The Hideout Ranch inspires fictional novel

Published by Jody on April 26 2012 07:16 in Cowboy Culture | Dude Ranches | United States | Working Ranches
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The Hideout Ranch in Wyoming, USA, inspired one of its guests for fictional novel "West of Sheridan". The ranch's good friend and guest, Mr Dean Ross, penned and published the fictional novel about two men traveling through northern Wyoming after a solar event destroys the nation’s population and access to modern technology. The men subsequently find themselves in the modern day/future version of the “Old Wild West”.

West of Sheridan novel

"West of Sheridan" is described as "fast-paced, adventurous and captivating, while embodying humor, romance and inspiration. Above all, it is a literary illustration of character and moral fiber; a compelling look inside the heads of two very distinctive, contradictory men and what drives them.”

The Hideout Ranch is particularly excited that the story takes place in their neck of the woods, with familiar landscapes, towns and geography. Ross reveals that gained much of his inspiration for the setting of "West of Sheridan" from his time spent on dude ranch vacations at The Hideout Ranch as a repeat guest.

Says Jessy McLavey from The Hideout: "Mr Ross was kind enough to send us a few boxes with signed copies of the novel to stock in our gift shop. The handwritten inscription in each title page reads: 'The Hideout is where this adventure started for me. Hope your adventure is the same.' We’re so glad we could help his creative flow from our little corner of Shell, Wyoming!"

There is even a special 'thank you' from Mr Ross to The Hideout in the afterword of "West of Sheridan":

'I’d like to say a special word of thanks to David and Paula Flitner, owners of the Flitner Ranch and The Hideout, and Peter and Marijn De Cabooter, managers and hosts of The Hideout Ranch in Shell, Wyoming. I have stayed there several times, and it is never easy to leave. It was on an impromptu trip to The Hideout many years ago when I was introduced to the culture and people of Wyoming, and have found myself drawn back ever since. The accommodations are luxurious and comfortable, the food is incredible, but it is the people – their honesty, integrity, and spirit – that make this resort such a wonderful place to stay. You will arrive as a guest, but you will leave as a friend. The Hideout location is used in this story with permission.'

Adds Jessy: "The Hideout crew is so thrilled to be mentioned with such high regard, and we’re all excited to crack open a copy of West of Sheridan and dive into the story!"

Want to read the novel? You can buy it from Amazon here.

For more information on dude ranch vacations at The Hideout Ranch, visit Top50Ranches.com

Running a guest ranch: challenge and change

Published by Jody on April 25 2012 06:29 in Canada | Cowboy Culture | Dude Ranches | Interviews | Ranch Life | Ranch Owners | Top50 Feature Articles | United States | Working Ranches
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Running a guest ranch is about much more than playing host and offering excellent hospitality. Providing dude ranch vacations brings with it a whole set of challenges as well as constant change, to which luxury dude ranch resorts and working ranches alike much adapt to in order to keep their ranching businesses – and their livelihoods – alive.

Ranching and the recession
One of the biggest challenges even the best guest ranches have had to adapt to, just like the rest of the western world, is the recent economic downturn. Tracey O’Connell, owner of Canada guest ranch Tod Mountain, found herself in a particularly unfavorable position just as the recession hit. Having purchased the ranch just a few months prior, Tracey was forced to quickly adapt her plans to allow for the sudden economic instability. “Construction started on Tod Mountain Ranch just a few months before the recession hit – not a great time to start a business!” she recalls. “So from day one the business plan had to be redeveloped.” Along with financial implications, the recession has also significantly changed the demographic of Tod Mountain’s guests.

Tracey was forced to adapt Tod Mountain's marketing strategy when the recession hit

“In our first year of operation, the majority of our guests came from Europe, but over the past few years we’ve welcomed far more guests from within Canada – a significant proportion of them from our own province of British Columbia,” explains Tracey, who was forced to adapt Tod Mountain Ranch’s marketing strategy and budget accordingly. “Only for the 2012 season does the number of European travellers seem to be increasing – we are certainly looking forward to welcoming them back.”

Another Canada guest ranch which had to totally re-think its marketing strategy is Three Bars Ranch. Says the BC guest ranch’s owner Tyler Beckley: “Up until recently, we never considered the local market as a significant part of our business, but in the last few years people are traveling much closer to home, something which has made us totally re-think our marketing strategy.” Another challenge Tyler and the Three Bars team faced was a shift in the booking cycle, with guests who would normally book dude ranch vacations six or seven month in advance, instead signing on the dotted line as close to two or three weeks prior to their ranch vacation. “This has made planning and staffing very difficult,” admits Tyler.

