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Blog 3/25/2020

Zapata Ranch – Sustaining Biodiversity

  • Adventure


  • Culture


  • Discovery


  • Family


What's your vision of paradise? Is it the view from atop a high desert plain, a gentle breeze tugging at the grasslands below? The densely packed interior of an alpine forest, the scent of the conifers fragrant all around you? The soothing sounds of a creek as it meanders through a lush green meadow? The scenic spectacle of the largest sand dunes in the whole of North America? Visit Zapata Ranch in Southern Colorado and you could enjoy all of these incredible landscapes, all at the same time.

With the imposing façade of the San Luis Valley on one side and the Great Sand Dunes National Park on the other, this 103,000-acre working bison ranch is an ecologically and aesthetically diverse wonderland. What's more, the ranch owners are well aware of the natural treasures upon which they dwell and follow a comprehensive conservation programme to maintain the splendour of their surroundings for guests, gauchos and future generations to enjoy alike.

A brief history of Zapata

The history of the modern-day Zapata Ranch stretches back some 400 years to the time of the Spanish conquistadors. After various squabbles between the Native Indians and their European conquerors, the territory fell under Mexican rule, before being partitioned by the US after the Mexican-American War in the mid-19th century. Originally a sheep ranch, it became in turn a cattle ranch at the beginning of the 20th century, before a takeover from Rocky Mountain Bison Inc. in 1989 saw bison return to the pastures where they had originally grazed, all those centuries ago.

Under the stewardship of the Japanese-owned company, the ranch was gradually transformed into a high-end resort, complete with a spa, golf course and 2,800 bison. However, owner Hisa Ota recognised the beauty of the land all around him and the need to actively protect it. In 1999, the ranch was sold to the Nature Conservancy, who took steps to close the golf course and rehabilitate the soil to its native condition, all the while preserving the traditions of ranching that have been passed down through generations and protecting the territory upon which they continue to take place.

Conserving the landscape – and the legacy

Now jointly managed by the Nature Conservancy and Ranchlands, Zapata Ranch is a testimony to what can be achieved when a concerted effort to conserve is put into action. For example, after its closure, the expansive golf course quickly became overrun with weeds and other destructive flora. Through a prescriptive bison grazing programme and continual assessment of the condition of the soil, those in charge are working towards the reintroduction of native grasses to the region. What’s more, Ranchlands are keen to share the fruits of their labour with everyone who visits the ranch, as well as adopting best practices from and exchanging insights with other industry experts.

“We believe in education, sharing our methods and our story with other ranchers and the general public,” they proudly state. “Ranching’s important and increasing role in western conservation is an important story to tell, and Ranchlands’ education programmes reach thousands of people each year on the Zapata and our sister ranch, the Chico Basin. We also believe that learning is a continuous process for ourselves as well, and we regularly seek out experts in our field to exchange ideas and find ways to improve our management model.”

A unique place to holiday

For those reasons, the Zapata Ranch represents a once-in-a-lifetime holiday destination. In addition to the authentic experience that only living in-situ on a working bison ranch can bring, guests are also educated about the inner workings of daily life on the farm, the philosophy of land and cattle management and what makes the surrounding countryside so special and spectacular. It’s a place for those interested in fully immersing themselves in the rancher lifestyle by improving their horsemanship, assisting wranglers to move cattle and undertaking various ranch projects.

Aside from the rigid ranch schedule, guests who wish to indulge in less strenuous pursuits can embark on interpretive nature hikes, plumb the depths of the local streams with fly-fishing, spot myriad species of birds and other wildlife or learn about the unique geological formation of the nearby Sangre de Cristo Mountains. As far as onsite activities go, there are a multitude of yoga classes, massage sessions and relaxation treatments available, while the kitchen never fails to delight with its hearty local cuisine. From the delicious breakfasts which kick off each day to the tailor-made evening menus (containing locally-reared bison meat) which finish them, you won’t want for delectable cuisine during your stay at Zapata.

The Quintessential touch

If you’re the kind of holiday-goer who loves to throw themselves in at the deep end and pack their trip full of unforgettable adventures, the Zapata Ranch is the perfect place to experience life on a beautifully situated bison farm. With Quintessentially Travel at your side, you can be sure that we’ve scoured the globe to search for the best locations to spend your time in the best way possible, and this Southern Colorado retreat offers the pinnacle in a Great American getaway.

This year, we’re celebrating our 10-year anniversary and we’d like to recognise that milestone by giving something back. That’s why we’re proud to partner with sustainable resorts like the Zapata Ranch, which highlight how travel and conservation can so easily go hand in hand. So if you’d like your next break to marry incredible vistas with inimitable experiences and an eco-friendly ethos, why not let us do all the legwork? For more information about how we can turn your next holiday into the trip of a lifetime, get in touch with the Quintessentially Travel team, today.

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