Hunting: A Family Tradition

John Zink’s love of hunting was born partly of necessity. 

In other words, there was a greater purpose for trapping and killing animals than just the sport of it. That purpose was pretty basic: making ends meet. 

Throughout his life John was renowned as a skilled hunter, and people came from all over the country – sometimes all over the world – to get a chance to learn from him. He created Waterfall Ranch Outfitters, and together with son Ed molded a business that attracted an impressive number and type of hunters – those serious about the sport. 

It began from very humble beginnings.

Muskrat love

His mother died in 1926, when he was 9. So early in life John Zink learned to fend for himself. Then the Great Depression hit in the fall of 1929, just as John entered his teens. The pelts of muskrat, used for coats and hats, could be sold for a decent sum, so John and his brothers traipsed up and down the Animas Valley trapping them. A muskrat is a much smaller, distant cousin to a beaver, with a rat-like tail – not flat like a beaver’s – and often found in the water or near the shore. The pelts of beavers, as well as skunks, martens, and fishers (closely related to martens) also were valued back then. 

The young Zinks – John, and younger brothers Ernest and Howard – set traps in the swamps and sloughs of the Valley, and returned regularly to collect their bounty. The money they earned went for clothing, school supplies, or whatever else was needed.

After high school graduation, John and a friend spent a winter trapping in New Mexico. After a couple of months they were cold and homesick, and they hadn’t made a fortune – far from it – so they returned to Southwest Colorado. 

Big game

Elk, brought down from the Yellowstone region, were introduced to the Hermosa area in 1912 (just after the Zink clan had moved to Southwest Colorado from Nebraska). But elk and deer were both far from plentiful in the 1930s. John Zink never saw an elk until after he turned 20. 

An anecdote illustrates the dearth of big game in this era. Normally, when savvy hunters see big game tracks, they hang around and wait for animals to return. Going after them on foot is generally fruitless. But in the 1930s during the Depression, big game was so scarce, and meat so valuable, that many people would try to track them down. 

To try to increase and control the population, and ease the stress on big game, the state in 1938 mandated that hunters acquire a license. John Zink, a young man who’d spent most of his youth outdoors, finally spotted his first elk that year. Holding the license he’d purchased, he shot and killed it. 

Hunting became a ritual. After the annual early fall potato harvest in late September or early October, he’d be free of ranch duties and he’d go off hunting. Later he taught his children to hunt. Deer were fairly plentiful, and you could hunt them in the then-unsettled Valley. But elk hunting required a trip up into the Hermosa Creek drainage.

Ed Zink remembered in the early 1960s finishing the potato harvest at noon, and shooting his first elk before dark that same day. That elk rack was mounted, and remained a prized trophy that later was placed on the back porch.

John’s sons – Nelson, Ed, and Jerry – dreamed about fishing trips into the Dutch Creek or South Fork drainages of Hermosa Creek like other kids dreamed of going to Disneyland. After putting up the first crop of hay in the summer, there was a short lull on the ranch. John Zink believed the best gift he could give his kids was a fishing expedition. It was a bonding experience that simultaneously taught life lessons. There was pressure to catch fish on the trip or go hungry – a different thrill from riding Disney’s Matterhorn bobsleds, but much more real. 

“They were great trips. We learned a lot on those trips,” Ed said. 

John’s unexpected gift

John Zink began to travel for unique hunting opportunities: to British Columbia, Alaska, Africa.

The March 1964 Alaska earthquake proved destructive and even deadly to residents in the Anchorage area. The damage scared off many would-be tourists that summer, just when the newly created state needed the visitors. John received a call from an Alaskan outfitter whose clients were canceling scheduled trips. The man was looking for clients, and he offered John a great deal. So John flew up for a spectacular trip during which he bagged a wolf, a wolverine, a grizzly bear, and a polar bear. 

