Monday, September 16, 2013

Colorado retreat

by Joan 

Over the past several days, parts of Colorado have been pummeled by severe flooding. Roads are closed from rockslides, gushing sewers and collapsed bridges. Towns have turned into islands, six people have died so far and over a thousand are unaccounted for

Less than six weeks ago we stayed at the Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch in Loveland, Colorado, nestled in the now-flooded Rocky Mountain foothills. Not knowing disaster was imminent, our host showed us scarred trees from the 1976 Big Thompson River flood, in which over 140 people died. As she spoke, floods seemed like a distant, if painful, memory. Suddenly this staggering catastrophe is their present reality.
Daybreak at Sylvan Dale, photo by Rick Mora
The Jessups and The Moras at Estes Park

We were on the first leg of our long trip, visiting friends Linda and David Jessup. We know Linda from our Maryland days. She is the founder of PEP (Parent Encouragement Program), the superb Washington, D.C. area organization that teaches parents to raise independent, respectful and cooperative individuals. We feel a deep gratitude to Linda and her legacy, and over the past twenty years have supported PEP with both time and money.

David’s parents purchased the Sylvan Dale Ranch right after World War II and, with hard work and determination, transformed the property into a working guest ranch to share nature’s beauty with others. The ranch is a geological wonder, set between Mexican sandstone and Alaskan granite where guests can ride horses, hike, rock-climb and fish. Sylvan Dale accommodates meetings and weddings as well. Of course I was thinking it would be the perfect setting for our next writers’ retreat. Or yours.

Barn swallows, photo by Rick Mora
At dinner our first night, a handful of barn swallows waited for their mama in the eaves of the awning, while a nest of flycatcher babies huddled nearby. We navigated by flashlight to the campfire where we sang “Coming ‘Round the Mountain” and “This Land is My Land,” and toasted s’mores. We stayed in the Annie Oakley cabin, a quaint, romantic cabin with a front porch view of the rippling river.

Big Thompson River, photo by Rick Mora

Anthology Books, Loveland Colorado
One night we attended a chuck-wagon cook-off in Estes Park and enjoyed beef stew, cornbread and peach cobbler with our friends. In Loveland proper we went to a sculpture show, read inscriptions at a cemetery and visited Anthology Books, where David wrote his novel Mariano’s Crossing. A western tale set in nineteenth-century Colorado,  Mariano's Crossing won the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Contest and has garnered great reviews.

Cows, photo by Rick Mora
We were not surprised to hear the animals at Sylvan Dale are treated with respect and encouragement, too. Like children, Linda said, animals want to know where their boundaries are. Mango the rancher directed the grass-fed cattle from one field to another by yodeling. He’s been known to drop to his knees to get face to face with his charges. With his sunburnt face and smiling eyes, it’s no wonder the cows’ tails wagged like dogs. I knew they were happy, if only for a while.

Ashley Kolorek, wrangler and artist
At breakfast one morning we met the lovely young artist Ashley Kolarek. Ashley is a camp counselor and wrangler at Sylvan Dale and her passion is art. She designs and creates metal art pieces in stainless, bronze, copper and aluminum. Her recent piece “The Glass Slipper,” created from horseshoes and colored glass, now sits on our coffee table as a reminder of our time there. Ashley does custom sculpture, jewelry and wall hangings, so look for her on LinkedIn or email her at ashart519 (at)

Joan on Sandy
I'm a city girl, really, so my mind conjured brown bears and snakes at every turn. I spent several nervous minutes on trail ride with Sandy, a sweet horse who ignored my anxious vibes and gently trotted me through lovely hills and trees. 

This trip was a creative journey for both of us. As my husband captured our surroundings visually, I recorded images in my journal: Panoramic views sweeping across the horizon, rock mountains and grasses, lakes and rivers. Nature’s noises: cows mooing, horses snorting and bristling, river rushing over rocks, gently.

As of today, we hear everyone is safe, including the horse and cattle herds. I wonder about the barn swallows and the flycatchers, about the Annie Oakley cabin, about newly scarred trees. Rescuers are airlifting those stranded and in the following months thousands of professionals and volunteers will help to rebuild. The people there are hardscrabble and resourceful, they will recover. Our best wishes for the safety of everyone there. 

Singing Cowboys

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