For 50 summers, the people at the Bar D Chuckwagon have been doing their part to keep cowboy culture alive with their nightly chuckwagon dinners and live show featuring music and comedy by the Bar D Wranglers.
And they want you to know that despite the 416 Fire, they’re still open for business out on County Road 250.
The 50-acre Bar D Chuckwagon was founded by Cy Scarborough, Jim Blanton and Roy “Buck” Teeter.
“Three of us entertainers came from Colorado Springs from the Flying W Chuckwagon and bought a piece of land here in ’66 and started clearing and roped off where we thought we’d want the chuckwagon and the shops and so forth,” said Scarborough, who used to play guitar with the Wranglers. He still makes appearances on stage. Tuesday night, he entertained diners with his rendition of the song “I’m My Own Grandpa.”
Scarborough said the idea of the Bar D was based on the traditional cowboy chuckwagons.
“A chuckwagon followed the trail ride with the chuck on it – with all the food,” he said. “The chuckwagon would meet up with the trail drivers where the cows were every night, and they would have dinner, and the next morning, they would have breakfast and take on off with the cows.”
He said they try to mimic that experience with the food – which includes chicken or beef, beans, rolls, spice cake, potatoes and apple sauce – and entertainment.
“’Course, they gathered around the campfire at night, and if it was cold weather, they ate around the campfire in the mornings,” he said. “We don’t have a campfire, but we do have a stage show, and there was usually somebody on the cattle drive who played a guitar, a harmonica, some kind of entertainment.”
For the Bar D, that entertainment comes in the form of the Bar D Wranglers, a group of musicians who blend traditional cowboy/Western songs with comedy. And while comedy plays a big part of the show, the musicianship is no joke – the band is made up of musicians who have won awards, have successful solo careers and who have recorded multiple albums.
The current band is made up of Gary Cook, who’s been playing with the Wranglers since 1989 and is a two-time national flat-pick champion who plays guitar and sings tenor; 18-year veteran Matt Palmer is on fiddle and sings baritone; Joel Racheff, who has been in the band for 12 years, is on vocals and upright bass; and Richard Espinoza (eight years) on lead vocals and rhythm guitar. And, of course, Scarborough makes an appearance, bringing comedy and funny stories to the performances.
“Over the years, it’s just evolved. It’s been a great ride,” Cook said. “We still try to play as much of the traditional cowboy-Western music because we want to keep this theme alive. That’s important to us, but it needs to be entertaining.”
Cook said that while the Wranglers are based at the Bar D during the summer, the guys hit the road during the winter months, playing all over the country. They’ve even performed in Japan, he said.
Along with the food and music, the Bar D entertains guests with activities before dinner, including a playground for kids, a train that goes around the perimeter of the grounds, gold-panning, horseshoes, various shops and a shooting range where guests can test their marksmanship with an old-style .45. There’s even a chapel on site where weddings have been held and where guests can take in cowboy poetry courtesy of Sam Noble.
Scarborough and Cook said that the Bar D is not just for tourists. In fact, there are Durangoans and people from the region who have been coming to the chuckwagon since their parents brought them as children.
“A lot of folks that live in Durango have company come from other places, and they bring them out here to see something Western, to see something cowboy,” Scarborough said. “Some of the local people come almost every week anyway because of the entertainment and they like the food.”
Keeping the Bar D alive for so long has not been without its challenges, Scarborough said, especially during the Missionary Ridge Fire in 2002. The blaze came right up to the Bar D, evidenced by blackened trees visible today.
“The firemen saved the Bar D Chuckwagon,” he said. “They foamed all the trees around the chuckwagon. Otherwise, if the trees had caught on fire, it probably would have burned. So they saved us, you bet.”
For Scarborough, the Bar D carries on an important legacy.
“I think we’re helping keep the Western, or cowboy, theme alive,” he said. “Since we’ve been open, we’ve served about 2½ million people from all over the world. That’s a lot of beans.”