Roy and Carl Zink, two brothers from Dodge City, Kansas, visited Durango around this time on an elk hunting trip. As had become their custom when arriving at a town for the first time, they leafed through the phone book and dialed up any Zinks that happened to be listed. When they called John and Ruby, John hinted that he knew a bit about hunting, and extended a dinner invite. The Durango Zinks and the Dodge City Zinks – no relation – became life-long friends. 

The Durango Zinks would travel to Kansas to hunt pheasant and coyotes; the Dodge City Zinks would regularly visit Colorado to hunt elk. 

Ruby and John traveled to many places, including Africa.

In the 1970s, John and wife Ruby Zink, along with Roy Zink and his wife, traveled together to Africa, where they spent a month hunting. The trip took them into Kenya. 

The outfitter agreed to come and do the job, and John Zink volunteered to accompany him.

During the time the Zink couples visited the area on hunting safari, a lion had been attacking the cattle of a local Maasai tribe, and dragging the dead cattle into a large field of thick pampas grass. The locals wanted the lion killed, but didn’t want to go blindly into the 8-foot-high grass armed with just spears. The Maasai tribes were not allowed to have firearms. Runners were sent from the village to find a local outfitter with a gun. After running for about 40 miles they reached the hunting camp where the Zinks were staying with their outfitter. 

John and the outfitter entered the field, proceeding with extreme caution, ducking into low tunnels beaten down through the grass. They crouched and half-crawled, slowly and carefully making their way through the tunnels. Finally they reached a straight section and saw the lion, 60 feet away, relaxed and gnawing at cattle remains. The lion just looked at them. It was an easy shot for John. 

The tribe was excited with the news that the killer lion was gone, and held a big ceremony to celebrate the event and honor the heroes. John Zink was given shields, spears, headdresses, and gourds. And, the big prize, a young virgin wife.

“My mother said we had enough wives,” Ed Zink said. “So the outfitter had to negotiate to give the wife back without insulting anybody.”

John Zink traveled to British Columbia a couple of times and to Alaska several times. By the time he was done he’d completed what’s called the “North American Grand Slam of Sheep.” That meant that he’d taken a stone, Dall, Rocky Mountain bighorn, and desert bighorn. Ed, in his late teens and early 20s at the time, went on many of these trips and also completed the Grand Slam. Because of the rugged terrain the sheep inhabit, and the limited numbers, the Grand Slam is a lofty goal considered a lifetime achievement. When John and Ed completed their slams, only about 200 had done so. Now more than 2,000 have done it.

Many of these trophy heads were displayed at The Outdoorsman, creating a mini-museum upon which visiting hunters could marvel. It added to the mystique of the shop.

As you read this story with a 21st century perspective, try to keep in mind that Americans took a different view of hunting at this time. It was respected, it was important as a way of life. For some, it was a rite of growing up. President Teddy Roosevelt posed with a rhinoceros he’d shot, novelist Ernest Hemingway with a lion. It was manly. It was cool. 

It was part of the American culture, particularly in still-mostly-rural Southwest Colorado. Ed Zink recalled that when he started at Fort Lewis College he’d drive up to campus with a gun hanging on a rack in the back of his unlocked pickup. Might not be a good idea to do that today, for a variety of reasons.

The business

In the late-1960s, John Zink decided to create and operate his own hunting and outfitting business. He was shutting down the potato farm – the hard, physical labor was beating him down – and this would be something fun and somewhat profitable, at least seasonally. Together, John and his son Ed kept the business going for 45 years. 

Ed near hunting camp.

This coincided with the Zinks in 1968 purchasing a sporting goods store, which they renamed The Outdoorsman. Before heading into the woods, the Zinks and their hunting clients would stock up on supplies from the shop.

Once established, Waterfall Ranch Outfitters was taking 75 clients per year at its peak. Many clients went up the Hermosa Creek drainage to a tributary called Little Elk Creek. Other trips went deer hunting in the more accessible Hay Gulch area south of Hesperus, on land owned by the long-established Montoya or Huntington families. Clients obviously enjoyed the experience, because they kept returning. Many years, the Zinks would fill out the next fall’s trips before New Year’s Day. Word of mouth and these returning hunters meant they never had to advertise. 

