.
Tuesday evening was indeed a grand finale, with all of the wives of the CAA members and guests being driven to the ranch for social hour and dinner. The wives stayed in Telluride at the Peaks Resort and enjoyed three days of rest, relaxation, fine dining and, of course, spa activities. It was a spectacular evening, filled with friendly conversation, excellent food and the ballads, songs and talents of Red Steagall, Don and Sug Hedgpeth and Bill and Merry Nebeker.
The group was honored to have Emeritus Member Ken Riley on the ride this year for the first time since 1999. Ken really enjoyed himself and the company of his fellow CAA members. Also joining Ken was Emeritus Member Grant Speed. In addition to Red and Don, honorary members Ray Duncan and Bill Rey were on the ride. Bill graciously accepted the role of trial ride photographer and we all appreciate his efforts.
Other guests included Greg Brown of Cowboys and Indians magazine, Men’s Arts Council members Mike Cassel, Kirk Thompson and Tom Pearson; and Mike Duncan and Scott Butcher of the Diamond Tail Ranch, the 2007 host ranch. Attendees were pleased that Dr. Mark Kirk would again take the time to serve as trail ride doc. It’s always a comfort to know he’s along. Thankfully, the group didn’t need his whole medicine bag and decades of doctorin’ experience to keep us all going.
As dawn broke on Wednesday morning, it was time to start rolling up the bedrolls, pullin’ stakes on the teepees and loading up for the drive home. The time together around the camp fire, the stories, jokes and camaraderie are once again proof of the tie that binds the hearts and souls of the members of the CAA.