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Going once, going twice . . . sold!

Want to buy a ranch?

Not just any ranch, but a "ranching empire" — among the largest in the state — in one of the most picturesque settings in all of Utah?

This is a ranch so abundant in wild game that you can charge hunters and anglers just to come on your property in quest of deer, elk, moose, antelope, wild turkey, pheasant and trout.

If that sounds like a dream come true, and you still have some money left after the stock market meltdown of the past year, you need to be in Ross Heely's living room in Jensen, Uintah County, at 2 p.m. on April 3, when Heely's 3,115-acre "sportsman's paradise" will be auctioned off for . . . well, whatever the market will bear or whatever the bidders will bid.

And that's the part that makes Heely and his family nervous. Someone could walk away with the title to Heely Ranch at a price well below the $8.5 million it was appraised at five years ago.

That's because Heely is selling the ranch at "absolute" auction, meaning that it will be sold April 3 no matter how low the winning bid.

"He's about to roll the dice in a big way," said John Marshall, spokesman for National Auction Group, based in Smyrna, Ga., and one of the largest auction houses in the country. Last November NAG sold singer Kenny Rogers' estate for $6.3 million, and next month it will bang the gavel on the Heely ranch.

"He (Heely) is taking a big chance," said Marshall but added that it's the only way to guarantee a sale.

"Why would someone fly in from New York or Los Angeles or Florida to bid at an auction if they knew the property could get pulled back if the owner didn't like the bid price?" said Marshall. "This way, it attracts more affluent bidders, but it's also risky and causes heart palpitations for the owner."

More often than not, absolute auctions turn out to be a good deal for the owner, said Marshall, but not always.

"I won't tell you that every seller goes away happy. Sometimes they don't get as much as they want, and sometimes they get more. It's a gamble."

However it turns out, Heely can comfort himself that it will at least be quick. Selling high-end properties by conventional real estate listings can take months or even years.

The Heely family bought the property in 1978. It is about 16 miles southwest of Vernal and about 15 miles from the Colorado border. The land is bordered on three sides by the Green River (affording it ample water rights), and the deal includes a six-bedroom main house and three smaller homes, plus a bunkhouse with six bedrooms for the hired help.

Then there are the six storage buildings, two Quonsets, five barns and 150 separate corrals with automatic, heated waterers and cattle-feeding yards.

Perhaps more importantly, it includes 70 percent of the land's mineral rights — including the gas and oil for which Uintah County is known — as well as 2,000 acres of irrigated farmland producing seven tons per acre of alfalfa and corn and 40 tons per acre of silage.

All that translates into more than just a place to hang your Stetson.

But if Heely Ranch is Paradise Lost, why sell out?

Because it's more feasible to raise alfalfa and sell it as dairy-quality hay rather than raise crops to feed livestock, said Ray Heely, Ross' 35-year-old son who, with his brother and sister, live and work on the property.

That's why the Heelys have decided to pull up stakes and move their operation to Missouri, where they already own and have operated another ranching operation for the past three years.

Is Ray Heely nervous about the auction?

"We're a bit apprehensive, but this is a one-of-a-kind property, and several people have shown interest," Heely said . He added that the family is looking forward to expanding its herd of horses in Missouri, some of which it sells in Vernal twice a year at the state's largest equine auction.

Bidders must put 10 percent down with $100,000 of it in certified funds, and the high bidder must close the deal within 30 days. The property is available for viewing daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. beginning Tuesday. Call 435-789-4775 for more information.


E-MAIL: max@desnews.com