The American West’s roots in cattle ranching run deep, but not many traditional-style ranches remain. These days Tavaputs Ranch, which has been passed down through six generations since it was founded in 1889, is one of only a few of its kind in Utah. Each summer, Tavaputs opens its doors to visitors, providing a rare glimpse into a historic American lifestyle. It’s a wonderfully Western addition to your trip if you have a few extra days of vacation and don’t wish to spend all of it touring the scenic roads of Southern Utah.
The ranch sits on eastern Utah’s Tavaputs Plateau at the rim of Desolation Canyon — known for being one of the most remote places in the U.S. Despite the harsh winters the ranch endures, thanks to its 9,000-foot elevation, early homesteaders first came to the canyon in the 1860s, lured in by the clear streams and fertile soil. Most of the ranches these homesteaders established have since been abandoned.
It’s a long drive up a dirt road to get there (four wheel drive is required — if you don’t have it, you can schedule a ride for $200), but the scenery at the ranch will make the journey well worth the effort. Once there, you can learn about traditional cattle ranching from Tavaputs’ real-life cowboys, who ride horseback to herd the cattle that spend their summers grazing on the wide-open meadows of the plateau. Each fall the cowboys guide the cattle down to lower elevations, where they spend their winters.
The ranch’s 10,000 acres offer ample opportunities for walking and hiking, too. One of the best excursions is to hike along the rim of Desolation Canyon. Carved by the Green River, the canyon drops down as much as 5,000 feet — making it an even deeper cut than the Grand Canyon.
And don’t miss out on the opportunity to take an outing to Range Creek, which has some of the most extensive archaeological sites that share the history of the Fremont Indians, who lived in south-central Utah from about 200 to 1300 AD. The Fremont people are known for their petroglyphs that featured scenes of people, animals, and other symbols. This art, painted and carved on the rock walls, has been very well preserved at Range Creek. The site is only open to 28 visitors a day, and is only accessible by foot or horseback. Tavaputs Ranch is the only privately owned land that neighbors the ruins, and is one of the few organizations permitted to lead tours there (you don’t have to be a guest of the ranch to sign up for one).
After the day’s activities, you can kick back and relax at the ranch’s lodge, and enjoy a buffet-style dinner. The next morning, set your alarm clock early and head to Desolation Canyon’s rim to witness an incredible morning sky as the sun comes up. After all, “tavaputs,” an Ute Indian word, translates to “sunrise.”
GPS Coordinates: 39.484079, -110.149175