On a February morning in Custer County, the wind carries clouds over a ranch where alpaca wake up, their frames silhouetted against the bright pink sky.
It’s a sight not unlike many farms in Westcliffe, the mountain town southwest of Colorado Springs, but the people on this land have a unique purpose.
“Yeah we’re queer and leftists so we paint a new picture,” said ranch founder, Penny Logue.
A haven for all:
With 180 alpaca, Logue named the farm the Tenacious Unicorn Ranch.
Logue co-owns the alpaca ranch with Bonnie Nelson, and together they provide a haven for people who identify as transgender.
“We help people get a better foot in life and have a chance to escape the cis(gender) world and just exist happily amongst all the wonderful animals here,” said Nelson, who identifies as non-binary.
But despite creating a safe place, the unicorns choose not to hide. Even though they live in a county where the sheriff said some individuals like to think they are part of militias.
'Gun totin’ open carry people':
In Custer County, nearly 70% of the population voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020.
“It’s been talked about in the trans community of just going out to someplace rural and start a farm and just kind of disappear,” Nelson said. “We of course decided not to disappear.”
Part of not disappearing means Nelson and Logue feel the need to add an accessory to their hips for self-defense.
“There’s nothing about gun culture we love,” said Logue. “It’s more the functionality and necessity of owning firearms is an everyday reality for us.”
>> Raw video below: The Unicorns talk about the decision to carry guns
People carrying guns around town is normal, too.
“You know you’ve got gun totin’ open carry people which I probably fall into that category,” said the owner of Peregrine Coffee Roasters, Stephen Holmes. “I’m not wearing my firearm today, I don’t wear it in the shop too often.”
The publisher of the local paper, the Wet Mountain Tribune, has always owned guns for hunting, but he bought a different kind of gun this year after he felt threatened for his reporting on the pandemic.
“This was the first time I went out and bought a self-defense weapon this last summer,” said Jordan Hedberg. “It wasn’t because of the left or rioting in Denver, it was from some of the more extreme elements in Custer County.”
Custer County Sheriff Shannon Byerly said he investigated some of the harassment Hedberg received, but it never amounted to direct threats.
Byerly said the public health director did have a tire blown out and called it “kind of suspicious,” but deputies ultimately never found any suspects.
>> Raw video below: Publisher of Wet Mountain Tribune talks about community
'We get harassed':
In early February, a deputy showed up to the Tenacious Unicorn Ranch to investigate an anonymous tip that they were abusing their alpaca.
“We get harassed pretty regularly,” Logue said.
The complaint was unfounded and Byerly said he wouldn’t be surprised if someone called trying to make their lives more difficult because of a High Country News article that “left a poor taste in most of the county’s mouth.”
“That’s not how you make friends,” said Byerly over the phone, referencing the article’s discussion about growing fascism in Custer County.
Although the unicorns feel there are fascist people within the county, they call the general community “amazing.”
“We have met people that it would blow your mind how kind,” said Logue. “I’m tearing up, just amazing people that’s all.”
>> Raw video below: The Unicorns talk about their community
Tied together by a landscape:
Logue and Nelson get coffee at Holmes’ shop almost every day. And while they might not agree on everything, they listen to each other’s perspectives on life.
“You’re going to land in a different place than I do,” said Holmes. “Can we still be friends and understand each other? We can.”
The people who live in Custer County are tied together by the reason they all came to live on the land in the first place.
“On the worst days you look out at this mountain range and, first of all, you’re like, 'Ok, that’s a trillion years (old), I’m meaningless,'” Logue said. “And also, 'I’m going to leave this better than I found it in a real way.'”
The unicorns know people will never be perfect, but a picture of their life on the ranch comes close.
PHOTOS: Inside the Tenacious Unicorn Ranch near Westcliffe
SUGGESTED VIDEOS: Feature stories