Mesa Verde Country in Colorado: Churros, weavers and wine

Crabapple Farms

Nancy Harriston, owner, Crabapple Tree Ranch, points to a bag of raw wool that will turn into a Navajo blanket, similar to the one she holds in her right hand.

Agritourism is thriving in rural Mesa Verde, Colorado. “Talk is sheep,” laughs Betsy Harriston, while cradling a Navajo Churro sheep so we can run our fingers through the white wool. “This is genetically the same as the ancient sheep raised by the tribe for its blankets and clothes.” The sheep bleats plaintively in the expanse of Harriston’s Crabapple Tree Ranch near Mancos, Colo. in the shadow of Mesa Verde National Park.

We follow her, and the churro, out the door to the pen where the other sheep gather in clusters here and there under the watchful eye of their guardian llama. “He’s big, protective and nasty,” Harriston tells us. “That llama is better than a dog keeping coyotes away from the flock.” Churros were nearly extinct until small shepherds like Harriston, a San Diego expatriate, started working with extension services from the universities of Colorado and Arizona.

“The grandmothers from Two Grey Hills (N.Mex.) buy my wool for their blankets,” she says while showing a large plastic bag filled with the raw off-white wool next to a Navajo blanket woven from her sheep’s contributions to tribal tradition. A stop at Crabapple Tree Ranch is one on the long list of Mesa Verde Country agritourism sights in southwest Colorado.

On the other side of the national park in Dolores, wool of a different kind comes from Ken and Linda Maul’s Shadow Ranch Alpacas. “ Linda, once a spinner and weaver, finds herself rancher and store owner today. Raising alpacas—the waist-high, llama-like Peruvian breed—at their homestead west of town, she sells the wools in her Cortez retail store. The animals are friendly, and we get to feed them some treats. Normally, they are grass fed.

Llama

“That llama is big, protective and nasty,” Harriston tells us.

Not every stop on the agritourism map in Montezuma and Dolores counties features docile creatures. Out on County Road G, the Guy Drew Vineyards lets us sample its wines in the tasting room—which also happens to be the Drew’s kitchen. Ruth Drew pours a Meritage into our glasses.

She points to a collection of vines on a nearby hillside, “this wine came from those grapes,” she explains. The sun reflects off strips of foil to keep birds at bay. The sky is sapphire and the wine a deep, dark purple. “It’s an American Bordeaux. Only grapes grown in the French region can be called ‘Bordeaux.’ Domestically, we’re calling the same wine ‘Meritage.’”

A selection of wines at Guy Drew Vineyards.

A selection of wines at Guy Drew Vineyards.

The Drews market their wine in restaurants as far away as New York, but it’s not readily available in stores. Embracing bottles of Meritage and sweet Gewürztraminer, I lazily stroll back to our van for the next stop sampling and sipping our way across Mesa Verde Country.

More than 50 ranches, farms, vintners and food creators are part of the agritourism map in this southwestern Colorado vacation land. Mesa Verde National Park is the best-known attraction to the region, but agriculture has supported this economy since before the Europeans landed in American. Along the Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway—America’s only archeology-based scenic highway—real people open homes, farms and businesses to share a sense of rural American living in the rugged Southwest interspersed between the ancient canals, farm terraces and pueblos of an ancient peoples.

More Information
Mesa Verde Country centers around Cortez, Colo., on U.S. 160 and U.S. 491 (sometimes shown on maps as U.S. 666) in the Four Corners Region of southwestern Colorado.
Mesa Verde Country Website

Photo Credit: © 2012 Eric Jay Toll. Words Work USA. Permission granted to Striped Pot Magazine for use.

Eric Jay Toll

Eric Jay Toll

Guest contributor, Eric Jay Toll, is a Phoenix-based travel and freelance writer covering the Four Corners Region of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah. Over the past two decades, Eric has traveled extensively in the area camping, backpacking, and hot showering at area motels, hotels, and inns. He is an avid camper, often traveling with his chocolate lab, Hershey. Eric’s writings have appeared in USA Today, travel.com, TravelingDads.com and regional publications.

 

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