Kristen Lodge: A river winds through it |

Kristen Lodge: A river winds through it

Kristen Lodge / Outdoor Adventures
Grand County, CO Colorado
Kristen Lodge / Sky-Hi NewsMariam Chadima, Tamara Maddaford, Mary and Bill Ferguson take a trail ride at Winding River Ranch.

Horses, donkeys, pigs, lambs, goat, rabbits, chicken and roosters – a petting zoo in Grand County. Yes, in Grand County.

Just before the western entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park is Winding River Resorts, where all these animals live. Camping, ice cream socials, campfires, s’mores, volleyball, and horseshoes; all the activities and events for a perfect summer getaway (or even a local getaway) are featured.

On Saturday nights wranglers take guests on hay rides into a mock-Western town in the fields around the resort. Some of the amenities are a jail, saloon, blacksmith shop, shooting gallery, outhouse, and cow pie toss.

Owner Wes House and daughter Michelle Gardner give me a tour of the resort. Michelle has worked here since she was a little girl. Michelle and her siblings would come up to Grand Lake every summer from the Front Range when they were kids.

“We came up the day after school got out,” she says. “We could leave the day before school started again. This was our life.”

And what a great life it is at the resort. Michelle’s daughters have worked at the resort at some point growing up, too. “Winding River Resort is such a family-centered place. Years ago we would stage a raid on the hay rides and hijack guests,,” she says. “We don’t do it anymore, but it was one of the fun activities back in the ’90s.”

Wes House has owned and operated the resort since 1972 and lives on-site year round. In the barn there is a unique carriage and sleigh collection. Wes and his wife Marcia have purchased carriages over the years and restore them for display in the bard.

They thoroughly research the history of each carriage and sleigh, finding special characteristics or hints to their origins. Then the research begins. One carriage on display was made in 1896. The newest carriage was made in 2010 and is modeled after an older one. It is used in local weddings.

Another popular event at the resort during the summer is Cowboy Church, a non-denominational Christian-based service. It is a “Come as You Are” type service, which means it is an informal fellowship with guest speakers though the years. Wes is part of the worship team. The service is held in the open air next to the Colorado River. The day I met Wes, 50 people attended the service. He says, “You can even ride your horse to church.”

Bill Swope of Hot Sulphur Springs gives the weekly message. About the service: “You worship outdoors on the river with the sunshine and mountains. An occasional horse trip will ride through the service, in the back of the sanctuary,” he says.

With a big smile, he tells me, “I have even given the message on horseback.”

One of the features of Cowboy Church that make it so special is the outdoor element.

“When you are in God’s creation, the outdoor services help you focus on Him. “His daughter, Katelyn, a senior at Winter Park Christian school says, “I think when you are outside there are not as many distractions. It’s peaceful and you can concentrate on God.”

Bill says that “people come to the mountains to regroup, re-evaluate their priorities, and this service is one way to do just that while they are staying at Winding River Resort.”

Today, after my tour, Bob Lang, one of the resort’s wranglers, leads a family on a weekend vacation from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Denver on a two-hour horse trip into Rocky Mountain National Park. Wes says there have been a lot of moose and elk sightings on the recent rides; I hope they saw some.

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