Johnson’s “Park Ranch” is 20-some miles southwest of Laramie, Wyo. It gets its name from its many little tree-circled meadows or “parks” carpeted with native grasses. The parks are perfect winter quarters for cattle.The ranch straddles the Big Laramie where the river flows out from between mountains onto the Laramie plain. The Johnsons’ buildings and most of their land is on the river’s north bank. Some of the land is on the south bank, spread out across the first gentle rise towards the peak of Jelm mountain.
Johnson’s uncle bought the ranch back in 1878. When he died, it passed on to Johnson’s dad. And Wes Johnson bought the place in 1924; he moved on to it in 1927. He and his wife, Carol, and their son and his family operate the ranch now.Besides those grassy-floored “parks”, the ranch’s most important assets include a couple of “rights” – the right to take irrigation water from the Big Laramie River and a permit to graze cattle from June 16 to Oct. 1 in the mountainous Medicine Bow National Forest six miles from the ranch. The Irrigation rights were granted to the Johnsons back in 1879 and ’80. That makes them old enough to be valuable in the West, where the man with the oldest rights gets first claim on the often limited supply of water.