The typical client was a successful professional of middle age who’d grown up hunting. Many customers could be defined as bigwigs in their respective industries. There was Jim Kuty, chief of security with DuPont Chemical in Delaware; Paul FitzGerald, chief engineer with Sikorsky helicopters in Connecticut; and Bill Blaylock, chairman of the board with BorgWarner, a huge, world-renowned car parts manufacturer. Talks around the campfire were entertaining and illuminating. And the intimate atmosphere of the camp created a setting in which these men felt free to divulge secrets, business and personal. What was said at Little Elk Creek stayed at Little Elk Creek.

“We had some fascinating, competent, interesting people that were fun to hunt with,” Ed Zink said.

The guides

Hunting expertise comes from years of studying, and thinking, and planning. You need to know not only where the animals are, but where they tend to go when grazing, when spooked, etc. The right terrain, the right slope – understanding many factors is crucial in a successful hunt. John Zink figured out these pertinent tendencies. 

“The feeling around camp was, Dad knew what the elk were going to do before they did,” Ed Zink said. “He had hunting down to a system. … It was a science to him.” 

There was some fun involved, but this was no party camp. It was a serious effort. They horse-packed ten miles into the Little Elk Creek site, and got down to business. Clients appreciated their hosts’ expertise, and they were rewarded. State statistics show that about 25 percent of those buying a license successfully shoot a big-game animal. Waterfall Ranch Outfitters had a nearly 65 percent success rate.

The Zinks didn’t do it all by themselves. They hired several good guides over the years who each contributed their own skills and expertise.

Dick Kasprzyk, left, and son, John Kasprzyk, with Ed in back.

There was Rick Scarborough, a Durango native whose eyes were sharp enough that he could see elk across a valley where Ed needed binoculars to do the same. And there was Dick Kasprzyk, who had a great sense of where animals were and guided with the Zinks for nearly 40 years. Others took care of horses, or cooked. Occasionally Ed’s children, Brian, Tim, and Kristi, helped out as they were growing up. 

John Zink met Kasprzyk in a roundabout way through one of his trips to Alaska. Kasprzyk, who lived in Wisconsin, was an acquaintance of a man who met John on a polar bear hunt. John invited that man on a mule deer hunt in late-fall 1964, and Kasprzyk, in his early 20s, was asked if he would like to go along. 

“You don’t have to ask me twice,” Kasprzyk replied.1

Thus began a half-century-plus relationship with the Zink family. Kasprzyk, during a 2021 interview, said he returned to Durango a couple years later to hunt with John Zink. Ed – or “Eddie,” as Kasprzyk called him – was a high school kid at that time. The Zink family still farmed potatoes, and Kasprzyk’s fall trips would coincide with the harvest. He helped load the spuds onto a flatbed truck, drove them to New Mexico, took part in the hunt, then continued the potato harvest.

Kasprzyk had been 18 when his father died, so John Zink became like a second father. Little by little on their hunts, John surreptitiously taught Kasprzyk what he needed to know to become a guide, and pushed his fitness level on treks up and down the steep drainages along Hermosa Creek. 

“John was a true mountain man. My respect for him was unbelievable,” Kasprzyk said. “John would take and test you to the max. … He was looking to try to get the utmost out of an individual.”

So when John Zink decided it was time to start an outfitting business, he invited Kasprzyk to be a guide. The other person he asked to be a guide was Scarborough. 

Scarborough, with his then-wife Emily, had joined John Zink on a trophy buck hunt in 1971. John asked Rick and Emily to work an elk hunt, which involved packing in supplies, setting up camp, cooking, and guiding. 

Meanwhile, Scarborough had several balls in the air. He was a graduate student at Colorado State University, playing in bands, hunting in the fall, and his family had just opened the Bar-D Chuckwagon on County Road 250 in the Animas Valley. Scarborough started up his own guiding business for a couple of years, but merged it with John Zink’s and helped him run it. 

