It was 1881, and there was gold to be found. A.W. Salisbury trailed horses from Texas to find his fortune in Wyoming. But the charm of the hunt wore off right quick, and Salisbury realized that all those gold miners would need new horses now and again - and that he was just the man to sell them what they needed. The horse business eventually expanded to include cattle, and, years later, Salisbury's son George Sr. established the Ladder Cattle Company. Now George Jr., 84, works the ranch with his daughter and son-in-law, Sharon and Patrick O'Toole, and his grandchildren.
Though prices for sheep and cattle have been good this year, Meghan Lally, George's granddaughter, says they often fluctuate wildly from year to year. To help offset the ups and downs, the O'Tooles added tourism four years ago. "The money for recreation is out there, and we thought we could capitalize on that," says Lally.
Visitors to Ladder Ranch can overnight in a private house or in the bunkhouse, ride horses, go on a cattle drive, fish the five-mile trout stream, or just sit around and enjoy the view. Lally says their not-a-dude-ranch approach is a bit of a marketing challenge. "It's a hard niche, because most people want a dude ranch experience. We're more 'come do what we do.'?" Right now, tourism contributes just a small percentage of the ranch revenues, but with increased promotion and time, the family is hoping to boost those numbers quite a bit.
The ranch - which is "50 miles over a bad dirt road to the nearest tourist town [Steamboat Springs]," says Lally - offers an instant education to visitors who think they've left the modern world behind. "They're expecting the Old West, but we have the Internet," she says. The guests have also opened up Lally's eyes a bit: "I never realized how lucky I was. On the way home from school, I could see elk and eagles. It's really neat to see the world through [the visitors'] eyes."
Contact (307) 383-2418, www.ladderranch.com
Or Consider Aspen Ridge Resort in Bly, Oregon: (800) 393-3323, firstname.lastname@example.org; www.aspenrr.com