High-Country Hay

In the alpine elevations of southern Colorado, the climate can be harsh, the scenery spectacular and the good life within reach for those willing to work for it.

By Des Keller | Photos By Des Keller

Monte Innes

Monte Innes

The beads of perspiration forming on Monte Innes’ forehead are swelling but not yet heavy enough to succumb to gravity. It is early August, a sunny 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and he’s leaning against a large square bale amid a 480-acre strip of land along the Ohio Creek, north of Gunnison, in south-central Colorado. “This is a real harsh area to work in,”

says Monte, 43, who cuts and bales hay on nearly 6,000 acres tucked piecemeal into high, arid mountain valleys up to an hour-and-a-half apart. He and wife, Julie, also run a 300-head cow herd on their own ranch near Saguache.

“The cold can settle into this valley here in the winter and it’ll be 35 below for days,” says Monte. “Every valley has its own microclimate, and in the spring and summer, rainfall can vary tremendously from one hay field to the next all within a few miles of each other. You just kind of roll with the punches.”

We’ll have to take his word on all those difficulties, because on this particular day the Ohio Creek Valley resembles paradise. Mountains rise up around us on three sides. Most grand are the Anthracites directly to the north. It’s not surprising to learn the famed skiing community of Crested Butte is on the other side of the peaks.

Acres worth of grass have already been cut and laid down by Monte. In an adjacent field, Julie is running the baler, dropping large rectangular blocks in her wake. In the valley itself lush grasses—timothy, red top, brome and clover—fed by recent, unusually heavy rains, beg to be harvested.

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