The Wind River Ranch: A Rocky Mountain ‘library’ of history and inspiring stories |

The Wind River Ranch: A Rocky Mountain ‘library’ of history and inspiring stories

Marty Metzger | Fort Collins, Colo.
(Photos courtesy of the Wind River Ranch

Land is described by some as a living library of infinite volumes that entice hungry minds and encourage spirited imaginations.

Those who linger fleeting moments or stay a lifetime are included, granted a footnote, full page or entire chapter.

Illiterates who can’t read the land’s messages deem it a mere commodity, an endless resource to be recklessly siphoned or squandered. However, the astute learn to read, appreciate and cultivate it. As are a library’s offerings, it’s reading selections are diverse: how-to manuals, drama, humor, mystery, educational, children’s, teens’, adults’.

The land has much to teach.

Wind River Ranch in Estes Park, Colo., well-fits the above analogy.

Its 110 acres have a dog-eared past of archived events, from elk seeking water to humans climbing the high peaks. Many souls have here sought, or brought, wisdom and/or solace.

Rev. E. J. Lamb

In 1871, a newly ordained United Brethren minister was assigned by his home missionary board to a rugged territory.

Rev. Elkanah J. Lamb, born January 1, 1832, had first touched Colorado soil as an 1860 gold rush miner. But the young Wayne County, Ind., native, who came from a farming background in Iowa and Nebraska, quickly lost his zest for gold.

He returned home, where he experienced a calling to the ministry.

He clearly answered that Voice.

According to Lamb’s obituary on page one of the April 8, 1915, edition of The Loveland Daily Herald newspaper, “Rev. Lamb was one of the true pioneers of this section, having come here to preach the gospel in a raw, frontier country. He travelled continuously, conducting services wherever possible and giving freely of his time in caring for the sick. Those that survive of the early families of the Big Thompson valley attest this fact and scores treasure memories of his visits.”

The article noted that Rev. Lamb was the original owner of the territory surrounding Long’s Peak Inn.

On April 9, 1915, The Fort Collins Weekly Courier ran the following tribute in its front-page story:

“In making the statement that Rev. Lamb was a good man, conditions are not overdrawn. He was a ‘man created in the image of God’ and he devoted the greater part of his life to following the Master’s dictates, easing up the pain-stricken souls, and relieving distress where he could.”

It continued, “He came to Northern Colorado and, in addition to his work among the few settlers, established churches and Sunday schools in the valley of the Cache in Poudre, South Platte, Big and Little Thompson rivers. He traveled on horseback from one place to another … carrying broad cheer to many a heavy heart. For 35 years Rev. Lamb made his home in Estes Park. He knew every foot of the mountains and was the first guide to direct people to Long’s Peak. His experiences in the west were written and put in book form and he was the author of a number of religious works which acquired much circulation. The books reveal the character of the man.”

The history of Long’s Peak credits Lamb with making the first descent of the east face via a couloir now known as Lamb’s Slide, reportedly because the good Reverend inadvertently accomplished the feat primarily on his seat rather than his feet.

Lamb became the first regular Long’s Peak guide in 1878.

He quipped about his $5 per party fee, saying “If they would not pay for spiritual guidance, I compelled them to pay for material elevation.”

Eventually, Lamb’s lodge sold to his nephew, Enos Mills, whose love for Long’s Peak and surrounding areas culminated in the 1915 creation of Rocky Mountain National Park.

E. J. Lamb died at his residence at 207 Whedbee Street in Fort Collins on April 7, 1915, where, reported The Loveland Daily Herald, “he recently took up his home after taking treatments for inflammatory rheumatism (elsewhere called a ‘stroke of paralysis’) at the Sutherland Hospital in this city.”

The paper stated his health had begun failing 10 years prior, and The Fort Collins Weekly Courier’s announced “he went to Greeley not long ago to attend the funeral of a daughter, and following that his decline was quite noticeable.”

Rev. Lamb was survived by his widow, sons, Charles and Carlyle of Fort Collins, step-son, James Morger (also Fort Collins), a number of sons, most of whom are located in Iowa, Oregon and California, and grandsons (sons of Mrs. A.E. McMillan) in Iowa.

According to The Fort Collins Morning Express on April 11, 1915, Lamb’s funeral that afternoon was to be attended by “a large number of Estes Park people who will come here for that purpose. During the greater part of his residence in Northern Colorado, Rev. Lamb made Estes Park his home and his death at the ripe old age of four score and three years has cast a mantle of gloom over the homes of the older residents of the park country”.