Dean and Karen May of North Fork Ranch in Colorado, USA, also had to adapt their staffing principles in the face of the recession. “We have had to hire fewer staff, but rotate their schedules to keep them under 40 hours per week – while still ensuring guests get a full staff interaction,” explains Dean. And instead of discounting their ranch vacations, Dean and Karen have instead chosen to give guests more their money, adding value with extra activities included in the price. “We have added zip line, a jeep tour and mountain biking – all contracted through local companies, which helps all of us.”

North Fork Ranch, ColoradoNorth Fork Ranch offers guests more for their dollar

Further north in Wyoming at the Lazy L&B Ranch, Lee Naylon has faced similar challenges. “Over the last few years, those guests finding the money for a dude ranch vacation have tended to choose the same three weeks in summer. This focused demand means that we have to turn some guests away for those three weeks, while finding ourselves unable to fill other weeks in the season.” Lee has found the personal touch helpful in securing bookings, and regularly visits with potential guests to learn what could persuade them to take a dude ranch vacation at Lazy L&B. “It is wonderful to speak to potential guests and find out what it is they want,” says Lee. “One thing appears to be shorter ranch vacations, often just for a few days.” This has meant having to adjust staffing, meals, and horseback riding schedules, something Lee and her family are still brainstorming on how best to manage. “We have definitely had to change our mind set as to how to accommodate shorter stays, but we understand the way things are for guests, too, so we do as much as we can to accommodate their needs.”

Robert Bucksbaum agrees. “It’s tough out there these days,” admits the LA movie theater owner, who is relatively new to the ranching world, having acquired Majestic Dude Ranch in Colorado just one year ago. “It can be hard to convince someone to spend a significant chunk of change on a vacation. We appreciate that guests are spending their hard-earned money, especially in today’s tough economy, so we strive to make sure they get their money’s worth in return. I find that offering all-inclusive packages allows guests to forget about being 'nickel and dimed' with added costs for food, activities or tours for the week – they can just relax and have the time of their life.”

Remote access
While the remote location of some guest ranches is a big attraction for many travelers looking to escape from the city or the hustle and bustle of everyday life, for the ranches themselves such a secluded environment can bring with it a real set of challenges. Says Lee: “We understand it can be hard for guests, especially families, to travel a long way to reach our ranch. To help fund the expense of travel we offer lower-priced ranch vacations – this not only makes getting to Lazy L&B that bit more affordable, but our ranch vacation packages just as attractive as more conveniently located ranches.”

Clayoquot wilderness resortClayoquot Wilderness Resort's remote location poses logistical challenges

For Canada guest ranch Clayoquot Wilderness Resort, its remote location on the west coast of Vancouver island poses very real logistical challenges. “The remoteness of the lodge always brings a good twist to the conversation,” says Kathy MacRae, social media and marketing manager at the tented safari camp, whose guest’s kick-start their wilderness adventure with a jaw-dropping float plane ride from Vancouver straight to the ranch’s dock. What might be a novelty for guests is a real logistical challenge for Clayoquot, however, which had to find a practical yet cost-effective way of shipping supplies. “We boat all supplies in and out all year long, from food orders to construction equipment,” explains Kathy. “Out of season, the small crew that stays behind to maintain the resort and feed the 30-plus horses relies on boats to get them in and out of the lodge.” That means a 40-minute boat ride from Tofino, which can sometimes take much longer “– or at least it can feel much longer, what with our wild west coast weather that we get from October to March!” laughs Kathy. While daily items like food are brought in by the nine boats used for the guest ranch’s water activities, shipping in heavy materials requires a much larger boat – an 80-foot landing craft tank carrier, to be exact. Says Kathy: “It’s a real ‘Saving Private Ryan’-style US navy boat!”

For Tyler, the rural location of Three Bars Ranch poses a very different challenge: the divide between the urban and rural population. “Some people just don’t know anything about nature or agriculture,” he explains. “They might have every new gadget and are constantly connected via social media, but they don’t know how to have our kind of fun.” With this type of market proving notoriously difficult for guest ranches to reach, Tyler took the controversial decision to provide satellite TV, Wi-Fi and cell phone reception on-site. “But if I and my staff do our job right,” insists Tyler, “the TV stays off; the cell phones come out less and less, and, maybe by the end of the week, actually stay in the room. We have a goal here at the ranch – if half of our guests are not crying on checkout because they are sad to leave, we have not done our job.”

