A Desire to Make a Difference
Escape to a place where children can cope
with cancer the cowboy way
By Amy C. Witt
Nestled in the luscious green meadows of Colorado's Pike National Forest, sits the Nighthawk Ranch where Tom and Dorothy Evans strive to enhance the lives of broken young spirits as they fight their battle with cancer. They strive to lift the broken souls and set them off trails toward peace and reconciliation with the help of majestic nature and the cowboy way of life.
In 2005, Tom, an oil field contractor was diagnosed with prostate cancer. As he began his treatment he was accompanied by many other children who fought the same battle. After 14 weeks of radiation and overcoming his illness, he was inspired by the strength and will of the children and a desire to make a difference fueled him. In 2012, Nighthawk Ranch was born on a 320-acre ranch in Guffey, Colorado. The Nighthawk Ranch gives cancer patients the opportunity to explore and discover their true self through change, healing and hope. Out of the kindness of their hearts, the Colorado couple offers children between the ages of 10-18 the opportunity to feel like a kid again for no charge - there is never a cost to the camp attendees and their families. The four one-week long sessions are free to participants and are funded out of the Evans’ pockets with small fundraising efforts and donations, along with help from Angel Flight Central, who generously flies campers in from all over the country.
Well aware of the struggles and stresses of cancer, Tom and Dorothy founded the camp to provide a unique high mountain working ranch experience that encourages achievement through a variety of activities. They wanted to give children a safe new environment geared for success, connecting with nature and a unique view on life.
Surrounded by beautiful nature, healthy pine and aspens, campers eat, sleep and have the time of their lives in 10,000 square foot luxurious mountain log home. Starting at the beginning of summer, alternating boys one week and girls the next, children are exposed to various activities ranging from horseback riding and cattle drives to archery, arts and crafts. The camp is staffed with licensed and experienced doctors, nurses, counselors and on-call professionals that put everyone at ease. Within 20 minutes, a helicopter can fly to the Nighthawk Ranch in case of an emergency.
As the sun rises, children are filled with joy as they wake early to greet the many horses, goats and cows that wait for them. With the help of a top-notch professional team, campers are exposed to many aspects of a cowboy and ranch life. At the ranch, each camper will be responsible for grooming and caring for their own horse and this will be the horse that they will learn to ride. This horse will also accompany them on one of the ranch’s many highlights, the cattle drive.
Justin Dunn from Justin Dunn Mustang Horsemanship is the cowboy and horseman responsible for providing a safe and educational equine program at Nighhawk Ranch. The horses and mustangs that create a unique, life-changing experience are owned and trained by Justin. His expertise with handling the horses helps to instill the confidence the kids need after being in such a fragile conditions. But horses and cows are not the only animals at Nighthawk Ranch. Campers will see elk, deer, rabbits, dogs and many other species of wildlife roaming around the ranch.
The animals stimulate connections and create a distraction from the children’s everyday struggles. To make sure the campers live their time at the ranch to their fullest, they are not allowed to have any media devices while at the ranch. Friendships, emotional support and encouragement are constantly pushed to evoke self-confidence. They are able to leave all those hospital visits behind and be outdoors doing fun things with other kids who understand. It gives them a chance to both have fun and to open up and say what they really feel about being diagnosed with cancer.
The Nighthawk Ranch experience is geared towards encouraging each child's unique and precious spirit to open up, spread their wings and soar. Through a new life changing experience, Tom, Dorothy and staff strive to create a connection with nature and the Source of Life by providing an escape that stays with each family as they travel on through life's countless journeys.