Imagine riding on horseback alongside grazing
buffalo, with pristine sand dunes ahead and a skyline of
snowcapped, 14,000-ft mountains rising high behind the dunes.
Sounds unbelievable, but at Zapata Ranch in Mosca, Colorado,
it's day-to-day reality.
Zapata Ranch is set on 103,000 acres bordering Great Sand Dunes
National Park. "Western Horseman" magazine calls the area "one of
the world's most spectacular and diverse landscapes." The ranch is
owned by the Nature Conservancy and managed by the Duke and Janet
Phillips family. Over three generations of ranching history has
allowed the Phillips to hone their style of land stewardship and
ranching in harmony with nature. Ranching here is practiced with
conservation always in mind.
With 2,500 bison, Zapata Ranch's herd is one of the
largest conservation herds in the world. Two thousand are managed
as a wild herd that is only gathered once a year from a 50,000 acre
pasture where they roam free.
The ranch's 300-1000 cattle are managed using a system of
intense rotational grazing, which means lots of animals on a
relatively small pasture for a short period of time. The cattle are
used to conserve the open prairie, as they eat foliage, turn over
ground with their hooves, and are moved to new pasture once they've
finished, giving the pasture enough time to rest and re-grow before
being grazed again. The pace of the rotation is planned with keen
attention to the rain, moisture, and pasture quality.
Herds of wild elk and antelope roam the land freely, sharing
pasture with the bison and the cattle.
Guests come for the amazing natural beauty and because they
crave a true ranch experience where they can be a part of the
rhythm of life on a vast working bison and cattle ranch. Three main
guest programs are available: The Horsemanship Experience, Ranching
With Nature, and Great Outdoors Exploration.
Depending on the season and each visitor's
preferences, guests might spend a day rounding up cattle or fixing
fencing, hiking or riding on an interpretive nature trail, or
improving their horsemanship skills. After all this, guests enjoy a
dinner of grass-fed bison or beef from the ranch, with local
produce prepared by skilled chef Mike Rosenburg, who once served as
personal chef to the Carnegies.
Zapata Ranch can host 25 guests at a time (or up to 30 for
families), which allows guests to enjoy activities specifically
tailored to their particular needs and interests.
Zapata Ranch offers not only natural beauty and
conservation-based ranching, but also creature comforts not
typically associated with working ranches, including elegant rustic
décor and a hot tub with a sand dunes view. There are three
separate lodging facilities: the Zapata Inn, which served as the
original homestead when the ranch was settled in the 1800s, the
Stewart House, with full kitchen, pool table, living room and
fireplace, and the bunkhouses. A spacious, converted old barn also
serves as an education and meeting center.
Off-site activities include fishing, hiking, and whitewater
The Philips love sharing the incredible property and lifestyle
with guests, and the inn provides an important supplement to the
ranch business - one that, unlike ranching with nature, is less
affected by climate.