The Wind River Ranch

E.J. Lamb’s lodge, founded in the late 1880s, became a guest ranch around 1930.

In 1997, as if the Reverend’s missionary zeal revisited the property, it sold and became a Christian guest ranch.

Don McIntyre, fine arts degree in hand, signed on in 1998 as Wind River Ranch’s children’s program director. The young man next became head wrangler. Now Wind River’s executive director, he still prefers the title “cowboy.”

McIntyre described a ranch stay as “an investment in your family.”

And, as said of E.J. Lamb, the staff at Wind River strives to “carry broad cheer to many a heavy heart” through activities, retreats, getaways and special events.

The ranch is authorized by the National Park Service and the Department of the Interior to provide horseback riding in Rocky Mountain National Park.

In 2014, Wind River will welcome visitors from near and far from May 25 through Oct. 2. Each week 65 guests pass through the ranch’s low-tech gate, at which high-tech ends.

Within, there is no cell phone reception nor television. Peace, relaxation and enjoyment replace the outside world’s frenzy. An old barn built in 1889 by original homesteader E.J. Lamb is still used today.

Quaint log cabins with rocking chairs on porches and wood burning fireplaces welcome guests to rustic elegance.

Is it cliché to say there’s something for everyone?

Judge for yourself:

• Horseback riding in the Rocky Mountain National Park and Roosevelt National Forest

• Whitewater rafting trips

• Inspirational Christian speakers and Bible studies

• Kids’ club, teens’ program, and nursery

• Golfing in Estes Park

• Hot tub and heated swimming pool

• Square dancing, hootenannies, evening campfires, wrangler breakfasts

• Trout fishing

• Volleyball

• Climbing wall and zipline

• Home cooking

• Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park

The Wind River Ranch riding program has an incredible safety record.

The wranglers know everything about their horses and are consistent with training, maintaining a herd of 65 horses, rather than leasing annually.

Head wrangler Nick Herold, 10 seasonal wranglers, and the horses are, according to McIntytre, “the best of the best.”

Each guest participates in a riding and horse orientation, can schedule a lesson in the sand arena, trail ride in the mountains, or take a breakfast ride to an aspen grove. (How do giant pancakes, grilled sausages, crispy hash browns, hot buttered biscuits, fresh fruit, donuts and hot coffee sound?)

Lil’ buckaroos under age 6 can ride “Brownie,” a pint-sized equine described as a legend in his own mind, who gently displays 15 years experience safely carrying youngsters.

“Cowboy” McIntyre proudly but humbly said, “In 17 years here, I’ve never seen a disappointed guest. We have an annual 80 percent return ratio.”

That stellar record continues because of promises kept and friendships forged — which appropriately leads to chapter three of this land’s reading lesson.

The “Journey for Jonathan”

Once upon a time, Texas lads Jonathan Avitia and Winston Hall shared a typical childhood in small town Gatesville.

Through time, Avitia became the brother Hall never had.

Years passed.

One winter day, Avitia called from his University of Colorado-Boulder dorm room to invite Hall to join him at a Rocky Mountain summer job. Avitia so-enjoyed his previous summer’s work at the “camp,” he encouraged Hall beyond refusal.

In summer 2001, he joined his friend at not some bare-bones camp, but rather Wind River Ranch — the well-appointed Christian guest ranch near Estes Park with lineage tracing to E.J. Lamb.

Not only did Hall immediately fall in love with the ranch, its people and purpose, but he and Avitia were there off and on for the following five years.

Hall’s blog notes they experienced everything from cattle drives to lightning storms, bear encounters, blizzards and wildfires. Their brotherly bond further strengthened through sharing the fullness of mountain life’s bounty.

They made friends from around the country and the world.

One year, Avitia purchased a saddle Hall came to covet — in a friendly, brotherly way. He even borrowed it for one entire summer after his purchase offers were repeatedly rebuffed.

That scuffed, worn saddle would become a symbol of undying friendship and carry one man to fulfillment of a promise made to the other. It would sit upon a once-wild horse while the man sitting atop both accomplished what most thought a wild idea. A long route of many trials but more blessings would be encountered on the “Journey for Jonathan.”

And, as said of Rev. E.J. Lamb, “he traveled on horseback from one place to another … carrying broad cheer to many a heavy heart.” ❖

Part Two of this story, will appear in next week’s Fence Post. For a sneak preview, follow Winston Hall’s online blog about the “Journey for Jonathan.”

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