Indentured Gratitude at Echo Basin Ranch {Mancos, Colorado}

{Dates of Visit: May 8 - June 9, 2014}

When we first started discussing this whole "let's live in an RV" thing there were two primary goals we wanted to achieve (eventually). One was to travel throughout this great country and see what we could see. As vast as the United States is, it offers the diversity that no other place on Earth can without crossing into other countries. No passports or visas needed, no exchanging of money, no learning of foreign languages or worries about insurance issues. There's a lot to see right me, it will blow your mind.

The second goal was to find that place where we might want to eventually settle down. Wait...calm down, we're not planning on getting off the road just yet...but we are keeping our minds open to creating a home base. There's a certain thrill to being registered nomads but there's also a lack of grounding...sometimes I long for a summer garden and Clark wants a chunk of property where he can have a pack of rescued dogs happily running amok. And while we are no where near ready to end our travels we did find one exceptional place we could picture ourselves staying long term. As a matter of fact, we ended up staying put for 5 weeks last summer because we loved the place so much.

As soon as we hung a right onto Highway 160 in Montezuma County, Colorado I immediately felt a sense of home. It was unmistakable. Although the city of Cortez was nice it was when we were coming out of Mesa Verde National Park that we were both struck by the beauty of the Mancos Valley. I believe I said something like, "Holy $hit...this place is beautiful."  And Clark appeased me by making a slight detour to drive through the small town to their coffee shop, Fahrenheit Coffee Roasters. At this point I was completely sold.

While we were waiting for our perfectly brewed lattes one of the local characters came in, ordered coffee and struck up a conversation with us (since it was obvious we were "new"). As soon as he heard we were traveling the country in an RV he invited us to "see something cool" just across the street. Yay for spontaneous adventure (or a hold up...jk).

Will Stone and his dog Charlie,

Clark and Charlie inside one of the Gypsy Wagons.
The man turned out to be Will Stone, a stage coach builder and owner of the Mancos Livery. We toured the coaches he had built and even hung out, drinking our coffee, inside one of the Gypsy Wagons he was remodeling into rentals. But the really cool part was that Will was also teaching a calf his granddaughter insisted not be eaten into a cart steer...seriously...(by the way, check out the link above for some new photos of Crash and some video of him being trained to ride).

Me and Crash.
Crash pulling his cart with Charlie on board.
Already this town was earning major was beautiful, it had an excellent coffee roaster (#1 might still be Old Bisbee Roasters in Bisbee but this one has the added benefit of a full coffee shop, not just roasted beans), there were yoga classes in town and, the pièce de résistance, there was a freakin' cow pulling a cart down Main Street! Come on man!! What more could a person want?

Although a small town, the yoga here was very, very good.
We drove to a campground we had seen listed in Passport America to check it out. When we pulled into the property we were greeted by Bill, the campground host who seemed pretty happy to talk to us. What we found out was that the campground was just reopening (they close over winter) and were in desperate need of workcampers. Bill offered us a job on the spot...20 hours a week (between the two of us) for a free, full hookup, 50 amp site with free wifi (monthly rates there run $630). We thought about it for a couple of days, said "why not?" and then moved from La Mesa RV Park in Cortez to Echo Basin Ranch in Mancos for our very first workcamping stint.

Things we had not known prior to agreeing to workcamping:
  1. This was no longer a real ranch. The horses we saw were not owned by Echo Basin which meant we would not be tasked to tend to the livestock, clean stalls or lead trail rides. All things we really wanted to do since, as a child, Clark had spent every single summer on a Dude Ranch and I had owned horses of my own and led trail rides in the Poconos after high school. 
  2. The restaurant and bar mentioned in the ads (including the large billboard posted along the highway) were no longer in use except for the wedding. We had hoped we could belly up to the bar after a day of leading trail rides to kick back and relax but that would not be the case.
  3. No concerts, no golf course, no love for the campers. Echo Basin was owned by a man who had dreams. Back in the day it hosted many well known performers who put on amazing outdoor concerts. There was also the beginnings of a nice (turf) golf course which has since been abandoned. When he passed away from cancer his wife had to sell off a good portion of the property and her sole focus became the wedding venue. That meant the campground was treated like a red-headed step-child. It was still well maintained by the workcampers but most of the attention was to the comfort and care of the wedding parties.
  4. There was never enough staff. Way too much work for the handful of us to tackle, especially since a few of the workcampers were dictating what they would and would not do, which ended up being a lot of would not...but we did our best and the place look amazing when we left.
The work required was mostly geared toward getting the ranch ready for the many weddings it holds over the summer months. I was very happy to hang out in the garden in the morning to pull weeds and clear old leaves so that the spring shoots could flourish. Clark spent his days making handyman repairs and getting the pool ready for summer (something he used to pay other people to do back when had a house). Sometimes I would help the housekeeping staff change out bedding and ensure the cabins were clean for the next guests. All-in-all it wasn't difficult work but there was a lot of a matter of fact when we left Echo Basin we still had 40 hours of overtime (to be used for a free 2 week stay some time in the future). Admittedly, even though we technically didn't need to workcamp it was a great experience and we liked the structure it gave of having something to do.

Putting up the tarps.
Union Break.
Lots of weeding...
Ready for the wedding...
Columbine  in bloom.
Hydrangeas waking up.
More Columbine...
 I'm going to let the photos tell the rest of the story about why we loved this place...

Our Site:

It snowed on us once but man, it was beautiful.
Our backyard...
Our side yard...
Sunset reflection...

Around the ranch...our views

Neighboring horses.
The horse farm across the little dirt road.
Horse Farm.

Our neighbors.
The view from the road coming into Echo Basin Ranch.
Mating or fighting? I'm not sure but either way these two put on quite a show both in the air and on the ground.
Even though it snowed on us it was still beautiful...and not really all that cold:


Echo Basin was about 8 miles from town so we were able to enjoy a lot that it has to offer like a natural food store:

A pretty good Mexican Food joint (our weekly treat to ourselves):

A local bakery:

 And frequent visits to the coffee shop and to see Crash and Will at the Livery:

Some visitors stopping by the livery for a tune up.
Clark and Crash bonding.
And Cortez was still close enough for essentials like groceries, a brewery and a variety of other restaurants:

The Farm Bistro serves all locally grown foods and support local businesses. Their menu includes local wines, beer and coffee from Fahrenheit Roaster and everyone, from vegans to omnivores, can find something delicious here.
The City of Mancos is home to only 1500 people (there's about 3000 residents in Mancos Valley) yet it has the key things we love...a great local coffee shop where people love to hang out and catch up with each other, a variety of good restaurants, a brand new library, yoga classes, a farmer's market, a nice art community, horses, sunshine, rivers, mountains, no humidity and it totally emits a huge "get outside" vibe.

Durango is only a 30 minute drive away and there's plenty to do there (theater, movies, shopping, specialty stores). And about 15 minutes away is a small ski hill (with plenty of cross-country skiing available right in the valley).

We loved this area and it's on our "short list" of places we will consider if and when we are ready to settle down. It's also on our short list of favorite places we've been...along with Bisbee, AZ, New Harmony, IN, Traverse City, MI and the entire Upper Penninsula.

If you like a small town, old west feel with stunning vistas, access to one of the greatest National Parks and lots of local flavor then check out Mancos, Colorado.

Lilacs in bloom.

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