Sometimes a beautiful fence says it all. Take the humble wooden posts, with four rails across, that are meticulously spaced around the perimeter of Ralph Lauren’s 17,000-acre cattle ranch in Ridgway, Colorado. This gorgeous simplicity is the first indication that everything to be found on the Double RL Ranch has been chosen with care and designed for maximum visual impact.
One of five hand-painted teepees on the Double RL Ranch property.
And then there are the teepees, which I caught sight of as we approached the log sign that marks an entrance to the ranch. There they were, all five of them, situated on a vast open field with the San Juan Mountains far off in the distance acting as their backdrop. I’d learn later that these teepees were hand-painted by a Native American artist from Santa Fe and are fully furnished with iron and wood beds, Navajo rugs, antique quilts and trade blankets, and Victorian iron chandeliers. Maybe guest teepees outfitted with worn leather club chairs don’t exactly make sense on a working cattle ranch, but in this fantastic version of cowboys and Indians, they look just right.
Riding the range.
And that’s how it went wherever my eyes landed during the three days our crew spent photographing this all-American cookout: This is what the Wild West would have looked like had Lauren been there, roaming around in his chaps. There’s the saloon, one of the many cabins and homes on the property, with its swinging etched-glass doors that lead into a cozy bar and living room where the Lauren family gathers for margarita-fueled game nights. (You can sample the Ridgway Margarita at the Polo Bar, Lauren’s sumptuously buzzy new restaurant in New York City.) The patinaed leather sofa arranged in front of an enormous stone hearth might not be period-specific, but it sure looks inviting. Lauren was the first to master the packaging of American nostalgia, and he’s still the best. (That vintage-looking sofa, it turns out, is made by Ralph Lauren Home.)
A trio of salads.
Like the saloon, each of the cabins here holds a lifetime’s worth of Mr. Lauren’s extensive collections: Western and Native American saddles, cowboy hats, frayed bandanas, cast-iron cookware, Navajo weavings, concho belts (so many concho belts), trade blankets, and tobacco bags. These treasures are displayed reverently but casually within reach, literally everywhere I looked. We couldn’t resist reaching for many of these amazing pieces to use in our photos, like the beaded leather pouch serving as a placemat for a potato salad with mustard vinaigrette.
These interiors may evoke a romanticized idea of the American West, but there’s no artifice when it comes to the ranch itself. “Part of the appeal when we bought it was that it was a real working cattle ranch,” says Lauren, who made his initial purchase in 1982, “and we never considered not having it as a home for raising our cattle.” Today there are about 800 Angus and South Devon steers and heifers grazing on almost every available blade of grass, led from pasture to pasture by a team of cowboys who round them up on horseback, not 4x4s. The animals calve in the spring and are harvested 18 months later; the beef makes its way to the kitchens of Lauren’s restaurants in Chicago and New York. (And for the lucky few who make it onto the family’s coveted “Beef List,” it’s gifted at Christmas.)
Basting ribs on the grill.
On the final day of shooting, our crew rode in a battalion of SUVs along twisty dirt roads and past a small canyon up to Lauren’s favorite place on the property, “The Vance,” an old cabin and a soaring barn. The Lauren family camped here when the kids were young, and son David celebrated his wedding to Lauren Bush on this spot in 2011. As I walked onto the improbably beautiful pasture behind the barn, I started to wonder if even the color of the sky and hue of the leaves on the Aspen trees had somehow been curated. Late into the afternoon, with the setting sun casting a heavenly glow across the tall grasses, the surroundings became almost magical.
It’s lasso time.
In the midst of this natural gorgeousness, one of the cowboys was manning a live-fire grill covered with ribs, steaks, and burgers; a table was set with wildflowers and linens; and cows wandered in the distance. Photographers Jen Munkvold and Taylor Peden snapped pictures wildly, getting it all before the moment disappeared. Then I heard a cowboy casually ask one of them, “Hey, would you guys like a horse in this shot?”
“Uh, yeah, sure,” Munkvold said with a note of excited incredulity detectable in her voice, as though someone had just offered her a brand-new car. “A horse would be great.” Moments later, horses led by cowboys in leather chaps drifted into the frame, and the scene got even better. It might look like a dream, but this place is the real deal.
See more photos from our Wild West adventure here
Get the Recipes:
Cucumber and Charred Onion Salad
Iceberg Wedges with Grilled Bacon and Croutons
Potato Salad with 7-Minute Eggs and Mustard Vinaigrette
Snap Peas and Green Beans with Arugula-Mint Pesto
Double RL Ranch Burger
Nana’s Brownies, from The Hamptons cookbook by Ricky Lauren
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