Off-Grid Help Exchange in Southwestern Colorado

Since we had such a wonderful experience with HelpX in Gila National Forest, we decided to give it another whirl as we traveled into Colorado.

We found a ~500 acre off-grid ranch in southwestern Colorado where they raised cows and pigs. Plus, since the weather in March is still chilly, the offer of indoor accommodations was key! We decided to head to the ranch for another 2 week experience.

Our Host

As we have done for all of our WWOOF, WorkAway, and HelpX hosts, we’ll respect privacy and not reveal any names, though as usual, we’ll tell you a bit more.

Petite. Hard-working. Spitfire. All those are great ways to describe our host, a native of Oklahoma who had lived all over the US and had done everything from fashion design to rebuilding engines.

She had landed in southwestern Colorado and stayed for the last 15 years, running her ranch and more recently, owning & operating a gas station & convenience store. She taught us how tough it can be to run your own business, but how rewarding it can be to be your own boss.

That’ll Be $5.64…Do You Need A Bag?

Things were a little different than we expected. The cows had already been turned into steaks, briskets, and hamburger patties by the time we rolled into town, and the pigs didn’t require much more than food.

So instead of tending animals or planting gardens, Edie got to be a clerk at our host’s gas station & convenience store, while Scott got to work on the store’s website. It was definitely not the work we expected, but it was a great experience regardless.

When you run a service station in a tiny little town, the same folks tend to come in on a regular basis. And those regular customers recognize new faces really fast, too! Edie got to meet a number of locals during her days manning the store and learn how they landed in southwest Colorado. She got to share our story with dozens of new people, too!

There was a little bit of ranch work mixed in – Scott did get to do a little carpentry work. The bunkhouse needed a new awning, so Scott got to work with a skilled carpenter and another hired hand to turn a few large cedar trees into posts and create a sturdy, rustic and gorgeous awning.

A Few Firsts

Knowing that we were two city kids, our host was great about introducing us to new experiences.

A few towns over, there was a weekly livestock auction where they sold goats, sheep and cattle to the highest bidder. Having never been to such an event and considering the idea of homesteading more seriously every day, we decided to check it out.

Although we could only understand about 1 out of every 20 words the auctioneer said, we enjoyed the parade of goats and lambs of all ages. Most of the critters ran into the pen bleating or baaing, wondering what on Earth was happening, and then happily sped through the exit door after their purchase price was set. The best part? The two little boys they allowed to “help out” in the ring who basically just chased the animals until one of the adults opened the exit door so the critter could escape.

And while it may not have been the pros, we also got to see our very first rodeo while we were in Colorado. There was a local high school rodeo one weekend in Cortez, so we hopped in the truck to see just how tough teenagers could be. The answer? Way tougher than us!

We watched teams rope cattle at full gallop. We saw teenage boys ride bucking broncos…and manage to hang on. Most impressively, we watched even more teenage boys leap off of moving horses onto steers and wrestle them to the ground. A new bumper sticker is needed: “My farm kid beat up your city kid.”

Last but not least, we got our first exposure to prairie dog hunting. Early one Saturday morning, we bundled up and headed out to a nearby farm with our host’s boyfriend. The farmers welcome hunters when they want to shoot prairie dogs, which are viewed as vermin and harmful to fields and livestock.

Armed with a .223 and a shooting bench, we watched these two hunters expertly pick off prairie dog after prairie dog. Rest assured, there’s no concern for the prairie dog population around this area. Nearly every open area is marked with prairie dog hills and it’s nearly impossible to look at a field and not see several prairie dogs running about.

[Note: We must mention that our host’s boyfriend was the epitome of the word “hunter.” The only meat he eats is the meat he kills, and he supplies himself with plenty of deer, elk, and water fowl. When asked about the tastiest wild game out there, he responded with mountain lion. He has bow hunted bear. Perhaps “bad ass” is a more appropriate description…]

Exploring Southwestern Colorado

In addition to our visits to the Four Corners Monument and Mesa Verde National Park, we had time to explore a little more of what this area had to offer.

We went to the town of Cortez, CO, for both the rodeo and the livestock auction, plus we got some great coffee at a neat nursery and garden market. We visited Mancos and Red Mesa on an almost daily basis, when we needed groceries or when we went between the ranch and the service station.

And we got to explore a bit of historic Durango, going for a hike in Overend Park and grabbing some pizza while we watched the UK/UofL NCAA Final Four game (you can take us out of Kentucky, but you can’t take the Kentucky March Madness out of us!).

Since we were staying on a ~500 acre ranch, we didn’t even have to leave the property to do some exploring! We took a number of hikes around the ranch, taking in some of the amazing natural beauty of the area. The vistas were incredible!

Dog Days

Knox had an incredible time on the ranch. His favorite pastime was chasing the two barn kitties that kept the ranch free from mice and rats. Although he never caught them, he was always close on their tails. But a little too close one day, when he wound up taking a clawed paw to the nose! Though that didn’t deter him from continuing to chase.

He also had a canine companion, Macy, our host’s chunky black Lab mix. She and Knox got to accompany us on hikes where they’d run ahead and roll in the remaining snow banks. They also got to beg for treats together at dinner time, too.

During the days we spent at the service station, Knox got to tag along, too. He got to lay in the sun by the side door and greet the customers that walked his way. Luckily for us, not too many customers walked that way, and everyone survived with all their digits intact!

As Always, Pictures!

In addition to those incredible vistas we mentioned, there were a number of adorable animals to keep Edie busy on the camera. Between the two and all of our new adventures, there’s an abnormally large gallery for your viewing pleasure!