Agritourism Comes to Missouri Heights
Though just a short drive from Basalt or Carbondale, the plateau of Missouri Heights feels a world away. Here, the sky opens up, horses graze in pastures that roll toward the horizon, and the views of Capitol Peak and Mount Sopris are the best of any vantage point in the Roaring Fork Valley. That room to just breathe, to reconnect with an agricultural way of life, are what Pam, Randy, and Merrill Johnson enthusiastically promote at Cedar Ridge Ranch.
The Johnsons bought the 67-acre ranch 20 years ago after leaving high-powered careers in Chicago, and Merrill, their daughter, grew up here riding and training horses. After college, she launched a business at the ranch making and selling compost, then started raising Large Black heritage pigs and Zebu cattle. Eventually, she realized that “not just animals, but other people, can enjoy it here too.”
Now 28, Merrill is the driving force behind the family’s latest venture, agritourism. With permits in place to host overnight guests—so, says Merrill, they can “wake to the roosters”—the ranch offers three safari-style glamping tents and a yurt. Each is outfitted with a king or queen bed and a small sitting area. While the ranch doesn’t offer food service other than morning coffee and farm-to-table dinners (more on those later), visitors can grill up beer brats—made with locally brewed Roaring Fork IPA—or drive about 15 minutes to explore Carbondale’s thriving restaurant scene.
In addition to providing farm-friendly hospitality, the Johnsons have a more ambitious mission–to promote sustainable agriculture and conserve small-scale practitioners of it. “We are losing farmland so quickly,” says Merrill. “I’m a strong believer that if you don’t experience something, you can’t be a steward for it.”
Another way of attracting ranch visitors: 10 customizable barn stalls that local artists will be renting as studio space—and there’s already a wait list. Says Merrill, “I always wanted this property to inspire creativity in others.” Also promoting that vibe will be fiber-felting workshops that Pam plans to teach and acrylic painting evenings led by a local artist.
And at the end of July, Cedar Ridge will begin hosting weekend farm-to-table dinners, working with chefs from Aspen Kitchen, Basalt-based Tiny Chef Creations, and others. The dining and event spaces are also available for private dinners and weddings.
Also new this summer: a small farm store in a pair of converted horse stalls that sells cuts of pork and beef from the animals raised on-site, fresh eggs, and ceramics and felted accessories.
The ranch regularly offers horseback-riding lessons, but the most unusual way to interact with the local four-legged residents—not to mention melt away stress—is alpaca yoga. Putting their own spin on the goat yoga trend, the Johnsons now offer flow classes ($35) among their herd of 14 alpacas, with mats set up on the grass. “The alpacas hum when they are relaxed, and it sets a breathing tempo for yoga,” notes Merrill. “And their energy is grounding and calming.”
It’s hard to imagine a more peaceful environment in which to become one with the ranch’s animals and land.