A new generation in the Wild West is looking to live harmoniously with the earth. Not only that, they've opened their properties to city slickers and cowboy wannabes, offering some pampering along with big skies, horse-studded prairies, and, of course, recycling programs.
The Lazy E-L
It's hard to find a more authentic ranch experience than at the Lazy E-L, a working cattle ranch near Yellowstone National Park in Montana. Guests help the crew with chores like moving cattle and building fences. Then everyone, staff included, eats together at long wooden tables, recapping the day's trials and tribulations.
Run by the same family since 1901, the home continues to reinvent itself. The third generation developed a more sustainable style of ranching, and along with the current fourth generation, placed the ranch under a conservation easement. This prevents development to ensure that the land stays wild forever. They also began sourcing most of their food from within a 100-mile radius, supporting the livelihoods of fellow ranchers and farmers nearby.
With her gentle touch, guest wrangler Debbie Simonich will have you up and riding one of the ranch's 53 quarter horses in no time.
Devil's Thumb Ranch
Located 75 miles west of Denver at the foot of the Continental Divide, the Devil's Thumb Ranch in Tabernash, Colorado, offers a seemingly endless array of outdoor activities amidst untrammeled wilderness. In the summer, there's whitewater rafting on the Upper Colorado River as well as hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding through wildflower-dotted meadows and forests.
When the temperature drops, more than 70 miles of trails await exploration by cross-country skiers and snowshoers. After an exhilarating day in the great outdoors, adventurers can indulge in treatments including a soothing organic cornmeal-and-mesquite scrub in the new 10,000-square-foot spa. Then it's time for lights out in one of 16 ridge-top cabins or 52 more modern rooms, all geothermically heated, in a vaulted lodge built largely out of reclaimed and sustainably harvested wood.
Swap tales while downing a local microbrew by the six-sided fireplace, constructed from stones gathered from a nearby rockslide.
Lodge at Sun Ranch
In 2000, ranchers Roger and Cindy Lang opened Papoose Creek Lodge, one of America's first ecolodges, in Madison Valley, Montana. After shuttering that property, they unveiled the more luxe Lodge at Sun Ranch. Set amid a 26,000-acre cattle ranch, the stone-and-log estate features eight rooms, all built using reclaimed wood and decked out with handmade hickory furniture, local artwork, fair-trade organic cotton sheets and towels, and recycling bins. Biodegradable cleaners and recycled paper products are used throughout, and meals take advantage of local, natural, free-range, and organic products. To offset their carbon emissions even further, for every guest, the duo plants 10 trees in the Amazon through the organization Trees for Travel.
Learn about all of the lodge's environmental initiatives during its daily three-hour Green Tour.
Twin Creek Ranch
A favorite of sustainably minded foodies, the Twin Creek Ranch, three hours east of Jackson, Wyoming, is all about freshness. Almost everything that owners Andrea and Tony Malmberg serve is raised or made on their ranch. Breakfast, for instance, might consist of just-laid eggs, handmade mozzarella, and herbs grown in the organic garden. All of the 12 guests can participate in the process, helping collect eggs, pull carrots out of the soil, milk goats, make cheese, and move the cattle daily to a new pasture to graze.
The couple's work ethic runs deep. The three-story log lodge, where most of the guests catch their z's, was hand-built using the most ecological method possible: They enlisted horses to round up logs from a local property, and built the structure out of these dead and dying trees. The family also recently put 5,000 acres under a conservation easement.
Be sure to spot a sage grouse, a rare (almost endangered) bird that thrives on the ranch.
Text by Jaime Gross