During the early years of guided deer and elk hunts up the Hermosa Creek drainage, they’d often set up several camps. Main camps were at Little Elk Creek and “Big” Elk Creek, and there was a “Spike Camp” at Chicken Creek. Both Kasprzyk and Scarborough have deep respect for John Zink, but weren’t totally confident in his organizational and communication skills. On one hunt, Kasprzyk began looking through the supplies he’d been left with, and saw that instead of mixed fruits and vegetables, he’d been stranded with only canned peaches. 

Ed Zink became more involved in the business during the 1970s. He didn’t quite have his father’s hunting acumen, but did know how to operate a business. Things could become fairly complex, and Ed could take on roles not only of hunting guide, but in customer relations, managing the crew and horses, and organizing supplies.

“Ed prided himself on a much higher level of organization and communication,” Scarborough said in a 2021 interview.2“Ed would show up at our work sites to help with our packing duties and to check that we were OK when we were working in the middle of the night in snowstorms. … He had a talent for working with us in a way that brought out the best of our abilities where he didn’t feel like the business owner and ‘boss’ that he was.”

The Zinks deeply valued Kasprzyk and Scarborough. After John died and Ed took over the business, Ed let the two long-time guides know that if they left the operation, he would close the business. He didn’t want to have to break in new guides.

Part of the team

Brian, Tim, and Kristi all became part of the Waterfall Outfitters team at one point or another. It was an experience they all treasure, but none would say it didn’t entail a lot of effort. Other than when very young, they were never allowed to just hang out at camp with no chores. 

Tim Zink, in orange, poses with his first elk. He’s surrounded by grandfather John Zink, father Ed, and brother Brian.

Brian Zink recalled that the older he got, the more work he would do. As hunting season arrived, in early to mid-October they’d arrive at Little Elk Creek after the 2½-hour trail ride by horse, and begin setting up camp. Dozens of loads needed to be shuttled between the cache – where cooking and camp gear was stored for much of the year – to the camp site. The big tent had to be set up, carpets had to be laid out and dried, horses tended, firewood cut, trails cleared of down timber. Just for starters. 

“It wasn’t always the most fun weekend,” Brian recalled with a chuckle. “It was a lot of work.” But the prospect of fun did exist. “If everything went well we got to go ride and have a picnic.” Often friends and cousins tagged along, and “for them it was new and exciting.”3

Brian and then Tim soon began coming up during the actual season, taking care of client needs. One constant chore was hauling water from nearby springs in 10-gallon containers. Little Elk Creek itself was usually dry. Brian recalled rising at 4 a.m., getting a fire going to warm the tent and for coffee-making. The crew would then go round up any horses that wandered during the night, and feed and saddle them. 

It was a great opportunity to hang out with Grandfather John, and to see him in his element. And to learn from him. 

“It was always a challenge to meet with his approval,” Brian said. Expectations were placed on Brian, but they were fair, and were always imposed to improve his knowledge and skills – to make him a better person. If he didn’t always understand that as a teenager, he did later.

The children also got to learn the business end, how to work closely with clients, and everything else that organizing and operating a hunting camp entailed. It was valuable business and real-life experience.

As Waterfall Outfitters began paring down its client total in the 1980s, Brian and Tim often were able to join the third (final) hunt of the season in late October or early November. The “cost” was they’d be required to dismantle the camp, store equipment in the cache, and take other gear back to town. 

Sometimes friends would get to join them. Brian recalled that decades later his high school friend Jeff Sotebeer came up to him and told him how much he appreciated the experience he’d gained from hunting camp. 

After he graduated from Durango High and enrolled at Fort Lewis College, Brian also graduated from camp grunt to guide. By then, although he appreciated the stocked refrigerator of meat that came from a successful hunt, he was much more excited about clients succeeding. Satisfaction came from seeing a hunter’s investment in time and money benefit from Waterfall Outfitters’ expertise.

“That got to be way more rewarding.”

