Life on the Ranch

Our Amazing Staff At Avalanche Ranch

Chicken working the front desk at Avalanche Ranch in Colorado

It seems appropriate this month to honor our staff and to give thanks for their hard work and loyalty. Without our staff, we would be lost! And with them, we are in luck! For they are the bedrock of the operation and they make every day a success.

We currently have 13 people (in addition to our family members) on staff here: 2 people in maintenance, 4 at the front desk, 1 on-call and 6 housekeepers.

Dave and John are our Maintenance Men. They both joined our team in the spring of 2016. With Dave’s energy, experience and ideas we have been able to accomplish a plethora of projects. We have remodeled many kitchens and bathrooms this year and resolved a bunch of plumbing issues. As most of our cabins were built long ago we find there is always something in need of modernizing. Dave has also revolutionized the operations of the hot springs mechanical room, hopefully reducing the amount of head scratching around here!

John came to us with lots of experience in the lodging industry. He is a great resource when it comes to everything hotel! He has seen it and he has resolved it. When he pulls up in his old Chevy with his fuzzy dice hanging off the mirror, we know things are going to get done. He has had to carry a full load with his families needs but has been steadfast and hardworking when able. He is the most deserving of the good family news he just received and he is the most animated and happy we have seen him in a long time! YEAH!

Avalanche Ranch front desk staff

In the office running the front desk and the retail shop, we have Robin, Ally, Grace and Gabby. Robin came on staff in October of 2014 and we wonder how we operated before her!?! She wears her heart on her sleeve, is kind to everyone and is always in motion. Guests love her! And rightfully! She takes care of everyone in a genuine and thoughtful manner. As a guest departed recently, I overheard her comment to Robin, “What would they do without you?”. Honestly, we can’t imagine.

Ally joined us in April. She is full of energy and a people person as well. Her flair for the retail store is wonderful! She is always attentive to the enormous variety of items we offer and really enjoys sharing her knowledge with the guests. She has taken on a full load balancing schoolwork and Avalanche Ranch and is impressively on top of it all!

Grace and Gabby are our newest additions to our Avalanche Ranch “family”. We are excited and grateful to have them!

We are so lucky to have the 6 hard-working and reliable women that make up the housekeeping staff: Felicisima, Laura, Lili, Nersi, Leticia and Lizbeth. The laundry room is right below my living room and kitchen and I am often privy to their laughing and chatter when I am at home. They are lively and funny. And they are all related. I am still navigating the threads of their relation, but I think this is it: Felicisima is Laura and Lili’s mom. Felicisima’s brother is married to Lizbeth. Laura’s husband is Leticia’s husband’s brother. And Nersi! Shoot I forgot how she is related. I have to ask her again, but she and I are both quiet… so.

Avalanche Ranch housekeeping staff

Felicisima and Laura joined us here in the spring of 2012. I think I can remember 1 or 2 days that Felicisima has requested off. Otherwise, she has been here 5 days a week for 5 years. She is meticulous. Yet easy going.

Laura has the difficult job of translating between myself and the housekeepers. My Spanish is limited and so she is often the go-between and she is very diplomatic.

Lili came on to help out part-time and I immediately needed her full-time. Despite working two jobs and being a mother of a young child she has never complained or turned down the work.

Leticia is the jokester. She is quick to laugh and tease. The other ladies call her “Gorda”. Most women wouldn’t go for that. She is opinionated and questioning. Which helps keep me on my toes and not stagnating.

Nersi is quiet and I realize I don’t know much about her. But I am impressed by her work ethic and her reliability. She has been here just shy of a year. Recently we joked about an incident in one of the cabins and it was the first time that we broke through the language barrier to humor.

Lizbeth is our newest addition. She had the hard role of joining a group and being the newest arrival. Often in a group of women, it can be lethal. But she is steadfast, works hard and is a quiet authority. She is learning English on the side and cracks a big shy smile when you ask her how it’s going.

Avalanche Ranch staff cleaning the hot springs

William and his wife, Kenna, just moved on site to be on call at night. William is an aspiring musician who also wears a tool belt. He is super friendly and willing. His nightly rounds on the grounds and through the pool area have taken a significant weight from my dad’s load. (Not that my dad won’t find something else to carry!)

I am not great at telling the staff how great they are. I don’t take them for granted, quite the opposite, but I forget to express and applaud all the amazing contributions they do. They have told me a few times that I’m not great at communicating either… So let it be known, I am thankful! And I hope they stay with us as long as possible!

