For Mancos cowgirl-musician Lynne Lewis, business is about following her loves, her passions.
Which for her, means following the trail.
By co-founding Rimrock Outfitters, a guided trail riding operation along County Road 44, the self-described “lady dude wrangler” is able to spend her days adventuring on horseback, as she shares the beauty of Southwest Colorado with visitors from all corners of the globe.
“We’ve had some good things happen, just from being in this business,” Lewis said at a presentation she gave at the Mancos Public Library in late March.
Lewis grew up in Illinois and Arkansas, and then went to college in Arizona, where she would live for 22 years.
Animals and horses were always a part of her life – her father was a veterinarian – and as a child, she loved horses. She started working on dude ranches while attending college in Arizona.
Perry Lewis – a fellow wrangler who was born and raised in the Mancos Valley – came along while he was “looking for a place to put some horses,” Lynne said. At the time, she was working as a school bus driver, but on her days off, she would take him out on trail rides nearby.
“We got together, and he brought some horses down, and I helped him out,” she said.
One day in 1993, Loren Garvin from Echo Basin Ranch in Mancos called Perry, saying that he wanted some horses and people to lead trail rides.
“We came over here and took over the horse concession at Echo Basin Ranch,” Lynne said. The couple called their operation “Rimrock Outfitters,” named for a nearby rock formation and one of their first horses.
The two leased horses for several years, until they acquired their own. They stayed at Echo Basin until 2001, when they decided to start operating out of their own home just a mile down the road.
The outfit has evolved over the years. It started with casual trail rides and slowly added longer treks and multiday, high country pack trips.
Rimrock added a website, which drives much of their visitor traffic, and eventually they got a cell phone, bowing to the connectivity needs of the modern business world.
“We missed calls,” Lynne said. “You’re out on out on a dinner ride, and they call you, and when you’re able to answer the call, they’ve called the next person in line. We got a cell phone so we could get calls while we’re out on rides.”
Their rides carry them throughout the Mancos Valley and La Plata Mountains, from Sharkstooth Pass to meadows at Lucy Halls Park to the old mining town of Golconda. People from all over the world come to partake in the tours, opting for a trail ride to explore the surrounding area as part of their visit to the Four Corners region. In turn, the Lewises have returned the visit, traveling to New York, Florida and even Germany to visit some of their trail riders.
At one point, the business had expanded, with three additional full-time wranglers, one part-time wrangler and about 42 horses, she said. She found herself trapped inside at a desk most of her time, doing administrative tasks rather than being out on the trail.
“Perry said, ‘Well, we either get bigger, or we cut back,’” she recalled.
They cut back. Now they have 27 horses and one staff member in addition to themselves.
Their treks take them through the seasons – the photos Lewis showed at the library presentation traveled from spring through winter, reflecting changing leaves and plants.
Understandably, the trail ride season depends on the weather. This year’s timeline remains to be seen.
Lewis is also a musician and poet. She sings and strums guitar tunes from other kindred spirits – like Colorado cowboy-songwriter Gary McMahan, whose tune “Pete and Pat” she performed at the Mancos library, yodels and all.
But she also writes her own songs and poems, and the themes of her compositions are reflective of the life she has chosen. Anecdotes of trail misadventures thread their way into the stanzas, like the time the horses spooked and got loose while out on a trail ride with a group of 10th-graders.
Others are more nostalgic, like her song “My Bests,” an ode to her three “bests.”
“I know I have the best dog, the best horse, the best man I’ve ever had,” she sang at the library presentation.