Updated: November 12, 2013 at 3:13 pm
The milking barn. The horse shelters. The little red barn from which Susan the llama watched traffic race past. All empty now, all remnants of the past.
After 40-plus years as a working ranch, operations at the Powers Ranch east of Colorado Springs have ended.
I knew the ranch as a horse-boarding facility. Before we got our own place in the country last year, we kept horses at the ranch - including "two old boys" named Bo and Zack - for several years. One horse shelter bears the faded remains of a painting my daughter and I did of Bo, while the remains of Zack, who died one icy January day, are buried on the property.
For us, it was all about the horses. The ranch is where my daughter, Hope, truly learned to ride. It's where she and her mother one Christmas made wooden "name tags" for all the horses at the ranch that hung on their fences.
But horse boarding was just the latest chapter for the 91-acre ranch, on Marksheffel Road just east of Peterson Air Force Base. Ray Powers moved his Powers Dairy there in the early 1970s after selling the original dairy for development; showing how the definition of "the country" has changed as Colorado Springs has grown, the original dairy site is now the Village Seven subdivision.
In the 1980s, the Powers Ranch shifted from dairy to beef cattle; in the late 1990s, most of those cattle were sold. Over the years, the ranch - specifically a barn that became known simply as "the party barn" - also became a hub of Republican politics. Powers used it to launch his campaign for state House District 19 in 1978, then began his campaign for the state Senate there two years later. He served 22 years in the state Legislature, the last two as Senate president. He opened the barn to others for candidate announcements and fundraisers; then Vice President George Bush drew a crowd of thousands to a rally there in 1986.
Term limits forced Powers, a Colorado native, from office in 2000; he died at the ranch in 2008 at age 79. Powers Boulevard is named after him. When Powers bought the property, there was nothing there, his widow, Dorothy Powers, said.
"He just bought vacant land and built everything, and then he moved the cows," she said. "We never missed a milking when he moved the cattle."
And that was a lot of milking. Three hundred or so Holsteins, milked three times a day, she said.
Labor costs led to the decision to shift to beef cattle, she said. "We had quite a beef operation after the initial dairy operation," she said.
In 2000, Ray Powers announced the property was for sale. "I'm getting to an age where I need to start closing down some things," he told The Gazette then. But Dorothy Powers said the property wasn't actively marketed; "it was just if someone came along and wanted it." She put it on the market, though, after Ray Powers' death.
She made the decision to end the horse-boarding operation this fall - "the man who has worked for us for, gee, probably close to 45 years" - is in ill health. And costs of maintaining the property were high enough, she said, "that I was actually running in the hole."
"I should have done this a couple of years back," she said, "but it's hard to let loose of something like that."
An auction is planned for early next spring to sell of what is left of the ranch; security measures have been taken after incidents of vandalism at the vacated property.
I asked Dorothy Powers, who now lives in Arizona, what first comes to mind when she thinks of the ranch.
"I think of hard work, but yet good times," she said. "They were good years. Happy years."
If you have memories of the ranch you'd like to share- attending a fundraiser at the party barn, riding your horse there, waving "hi" to Susan the llama - email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or post them with this story online at gazette.com.
Bill Radford and his wife live in the countryside east of Colorado Springs with a menagerie that includes one horse, one mule, two goats, two dogs, two cats, a half-dozen chickens, two rabbits, two guinea pigs and two parrots. Contact him: Twitter @billradfordiii, gazettebillradford on Facebook. Follow his blog at blogs.gazette.com/thecountrylife/