Close calls

Hunting is a strenuous activity, and when you mix in both unpredictable animals and weather, accidents can happen. For example, a lost client fell off a ledge in a blinding snowstorm and broke a leg. Fortunately, after an extensive search, Ed found him late at night, just before hypothermia set in. 

One of the worst accidents occurred in 1999 and involved Scarborough in a packing tangle, while riding a horse he was breaking in. He was attempting to straighten out a series of four pack horses, kept together with ropes, when his horse spooked and reared; Scarborough collided heads with his horse. As he fell, Rick became tangled in pack line ropes, leaving him helpless. His body slammed to the ground and he was nearly trampled. When the dust settled he was badly injured with several broken bones, including a shoulder and every rib on his left side. A lung was punctured. 

Scarborough was with his second wife, Laquita, who was also a camp cook, and they used a cellphone to call for help. Zink raced up Hermosa Creek on his small dirt bike. Scarborough, sharing the small dirt bike seat with Zink, gritted his teeth during an extremely bumpy and painful ride out. It took two years before Scarborough was able to return to hunting.

But those incidents were far from the norm. The Zinks’ high success rate was not from luck, but from knowing their business, reading the hunters’ skills and needs, and a familiarity of the landscape. Scarborough attributed the success to Waterfall Ranch Outfitters’ guides being hunters who used horses to get around, while other guides are often horse experts leading a hunt. 

Beyond an emphasis on a good hunt was an attitude of camaraderie. Guides, crew, and hunters gathered for supper, and shared campfire stories and laughter after a hard day’s hunt.

“Ed really cared for his customers, and made sure they were having a good time,” Scarborough said.

The Zinks’ hunters often returned to Durango with friends, and those friends then booked their own hunts with Waterfall Ranch. And Kasprzyk noted that their customers’ children and even grandchildren became clients. 

“Eddie never had to worry about clients,” Kasprzyk said.

Loyal clientele

It didn’t take long for clients to realize the Zink crew was serious about hunting, and knew the Hermosa drainage intimately.

Hunters who wanted to return were given a first crack at reservations for the upcoming year. After a highly successful 2000 season, Ed Zink added a touch of whimsy into a sort of news release sent to hunters about booking in advance for the 2001 season:

“Following the most successful elk hunting season in the 35-year history of Waterfall Ranch Outfitters, the Hermosa elk herd is demanding a recount. The initial returns show that 22 of the 23 hunters were successful in bagging an animal. The mix included three 6-point bulls, five 5-point bulls, eight 4-point bulls, and three cows.

“The Hermosa elk herd continues to be healthy and a high producer of huntable bulls. The controlled burns in the oak brush, conducted by the Forest Service in the early ’90s, have greatly improved the growth of feed on the south slopes, which has been effective in holding the elk in our hunting area for a few extra days.”

Even when the success rates weren’t as high, few hunters left dissatisfied. The hunts were a memorable, bonding experience in the wilds. In this way, everyone returned home with more than they’d brought. Customers’ testimonials were plentiful.

* * *

Jim Poneta of St. Louis, Missouri, joined his brother-in-law on a successful elk hunting trip to Durango in the mid-1970s. Poneta did a little research in town, and when he visited the Outdoorsman he was told that Ed Zink catered hunting expeditions. So Poneta booked a hunt right then and there. It was the start of a long friendship.4

From John Zink, Poneta learned patience, and was grateful to him for using this trait with “us flatlanders.” John knew how to find elk, and which direction they’d head if spooked. He’d suggest a drainage to follow, predict the elk would run into them, “and they would.”

Poneta’s last elk hunt was with John Zink, who was in his 70s at the time. After that Poneta switched to mule deer, or “muleys.” Those hunts took him all over the West, but eventually he returned to Durango. In the late 2000s he called Ed Zink and asked if he could join an elk hunt, but go after muleys. Yes, Ed said, making a special dispensation, but we’ll set you up away from the elk hunters. Poneta was thrilled when he took the biggest muley of his hunting career.

