About two weeks ago after spending the good part of a week in Albuquerque enjoying friends and family and a good dose of red chili we headed North to our home town of Del Norte, Colorado. Having (happily) rented our house out for 2 years we had only a vague grasp of how life might unfold for us, but we were open, and present to the signs. We entered this phase more or less as a blank page with a large amount of trust encrypted somewhere on it. Within a few days we found ourselves in this sweet, sweet, sweet off the grid cabin of our dear friends David Off and Keri Brandt and just a little, how does one say….. in heaven, serious heaven.
David and Keri are 4th generation ranchers of the Off Island Ranch. The ranch itself is about 500 acres, at almost 8000 feet, and is on the West end of the San Luis Valley. It’s situated about 3 miles east of the town of Del Norte, sandwiched between two generous arms of the Rio Grande, hence the “Island” part of the historic ranch name. The Rio Grande runs to the North and the South of the ranch with the origination of the bifurcation to the West and the coming together of the river to the East where it works its way down to the Gulf of Mexico, mostly as one. The Off Island ranch was originally homesteaded by David’s great grandparents, John and Marie Off in 1872…. we’re talking a sturdy, hard-working, wild west kind of heritage here.
We’ve had the honor of knowing the Off family for about 16 years and upon moving to Del Norte, lets just say, they’ve been pivotal in drawing us here and making us feel at home. Now, not only do they continue to be dear friends making us feel at home, they have offered us a home. We can’t thank you enough!!!!
Gordon and Susie Off are the 3rd generation stewards of this amazing ranch and the parents of David, Kevin and Shawna. Goes without saying…. these are some warm, great people!!!
David Off now runs the ranch along with his wife Keri who is a keen horsewoman as well as a mother and a professor at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. Busy people, oh, you know it . Not only are they ranchers and parents, David and Keri are avid mountain bikers, hikers, travelers and your all around lovers of the outdoors. They’ve been playing with us for a long, long time now.
The Off family have around 200 mother cows which produce an annual calf crop which they sell commercially. These happy hooved creatures are raised right…… grass-fed and hormone free they sell cuts of beef as well as burger to individuals as part of a growing family business, beefbison.com, If you’re concerned about where your beef comes from, rest assured…. this is a great way to score on some seriously good protein. Kevin, David’s brother, operates a buffalo ranch west of town and sells his bison through the same website.
That’s the condensed scoop on the inner workings of the ranch…. here are a few shots of the ranch and the land surrounding it, what we now call home. Our cabin sits right in the middle of a pasture with views to die for in all directions. During this time of year the sun is low and magically does its mojo on the land and sky which is in dynamic motion. Adjacent to the ranch, to the west is the Encantada Ranch which is owned by Susie Off’s brother David Colville and family and friend Rick Davies. The Encantada adds another 400 plus acres of bliss to the picture.
The La Garita range runs to the West and the North. This mountain range is the result of volcanic eruptions some 30 million years ago which are believed to be the largest volcanic events in North America. The La Garita volcano itself was thought to be 20,000 feet high and it’s erruptions have been estimated to be 10,000 times the intesity of Mt. Saint Hellen’s in Washington state in 1980. There’s a whole lotta energy rolling around these hills. The remenants of the La Garita caldera is easily accessible from the town of Del Norte. This area is now crisscrossed with 2 track roads and some single track and over the years Gary, myself and a host of others have logged in hundreds and hundreds of miles on mountain bikes. It’s expansive in the way that lets the mind wander and it’s a quick ride when one doesn’t have much time. The Great Divide Mountain Bike route goes right through this range.
To the south of ranch are the San Juan Mountains which are, again, volcanic in formation, and are some of the most pristine, remote, lightly used and beautiful mountain ranges in the state of Colorado. We’ve logged in our fair share of miles both on bike and foot in these mountains and never tire of them.
This generous land mass is like its own little wildlife refuge with herds of elk and deer as well as coyotes, foxes, porcupines and a plethora of other animals, bird, water fowl and raptors. Sightings of bald eagles are almost a daily occurence in the winter months.
And what have we been doing??? Well, for starters, Gary has been helping David on the ranch.
That’s Jeff on the left who helps David on the ranch. Jeff is a highly skilled and knowledgeable rancher – they lucked out with this guy.
We’ve both taken up running again. the land almost calls a person to run……and I’m not a runner, never really have been. But, it’s PERFECT for taking off cross-country to just let your mind transcend to wherever it wants to go. It’s truly a magical experience.
Our bikes are resting in Albuquerque and are dearly missed, but we’re going to bring them home this weekend. We’ve got our road bikes, a poor substitute with all this dirt around, but we get by. We’re trying our darndest to not drive our pickup more than necessary so the 3 miles bike ride to town works out just fine.
I’ve been catching up with friends some of whom have come out to the ranch where we walk and talktalktalk…. imagine that 🙂
Nancy and her son Sage came to see us last weekend from Santa Fe. Nancy is one busy woman. She is on her last stretch of acupuncture school and is an awesome, attentive mom to Sage. For those of you who know Cass Gilbert… this is his sweet, sweet son.
Just two of the local women whose talents abound. Joanne is a massage therapist and healing touch practitioner as well as being a mother of two lovely daughters. Her husband, Steve Brigham, is a very close friend of ours and is one of Gary’s favorite riding and bike packing partners. They are made from the same cloth, these two, on many, many levels. Pauline is a powerful local advocate for everything she believes in such as local food production, healthy eating, organic farming and the environment. She’s the real deal, folks. And, she’s one of my very important mentors in life and in knitting. These two women play big roles in our lives.
Keri, who we talked about above, is a rancher, wife, mother, professor, horsewoman and an advocate of integrity by example….. a seriously together woman here. Milcah Hawk…. she’s the magic match maker of David and Keri … the one who stoked the fire. uh huh…. I’ve had the extreme pleasure of working with Milcah over the past 8 years or so. She’s a school psychologist who now works for Colorado Department of Education spreading the good word about positive educational techniques. Both these women…. again, play some big, important roles in our lives here in Del Norte.
Gary- It’s funny how things evolve. We rolled into Del Norte with plans of getting Patti a route canal and taking care of my shoulder pain. We’d envisioned being back on the trail soon after, depending on my shoulder diagnosis. But, after getting here, experiencing the peace and QUIET, seeing friends and the offer of our way cool cabin we’ve decided to base here for the winter. We’ll still be out and about but we won’t be living on the bikes all winter long. Those long nights would get old eventually. Patti and I both have a passion for tiny and efficient houses so we’re thrilled to be here.
I’m seeing a PT for my shoulder, it’s looking promising , hopefully no surgery. Patti’s route canal is scheduled.
Our little cabin has solar power- lights, running water, a wood stove, a propane water heater and range. We have a hot shower and a really cool outhouse.
I have zero regrets for coming back to the US of A. We have everything I craved while gone right here. The cold seems a small price to pay at the moment…
So….. with some dubiousness we parted South America only to find our bliss right here at home. Sounds like something out of a self-help book, doesn’t it? Go figure. Thank you David and Keri for opening up your world to us!!!!
For the rest of you…. COME SEE US!!! 719-849-8183, yes we have a cell phone, and wifi too!