It is the physical geography and climate that poses a very real threat to Tod Mountain’s existence – something Tracey knows through bitter experience. “Our ranch is in prime forest fire territory and, every year since opening, we have experienced fires within 50 kilometers of the ranch,” she explains. Although a constant worry for Tracey to have not only her home, but her whole source of income under threat, she still manages to find positives in the face of danger. “Although we have lost the use of a number of our trails to the west of our property, the construction of a new fireguard has opened up a whole new trail for us.”

Personality tests
With people of all backgrounds and personalities taking dude ranch vacations, another challenge faced by every ranch is the many different ages, tastes and expectations of their guests. How do ranches adapt to providing each guest with what is their idea of the perfect ranch vacation? “Our team is as diverse as the guests we welcome,” explains Tracey. “Tod Mountain Ranch employees are truly international with a broad age range – from 20 to, well, much older! And all with diverse backgrounds and lifestyles.”

“We hand-pick each and every one of North Fork Ranch’s staff,” adds Dean, whose small, family-owned and operated ranch focuses on attention to detail when it comes to guest hospitality. “Personalities are what makes people special, so we meet our guests needs with a ‘can do, will do’ attitude.”

Lee, also, believes enthusiasm is the key. “I hire staff with a mutual enthusiasm, and a desire to work hard and enjoy where they are. Our guests are always impressed not only with our staff’s attentiveness, but by how well they all get along together.”

Needless to say it takes a special team of staff to offer the uncompromising hospitality required on guest ranches, which is why Robert goes to great lengths to ensure Majestic’s employees are the best of the best. “We typically evaluate between 5,000 and 10,000 resumes every year,” he explains. “We conduct intense interviews and extensive background checks to make sure our staff are qualified and prepared for the challenges of helping run the ranch.”

Tyler wholly embraces so-called ‘difficult’ guests “– the kind of people who go through life getting what they need by complaining,” he says. “What we do is treat these guests like normal people. It might take a day or two, but most actually change while they are here. Time and time again, it is the most demanding guests who come to us at the end of the week, thank us for the time of their lives, and re-book for next year.”

Tyler's dedicated staff at Three Bars Ranch make every guest's ranch vacation special

“But you just never know what type of stressful job or situation someone goes through before arriving at the ranch,” adds Robert. “And it pays to give people the benefit of the doubt.” This was never truer than the time one of his guests complained about everything as soon as she stepped foot on Majestic soil, with nothing Robert or his staff could do seeming to please her. “But, as we do with all our ‘tough’ guests, we tried to personalize her vacation, finding out her interests doing everything we could to make sure she had a terrific time,” he explains. “At the end of the trip she cried, gave me a long hug and said she didn’t want to leave. She later explained that she had recently lost a family member, and was so grateful to us for ‘putting up’ with her that she wrote individual notes to all the staff, personally thanking them for their hospitality.”

And it is this uncompromising spirit of perseverance that keeps the guest ranching world alive. Whether the challenge comes from one guest, a shift in the economy or a force of nature, guest ranch owners are constantly adapting and changing to keep their livelihoods - well, alive. And that’s something a lot of businesses could learn from.

Faced with the challenge of finding the perfect ranch vacation? Find the one for you at Top50Ranches.com

White Stallion Ranch is Top50's newest luxury dude ranch

Published by Jody on April 24 2012 11:06 in Children's Programs | Dude Ranches | Food & Wine | New Ranches | Ranch Owners | Relaxation Ranches | Rodeos | Shopping | Therapeutic | United States
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White Stallion Ranch, a luxury dude ranch and working cattle ranch in Arizona, USA, is the latest ranch to gain the Top50 accolade. One thing that really stood out for us was not just the ranch's convenient location just 35 minutes from Tuscon International Airport, but the fact that as soon as you step cowboy boot-clad foot inside the Arizona ranch, you could be a hundred miles from the 'outside world'. One reason is that White Stallion Ranch sits right alongside Saguaro National Park, with access to mile upon mile of cactus-adorned desert plains and mountain wilderness. What's more, the luxury dude ranch is nestled into the west side of the Saguaro studded mountains, where only on reaching the very top is the nearest town in sight.

