Red Canyon Ranch, Wyoming
Property Types: Farms, Ranches, Home, Cabin, Recreational
Activities & Amenities
RED CANYON RANCH, THERMOPOLIS, WYOMING “Think of it as your own National Park”
The epic story of Red Canyon Ranch begins when life on Earth almost died. Standing on the rim of Red Canyon and looking out over the beautiful vista, it’s hard to imagine that the dove-gray cliffs and rolling tree-covered hills in the canyon bottom represent the biggest mass extinction of all time. The limestone is formed of tiny shells, the dying sea creatures that drifted to the bottom of the ancient ocean. This was 250 million years ago, during what paleontologists call the Permian Extinction, a period when 90% of all life on Earth perished. But the dramatic red cliffs that rise above the gray limestone--the Chugwater Formation--date to around 200 million years ago and represent an Earth filled with oxygen and iron: the foundations for the rebirth of life. The geology of most of the ranch dates to the period when dinosaurs walked and flew, giant trees ruled, and the earth was flourishing, from around 175 million to 125 million years ago. Fossils are abundant and can be found on every high point.
The ranch is a true “end of the road” property, with a single controlled access and consists of approximately 1,619 acres. Elevation runs from 4,900 feet to about 6,000 feet and averages 16 inches of precipitation a year. The views from the canyon rim are stunning, from the hundred-mile vista of the Big Horn Mountains to the variegated red, yellow, green, white, and tan strata in the canyon that hearkens to Moab and Sedona.
The creeks in Red Canyon are filled with cottonwoods, willows, and cattails, while the uplands are covered in pines and junipers. In total, Red Canyon Ranch has 13 springs, and one spring-fed pond, which produce a combined flow of about 300 gallons of water per minute. All water rights and springs are fully adjudicated or permitted and the earliest date back to 1903--which some have referred to as “Million dollar water.” The 20-acre hay field is watered from the main spring through a gravity-fed pipeline and sprinkler system and additional acreage is permitted and can be added. As a result, irrigation is essentially free, and the field produces around 50-60 tons of quality grass hay per year.
Not only is the scenic canyon sheltered from prevailing winds, but the abundant water and vegetation attract and sustain a wide variety of wildlife; elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, antelope, and occasional moose, are the major ungulates. Hungarian partridges, chukars, doves, wild turkeys, blue herons, and over 50 migratory bird species are common. The cliffs provide habitat for golden eagles, falcons, hawks and other raptors. The cliffs echo at night with the calls of great horned owls. Predators also visit the ranch: mountain lions, wolves, coyotes, bobcats are common occurrences, and once a while a black bear wanders through eating the currants and gooseberries that grow along the creeks.
It is also the water that attracted ancient Native Americans to the ranch. Archaeological sites--the earliest dating to around 13,000 years ago--can be found across the ranch landscape and include prehistoric and historic campsites, stone circles, and numerous petroglyphs, or “rock art.” For nearly six thousand years the ancestors of the Shoshoni made Red Canyon—or in their tongue, Engahonabita Ogwebi, which translates, “Red Canyon it’s creek”--their home. The Shoshoni believe that if you are still and observant while walking in Red Canyon, you can catch glimpses of the mischievous “little people,” the Nynymbi, or magical “water ogres,” called, Pandzoavitz, or, perhaps if you are really lucky, the illusive Water Ghost Woman will appear to you. Here at Red Canyon Ranch, the echoes of the spirits and the hearts of a people remain.
