“This story is all about community,” Penny says, sitting center in a semicircle with her housemates beneath the dome roof of their new home. The Tenacious Unicorn Ranch is a “growing Transgender community in Southern Colorado,” that works to provide a place for trans and queer folks to live—and thrive. On top of community, their story is about tenacity, self-sufficiency, safety, and making leaps of faith. It also happens to be about adorable alpacas.
After the 2016 election, Penny was living in Livermore, Colorado, and began to feel and see an increased hostility toward the trans community. In addition to the growing danger, Penny’s work insurance did not cover her reassignment surgery and her living situation was limited. Penny and her girlfriend, Kathryn, decided that it was time to create a new way to live, a way that would also give back to the trans community. Thus began the miraculous task of building an entire alpaca ranch from scratch.
Colorado alpaca ranch a safe haven for LGBTQ+ community
Meet the Tenacious Unicorn Ranch!
In Livermore, Penny found a 40-acre rent-to-own ranch and connected with an older couple looking to have someone take on their herd of 80 alpacas. With a ranch, a herd, and Penny’s knowledge of ranch life, the Tenacious Unicorn Ranch was born. But starting with no internet, a van that could not make it up the driveway, and a heap of belongings left behind by the former tenant to clear out, problems began piling up.
Partners Bonnie and Sky came to the rescue. Sitting next to Sky, Bonnie recounts finding Penny through the “Twitterverse” and making the “leap of faith,” a concept that Penny and Kathryn were very familiar with by then. Knowing it was the right thing to do, Bonnie put in a two-weeks-notice within a week of making contact with Penny. Bonnie and Sky gave up everything to move to Colorado from New York.
At the ranch, Bonnie and Penny continued to tackle problems. They rush-ordered all their white wool to be dyed in order to have products by Christmastime. Thanks to those products and a generous donation, the ranch was able to stabilize for the first time since inception. However, Bonnie and Penny were consistently unable to reach common ground with their landlord; it was evident that they needed to find a new home. They located a ranch 200 miles south before the new year and began moving in March during the peak of COVID-19 shutdown.
Today, the Tenacious Unicorn Ranch is nestled at the bottom of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and is home to 96 alpaca, 30 sheep, 55 chickens, 25 ducks, two goats, five cats, three rams, and seven dogs. The group has no intention of slowing down; they have plans to buy two more plots of land and add llamas, rabbits, additional goats, and perhaps emu (if the climate allows). J, the newest arrival, holds expertise in permaculture and plans to begin building greenhouses soon. The ranch currently runs on both solar and wind generators. They are on a trajectory to be completely self-sufficient in the next two years, with the ability to shut out the rest of the world, if needed.
“There’s rough patches, and there’s definitely people that are very hateful and make it very difficult,” Penny says. The group receives offensive messages and is the target of doxing (in which someone publishes your private information), but because the harassment and bullying is mostly virtual, Penny and her team don’t feel too threatened within the safety of their ranch. With each of their personal guns hanging on the living room wall—Penny’s is strapped to her hip at all times—there is an added layer of security. “They have way more time than we do,” Penny says, dismissing the bigotry. “We run a frickin’ ranch!”
The group has found the people and community of Wet Mountain Valley both helpful and welcoming. They have received aid numerous times in situations ranging from alpaca births to car trouble, and have lent a helping hand themselves. They aren’t just building within their community; they’re building across communities. As Bonnie puts it, “if we just wanted to be a ranch, we’d be done.” And the Tenacious Unicorn Ranch is so much more than a ranch. Included in the plans for expansion are spaces to support 20 additional people on the ranch. Penny receives messages daily from individuals looking for a safe home. “There is a need,” she says.
The pandemic has magnified this need. J was furloughed due to the COVID-19 crisis, and with very right-wing parents, they found a home at the ranch. And J points out that the current instability could just be a taste of what’s to come with climate change. So, the group’s mission is to provide a safe home for many more people. They hope to give others what they’ve found, to be able to wake up to a Colorado sunrise across their land like they do every morning and wonder, as Bonnie puts it, “how did this happen?”