MacGregor Ranch: Where the Old West never died



The entrance to MacGregor Ranch frames the Twin Owls, one of Estes Park's most recognizable landmarks.

Joshua Hardin

04/15/2014

There are two ways to learn about the cowboys of the Old West: You can read a history book, or you can experience the real thing at a place like MacGregor Ranch in Estes Park. It’s like stepping back in time to see where and how the old-time cowpunchers worked, camped, ate and rode the trails and open range. From the moment you enter the main gate on MacGregor Avenue, breathe in the fresh mountain air and take in the beautiful scenery, you know you've arrived in a wonderland of living Western history.

The story of MacGregor Ranch begins when Vermont-born Alexander MacGregor came west to Colorado as a law clerk. Here he met Wisconsin artist Clara Heeny, whom he married on Christmas Day 1873. They both loved the mountains and settled in Estes Park in a small cabin homestead until they built their first mountain home – MacGregor Ranch.

In 1896, Alexander was fatally struck by lightning on a mountain near his home, leaving Clara and her three sons to work the ranch. Their son Donald took charge and expanded the ranch to 3,000 acres, bringing in Black Angus cattle, which they branded XIX. Although the herd has dwindled from 200 head to about 70, the business the MacGregors founded flourishes to this day.

The family’s historic XIX brand is still used at the annual branding day in mid-May. After an early-morning roundup, the new calves are roped and branded the old-fashioned way. Much of the work is done by cowboys on horseback, and summer visitors to Estes Park sometimes find themselves in the middle of a cattle drive on one of the main highways through town. Schoolchildren come to observe this Western tradition during their studies of Colorado history. Two dozen calves were born last year at MacGregor Ranch, and once they were old enough, mounted cowboys started rotating them between pastures from Devil’s Gulch to Dry Gulch to Piper Meadow.

Donald MacGregor adopted horse-drawn machinery to make hay, and more than a century later, the MacGregor Ranch still uses this historic method. The original horse-drawn machinery is being restored, and the mowers, buck rakes, side-delivery rakes and the overshot stacker are used each summer and fall. Of the present-day ranch’s 42 buildings, 28 are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, dating from 1873 to 1920. Some of the structures are built of logs, and many use native stone for their foundations.

Touring the ranch, you see the tack barns and stalls of the draft horses, smell the fresh scent of the native-grass hay that's grown in the meadow and hear the chickens clucking in their coop. If you visit the main ranch house, now a museum, you experience a unique historic collection of original furnishings and personal memorabilia showing us the daily routine of three generations of the MacGregor family, founders of still-operational cattle ranch in Estes Park.

 

PUBLIC MUSEUM TOURS:

Open to the public June - August, Tuesday - Friday, 10 a. m. to 4 p.m. Tours of the museum, milk house, smokehouse, blacksmith shop and horse-drawn machinery exhibits.

 

Guided Museum tours, self-guided outbuilding tours and interpretive trails, horse-drawn machinery exhibits, interactive agricultural buildings tour, wagon rides, agricultural activities, interactive nature center, nature trails and camping, outdoor education sites, and A.Q. House are generally available Tuesday - Friday, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. with advance reservation. Campsites, campfire areas and trails are generally available seven days a week with advance reservation.

 

YOUTH GROUP INQUIRIES AND RESERVATIONS: 
A nonprofit operating foundation maintains the cattle ranch, museum and youth activities program. Open year-round by appointment for youth education activities.

 

CONTACT INFORMATION:
Jane Boyles, Office Manager
MacGregor Ranch Office
Box 4675
180 MacGregor Lane
Estes Park, CO 80517
Main: (970) 586-3749
Fax: (970) 586-1092

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