Virtuoso Life - September/October 2017 - 168
"A N Y B O DY W H O D O E S N ' T
G E T E XC I T E D W I T H T H I S S T U F F,"
LONG SAYS, "T H EY DON'T
H AV E N O N E RV E S ."
Covering a swath of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains along the
northeastern border of New Mexico and Colorado that's nearly
as big as the state of Rhode Island, Vermejo Park Ranch is plenty
inspiring. The land rises from short-grass prairie to 13,000-foot
peaks and, through careful conservation, teems with wildlife
the way the entire West must have two centuries ago. Turner
likens his properties to private national parks, an apt comparison: Vermejo is a quarter of the size of Yellowstone, and though
it gets only a few thousand visitors annually compared with the
Wyoming national park's 4 million, Vermejo has a higher density
of bison (2,500) and elk (8,000). "You won't see another human
being. And you can sit quietly for hours with a herd of bison or
elk," Fitzgerald says.
In the bushes with Frank Long, we wait only a few minutes for
the action to come to us. This is the peak of the elk rut, the few
weeks of the year when the animals breed, and a good impersonation of an elk bugle, followed by a few cow calls, which Long
mixes in, should lure combative bulls looking to build their harems.
Two bulls materialize from the scrub oak and junipers across
the valley, both bellowing their challenges as they pick their way
toward us. Long responds sporadically to keep them moving. In a
minute or two, the larger of the pair will be in range for great closeups. We hold our SLRs and our breath, hearts caroming.
Suddenly, a scream goes up behind us. Even Long flinches. An
eager bull has charged in so close we could lasso him. Too close
to be deceived, he catches our wind, bugles, and bolts. The two
elk in the meadow also snort and drum away into the brush. We
get only a few distant photos, but nobody is disappointed. The
encounter felt like facing down a furious demon. "Anybody who
doesn't get excited with this stuff," Long says, "they don't have
V I RT U O S O L I F E
Elk whisperer, hunting guide,
and cowboy poet Frank Long.
AT NIGHT, THE FATIGUE AND WIND-CHAP OF PROWLing steep, chilly, wooded slopes melt away with the crackling
fire at Casa Grande, the meticulously restored 1909 mansion at
the heart of Vermejo. When William Bartlett, a wealthy grain
trader and tycoon from Illinois, built the home, New Mexico
wasn't a state. An extensive four-year renovation has restored the
nine-bedroom mansion to its original glory, much as Turner has
revitalized the surrounding range.
Eggshell-hued masonry walls gleam at sunset, and the entire
house is decked in period antiques. You can reserve the full
house or, for photo workshops and select other events, rooms
are divvied up, including Turner's master bedroom. The public
spaces make for good perusing, such as the re-creation of William
Bartlett's office, complete with his original ledgers (the Boyle
family was charged 50 cents per hour for horseback riding back
in 1927) and a glass gun case. In the great room, shelves straining
with books line the walls, a Steinway grand from the Denver Symphony sits in the corner, and a slightly threadbare taxidermied