Staying in a Cabin


1. A private room or compartment on a ship.
2. A small shelter or house, made of wood and situated in a wild or remote area.
Cottage, Log Cabin, Shack, Chantey, Hut

1. confine in a small place.


When I think of the history of the Western United States I often visualize caravan wagons, homesteaders building log cabins and a landscape full of wildlife. I am a connoisseur of Western literature and also devour Western movies, so my images are aided by fiction and Hollywood. But the reality is the West was discovered and developed by people traveling in caravans and building log cabins. And the West was full of wildlife and still is.

When I analyze the traffic to our Avalanche Ranch website we rank our key-words, the words people enter into the search engines that will pull our site up. “Log Cabin”, “Colorado Cabins”, “Cabins and Hot Springs” rank high on the list. That means people that find us are looking specifically for a cabin. I assume that they know the general meaning of what kind of accommodation a “cabin” is.

What if our prospective guests search us strictly for “Hot Springs” and they see our reviews, the beautiful pictures and then, they book… but, they have no experience with the “cabin” genre of lodging accommodations.

It is a genre. In the lodging industry, there are different types of lodging. More familiar to people is the difference between a Motel and a Hotel. Or between the Holiday Inn Express and the Ritz Carlton. Most hotels have daily service and expected conveniences (like a gym or breakfast included). If a person that has frequented many hotels, but never a “cabin”, what will they expect when they come?

I have frequented many cabins. And we have lots of guests who have done the same. The guests who are familiar with “cabins” usually call and ask the following questions: Do you provide linens and towels? Do you provide wood for the wood-burning stoves? Is there heat? When I field these questions I know they will be pleasantly surprised when they arrive. Because like me they have been to cabins that when you open the door you feel like you should have spurs on your boots, dirt in your nostrils and no expectation of a shower.
The cabins that are just a shelter and an access point to the great outdoors. Our cabins, within the context of “cabins”, are well appointed and clean. But they are not at the top of the ladder. We pride ourselves on providing a top-notch cabin experience at an affordable level. Our cabins are “cabiny” on the inside and outside, the decor and themes picked out by myself and my mom, with love.

Recently, we have experienced more people finding us and staying with us who are not equipped for “cabin” life. If you don’t know how cabins differ from a typical hotel I imagine there is no way to properly form a mental image. We want to find a way to better inform our guests.

We have posted the definition of a cabin on the splash page of our website to start. But a definition may not be enough. Because the definition truly starts when the cabin was built. Our cabins were built between 1889 and 1950. Building codes didn’t exist. They are not built on foundations. Other elements influence the definition as well. Where it is located. We are in the mountains, on a ranch and near trees. So part of the cabin experience includes the residents of the mountains, forest, and ranch. We have deer, bear, mice, squirrels, bugs, and birds. The sheep, llama, and chickens reside nearby. Our goal is to keep all wildlife out of the cabins. But you may see them on the property and must be prepared.

Maybe… the best way to preface a stay in a cabin is to suggest it as a sampling of Western history. The homesteaders who built Cabin #13 and the barn started a legacy. Fortunately, we have upgraded the cabins and they now have plumbing, electricity, heat and modern comfort. But they still retain the authentic rough-hewn wood, tin roofs, mountain views and access to the outdoors. There are dramatic differences between present day and 1889 (there are motorized vehicles on the road!). However, the astounding beauty is the same, still attracting people to this area today as it did in 1889. No need to remember your spurs, but please remember we are a cabin resort!

Coming Home

Every year we travel to the lake country in Northern Wisconsin to luxuriate in quiet relaxation, swimming, island living, and loon calls. Our voyage there is tradition. It is the mid-western lineage flowing through our veins that inspires us to drive 22 hours East and North to find water. Root beer colored lake water full of Bass and Musky. 78 degree water, the perfect temperature for kids to jump into all day long. We love it and it is beautiful.

But…There is nothing like coming home from vacation to remind me of how lucky I am to live where I do. When we hit the Eastern plains of Colorado, cruising I-76 and are past Fort Morgan heading West… my eyes are searching. The mountains are there, out of focus at first, then coming into focus. When we crest Floyd Hill West of Denver my senses are alert. The mountains to me are an embrace that comforts and welcomes me. The landmarks that rise up hundreds of feet, easily seen from any direction give me back my sense of direction.
I remember a professor in college stating that she felt claustrophobic in the mountains, like she was being compressed. I can’t relate to that reaction. I feel tucked-in and oriented. I need to look up at granite peaks, forward at valleys and down at crystal clear streams to know I am home.