Ed had retired from hunting in 2018, when Poneta called and wondered if he’d join him on a high-country hunt. Through all his hunting tag application processes over the years, Poneta had accumulated 20 preference points – putting him in line to draw a rare, early-season, high-country tag. 

“As a matter of fact,” Ed replied to Poneta’s offer, “it’d be good for me to get back up in the mountains.”

Poneta was 81 by then and using walking sticks, and Ed was 70. They spent nine days hunting mule deer about as high in the mountains as possible, often above 10,000 feet. A hailstorm chased them into a mine shaft. Sometimes they rode horses, other times ATVs. 

Poneta’s goal was a trophy deer with a huge antler spread. That didn’t happen, but ultimately he found something more rewarding.

“It was one of the greatest hunts I’ve ever had, and I didn’t even pull the trigger.”

It was the last time Ed Zink took someone hunting. 

“John and Ed were really good at their business of outfitting,” Poneta said. “Plus, they were really good at the business of being good people.”

* * *

Ed Lewis was another customer who grew into a big fan of Ed Zink. In 1998 he and several friends started planning an annual High Altitude Triathlon (HAT) trip to Durango. These HAT adventures didn’t include just hunting. As the two Eds established a relationship, they added ancestral dwelling tours, mountain biking, and even mountain climbing. Lewis organized a group of six that came up from the Phoenix area to hunt with Waterfall Ranch Outfitters in fall 1998. 

“My love for Mother Nature grew beyond bounds as Ed introduced me to her,” Ed Lewis wrote.5“I knew Ed for over two decades and never found a person who I respected and admired more. He was so knowledgeable, wise, thoughtful, and adventuresome. Always ready for a new adventure.”

Ed Lewis, right, on a successful hunt with Ed Zink and Waterfall Ranch Outfitters.

Ed Lewis recalled that first hunt, in mid-November, as being cold and snowy. They left camp on horses or on foot, and guides scoured the hillsides with binoculars looking for game. When an elk herd was spotted, Ed Zink or a guide would work around the animals and try to push them back toward the hunters. On one occasion, the elk spooked and started running away from the hunters. 

“Ed ran alongside them trying to turn the herd toward us,” Lewis wrote. “Running at 9,500 feet, jumping over fallen trees, and trying to keep his footing on the rocks. This by a man with heart disease.” 

Lewis’ son-in-law Luis Marquez was on that first hunt in 1998. 

“The meals were fantastic and the conversation was even better,” Marquez wrote. “Managed to harvest a really nice bull thanks to Ed. Wonderful memories that I will never forget. 

“Three words that I think best describe Ed Zink: hard-working, community leader, and a one-of-a-kind sense of humor. OK, that was more than three words.”6

In 2000, HAT training included an up-and-back mountain bike ride from the lower end of the Hermosa Creek Trail. Warren Davis was often part of Lewis’s group, and he recalled Zink passing on a cycling lesson learned the hard way. Zink liked to relate the story of the day he was speeding down Wolf Creek Pass on a road bike and noticed a large rock in his path. It was still a long way off. 

Davis recalled that Zink’s advice was, “Do NOT ever look at what you’re trying to avoid. Look at the path you want to take.” That day on Wolf Creek, “He couldn’t take his eyes off the rock and, sure enough, hit it, crashed and limped home on his bike. Classic humble, fun and instructional story by Zink.”7

The day of the Hermosa ride, maybe Ed Lewis hadn’t heard the story yet. Just after the group ate lunch and began back downhill, Lewis struck a pedal on a log, wrenching his front wheel sideways. He slammed into a boulder, “flew over my handlebars, landed on my hip, and fractured my tailbone.”

Neither Lewis nor the bike were in condition to continue the ride. Despite being in “serious pain,” he walked with the bike back to the trailhead.

In 2004, Zink took five men up Engineer Mountain from the top of Coal Bank Pass. Four stopped before the crux, a steep exposed section of scrambling requiring all four limbs, and enjoyed the view. Zink and Davis continued to the top.

