Updated: June 26, 2012 at 12:00 am
The Flying W Ranch in Colorado Springs wasn’t just a tourist attraction. It was part of the Pikes Peak region’s history.
And on Tuesday, it burned to the ground in a brewing wildfire that went wild.
“It’s a sad day for the Flying W Ranch. With much sadness we have to report that the Flying W Ranch as well as several homes in the Mountain Shadows area has in fact been burned to the ground,” the ranch management said on its website. “We ask that in this sad time that you remember the Flying W and the Wolfe family who has owned and operated the Flying W Ranch since 1953.
“If you have made an online reservation or a deposit your money will be refunded at a later date when we have had a chance to gather our thoughts. We ask that you pray for all the families within the area and assure you we will rebuild.”
Russ Wolfe, now 87, and his late wife, Marian, moved to the Pikes Peak region from Kansas in 1948, Russ Wolfe told The Gazette in an interview several years ago. They took over a working cattle and horse ranch on what is now the northwest side of Colorado Springs. The ranch’s brand featured a “w” with two lines sticking out from underneath it, and they called it the Flying W, he said at the time.
The ranch, according to The Gazette’s story, stretched west from what is now Centennial Boulevard, and from Garden of the Gods Road north to the Air Force Academy.
The Wolfes sold about 800 acres of the ranch in the early 1980s to developers of the Mountain Shadows neighborhood. Marian Wolfe’s sister had another 1,200 acres, called the Reed Ranch, mostly east of Centennial. It was sold to make way for the Pinon Valley neighborhood and much of the high-tech corridor north of Garden of the Gods Road.
In 1949 or 1950, the Wolfes began offering horseback rides. As a way to “make the horses work another two hours,” Wolfe said years ago, they started offering evening horse rides, and Marian would meet a group of riders with dinner. A few dozen people would sit around a campfire and sing before riding back to the ranch in the dark.
Then, visitors began coming just for dinner.
“After a while, we still had 20 horses, but 400 people for dinner,” Russ said. “Then we had 20 horses and 800 people for dinner, and then 20 horses and 1,000 people,” Wolfe said.
Eventually, Wolfe said, “we finally just got rid of the horses.”
Since the early 1950s, the ranch served western food and western style entertainment — attracting visitors from around the world.
“In our high season we entertain and serve dinner to over 1,000 people nightly,” the Flying W’s website says.
About 1955, the Flying W Wranglers were formed. The singing group performed for tens of thousands of people over the years and was as much a part of the Flying W Ranch as its steak dinners and western hospitality.
The Flying W’s destruction generated more than 400 comments on the ranch’s Facebook page by mid-Tuesday evening.
Tim Goettel and his wife, Susan, were poised to see their youngest daughter, Kelsey, married at Flying W on July 7. The Goettels live in Pueblo West, but spent about 10 years in Colorado Springs when Tim was pastor at Stratmoor Hills United Methodist Church, near the World Arena. The Goettels and their three daughters enjoyed many family outings at Flying W, Tim said.
“We would ride the train at the ranch and climb to the top of the mountain and explore all the stores,” he said. “And listen to the Wranglers and their corny jokes.”
“It just breaks our hearts,” Tim said of the Flying W. “We were holding out hope that somehow it would miss the Flying W and that we’d have the honor and privilege of being married in such a wonderful, beautiful location that our family has grown up going to over the years.
“Here now it’s turned into a horrible tragedy,” he said. “We’ve been kind of thunderstruck.”
The Goettels have made new plans for Kelsey’s wedding. She and her finance, David, will be married at the Beulah United Methodist Church in Beulah, southwest of Pueblo, and have a reception in a local park. Ironically, the Goettels faced a similar situation seven years ago when a fire near Beulah threatened to postpone the wedding of one of their other daughters.
“We were going to have a cowboy wedding, with burlap decorations,” Tim said.
“We’re praying for them,” he said.