Photographing the Flat

March 23, 2017


A place like the Chico Basin Ranch is not easy to sum up in a neat, conclusive blog post. After six months interning here – six months of filming and photographing this 87,000-acre patch of prairie – finding a way to summarise everything I’ve done and learnt seems almost futile. I will leave here with nearly 20,000 photographs, hundreds of hours of video footage, a vastly improved riding ability, a burgeoning cow sense, and the confidence to at least comfortably putz around on a manual transmission motorbike (the bike was one thing I never truly mastered).


However, everyone always wants to know “What will you miss the most?” I’ve gotten this question both from people at the ranch and people at home, and it’s almost impossible to answer. I’ll miss riding out in the morning with a little group of people I’ve grown to love and trust, trotting to some far-flung corner of the ranch for whatever cattle move calls us that day. I’ll miss the sound of cows walking through grass, especially when you stop your horse and hold still, and it’s the only thing you can hear. I’ll miss the way the light comes through the west window of the bunkhouse in the afternoon and pours over the vase of flowers on the table. If I had to choose one thing, however, what I think I’ll miss most is the land itself.

My favourite photographs are the ones that manage to get the Chico as it really is: a huge, rolling expanse of yellow-brown prairie, freckled with cholla, and ringed by a faraway line of mountains. These mountains, appearing and disappearing between your ten and two o’clock as you face them, are the biggest landmark the ranch has. If you can see the mountains – specifically Pike’s Peak, the largest of them – you know where west is. The rare occasions when it’s too foggy to see them, or you’re in a low enough spot that they’re out of sight, are genuinely disconcerting.

Looking for – or rather, just seeing, as you never have to actually look for it – Pike’s Peak has been a daily happiness. It’s such a perfect storybook shape, and there’s something comforting about its distant triangular presence. The other mountains further south are similarly fun to spot, often only visible from certain pastures or vantage points. Even after a rough day, or in the middle of a particularly grueling move when the cows aren’t behaving, catching sight of Pike’s Peak, or some small element of the land around you, makes it all seem all right in the end.

// By Lucy Ellis