- Associated Press - Thursday, July 9, 2015

GILLETTE, Wyo. (AP) - Out on the open plains away from their busy lives in Alexandria, Virginia, a tight-knit family stood among some of the 2,700 bison at Durham Ranch near Wright.

It was the first time they’d seen that many bison at one time and definitely a first for seeing them that up close and personal. The massive, grunting animals were just yards away.

The curious calves stared at the group with their nostrils in the air as they tried to figure out what business these creatures had interrupting their late morning grazing.

The family stopped for a tour of the ranch between a trip to Yellowstone, a rodeo in Cody and a tour of Eagle Butte coal mine before their drive back to Rapid City, South Dakota, and flight back East.

“I think it’s important for my children to see every part of the country,” Gonzalo de Dios said. “They play ice hockey, so they’re up and down the East Coast. We’ve been to Ohio and California quite a bit visiting family, but not so much in the middle. I can finally see the sky.”

He said they took the tour to get the most out of seeing the West.

“We want to get lost in the wilderness and see different ways of life,” he said. “It was on our bucket list.”

Owner John Flocchini said his operation, which is in the top 10 largest in North America, is one of the few locations someone actually could get so close to that many buffalo.

His favorite part of the tours that break up his long but rewarding days on the ranch is seeing people’s reactions when they get to stand amid the herd. Many times, it’s their first time seeing a live bison, he said.

“I really like the education aspect of this, teaching people about the bison, what healthy land looks like, how animals can be raised naturally,” he said. “I like to show them that the modern energy industry can coexist with traditional ranching.”

Throughout the tour, Dios asked such informed questions about bison and ranching that Flocchini asked what kind of background he had.

“I’m a city boy through and through,” Dios said. “But I like to learn new things. I’ve always been curious.”

The bus stop in the middle of the field is the grand finale of the tour, which also features a look at the corral pen and rides around just a small part of the 55,000-acre ranch.

While stopped in the field, Flocchini’s cousin, Molly Shae, who interned at the ranch last summer and is continuing this year, talked to Dios’ family about how to best prepare bison.

“It’s different than beef,” she said. “Some people like beef well done, but I think bison tastes terrible well done. It’s best medium rare. Medium is even pushing it.”

But those new to bison might be a little shy to try one of Flocchini’s favorite parts — the heart, prepared fresh.

Shae, who studies wildlife biology at Humboldt State University in northern California, said she has learned a lot about ranching and business management during her time in Wyoming.

“In California, it’s obviously a completely different landscape and climate — right on the ocean and lots of trees,” she said. “It’s nice to come here for the contrast and to learn about a different kind of operation.”

For about 20 minutes, the family watched the buffalo and chatted with Flocchini and Shae while Flocchini’s Labradoodle, Bella, who just had nine puppies, ran around joyfully in the grass.

Since last year, people have been able to sign up for tours of the family-owned ranch through the Gillette and Wright visitors centers. Tours are available at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and by request on the ranch’s 18-passenger bus. They typically last about two hours, Flocchini said.

Flocchini has given tours to politicians, college groups and has even welcomed Donald Trump Jr. for a bison hunt.


Information from: The Gillette (Wyo.) News Record, https://www.gillettenewsrecord.com

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