And that is what I find when we finally pull onto Highway 133 at Carbondale. After passing the fire station South of town the Crystal River Valley draws us forward, Mt. Sopris towers above and the Crystal River dips and flows to our East. After two weeks in the North country all of the details of home come into precise focus. The sky is vibrant blue, Elephant Mountain is more dramatic, Avalanche Ranch is lush green, and our vegetable garden is amazing.
There is undeniable beauty in the places I visit. The rolling hills and small family farms in Iowa, the inlet of the lake we frequent in Wisconsin with its delicate water lilies and Blue Heron, the calls of the loons as we doze off at night. But I could argue that none of it compares to the breath-taking geologic landscape of the Glenwood Canyon, to the raw natural beauty of the Crystal River Valley and the hidden splendor of Avalanche Ranch.

Transformation From Life On The Ranch

In the summer months, we witness a transformation from when our guests arrive to when they depart. With some groups, the transformation is more dramatic than others.

In the summer we have a 3-night minimum, so guests stay longer than in other months.  Some family reunions, weddings, and Yoga retreats stay even longer, between 4-7 nights. Our guests travel from all over the world, but the largest contingency is from the Denver metro area, Texas cities, and California. We try to advertise with direct honesty, real pictures of the property, the interiors of the cabins, and descriptions of the mountains.

The map on our “Find Us” page is accurate and shows that we are nearly 4 hours from the Denver airport. However, there is no way to explain to some people how remote and pastoral Avalanche Ranch truly is, and how a cabin here is different from a 4-star hotel room. Their imagination does not have the experience or imagery to capture it.

Often people are wound tight from the city when they show up at Avalanche Ranch. Their expectations are not in line with our reality. We do not have Uber service here, and there is no cell service on the property. The nearest coffee shop is 20 minutes away. Our wi-fi speed is only 3mbs compared to their 100mbs at home. We do not service the cabin daily. Their anxiety on arrival is palpable.

Two days ago, Ally, who works in the office, came up the hill to the office holding two iced coffees from Starbucks. Most days she merrily greets guests and chats idly on arrival. That morning she felt an intense stirring in the guests with envious stares. “Where did you get those?” one of the guests inquired, audibly longing for an iced coffee from Starbucks. She said it was like she was holding a golden chalice and maybe there was a chance of coffee mugging (no pun intended).

That incident was day 2 of a 7-day family reunion. What we witnessed the rest of the week was them settling in, slowing down and melting into country living. They adapted to the occasional mouse, the self-sufficiency of our accommodations, the lack of cyber access. When this group departed, they were much calmer. “Mellow” is the perfect word to describe them.  Maybe even transformed.

This is not uncommon at Avalanche Ranch. A group last year showed up from L.A., New York and other cities around the U.S. Their arrival was intense and uncomfortable, they took jabs at what they saw as our insufficiencies. We tried to comfort them, but we cannot conjure Uber or technology or the Ritz Carlton. We are who we are. The beauty of the experience is that they left in a completely different state of mind. They were happy and healthy and peaceful. They loved Avalanche Ranch!

Our departing guests act as testimony to the success of life at Avalanche Ranch. They may not be aware of the transformation, but we see it as a pat on the back. It shows us that we’ve done our jobs and offered the kind of peace and relaxation only a place like Avalanche Ranch can bring to city dwellers.  

Health Benefits of the Hot Springs: Part 1

In May of 2011 we opened the Avalanche Ranch Hot Springs. Over time the minerals have accumulated on the sides of the pools and built travertine in the creek. The mineral makeup of the hot water, it’s mineral suspension and precipitation never ceases to amaze us, and from the maintenance perspective, never ceases to baffle us.

What about these minerals?

Guests commonly ask, “what minerals do these springs contain and at what levels”. We have posted the mineral levels on the website and out by the pools. Every hot spring around the world is different. My goal for this blog was to answer a bigger question, “how do the minerals affect us when we soak in the hot springs”. Hoping to find an easy answer I opened up Google. Ha! This is not a topic for an immediate gratification junkie. The answers don’t lie in hard science, so the topic grows larger and more questions reveal themselves. And suddenly I don’t know where to begin and what to write. I researched absorption through skin, learned about Balneonology, spoke to repeat guests and called on my brother for a Geology lesson. That is why this post is “Part 1”. I realize I have only touched the surface.

