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Some Dude Ranches Offer Much More Than Horseback Riding
The main focus at dude ranches is on horses, however, they also offer a surprising variety of other activities and attractions.
Bill and Barbara Murray are hoping to pay for their vacation as they pan for gold. For Phyllis and Daniel Cole, the goal is to improve their kitchen skills so they may take turns preparing meals at home. Friends Betty Price and Martha Taylor have a more relaxing experience in mind. They're enjoying a soak in a hot tub after which they'll spend time in a soothing sauna.
These disparate experiences share one common factor. It is surprising. Rather than taking place at a mega-hotel or resort destination, these folks are enjoying a stay at a dude ranch.
When used with "ranch," the word "dude has nothing to do with younger people today who refer to each other that way. In the 19th century, many westerners used "dude" to describe well-to-do easterners who wanted to experience life on the frontier without facing the hard work real cowboys do daily.
Dude Ranches are now Guest Ranches
While the main focus at dude ranches continues to be on horses, including riding, grooming, learning about, and loving them, some also offer a surprising variety of other activities and attractions. That's why some today are referred to as guest ranches and some that aren’t could, and perhaps should, be.
For example, the Diamond D Ranch in Idaho, where the Murrays were hoping to strike it rich, is much more than that name conjures up. From archery to arts and crafts, swimming to stand-up paddleboarding, the list of choices is long and diverse.
Cooking and collecting eggs at a Dude Ranch in Tennessee
The Coles were getting lessons at the Tennessee International Dude & Guest Ranch in the way cooking was done in the 1800s. That included rolling oats and grinding grains. Their children loved collecting eggs from the chickens for the morning breakfast.
Betty and Martha were being rejuvenated at the Majestic Dude Ranch in Colorado. They wanted some R&R after a day of challenging mountain biking and playing spirited games of Laser tag and paintball.
This provides a brief introduction to some of the non-horse-related opportunities available to guests of dude and guest ranches. The complete list is much longer and wide-ranging.
Dude Ranches as bird-watching spots
Given their rural locations, activities like hiking and bird watching are to be expected. Observing our feathered friends can be spectacular at some locations, like the Elkhorn Ranch in Tucson, Arizona. High flyers that winter in the area are numerous and colorful.
A number of ranches offer facilities and activities included in an alphabet-long list of choices. They range from archery and biking to steering utility and all-terrain vehicles over challenging off-road tracks.
Fishing is fine at some Dude Ranches
Fishing is a favorite pastime, lake and pool swimming are popular, and whitewater rafting offers thrills at ranches. Some which are near bodies of water ranging from ponds to large lakes offer canoeing, kayaking, and sailing.
Given their history and locations, shooting is an alternative at several ranches. At the Circle Bar in Montana, that means aiming at clay pigeons and targets. It’s trap and skeet shooting and the Rancho de Los Caballeros.
Some surprises await at Dude Ranches
Then there are surprises that one might not associate with dude ranches but which today are found at some.
Tennis anyone? That’s possible for those staying at Averill’s Flathead Lake Ranch in Montana.
Yearning for yoga? Check out Allen’s Diamond 4 Ranch in Wyoming and Rancho de Los Caballeros.
Hooked on history? The original homestead house at the Kay El Bar Guest Ranch in Arizona was built in 1914 and the large adobe lodge was erected 12 years later. The ranch is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
If you think this completes the list of pleasant surprises found at dude and guest ranches, think again. For those so inclined, Allen’s Diamond 4 Ranch offers opportunities to learn and hone backcountry and wilderness survival skills.
The Horseshoe Canyon Ranch in Arkansas is home to the “Iron Horse,” the highest, longest, and fastest zip line in Arkansas. Those brave enough to try it drop nearly a half-mile at speeds over 50 miles per hour.
Dude Ranch options include golf, sightseeing flights, and falconry
Much less strenuous but equally enjoyable in a different way are demonstrations of falconry at the Kay L Bar and Circle Bar Guest Ranches. Licensed falconer Kyle Hodges offers falcon training and flight demonstrations for those interested in watching those magnificent birds go through their paces.
There’s also a choice of off-site things to see and do close to a number of ranches. Guests at the Rancho de la Osa may explore nearby ruins of Native Americans who lived in present-day Arizona long ago and get a look at the U.S.-Mexico border. Not far away is the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, a sanctuary for threatened and endangered species, which some 325 kinds of birds also find to their liking.
Golfers staying at Averill’s Flathead Lake Ranch may play at a nearby course, and sightseeing flights are available to those who wish to view the Montana landscape from above.
If you’re a horse fancier, a dude or guest ranch vacation may be just what the doctor – or in this case, veterinarian – ordered. If not, there are still plenty of non-horsey things to see and do at these vacation places, including unexpected surprises.
WHEN YOU GO
Photos are credited or from the ranches pictures.