Don't be fooled by the ranch's high guest capacity of 70 and luxury, resort-style facilities and amenities. This family-owned and operated 3,000-acre ranch is steeped in history, and is still a working cattle ranch alongside providing luxury and family dude ranch vacations. Brothers Russell and Michael True took over the guest ranch from their parents, who bought White Stallion in 1965, and go out of their way to get to know each and every guest taking dude ranch vacations at the ranch. This is the kind of place where people treat you like one of the family - so no wonder the Trues are renowned for their high-quality service and first-rate hospitality.

At White Stallion Ranch, it's all about the horse riding. This is the perfect family ranch vacation for parents with children able to ride, as kids aged 5 and above are, if able, welcome to join in the beautiful, scenic trail rides on the diverse riding program. Children aged 8 and above can - again, if able - even join the faster, more adventurous rides, complete with loping and trickier terrain. And if you want to ride without the kids, you must go on the adults-only "Cheese and Wine Ride" - a slower, relaxing ride to one of the ranch's most beautiful areas where you'll enjoy wine, cheese and other treats. With 140 horses, the Arizona dude ranch runs one of the largest horse herds in the state and so can match each guest with more than one perfect horse. Whether you're a complete beginner or an advanced rider looking to tackle some 'real' riding, there is a horse and a trail ride for you.

Running 100 head of cattle across the ranch, White Stallion runs a hugely popular team penning program - an arena based riding activity where guests can learn the art of this tricky rodeo sport. And because you'll no doubt be hooked on rodeo by the end of the week, you'll love the weekly ranch rodeo featuring local cowboys and ranch wranglers demonstrating how the pros do it.

Not interested in riding? The guest ranch's wonderful location offers wonderful guided and unguided hiking opportunities, both through White Stallion Ranch and in the adjacent Saguaro National Park. There are also plenty of off-ranch activities to enjoy should you wish to head further afield - all made easy with the option of hiring a car direct from the ranch.

Aside from comfortable lodging and tasty meals, the luxury dude ranch boasts a heated pool with a large redwood hot tub; a fitness room with an exercise room, sauna and massage therapy; a lighted tennis court and sports court; a recreation room with a 27-seater movie theater, lots of fun games; a children’s playground and a petting zoo. Come evening, retire to the beautiful bar and hop up on one of the western-saddle bar stools for a drink with other guests - you don't have to be a rider to get in these saddles! And forget having to trek to town for souvenirs, as the ranch has its own gift shop where you can buy riding gear, gifts, travel items and lots more.

Whether you're travelling alone, with family and friends, with your partner or as part of a corporate retreat, White Stallion Ranch will give you a dude ranch vacation experience you will never forget - and want to return to year after year.

For more information on dude ranch vacations at White Stallion Ranch, visit their ranch profile at Top50Ranches.com

Fire at the ranch: Tod Mountain set alight

Published by Jody on April 21 2012 05:03 in Canada | Cowboy Culture | Dude Ranches | Interviews | Ranch Life | Ranch Owners
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Tracey O’Connell, owner of Tod Mountain Ranch in BC, Canada, explains the challenges faced with running a guest ranch located in prime forest fire territory...

“Every year since opening we have experienced fires within 50km of the ranch,” explains Tracey. “The most noteworthy – and scary – came in 2009, when lightening started a fire on the mountain just opposite the ranch.”

Terrifyingly, the fire raged for several weeks and travelled down the mountain to within 1km of Tod Mountain ranch. Staff and guests were ready to evacuate the Canada guest ranch at a moment’s notice, and evacuation plans were even put in place for the horses. “With the assistance of the RCMP, we planned to run our herd of horses 5km down a gravel road to a neighbour’s property,” Tracey explains. “Our neighbour had kindly offered to allow us to put our horses in a section of his hayfield – which had yet to be harvested!"

For Tracey and her family, the experience was more than just a threat to their lives – it was a threat to their whole livelihood and everything they had worked on since taking on the guest ranch operation in 2008, just one year earlier. For the guests staying at Tod Mountain at the time, however, the fire provided an element of drama and excitement to their dude ranch vacations. “We had several guests here during the period the fire burned,” recalls Tracey. “They particularly appreciated the sound and light show provided by the planes and helicopters flying overhead all day – and were very excited when one of the helicopters landed in our pasture, right in front of the lodge, to try to take water from the creek. But perhaps the best part for our female guests was the constant parade of firecrew that visited us during that period to check on us and keep us updated…!”

Raging from 19 August to 9 September, the fire spread to more than 250 hectares. Tod Mountain ranch was used as a staging area for the ground crews and medical crews, until the fire was finally stamped out by a fire crew comprising more than 170 fire fighters.

