Terry Bison Ranch full of surprises

It’s hard to miss, only a few yards off Interstate Highway 25, just north of the Colorado-Wyoming border. You’ve probably passed Terry Bison Ranch hundreds of times and taken it for granted just as you do the giant fireworks outlets in the same vicinity.

But wait.

If your eyes popped at the camels grazing on the ranch near the highway, you weren’t alone. Camels in Wyoming? Yep. But you might have to look a little harder to see bison grazing in the distance.

They’re there. Between 2,000 and 2,500 of them, roaming the 27,500 acres that comprise the ranch. These days they’re raised for meat that’s leaner and has more protein per pound than beef, and is prized by many foodies. Ron and Janice Thiel bought the ranch in 1991 to raise bison. Today they contract with Cold Creek Bison to operate that part of the business while Ron, now 80, has time to indulge his love of welding. He has built the trains, carnival rides and weird creatures you can see around the ranch. His latest accomplishment is a suspension bridge.

The history of the ranch goes back to 1881 when Charles Terry first purchased it and to 1885 when he sold out to F. E. Warren, the first territorial governor of Wyoming. Terry Ranch became the south headquarters of the Warren Livestock Company. At the time, the ranch was five times its present size and stretched well into Colorado.

Warren Livestock owned 3,000 cattle and 60,000 sheep and also raised nationally-acclaimed sheepdogs. By 1890, the year Warren was elected governor of Wyoming and quit the next month to begin 35 years of service as a U.S. senator, he was the richest man in Wyoming.

The senator’s guests at the ranch included President Teddy Roosevelt and Gen. John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, who married Warren’s daughter, a move that instantly elevated him from a lowly captain to a brigadier general. Pershing’s son Warren worked at Terry Ranch during summers when he was a student at Harvard.

In 1960, The Grazing Association, a group of 17 Coloradans, bought the ranch. The Thiels purchased their 27,500-acre parcel for the express purpose of raising bison in 1991. It was their entrepreneurial son, Dan, who took note of the various outbuildings that would no longer be needed since bison roam contently on the prairie and have no need of protection, and bought 40 acres adjacent to the headquarters from his parents. Before it was a popular phrase, Dan had begun thinking “agri-tourism.”

Today Terry Bison Ranch provides visitors from all over the world with a whole range of “Old West” experiences from trail rides to bison viewing tours on the ranch’s own rail line, “the best burger in the state” at the Senator’s Steakhouse and Saloon and a genuine gun battle orchestrated by cowboy, greeter and all-around assistant, Anthony Weaver.

Maybe not quite so western, but nevertheless a whole lot of fun for kids of all ages, are a chance to fish in a rainbow-trout filled lake, a ferris wheel and pony rides at the Kids’ Corral, a menagerie of farm animals including pigs and goats, ostriches, a pet squirrel and a baby camel, and homemade biscuits and gravy at the Tombstone Café.

The ranch has 120 RV spaces, lodging accommodations for 40 — five cabins and 13 bunkhouses — and is open year round.

“There’s no off-season for us any more,” Dan said. “In the last three years we’ve welcomed oil field workers who like the convenience of our space. We’re about 50 percent full in winter these days and have never had to turn anyone away in the summer.”

Make no mistake. Dan’s jovial and relaxed demeanor belies the hard work and long hours he puts in. His degree in business from the University of Wyoming has come in handy. Every season he plans to improve the ranch and add a new feature. In the next three to five years he’ll build more cabins and add on to the restaurant.

The ranch can accommodate large crowds. Tour buses bring up to 50 visitors at a time. Yet groups as small as five or six are welcome for birthday parties, and anniversary and wedding celebrations.

As many as 100 part-time staff are needed during the busy season. A core staff of eight keeps the trading post open and mans the office in the colder months. Dan’s three daughters all work at the ranch part-time when they can. He lives on the property as do his parents, making it very much a family enterprise.

The Senator’s Steakhouse is open year round for dinner and between May 1 and Sept. 30 is open for lunch as well. Guests enjoy nightly bonfires during the summer months. A Wednesday “date night” each week offers dinner and live music from 6 to 9 p.m.

To reach Terry Bison Ranch from the south, take the Terry Ranch Road exit off I-25, turn left and travel two miles. Call 307-634-4171 information and reservations.

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