Kids get a slice of country life at Winding River Resort
Families explore petting zoo during Grand County Library District field trip
One benefit of being a reporter for Sky-Hi News is getting out of the office to explore some of the most beautiful destinations in Grand. On Tuesday, July 12, I headed to Winding River Resort in Grand Lake, to meet families on a field trip.
Winding River is nestled by the entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park, along the North Fork of the Colorado River. As I drove down the park’s winding road, my first sight upon arriving at Winding River was a group of horseback riders leaving for an excursion. They rode past the flowing Colorado River and into the trees.
At Winding River, I parked by a paddock full of horses ready for their next riders. There, I met a big group of families, with kids chattering and pointing to the herd. In addition to horses, Winding River has a petting zoo with sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, ducks, miniature ponies, miniature donkeys and bunnies. Families were here to explore the petting zoo, thanks to Grand County Library District’s “Oceans of Possibility” Summer Reading Program.
The event was organized by Granby Library’s branch manager, Michelle Grant, and Chris Newell, the district’s director of public services. Throughout Grand County, children involved in the “Oceans of Possibility” program have gotten outdoors to enjoy field trips, hiking adventures and educational performances. The Winding River excursion was one of the library’s most popular events this summer.
Newell told me that 85 children had signed up to visit Winding River. Since “Oceans of Possibility” is the library’s Reading Program theme, the resort’s manager, Nick Hanson, told the children how Grand Lake has a distant yet integral connect to the vast ocean over 1,000 miles away from Winding River.
“The Colorado River starts … at Rocky Mountain National Park. This is called the North Fork of the Colorado River, which dumps into Shadow Mountain Reservoir, which dumps into Lake Granby. Does anyone know where the Colorado River ends up?” Hanson asked the crowd, gesturing behind him to where the North Fork flowed.
“The ocean!” shouted a child.
“That’s right, the Pacific Ocean,” Hanson replied. “This water runs from here all the way down to the Pacific Ocean, and the headwaters is 10 miles north of here.”
Michelle Grant told the group how 2020’s East Troublesome Fire had impacted the resort. Although structures at Winding River Ranch wedding venue had been destroyed, the fire skirted around the resort, leaving all but one building unharmed. The group could see the fire’s destruction on the black hills surrounding us; I marveled that the picturesque red horse barn, the quaint cabins, and the petting zoo had remained safe during East Troublesome.
Next, our group headed inside the petting zoo. Kids scampered around, plucking grass to feed to the animals. Goats and lambs stuck their faces through the fence to nibble on the snacks. Kids petted the miniature horse and donkey, then visited a mare with her young foal. Some ventured inside the barn to check out antique sleighs and carriages (some over 100 years old); others headed down to splash in the waters of the Colorado River that runs behind the petting zoo.
Wes House met with the families and gave them some intriguing animal trivia facts. Our group learned that some wild goats can climb trees and walk along ledges not much wider than a tightrope, that geese are faithful and mate for life, and that pigs are considered the fourth most intelligent animal on the planet, after chimpanzees, dolphins and elephants (man’s best friend, the dog, didn’t make the cut).
Perhaps for their propensity to get muddy and smelly, pigs aren’t always common at petting zoos, but they were here at Winding River, adding a feel of authenticity to the farm. One child exclaimed that he’d been hoping pigs would be there.
Other children were drawn to the farrier, Nathan Forsythe, shoeing horses beside the barn, with Hanson standing by. Forsythe, who owns Forsythe Hoof Care, said he’s been shoeing horses with Winding River for a decade.
Hanson told the kids that if they tried to pick up a horse’s hoof, they likely wouldn’t be able to. Forsythe made the intricate job seem easy, cradling each leg as he removed the old shoe, clean and filed the hoof down, then nailed in the new shoe. The horses stood patiently throughout.
“It really comes down to that he’s confident when he’s there; he also has a relationship with the horse because he’s been here for 10 years,” Hanson said. “They know what he’s doing to them, they know they’re getting new shoes today.”
Some families commented on how healthy and happy the horses looked.
“Shoes are an important part of being a happy horse. … In order to do this, you have to take care of them,” Hanson told the families. “To be a dude string horse … they work really hard for about three months. But then they get to come to my house for eight months. They just rest and do nothing. We feed them lots of hay every day.”
After the horseshoeing, I talked with Wes House, who co-owns the resort with his wife, Marcia. House has been working at the resort property (formerly a cattle ranch) since the 1960s. He seemed in his element outdoors, surrounded by animals.
House told me that the resort, and the petting zoo called Grandpa and Grandma’s Animal Farm, is “100% for the families. The animal farm is open for our guests, or anyone who’s not staying here … who wants to come in and roam around.”
Winding River is open seven days a week, from Memorial Day to October 1. They have about 45 head of horses, which House says take riders out every day from one to two hours.
“We also do wagon rides and hay rides,” House said. Guests can partake in hiking, fishing and chuck wagon meals on the property.
As the library group headed to the playground or picnic area for lunch, I told House I had to drive back to the office, though part of me wished I could stay. I imagined exploring the North Fork, maybe even saddling up for a ride through Rocky Mountain National Park. House grinned, perhaps thinking how lucky he was to spend the rest of the day at Winding River, helping the guests feel welcome, teaching them to appreciate the beauty and simplicity of a Grand Lake excursion.
“Sounds good,” he said. “I’ll just stay right here.”
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