Saturday's Ranch Rendezvous at the base of the Steamboat Ski Area was a pleasant surprise for the Fortune family of Parker, which stumbled upon the event during a weekend visit to their Steamboat condominium.
"This is really nice, really wonderful for children," said Angela Fortune, whose children rode horses for the first time at the event.
Sunny skies and warm weather provided ideal conditions for perusing familiar and exotic farm animals, enjoying beef raised in the Yampa Valley and watching cowboys demonstrate activities at the heart of ranch life.
Sponsored by the Community Agriculture Alliance and Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp., the event included a hay auction and other activities meant to connect the community with Routt County's agricultural heritage.
"It's to let 'em know that the Old West is still alive," longtime Yampa Valley farrier "Shortgo" Longo said while banging a horseshoe into shape.
Among the most common questions Longo heard was whether shoeing hurts the horse.
"Only if you put the nail in the wrong spot," he responded.
Nearby, Andy Wirth, of American Skiing Co., coached eager children as they awkwardly tried to swing ropes over the heads of hay-bale cattle.
"We have about 20 kids ready for the team-roping circuit," he joked.
Wirth said the rendezvous was a neat way to introduce agriculture to children who might not otherwise be exposed to it.
"It's kind of a rite of passage in the Yampa Valley," he said.
In addition to learning about traditional ranch ways, there were opportunities to learn about relatively new changes in the agricultural industry, such as beef raised without antibiotics or growth hormones at the River Ranches on the lower Elk River.
Doug Matthews was among ranch representatives offering moist, marbled samples of highland beef during the rendezvous.
"Everybody seems to want natural beef," he said, noting the increasing popularity of the product since December's mad-cow disease scare.
The animal area was a popular destination for children, who patted soft bunnies, learned about yaks and llamas, marveled at Sandy the miniature horse and stared into the big, calm eyes of Larry the camel.
New learning opportunities went both ways at the rendezvous, where longtime Yampa rancher Carl Herold rode the gondola for the first time in his 60 years in the valley.
"I was a little surprised at how tall it really was," Herold said about Mount Werner.
Though the rendezvous was in its second year, it was the first time the event was held in conjunction with the hay auction, which is meant to connect local hay producers with buyers.
About 7.5 tons of hay, or three trailer loads, were available for auction. That's less than was available in past years, when organizers found that most buyers at the auction wanted small quantities and ranchers were having to take some hay home, said Marsha Daughenbaugh, executive director of the Community Agricultural Alliance.
"This year we decided to make it easier on producers," she said.
The hay is sold at an average price of about $1.90 per bale. That's about $57 per ton, on the low end of market prices, which have averaged between $55 and $125 a ton, Daughenbaugh said.
Even though ranchers didn't sell a lot of hay at the auction, they were making contacts with buyers looking for large quantities, Daughenbaugh said.
"That's the purpose," she said.
-- To reach Tamera Manzanares call 871-4204 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org