Friday, May 1, 2009

On the Road Again

An Editor’s Journey, Eating and Schmoozing with Authors 
and the ALBC Board along the Overland and Santa Fe Trails

The highway to Long Tail Ranch, in the Front Range of the Colorado Rockies, follows the old Overland Trail through a vast landscape that is breathtaking in early spring. The road itself is rosy red; on either side is the pale green prairie, scattered with black cows and calves. To the west are the blue Rockies, crowned by an enormous snowy peak. Truly, the scene must have changed little since the wagon-train days.

I was visiting Cherry Hill and Richard Klimesh as the first leg of a three-part journey through Colorado and Kansas. Cherry’s a best-selling Storey author, photographer, and horse trainer par excellence; Richard is her husband and an author in his own right, as well as a farrier, photographer, videographer, builder, artist, and general Renaissance man. This harmonious pair share their ranch with horses and cats, along with western meadowlarks, bluebirds, magpies, and the occasional bear, mountain lion, and eagle. Long Tail Ranch has a timeless quality, especially in the golden drowsy late afternoon or the crystal-clear morning light.

We had about 24 hours together and packed it with discussions of current and future projects, introductions to animals, book talk, catching up on family, pots of tea, a hike along their creek collecting chunks of rose quartz, lots of laughter, a few songs — and some truly memorable meals. Cherry’s an artist in the kitchen, and one meal featured elk enchiladas (with all the fixings); another, luscious multigrain black-walnut waffles (I contributed Massachusetts maple syrup). We also found time to browse through the Native American jewelry they sell through her Web site, a sideline that has become extremely popular, judging from the busy Web activity I witnessed. (And yes, I bought some gorgeous pieces.) See for yourself at

Next stop: the home of Carol Ekarius, author of many popular Storey farming books, with more underway. After years of homesteading at the Back of Beyond near South Park, Carol and her husband Ken Woodward recently moved a little closer to civilization, near Cripple Creek. Their place has “not a square inch of flat land,” Carol claimed (I measured, and she was right), but it’s in a beautiful canyon at 8,800 feet, filled with pine and budding aspen and birds — and a flock of bighorn sheep that ambled through now and then. Because of these native bighorns, Carol and Ken are prohibited from keeping their own sheep (even though she’s an expert on the subject), but they have three horses, a donkey, chickens, a couple of dogs, and at least one cat. We ate dinner and breakfast in Cripple Creek, a beautiful and historic city that’s now a gambling town (Carol and Ken have a lot to say about THAT). We discussed books, and projects, and families, and politics, and more.

On everyone’s mind: the drought in Colorado — till I arrived, that is. On the way back down to the flatlands the sky darkened, and snow started, harbinger of the first significant storm of the winter — in April!

I caught US Highway 50 in Pueblo, heading through a part of Colorado that might as well have been Kansas. Stretching to the horizon were parched silver wheat fields, the Arkansas River hardly larger than a western rattlesnake slithering alongside the highway. The west wind picked up, and I was swept east on the wings of a storm that ultimately deposited 3 feet of snow on the Rockies behind me. As I drove into Kansas and descended in elevation, the fields greened up, the Arkansas River grew wide and turbulent, and swaths of purple wildflowers (blue-eyed grass) appeared along the highway.

The board of directors of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy poses at the Wichita Zoo. Photo courtesy of board member Silke Schneider.         

I slept in Dodge City, then headed to my first board meeting of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy — a nonprofit organization ensuring the survival of rare breeds of livestock and poultry. I’ll say more about this organization in another posting. This time I’ll just mention the food: The ALBC was officially announcing and defining the term "Heritage chicken" to describe traditional breeds that are naturally mating, long-lived, and slow growing. Due to their delicious flavor and other virtues, these breeds were very popular as recently as 50 years ago, but modern industrialized poultry production processes have put many of them in danger of extinction. Here is a link to an AP story about the event. 

The occasion involved a “tasting” to demonstrate the superior flavor of Heritage breeds. We lucky diners were served four meals featuring four breeds: New Hampshire, Jersey Giant, Plymouth Rock, and Cornish. Tasting is believing, and I am now a true believer. The chicken was as rich and succulent as goose. You’d never guess it was the same species as the stringy, tasteless stuff we buy in the supermarket.

More on all of this next time! I loved my trip, but it was a joy to fly into the Albany, New York, airport over the soft hills, greening farms, and budding forests of the Northeast.

Deb Burns
Acquiring Editor for Animal, Farming, and Equestrian Topics

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