One main inspiration for this research is a testimonial from a repeat guest and loyal advocate for the waters at Avalanche Ranch. 8 years ago Garth was diagnosed with Lymphoma. Since 2012 he loyally visits Avalanche Ranch every year and says he would love to move into #15 and reside here! The only place he is pain free is in our Hot Springs and 2-3 hours following each soak. He has tried other hot springs but without the same result. He claims that the Lithium in the water alleviates his pain and the minimal odor from sulphur enhances the experience.

What I have gleaned from my research is that there is no hard science behind absorption of minerals through the skin, but there are so many testimonials similar to Garth’s. The effectiveness of soaking in hot springs to cure ailments is, by scientific measure, yet to be proven. From the directive of testimonials, human history and inference however, hot springs are proven to alleviate pain, stress, skin diseases, increase circulation, lower blood pressure and heighten mood. There is suggestive evidence that the heat in partnership with the pressure of the water mollifies our pain by blocking the pain receptors in our body.

“Balneotherapy” is a new word on my tongue, and I struggle to pronounce it. But it is an intuitive treatment throughout human history (and throughout my family history, I grew up in a house with only a bathtub, no shower). Balneotherapy is the act of treating health problems by bathing, usually in hot springs or other naturally mineral-rich water. It is thought to promote healing by increasing circulation, encouraging detox and easing stress.

I am not undone by the lack of hard-scientific evidence for the treatment of ailments by mineral rich waters. I do not need the formulaic proof of controlled trials. I stand by the testament of Garth and so many other happy guests that frequent Avalanche Ranch! And Let it be known there will be more to come on this topic!

Family Time

Avalanche Ranch is the perfect place to have a family merge. I am biased, of course, but I am sure that it could be confirmed by all 14 relatives of mine who were just here. What I have witnessed over the years is that the property provides a certain amount of autonomy for each family as well as plenty of opportunities to spend time together. The true value is the quality of time. Without cell service, TV, and prolific wi-fi, families are forced to interact with each other. Activities such as conversation, cribbage and soaking are abundant.

I feel incredibly fortunate to live in a place where people will come to me, because otherwise, I may not see anyone, not only because I am married to this place, but because I am a bit of an introvert. So, this month I enjoyed visits from 6 cousins (and their spouses), 7 first cousins once removed, and 1 aunt. I had to look up the fact that they are my “cousins once removed”. There was much discussion this past weekend as to what terminology we should use for one another. My aunt and mother had gone rogue, introducing each other more than once as each other’s daughter or mother. I anticipate that once you are related to 3 linear generations and so many parallel generations, there is no way to keep it all straight. Not even the ability to define your own sister.

For visitors, Avalanche Ranch cultivates a slower pace. My cousins stayed 2 nights and I witnessed them shedding their busy selves and slow their heart rates. In the heart of our house, the kitchen, I caught up with one cousin’s many accomplishments from his car dealership to his cave diving. I realized that even though we live 30 miles apart we never carve out this kind of time. Conversations manifested themselves over coffee, feeding “Baby” the lamb, preparing fly and spinning rods for fishing, before and after a hike and over a casual dinner crowded around the table. The most stressful decisions being made were what fly to use to catch the monster Trout in the pond and what time was appropriate to crack the first beer.

My cousin once removed, Nate, married his long-time love, Britt, last weekend here at the Ranch. The snow rolled in Thursday and temperatures plummeted. It was perfect. Cooler temperatures forced us to snuggle in under the tent, around the campfire, and in the hot springs. It mandated intimate spaces to gather. The weekend was wonderful and I too slowed my heart rate, settled in to visit, eat, visit, eat, reconnect and laugh. It begged me to question, when can we do it again?!

The Joys and Strains

Robin, who helps manage the office, says I smell like lanolin. I also have manure on my jeans. It takes all of my weight and strength to hold a ewe while I position a lamb to nurse. I am clumsy when I milk and I can’t do it alone, not like my husband can. I have a gash along my forearm where wire lacerated flesh when I lost the wrestling match with one ewe. In April I am careful not to wear my favorite jeans, and to change my shoes between barnyard and office.

