Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Other Side of Hearst Castle

"You lay down your life to the outfit as a cowboy."
— Cliff Garrison, Ranch Manager, Hearst Ranch

Cliff is pictured above, at right, along with Roland Camacho. They are two of the seven cowboys working and living full-time at Hearst Ranch in San Simeon, California.

What makes the Hearst Ranch such a unique entity in today's world is not the quality of their beef. We tasted oak-grilled examples of their sirloin, New York strip (on the bone), and rib eye. All were very good but the strip steak, for my $$/pound, was the standout.

It's not their farming practices. Purely grass-fed beef, all free range, with a "never-never" approach to hormones and antibiotics. If antibiotic treatment is medically necessary, which is apparently rare given the bracingly healthy environment, the treated cow will either be sold or put to pasture, never processed and/or sold under the Hearst brand.

It's not the sheer size of the ranch, though that's undeniably impressive. Just over 80,000 acres, nearly 128 square miles, stretching along fourteen miles of coast land hills from just south of San Simeon all the way to the Monterey County border. And that's not including the other 70,000-acre "parcel" located further inland.

It's not the fact that those seven cowboys, working with only their own trucks, horses and the team of cattle dogs they each maintain, manage that entire 80,000 acre ranch.

What does make it unique is what makes it all possible in the first place — the curious mix of ostentation, privacy and philanthropy that have been part and parcel of the Hearst family legacy for the past 150 years. That and the sheer beauty of the place....

I'll let the following pictures, and just a few more words, round out the story of the ranch. Our visit was a rare privilege, one I fully savored.

* * *

Views like this greeted us at every turn as we climbed the ranch road from PCH1, just above sea level, to a high point of around 1800 feet.

The cows, an assortment of primarily Angus, Hereford, and Red Hereford, seemed just as inquisitive about our sudden appearance on their turf as we were in awe of their surroundings.

Hearst Castle, just over the ridge from the part of the ranch we visited, sees approximately 700,000 annual visitors. Groups like ours, though, are apparently a rarity on the farm, which is a very private affair. Even so, the ranch facilities aren't without a certain sense of humor.

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