Like most people, I used to associate our state with mountains, skiing, and aspen. But now, mention Colorado and I think of prairies, cowboys, and most of all, hospitality.
My focus changed because of the town of Karval. With Pikes Peak barely visible on the horizon, this tiny town in Lincoln County, an hour east of Colorado Springs, doesn’t fit the typical person’s image of a vacation destination. Yet, I had a wonderful time there.
You have to have a reason to search out Karval. In my case, I was eager to attend their Mountain Plover Festival, held yearly at the end of April.
The featured stars of the festival, Mountain Plovers are ground-nesting birds of the short-grass prairies. Avid birders like me must go to the high plains if we want to see this uncommon species. However, most of the birds are off limits, on private land. Realizing they could offer a rare opportunity to bird watchers, and at the same time invigorate the local economy, Karval’s ranchers began the festival in 2007.
The town extended a warm welcome to us visitors. It was still early when we piled into the school bus for the trip to the first ranch. I chatted with the driver as we bumped along the dirt roads. Arriving at the ranch gate, we transferred to a truck-drawn flat-bed trailer piled with straw bales—a ranch-style hayride. Saved from having to hike, we could scan for birds while covering a lot of territory. Our guides made sure we saw plenty of wildlife, including a number of Mountain Plovers. I particularly enjoyed the Burrowing Owls standing guard among the prairie dogs.
Talk about hospitality—every possible need was provided for. They wrapped us in blankets and old sleeping bags to help block the cool April wind. Bottled water and high-energy snacks kept us going. We certainly appreciated the pick-up truck that followed the school bus, towing a pair of “outdoor portable toilets”.
Various Karval community groups took turns preparing delicious homemade meals. After seeing the same faces every time, I quickly realized that while the organization names might vary, there were only so many people to go around, and apparently everyone in town belonged to every group!
I learned fascinating facts about the short-grass prairie ecosystem from some biologists doing research in the area. But what truly captured my imagination were the stories that third-generation landowners told about the joys and challenges of the ranching life.
Later that evening the entire town gathered ’round a campfire for home-grown barbecued beef and prize-winning cowboy poetry. Looking up at the brilliant stars, I realized I will always treasure my weekend in Karval.
This article originally appeared in AAA Colorado’s Encompass Magazine, April 2009.