VERMEJO PARK, N.M. — It’s hard to find a place where time slows down, nature has its way, wildlife abounds, and hints of human history dot the landscape.
Such a place is Vermejo Park Ranch, owned by media mogul and conservationist Ted Turner. In northern New Mexico, near the Colorado border, it covers more than 593,000 acres of mountains and plains, forests, lakes, and streams. Until recently, the ranch was the playground of hunters and fishermen, but now it is open to guests who want to experience nature, local cuture, history, and wildlife.
Imagine this: As you drive along, a golden-hued black bear sits 10 feet from your car. You stop, camera poised, and watch as the bear picks up rocks, looks underneath them, and then licks the insects. Or you suddenly discover a herd of cow elk (there are 8,000 elk on the ranch) and a group of pronghorn and wild turkey. Minutes later, your guide extracts a damselfly nymph from a lake, sets it on your shoulder, and it turns into a winged fly as you watch. Then you look through a scope at eaglets in a nest, with the papa perched nearby.
After a customized picnic lunch you walk to ancient native pit houses and tepee rings made of stone, gaze at grazing bison, and then drive to see an abandoned cowboy camp where the almost-extinct black-footed ferrets are living and breeding in a protected environment. All around is evidence of what was once a flourishing coal mining industry. In the distance, the stately Ash Mountain seems to be watching over you.
The next day may include a drive high up into the Culebras Mountains, and a chance to learn about five distinct ecosystems. Then there is time to marvel at the architectural and engineering skill of beavers, and the human ingenuity involved in constructing 14 enormous, 25-foot-high, beehive-shaped brick kilns where wood was transformed into charcoal until the industry declined in the early 20th century.
The nearby town of Catskill once thrived with sawmills, 11 more brick charcoal ovens, and the houses, saloons, barbershops, stores, and local characters that fueled a western frontier settlement. But the resources of the land were depleted, and today the stones that mark the foundations of buildings are all that is left.
Back at the ranch at night, executive chef James Africano may surprise you with sliders made from bison, elk, bratwurst, bison, or black beans, topped with such delicacies as oyster mushrooms, poblano and bacon marmalade, or lime crème fraîche. Or you can choose from a menu that includes pan-seared bison tenderloin served with lump crabmeat and butter-poached lobster; steelhead trout picatta; or five peppercorn seared elk ribeye adorned with a red currant and madeira glace. For fowl aficionados, the grilled Cornish rock hen with celery root and Parmesan puree is culinary bliss.
After dinner, guests relax in the lounge, at the bar, or outside, looking at the great expanse of dark sky, moon, and stars. It is easy to be filled with awe for your entire stay here.
VERMEJO PARK RANCH Accommodations are comfortable, rustic ranch style, including all meals, private guide with vehicle, and customized tours. Adults $375, ages 13-17 half-price, under 13 free. Themed events and packages available year round. 575-445-3097, www.vermejoparkranch.com.
Judith Fein can be reached at www.globaladventure.us.