The vistas from Fulton Ranch, 15 miles north of Hayden, are spectacular, especially in the fall when aspen groves shine like gold and the gambel oak flames red. The Elkhead, Bear’s Ears and Flattops mountains punctuate the distant horizons. Rising from 7,000 to 8,000 feet, the ranch looks out into expansive Elkhead Valley. In 2003, the property was protected from development by an easement held by the Yampa Valley Land Trust. The working ranch itself – all 1,130 acres – has been in the Fulton family since 1911, homesteaded by Charles and Paroda Fulton. Chuck Fulton’s family has a long history with the town of Hayden and the Elkhead Valley north of town. For the most part, the Fulton family maintained sheep and a modest cattle operation. Their son Charles Edgar (Chuck) Fulton was born in 1918 along nearby Dry Fork. All four of Chuck’s brothers attended the Elkhead Schoolhouse, and in 1938 Chuck’s father built the barn and corral just south of the current property line along Bull Gulch on what is now BLM land.
Open meadows, a rugged ridge line, aspen groves and sage-oak and shrub hillsides provide habitat for all three local grouse species – the greater sage-grouse, Columbian sharp-tailed grouse, and the dusky grouse along with elk, deer, pronghorn, sandhill cranes, bear, mountain lion, coyote, lynx and more.
Chuck deeply appreciated the value of a healthy balance between ranchland and natural areas for his property, gained through sound range management practices. The Fulton Ranch served not only as an agricultural resource but also as an important natural environment with a strong relationship to wildlife due to its close proximity to other large agricultural holdings and the Routt National Forest.
Susan Dorsey, Executive Director of Yampa Valley Land Trust recounted, “I recall bumping around on rough dirt roads with Chuck in his old pick-up truck. Chuck was always the first one to point out the wildlife. He had a love for nature and all the wildlife this country supports. I recall one day we spotted a bird on a nearby fence post – Chuck immediately knew it was a Lewis’s woodpecker, which I then recognized (slowly) as we rarely see Lewis’s woodpeckers in Routt County. Chuck was also quick to point out the shrike, northern harrier, other raptors and every other wildlife species encountered on our journeys. On one trip to the property we both were amazed by an enormous burrowing wolf spider that was found in a sandy spot on his property. On another trip I was surprised to encounter all three grouse species on the property in less than two or so hours. The greater sage-grouse, Columbian sharp-tailed grouse and what is now the Dusky grouse.”
“On another trip to the property Chuck indicated ‘follow me – I have something to show you’ and we quickly marched up a hillside (at that time Chuck just turned-up his oxygen) and then he pointed and directed me downward off a steep bank – with a ‘now turn around’ I was amazed to find an thick seam of oyster shells in the sandy bluff just an arm’s length away. Chuck explained that at one point in time the shells were harvested, ground and taken to the town of Hayden and sold as grit for chickens during the winter months. Back on top of the hill it was amazing to look out over the vast valley below and imagine the area inundated with oceans. Anytime you were with Chuck the wildlife watching, stories and history were great! The conservation easement on the Fulton Ranch is a tribute to Chuck, his love for the land and remains as his legacy.”
At the heart of the ranch is a seven-acre inholding initially granted by the owners to the state’s public school system. Within this seven acres is the Elkhead Schoolhouse along with a dilapidated teacherage. This once-public schoolhouse is unusual for Routt County as it was constructed primarily of local rock and is exceptionally large and elaborate for a rural schoolhouse. The story goes that the eligible bachelors in the area conspired to construct the schoolhouse as a means to lure “marriageable ladies” to the wild frontier. The Elkhead Schoolhouse was also the focus of a New York Times bestselling history, “Nothing Daunted,” by New Yorker executive editor Dorothy Wickenden. The novel captures the adventures of two of these “marriageable ladies” – society girls from up-state New York that taught at the school before World War I, meeting the challenges of a brutal winter and hardships among the pioneer families of the Elkhead Valley and California Park area.