The dude ranch had been there for many decades – vibrant, beautiful and exciting in its day.
Opened in 1936, Shadow Mountain Ranch’s early brochure described it like this: “Here are high mountains to climb, spruce-sweet trails for riding and hiking, tumbling snow-fed trout streams and pine-shadowed lakes, exciting rodeos, roundups, chuckwagon dinners by the light of the Western sky and horseback riding lessons,” — all for just $10 per day, including meals, lodging and sightseeing trips to Grand Lake and the national park.
The sturdy log lodge, a rec house, a bunkhouse building and seven guest cabins, located five miles up Highway 125 and constructed between 1920 and 1940, had been locked up and ignored for more than 10 years when Jim White first laid eyes on the property in 1994.
White was a moderately successful part-owner of a wholesale plumbing supply company living in Florida. He had an idea of starting his own plumbing supply business in Fort Collins, but when he arrived here to begin researching the business, he saw Grand Lake. His wife at the time remarked that she could live there, so he hooked up with the now late Real Estate agent, Harry Ward, to see if he could make a living off of something for sale.
The Whites fell in love with a property where the present Gateway Hotel now stands, but there were major problems with the easements, so they looked elsewhere. Shadow Mountain Ranch was one of their options — the original 1,100-acre ranch had been subdivided into 35 to 40-acre tracts, and they decided to buy two of those tracts and the structures.
“The closing day was May 31, 1994, and we flew out,” recalled White. “Our first morning there, we had no water. There were underground leaks. The place was a wreck! I spent more money fixing the place up than I paid for it!”
The horses were another department that produced more frustration than income. They bought a few and rented a few from Sombrero Stables, and even did some trail rides, but the income from the horses didn’t add up to their vet bills, hay and constant upkeep. From there on, he contracted out that part of the business, eventually finding the right people to trust with the business of horses. Presently, Dale Lund is the head wrangler and owner of the trail-riding business, and he has been the perfect match for Shadow Mountain Ranch’s stables since 2006.
In the second summer (1995), Jim went off in search of a good local carpenter available to remodel the interior of the lodge and cabins. Dale Mullinex quit bartending and began working at Shadow Mountain Ranch and became White’s “right-hand man” for the next 18 years. He has left his mark on every room on the property, with custom trim and carvings, thick, pine-log shelves and handcrafted furniture. He gutted the kitchen and installed wood counters and a beautiful wood floor (the floor sloped to the east before that).
Looking and moving much younger than his 90 years, Mullinex is still fixing things around the lodge, and he even goes out hunting every fall (although a fall from a horse while hunting four years ago and the resulting seven broken ribs has slowed him down a speck).
White’s wife left after three years of the constant challenges of trying to get the property up to par. His son, Justin White, stayed on to help with the property, and Jim kept his head buried in the business of remodeling and running a small, rustic resort. Knowing more than the average Joe about plumbing, he fixed all the leaks. He got all the electric systems up to code and added kitchens or kitchenettes, comfortable beds and modern bathrooms to all the cabins.
Jim stays busy taking reservations and cooking breakfast for all of his guests (up to 40 at a time) five mornings a week. He also refills five feeders each day in the summer to satisfy the hordes of hummingbirds that are attracted to the streamside property (and Jim’s generosity).
But he has plenty of time to visit with his guests, some of whom have become close friends who return year after year. He even finds time to dress up as Santa around the holiday season since he doesn’t need to don any wig, fake mustache or beard to play the part.
Recently, excellent ratings and comments on Trip Advisor have helped the business. After eight reviews, it has a perfect score, with guests raving about big campfires in the backyard each night, Jim’s warm hospitality, the cleanliness of the pet-friendly cabins and the setting.
“I’ve had a lot of anxiety attacks over the years not knowing what my future would hold after leaving a good job of 25 years in Florida that would’ve made me more money, but I’m glad I did what I did. I have no regrets. Money’s not everything. I’ve had many wonderful times here … lots of nightmares, too,” he laughed.
“Financially it was not a good move, but other than that, it’s been awesome! I’ve made a lot of good friends, and in the end, they’re worth much more than money. ”
“I’ve had a lot of anxiety attacks over the years not knowing what my future would hold after leaving a good job of 25 years in Florida that would’ve made me more money, but I’m glad I did what I did.”
Owner, Shadow Mountain Ranch