Story and images by EMMA CHAVEZ
Cross E Ranch is a small local cattle ranch in the Salt Lake City neighborhood of Rose Park. It celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2018.
David Hinckley purchased the land from the Jeremy family, of Jeremy Ranch Park City, in 1968. David kept the business in the family, as his son, Dalon, and daughter, Heather, are the current co-owners.
Cross E Ranch has a long history. Dalon, 29, began working with his dad when he was just 8 years old. He explained that originally the ranch was in the business of sheep, but his father quickly turned over to cattle. “We don’t do sheep anymore because, well, we’re just not that crazy. Sheep take a lot more work and are kind of a delicate animal,” Dalon says. Instead the ranch now raises black Angus beef. That’s just fine by Dalon, though. The cows are his favorite part of the job.
“The cows keep us grounded in what we do each day,” Dalon says. The most interesting part of the ranch’s history, in fact, is its cattle brand. It is the cross E, and the namesake of the ranch. It is the oldest cattle brand still in use west of the Mississippi. It is a bit of a mystery. “We know it was used by a commander in Brigham Young’s Mormon Battalion, most likely Ethan Jeremy, but we aren’t sure,” Dalon says.
But the Jeremy family would not sell the ranch to David Hinckley unless he promised to keep using the brand, and David’s family have felt very honored and proud to be owners of such a historic brand ever since.
Running a cattle ranch is difficult work, but the hardest part isn’t the manual labor like you would think. Dalon likens being a rancher to that of a gambler, playing the highest of stakes. The nature of the business is luck. “There’s a lot of hope involved,” Dalon says. “You can gamble up to $300,000 on a crop of produce, and then you’re weather dependent.” Or in the case of a festival, “you’re hoping that in six weeks you can recuperate your investment and then make enough to make it worth it.”
In the last 50 years, though, the stakes have increased tenfold. The entire business has changed. Dalon explained that he is now competing on a global agricultural market. His operation is now expected to be equally as efficient as a ranch that is working for a mass retailer, and shipping globally. It puts a strain on his resources.
Even more concerning has been the encroachment of development. Hundreds of acres of Dalon’s land have been bought out by the state government due to water accessibility, or shut down due to new EPA regulations. The changes began to greatly affect the business. “About seven years ago, we started losing hand over fist money, nearly $400,000,” Dalon says. “We had to completely reinvent the diversification of where our money was coming from.”
These changes forced the family to get creative with their revenue streams, which is how the Cross E Ranch festivals began. The ranch puts on three major festivals a year, the Summer Fun Free Days, the Baby Animal Festival and the Fall Festival. It also offers a multitude of private events, such as weddings, summer camps and corporate events.
Despite the stress the festivals cause him, Dalon says the creative aspect they bring to the job is the real fun part of the business. His goal is to constantly come up with new ways to make the farm better and more entertaining for the guests. Dalon just wants people to connect with agriculture, so he spends his time thinking of new ways to make the farm experience more accessible.
The Fall Festival, specifically, has been a major success since it started in 2014. Mother-daughter working duo Teresa and Kristal Hyde consider it their favorite festival. Kristal, who is the ranch’s event coordinator, described the Fall Festival as “fun, family, and good times.” Teresa, who helps run the ticket booth, nodded in agreement and added, “I’ve gone for the past three years before either of us worked here. They make their own doughnuts and it’s my favorite.”
Of all the activities available, both Kristal and Teresa recommend the hay ride as a must-go-on when the festival next comes around, while Dalon insists everyone try the food. “There’s a doughnut shop, caramel apples, kettle corn, and a concessions shop where you can try a Cross E hamburger,” Dalon says. “There’s something for everyone.” This 2018 Fall Festival included a 14-acre corn maze, a 12-acre pumpkin patch, hay rides, slides, animals, and plenty of food. Check the Cross E Ranch website for more details on its variety of year-round festivals and activities.
Dalon is very excited with the direction the ranch is heading currently, but admits that it is expensive to change. He and his sister Heather haven’t taken a paycheck in two years. “Herding people and cows are really similar,” he said with a laugh, “but they do require different fencing. We haven’t made any money on the festivals yet because we keep reinvesting in them.” It’s quite a strenuous transition period.
In the future, Dalon hopes the ranch will stay in the family. Heather has four daughters that she would like to see be involved. The siblings would both like to continue toward the direction of mixed use, with plenty of entertainment, but also maintaining the interactivity and ambience of the ranch.