The reason behind how that land came to be known as Devil's Thumb Ranch reaches deep in to the psyche of American history, back to when buffalo roamed free and smoke signals were the preferred long distance plan.
According to local lore, Native Americans named Devil’s Thumb, the rocky outcropping that towers high above the Ranch. As legend goes, after the warring Ute and Arapaho tribes settled their differences in the Ranch Creek Valley, they buried the devil, but left his thumb exposed to remind them of the evils of war.
Before the Trans-Continental Railroad opened up the area in 1904, a stagecoach route from Idlewild (now Winter Park) joined the Rollins Pass route. A state station was situated east of what is now our Ranch. The road extended transversely over the Ranch where it followed the course of the current County Road 83. The land was rich agriculturally and was used for cattle grazing in the early 1900s.
After the railroad was introduced, settlers began moving west in search of wealth and opportunity. Many ended their journeys in the Rocky Mountains. During this time, there were more people living in the Fraser Valley than there are today. One favorite hangout of the railroad workers was a dance hall on Black Ranch, located immediately north of the lodge.
In 1937, the original Ranch homestead was built by Margaret Radcliff and the property operated as a dairy, but it was brothers Don, Louis, and George Yager who started Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort as a vacation property in 1946. The Yagers incorporated the Radcliff homestead into the Ranch facilities and the original building exists today as the Ranch House Saloon.
The Yagers operated Devil’s Thumb Ranch as both a working ranch and dude ranch until 1972. Cross-country skiing was introduced in the winter of 1975-76 when Dick Taylor, a 1964 Olympic cross-country team member, designed the first 35 kilometers of our Nordic trails. Though well known as a Nordic destination, the property did not offer many guest amenities.
In 2001, current owners Bob and Suzanne Fanch changed the property’s fate from becoming developed with residences and a golf course. The Fanchs had a vision to create a special place where visitors to the Ranch Creek Valley could have a truly authentic Colorado experience, one celebrating the rustic spirit of the West.
Fifteen ridge top cabins were added, as well as the Broad Axe Barn, a conference center and events venue built from a reconstructed Civil War-era barn. In 2007, a new 52-room Main Lodge greeted guests to the valley and in 2008, Ranch Creek Spa was completed, tucked quietly in the corner of the meadow. The most recent addition was in 2013 with the 35-room High Lonesome Lodge, Barn and Wine Grotto.
With responsible stewardship, the Ranch now affords guests a unique, environmentally-sensitive, rustically elegant wilderness resort experience amidst 6,000 acres of flowering meadows and lush woodlands.