In 1897, the first immigrants from Europe came to Red Canyon. Jacob and Amanda Nostrum were from Sweden, and they operated a stage lion on the Fort Washaki to Thermopolis road. The current access into the ranch follows the historic Nostrum Springs stagecoach trail, winding down into the tree-filled canyon to the century-old ruins of the stage station. In 2013, Archaeologist Katherine Burnett finished her Ph.D. dissertation about the Nostrum Springs State Station on Red Canyon Ranch. She wrote in chapter 10:
“Lying just under the surface is the bracing story of the staging business in the West, the epic narrative of an ancient travel corridor, the romance of a failed romance etched into the sandstone of Red Canyon itself. One only needs to look, to hear the sounds behind the sounds, to get a sense of the journey at Red Canyon…“The most important lesson in in my research on the Nostrum Strings State Station, however, is this: leave your assumptions at the door, all ye who enter here. File away your mythic ideas about Indian attacks and road agents and dramatic chases. File away your idea that just because a ranch was 20 miles from town that the people who lived there were isolated. File away your idea that stagecoaches and stagecoach lines ran in a vacuum. Red Canyon’s story involves railroads and cars, it might even be seen as a microcosm of the changing American West and the role transportation played in it. File away your idea that just because the Nostrums were a family of Swedish immigrants, that they were just scraping by from the red earth of their homestead on the border with the Wind River Reservation. File away your idea that a woman with 10 children and a dead husband could not make it in this area that no longer thought of itself as the frontier. The Nostrums have the following to say: ‘You may think of us as part of the old West just because we live in the West and you found old things. We consider ourselves distinctly different from the ‘old timers.’ We are part of the great progressive state that is Wyoming. We have connections from Riverton to Yellowstone and beyond. We can travel to Washington, Illinois and Arizona, and we do not do it in a covered wagon. We are the story of the west, of transportation and migration and the settlement of the Indian land. We are a part of the story of the Bighorn and Wind River Basins. We are part of the history of tourism in the West, and are a part of the story of the frontier and a borderland that still sticks with us today. We are a family of Swedes who made it to the frontier and yet didn’t lose our memories of the homeland.’ This is the story of the Nostrums of Red Canyon Ranch, of stage stations, and of the unexpected backstories of the American West.” It is, indeed. It is that backstory that led nationally award-winning archaeologists and New York Times bestselling authors, W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O’Neal Gear, to purchase Red Canyon Ranch in 1992. The Gears restored and remodeled the original Nostrum ranch house, dating to 1916, and lived there for eight years. They currently use it as a guesthouse. About 2,100 square feet, the guesthouse has three bedrooms, one full bath and another ½ bath. The main house, known as the Echo House, because of the canyon echoes where the house is sited against the stunning red cliffs, is a custom designed 4,600 square foot log-post-and-beam home with four bedrooms, two offices, one full bath and two ¾ baths. It is designed as a passive solar home with many Saltillo tile floors to store the daily heat that comes in through the large windows. The five wood stove hearths are expertly tiled in colorful Mexican and Talaveras tiles. The ceiling in the formal dining room is done in a style called “viga and latilla,” meaning it’s composed of large logs cross-laid with a herringbone pattern of smaller pine poles. The style dates to around 3,000 years ago, but was especially used by the ancient Anasazi in the American southwest 1,000 years ago. The upstairs office has a 16-foot ceiling with a beautiful log-truss and windows that look out over the meadow and canyon cliffs beyond.
1. Red Canyon Ranch consists of 1,619 acres and has two houses, a main house and a guesthouse. The ranch sits 11 miles outside of the charming town of Thermopolis, Wyoming. The new Thermopolis airport is only 15 miles from the ranch. Thermopolis has one of the top five dinosaur museums in the country, as well as Hot Springs State Park, which boasts the largest mineral hot springs in America, and a bison herd.
2. The 2,100 sq. ft., historic guesthouse dates to 1916 and was restored and remodeled in 1993. It has three bedrooms, one full bath, and one half bath, two tiled woodstove hearths, and a covered porch and stone patio for enjoying the vista of the tree-filled creek bottom, which runs beside the guesthouse.
3. The 4,600 sq. ft., log post-and-beam, Echo House, is sited against soaring red cliffs. It was built in 2000, has four bedrooms, two offices, five tiled woodstove hearths, and too many custom features to enumerate, including hand-textured walls, a log staircase, unique ceiling features, as well as two porches and approximately 700 sq. ft. of outdoor decks for viewing the wildlife that call the water-filled, canyon bottom home.
4. Currently the ranch is used for bison ranching—national trophy-winning bison. Why bison? As of this writing bison calves sell for an average of $3.50 per pound, live weight. In comparison, beef calves sell for about $1.50 per pound. In addition, the bison market is consumer driven, unlike beef, which is manipulated by the large packers. Though Red Canyon Ranch operates solely as a breeding stock operation now, selling live animals, for some time it operated a local meat business independent of the national market with more demand than the owners could supply. The bison meat market is currently about 30% underserved. As a result, bison meat averages around $5.50 per lb., while beef averages around $2.00 per lb. (based on the carcass weight). The ranch is completely fenced with a combination of barbed wire and high-tensile electric wire. During the winter, the bison water at the creeks and springs in the canyon bottom, but in the summer, water is piped from an 800 feet deep well to eleven water tanks spread out across the higher elevation pastures. In total the ranch has 12 fenced pastures. There are two corral systems, one upper and one lower. Top-quality bison handling equipment (Berlinic) fills the lower corral system.
5. Red Canyon Ranch is the ultimate in privacy. The next closest house sits seven miles away. It’s a completely sustainable refuge filled with the beauty and solitude of the natural world, but with satellite internet access and a new airport only 15 miles up the road.