“During the period of the fire and for several weeks after, we lost the use of a number of our trails to the west of our property,” Tracey adds. “However, once the fire was out and the ground crews finished the clean-up, not only were we able to get back on our existing trails, but the construction of a new fireguard opened up a whole new trail for us.”

Fire is just one of the many environmental threats faced by guest ranches throughout the world, but in true ranching style they work through it together - and always find a positive in the situation!

For more information on Tod Mountain Ranch, view their ranch profile at Top50Ranches.com

Recreational ranch activities - your at-a-glance guide

Published by Jody on April 18 2012 10:36 in Children's Programs
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Dude ranch vacations are the ultimate way to enjoy a whole host of recreational activities. And it's not just about the horseback riding! In fact, many of our Top50 dude ranches, guest ranches and working ranches are great places to relax and unwind without even going near a horse.

Of course, if horseback riding is your go-to stress reliever then you'll find trail rides, pack trips, horsemanship clinics, horse treks and cattle drives aplenty...

Best ranches for...

 Action-packed cattle drives - Zapata Ranch, Beaumont High Country Experience, Burnt Well Guest Ranch, Lazy E-L Ranch, The Hideout Guest Ranch, Chico Basin Ranch

Pack trips - Estancia Ranquilco, Snowy River Horseback Adventure, Estancia Huechahue, Latigo Ranch

Wilderness horse treks - Clayoquot Wilderness Resort, Brush Creek Ranch, Siwash Lake Ranch, Estancia Ranquilco

Horsemanship clinics - The Hideout Guest Ranch, Three Bars Ranch, Zapata Ranch, Chico Basin Ranch, McGinnis Meadows

Rodeos - Averill's Flathead Lake Lodge, Brush Creek Ranch, Lone Mountain Ranch

Cattle work in the arena - Bar W Guest Ranch, Bonanza Creek Ranch, McGinnis Meadows, Rowse's 1+1 Ranch, Sweet Grass Ranch

Appealing to non-riders, these ranches offer some equally enjoyable ways to spend your time on dude ranch vacation...

Best ranches for...

 Water sports - Averill's Flathead Lake Lodge, Siwash Lake Ranch, Clayoquot Wilderness Resort, Majestic Dude Ranch, The Resort at Paws Up

Fly fishing and angling - North Fork Ranch, Triple Creek Ranch, The Ranch at Rock Creek, C Lazy U Ranch, Siwash Lake Ranch, Averill's Flathead Lake Lodge

Golf - C Lazy U Ranch, Rancho de los Caballeros, Echo Valley Ranch & Spa, Lone Mountain Ranch, Ranch at Rock Creek, Three Bars Ranch

Spas - Echo Valley Ranch & Spa, The Resort at Paws Up, The Ranch at Rock Creek, Clayoquot Wilderness Resort, Rancho de los Caballeros

Children's activities and supervized children's programs - Red Horse Mountain Ranch, The Resort at Paws Up, Alisal Ranch, Lone Mountain Ranch, Elk Mountain Ranch, Sugar and Spice Ranch, Majestic Dude Ranch, C Lazy U Ranch, The Ranch at Rock Creek, Siwash Lake Ranch, Three Bars Ranch, Vista Verde Ranch

Wine tasting vacations - Estancia Los Potreros, Vista Verde Ranch

Cooking classes - Clayoquot Wilderness Resort, Echo Valley Ranch & Spa, Lazy E-L Ranch, Triple Creek Ranch

Local/historical attractions - Lone Mountain Ranch, Tod Mountain Ranch, Bonanza Creek Ranch, Latigo Ranch, Rancho Las Cascadas

Yoga - Brush Creek Ranch, Echo Valley Ranch & Spa, Lone Mountain Ranch, The Resort at Paws Up, Vista Verde Ranch

Adventure sports - Rancho Los Banos, Majestic Dude Ranch, Beaumont High Country Experience, Clayoquot Wilderness Resort

Mountain biking - Majestic Dude Ranch, Tod Mountain Ranch, Lone Mountain Ranch

Wildlife/Safari tours - Clayoquot Wilderness Resort, Siwash Lake Ranch, Zapata Ranch, The Hideout Guest Ranch, Badger Creek Ranch, Brush Creek Ranch, Triple Creek Ranch, Snowy River Horseback Adventure

 

For more information on all activities at dude ranches, visit Top50Ranches.com

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