April is lambing season. This year we have 17 ewes. For most of them this is their first time being moms. Raising livestock is a learned lifestyle for me; I did not grow up a ranch girl. I appreciate the rhythms and responsibilities, but I also get overwhelmed by them. This time of year is a mixed bag of joy and strain. When my husband is around, the true ranch man, I am relieved. He knows when to intervene, how to doctor and is not phased by 2am issues. But he isn’t always home.

This year we also have 3 puppies, born in February to our Border Collie, Violet. My energy is divided, not evenly and not always in order, between Sheep, Children, Puppies, Household, Exercise and Office. I ask myself, am I doing any of them well?

One of the first ewes to lamb this spring lambed during the day. Without cause I began to worry that she was struggling with a second lamb and she was in need of help. Knowing my husband was in town, I called him and leaned on him to drive home. As we walked to assess the scene I immediately realized all was well and the first and only lamb was simply large. She was a single and that there was no second lamb. The ewe was fine. I was overreacting and a nervous wreck. My husband was kind and he withheld comment. Every year I have to re-learn and re-trust my abilities to assist in lambing season. It is not second nature.

Without exception we have a lamb or two that are rejected by their moms or fall ill. “Bum”lambs need supplemental milk. They are the “joy and strain” of my life in flesh. A baby lamb is pure cuteness. There is nothing more precious than when they take a bottle you are holding and their tails wag and their eyes glaze over. You become their mother. They follow you and love you. Joy. But you can’t go anywhere because your life is fragmented into 3-4 hour segments. You wake to their need and you time your rest to their need. I get weird stares when I am holding beer bottles at 10am, the nipple attached to the lip, not recognizable to the untrained eye. I am not an alcoholic, I am just a sleep deprived mother of a few 4 legged creatures. Strain.

I wouldn’t trade it. Every year when I am worn out and stretched too thin, I reevaluate. Would we rather go on Spring Break? And then I see the pack of lambs frolicking through the barnyard, share the guests enthusiasm for new life, and I know it is all worth it. It is grounding and real.

Life on the Ranch

What is it like to live at Avalanche Ranch?

Idyllic of course, and beautiful, and busy. A million adjectives could describe it. As it is the most common question asked of me, I thought I’d start writing about it.

This morning, driving to town, I asked my daughter, 15 yrs old, what are the top 3 perks of living at Avalanche Ranch.

#1 The outdoors. Out-of-the-door, back or front. She said she loves the accessibility of finding a plethora (not yet a word in her vocabulary) of things to do outside. The Pond as one of her favorites. Jumping in the pond. Not exclusive to summer-time, I will add. I think her earliest plunge is March, right as the ice vanishes. One of her most praised plunges was around age 8, diving down off the dock to retrieve a guest’s prescription glasses, for a cash reward. I love when her friends come for the day and they find that beneath their prim surface are wild daredevils that will jump, again and again, into the cold water where fish pee. Of course, with the hot springs, she and her friends find the pond forays to be that much better with the promise of a warm-up after.

#2 The Pottery Studio. We added the studio 2 years ago. I was hopeful that I could cultivate my love for the art, but also expose my kids to clay and creativity. As I have made little time to use it, my daughter has found it to be a haven for throwing pots on the wheel and listening to music. She pours through my old iPod exposing herself to the oldies-but-goodies: Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard, Simon & Garfunkel..

#3 The animals. She said she loves feeding the animals. And then amended that by saying that she doesn’t always want to, but then when she does, she loves it. Her main reason is that she realizes that not everyone gets the opportunity to do it. Which is reinforced by the gaggle of kids that hang around the barnyard and love to help her out. I see that she takes pride in the work and she knows it is a chore that can’t be shirked. She is good at it and she is reliable. The other night, when my husband and I were out, she was in charge of the animals, as she often is. The chicken door had blown closed before dusk and all the chickens, and turkey, roosted in the nearby trees and on the roof of the pig-pen. She discovered this when she went out at dark to close them in for the night. So, by herself she had to look for and transport 28 chickens and a 20+ pound turkey from their outdoor roost into the chicken coop, one by on, in the dark. Her friend, who lives in town, thought it was the funniest story ever, like an exotic ritual.

What I realize from this exercise is that my teenage daughter doesn’t take life here for granted. She doesn’t resent the lack of cell-service or commute to town. She never even brought it up.