The camp

The Zinks’ hunting ground in the San Juan National Forest ranged from 8,000 to 10,500 feet, an elevation that brought extremely variable fall weather. It could be 60 degrees and hot one day, and cold and snowing by morning. The Zinks warned clients to be ready for these extremes and anything in between – and to prepare for physical exertion by training ahead of the hunt. North sides of the steep canyons and gullies were covered by spruce, with aspen the main tree on the sun-exposed south sides. 

One huge perk of hunting in the Hermosa Creek area for three-quarters of a century (since 1938), and operating a camp for several decades, was that the Zinks were “grandfathered in” under old state hunting rules. They weren’t required to abide by some of the newer rules. 

A series of tarps keep the long strip of shelters dry inside at Little Elk Creek camp.
There’s plenty of place for Ed’s beloved dog Finster among the dining tables in one section of the Little Elk Creek camp in the Hermosa Valley. Photos by Kristi Zink.

When they set up camp for the first hunting season of the fall they spent a lot of time to make it as comfortable as possible. The beefed-up tent structure had to be large to serve as temporary home to eight hunters on one side, five to six crew members on the other, with a kitchen and dining area in the middle. Carpet on the floor and thick “super-cushy” mattresses – as Kristi Zink called them – added a touch of comfort to the otherwise spartan accommodations expected at a backwoods hunting camp. Propane lanterns hung on the central aspen posts to keep it lit during the long fall evenings. 

The kitchen featured a wood-fired stove for heating water and coffee. A six-burner propane stove provided lots of room for cooking up meat, potatoes, pancakes, the works. Over the years the Zinks had accumulated a significant collection of cast-iron griddles, huge pots, and silverware. (Yes, the silverware was actual silver.)

At hunting season’s end, all the cooking gear, the carpets, the mattresses, the tarps, and more, would be cached in a cleavage in the mountainside. 

This impressive stash grew over the years, and made it easier to ride the 10 trail miles, approximately three hours, and set up camp each fall. 

After John Zink died in 1992, age 75, the trophy heads came down at The Outdoorsman a year or two later. Today you’ll find them in the big barn at Waterfall Ranch. The shop was morphing at the time, and the heads made way for a mini-museum of mountain bikes, and bike-related trophies, and jerseys, and posters. The hunting section of the shop was removed, and The Outdoorsman became Mountain Bike Specialists.

Among a new breed of hunters that visited Durango, many, such as Ed Lewis and his gang, enjoyed mountain biking too, and took time to stop by and appreciate the museum. Warren Davis was both surprised and thrilled when Ned Overend, mountain bike racing’s first official cross country world champion, happened to be at MBS at the same time he was. Ed introduced them.

Kristi Zink with father Ed at hunting camp.

“I was awestruck,” Davis wrote. “He was just hanging out at Zink’s shop!”

Following his father’s death, Ed Zink, with his trusty guides’, and his sons’ and later his wife Patti’s help, continued to run Waterfall Ranch Outfitters for nearly two more decades. 

In the early 2000s, as Ed realized that the business was no longer something he wanted to continue, he made sure his children knew his plans. Although there was never an expectation they would continue the business, and no pressure, he wanted to give them the opportunity to carry on if they chose to. 

All had found success and were busy with other occupations. 

“If not, I understand,” Ed said. “It was my business, that doesn’t mean it has to be your business.”

It was a bittersweet time when the Zinks sold the business around 2010. The new owners were not grandfathered in, and that meant that all the gear had to come off the site at Little Elk Creek. 

From father to son, it meant the end of a long, fruitful era. From muskrat to elk, it was a good run.


1   From telephone interview with Dick Kasprzyk, January 25, 2021.

2   From telephone interview and email with Rick Scarborough, January 2021.

3   From telephone interview with Briant Zink, October 10, 2021.

4   From telephone interview with Jim Poneta, February 9, 2021.

5   Email from Ed Lewis, February 25, 2021.

6   Email from Luis Marquez, February 22, 2021.

7   Email from Warren Davis, February 16, 2021.