When John B. Dawson bought several homestead sites in 1903 and formed the Dawson ranch east of Hayden, he surely appreciated the beauty of the Yampa River Valley, lush with cottonwood trees lining the river and wildlife roaming the grass valley floor.
The Dawson Ranch, purchased by Farrington Carpenter and known as the Carpenter Ranch since 1945, is just one of the ranches of this region that Northwest Colorado Cultural Heritage and Tourism is promoting as a local gem for tourists to explore.
"This place is going to be here from now on," said Geoff Blakeslee, project director for the Nature Conservancy, which purchased the ranch in 1996. "This barn was built in 1903 out of cottonwood trees from near the river."
A tour of Routt County ranches was conducted Saturday for the Cultural Heritage Tourism quarterly workshop.
Thirty-five members toured the Carpenter Ranch, Morgan Bottom, and the Delaney Ranch to experience a small fraction of what the organization hopes will draw tourists to Northwest Colorado.
The tour's starting point at the Routt County Fairgrounds had its historical significance.
"This fairgrounds started in 1914 with the celebration of the train coming to the valley a year earlier," said Donna Hellyer, CHT co-chair. "The town of Hayden threw a barbeque and the cowboys got involved, and they couldn't have a fair without a racetrack."
Hellyer said the fact that the fair is still going on is a tribute to area heritage.
It's that heritage which has helped create the Cultural Heritage Tourism organization that combines Moffat, Routt and Rio Blanco Counties, and their 10 communities to market the area as one unique combination for tourists.
Marsha Daughenbaugh is the executive director of the Community Agriculture Alliance, and a tour guide on Saturday's trip down the county roads outside of Hayden.
"This is our second year doing tours," she said. "We provide guides and compensate the ranchers. We can make this work with the right marketing and advertising."
Daughenbaugh pointed out to tour guests the effects of the Homestead Act on the area, while noting that a four-wire fence the bus passed by is likely an indicator of a yearling steer operation, while a three-wire is a cow-calf type of fence.
The bus then passed through Morgan Bottom northeast of Hayden, leaving the Carpenter Ranch behind and winding through the valley's grassy fields, and the stubble left behind from recent harvests.
At the Delaney Ranch, tourists climbed to the hayloft of the 1915 barn built in an open "balloon-frame" style. The design allows for easier hay stacking.
Russian immigrant Isadore Bolton built both the barn and the rock walls at the ranch, and acquired the property after learning about purchasing property from Carpenter.
Today, the Delaney's -- Patrick, Tammie, and their children -- raise yaks on the site, and are happy to present the ranch for historical tours.
It's that spirit of cooperation that makes the cultural heritage theme work for the tourists.
"We're a mosaic, not a melting pot," Shelly Flannery, regional coordinator for CHT said. "We would like to see the tourists heading over the Flat Tops to Meeker, or maybe to Rangely for a rock-crawl after learning about mining in Oak Creek and visiting a museum in Craig."
Flannery spoke at a dinner hosted by the organization in Steamboat Springs on Saturday evening. Guests included Colorado State Representative Al White.
"Why should we market tourism? Tourism means 200 million dollars in state sales tax, and 50,000 to 60,000 jobs in resort communities," White said. "For every dollar we spend on tourism, we get back $10 in the county and the city the tourists visit."
White supported the Cultural Heritage Tourism organization, saying that as a member of the baby-boomer generation he has always appreciated pitching a sleeping bag under a tree, and visiting a gunfighter and cowboy collection in the museum.
"In the 1860s, this was the most dangerous place in America to live," White said. "You look under the surface and see the old timers and hear their stories. It's a great opportunity to attract guests from around the United States."
Daughenbaugh may have summed up the organization best when she spoke at the dinner.
"Cultural Heritage Tourism is the bison in the valley, the eagles overhead, the trappers in the streambed, the cattlemen and the miners," she said. "It's the farming, the sheep, and fencing. What a difference those made on this area."
Pointing out that agriculture in the area is struggling after existing more than 100 years in Northwest Colorado, Daughenbaugh sees a chance to show tourists how our fathers and grandfathers farmed.
"Cultural Heritage Tourism has the opportunity for agriculture in this area to survive and succeed." She said.