Take in the West | SteamboatToday.com

Take in the West

Ranching, cattle key to Steamboat's past, present and future

Dave Shively

— For all Shane Yeager knows, he might have been born on a horse.

He was too young to remember his first time getting on the back of one. But he’s been there ever since.

Yeager’s Steamboat roots go way back – seven generations to the “first white baby born in Routt County.” Now part of the ever-shrinking number of Steamboat families that continue to work the land and carry on the ranching legacy of their forefathers, he embodies the cowboy-on-Main Street image that Steamboat marketers project.

The Yeagers also are part of the handful of these families left in the Yampa Valley ready and willing to give city-slicker visitors an authentic taste of their lives.

Although Yeager jokes that he’ll be happy to put you to work on his 160-acre ranch along the Elk River, most folks would rather partake in his wagon-ride dinners.

Pulled by Percheron horses raised on the Yeager’s Bar Lazy L Ranch, the tours take guests along the river, at the foot of the Sleeping Giant mountain to a country steak dinner and cowboy music by the fire.

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“It’s a family operation we do, versus Vail or Aspen, where it’s just tourists,” Yeager said. “At least that’s what people tell me. I’ve never been anywhere else.”

At Saddleback Ranch, the Iacovetto family lets visitors experience some of their share of work on their 8,000-acre ranch 15 miles west of Steamboat, offering cattle drive rides every morning.

“It shows them the way it was years ago – and we do it the old-fashioned way with all the cattle work on horseback,” Justin Iacovetto said. “It’s what we like to do – being on a horse out in the country.”

Another 20 miles down the road, Eric Hamilton has no problem putting the daily workings of his family’s 5,000-acre ranch on display during offered cattle drives, horseback rides and wagon rides through Big Rack Outfitters & Horseback Adventures.

“Very few people are (ranching) anymore, there aren’t many more with all the development and growth,” said Hamilton, who helps small groups work together to move up to 50 cows and calves from one pasture to another. “I’ve had families that have said all they do is wake up and watch TV or play video games. They get to see what a ranch family does and it opens their eyes and they can’t believe, even at a young age, what kids are capable of.”

Once the thirst for horseback adventures has been quenched, valley visitors can head to another working family ranch to satisfy the other cowboy urge – shooting guns.

Michael and Maureen Hogue run Three Quarter Circles Sporting Clays and Driving Range on their Bear River Ranch property just west of Steamboat. The geese and ducks that frequent the Yampa River stretches of the ranch will only sharpen the desire of avid bird hunters and beginners alike to master shotgun skills at the facility’s 12 stations and two towers.

There’s a pretty good chance that a summer day on a trail outside Steamboat can be capped off with a night at the rodeo back in town. At 7:30 p.m. every Friday and Saturday from the second week in June to the third week in August, spectators can watch professional cowboys riding and roping at Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo Series performances from the Brent Romick Rodeo Arena grandstands.

But for the time being, the keen visitor still even has options to experience the authentic rodeo life through the lens of a working family ranch that lives it, if they look hard enough.

Guy Urie’s 72-acre rodeo stock ranch nine miles north of Steamboat is home to the Tuff E Nuff Rodeo Company. Every Wednesday night Urie hosts the next local breed of young and eager cowboys learning to ride bulls. The private training is open to anyone who wants to experience a piece of “the real deal” at the root of the Steamboat’s summer traditions.