Gene Kilgore’s Ranch Vacations

Ranch Vacations
The Leading Guide to Guest and Resort, Fly-Fishing, and Cross-Country Skiing Ranches in the United States and Canada, 6th Edition.

Five ways a dude ranch vacation saves money

Getting away is more important than ever these days (who isn’t stressed out right about now?). But with high gas prices and a challenging economy, families are having a harder time figuring out how to work a vacation into the budget. Road trips may be the quintessential American vacation, but staying in one place— that offers a variety of activities in one location—means big savings and less stress.

A dude ranch vacation can be the perfect value vacation. Five reasons should convince you:

1) A dude ranch is all-inclusive. Meals, lodging, activities are all included—unlike a cruise, where everything from soda pop to port fees and land excursions cost extra.

2) You know where the kids are at all times (they’re having a blast—and supervised), and you generally aren’t spending extra on babysitting.

3) Considering all the facilities and activities open to your use, a dude ranch gives you more bang for your buck.
4) Go during the shoulder season (often June and October at mountain ranches) or low season (summer at the desert ranches) and you can often find discounted rates.
5) All the memories you’ll make as a family: priceless.

Randy George, owner of Latigo Ranch in Colorado’s Grand County, put it best. “An all-inclusive dude ranch vacation requires no intricate planning, keeps every member of the family happy with a wide variety of activities, and lets people experience a real slice of the American West – all in line with a budget, with no extras or hidden surprises.”

To find a value ranch, click on


Targeting the women’s market

My pal Jane C. sent me a hopeful note about the travel industry recently. She contends that, despite the difficult economy, women are continuing to travel. And April M. Merenda, President and Co-Founder of Gutsy Women Travel, says, “Gutsy women from all walks of life are braving the current situation and still determined to travel.”

A key travel industry executive who has a good feel for this market, Ms. Merenda says that many women — especially teachers and mother/daughters and girlfriends— are deciding that no matter what shape the economy is in, they need a break and plan to take one, certain that they’ll return revitalized and ready to tackle life’s challenges with renewed energy.

Ms. Merenda believes that her company’s success is due in part to the fact that women still view travel as a necessity—not a luxury—and many save up for their dream trips. Ms. Merenda’s company has found success with competitively priced single supplements and also has introduced a ‘guaranteed share’ program which is designed for the many women who travel solo, but worry about whether they can afford high single supplement charges. Gutsy Women relies on repeat business (some 60%) and word-of-mouth compliments from past passengers has proved to be the company’s biggest marketing tool. Sounds like a few of those ideas just might work down on the ranch.


Time to visit an Arizona ranch!

I’m looking out my window to cold, slashing rain and dreaming of Arizona, where it’s 73° and sunny today in Tucson. Winter is the best season for most Arizona ranches and there’s still plenty of time to sneak away for a warm, sunny dude ranch vacation. Arizona ranches have so much to offer. There are those that focus on being casual and family-friendly, like the Grapevine Canyon Ranch in Pearce. Others boast elegant, upscale facilities, such as Hidden Meadow Ranch near Greer and the Rancho de los Caballeros in Wickenburg. Many offer warm and colorful southwestern architecture, like White Stallion Ranch outside Tucson and Kay El Bar Ranch in Wickenburg (shown in photo).
And all offer value options. Wondering which ranch to choose? There’s plenty of help. On the Ranchweb page, go to Selecting A Ranch and scroll through all the options that various ranches have to offer, from riding, fishing, and cattle drives to spas and luxury options. Or just click hereAnother useful tool is on the Arizona Dude Ranch Association website. There, a page lets you compare prices, seasons, programs, and facilities; all various attributes of all their Arizona member ranches in a handy chart form.
Just don’t wait too long. Prime time is now! Stay tuned for next week’s series on Arizona ranches.


Horse rescue mission: Wild Horse Sanctuary

Since 1979, California’s Wild Horse Sanctuary has been at work rescuing hundreds of wild horses and burros. Today, some 300 of these symbols of the American West roam free and live out their natural lives at the 5,000-acre Wild Horse Sanctuary, near Shingletown, California, (northeast of Sacramento).

Now, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of its rescue mission, this remarkable organization is throwing open its doors with trail rides, an adoption weekend, and an open house tour.

These are challenging times for all horse owners, with the price of feed rising; and for rescue groups, donations becoming harder to find. If you care about horses and burros, this is one organization which has a track record of channeling that caring spirit into real help for these animals. The 2009 trail ride season at the Wild Horse Sanctuary runs from April 25-26 through Columbus Day Weekend (October 10-12).

Wild Horse Sanctuary rides follow trails created by the wild horses and burros through a landscape of oaks and pines, lava rock strewn meadows, wildflowers, meandering streams, and populated by a diverse wildlife. Two-day rides (including dinner and lodging) run $435.  On Saturday, August 15, 2009, the Wild Horse Sanctuary will be opening their gates and welcoming visitors at their annual Open House from 1—6; festivities include a docent-led walk to view wild mustangs and burros, free horse rides for kids ages 10 and under, raffle, prize drawings, barbecue, and more. Then on October 24, there’s an adotption weekend where 20 or more wild horse and burro colts and fillies will be  available for adoption.

To learn more about the Wild Horse Sanctuary, make a donation or plan a visit, call 530/ 474-5770 or visit


Winter at Vista Verde Ranch

In the depth of winter, I think of snowy scenes like the one at right, at Colorado’s Vista Verde Ranch. And I long for the peace and beauty of snowcapped mountains.

I just got a note from Stephanie at Vista Verde Ranch, and it brought back memories. I’ve visited this ranch near Steamboat, Colorado, in both summer and winter. And while I love it in all seasons, there’s something really special about winter at the ranch. It’s so incredibly lovely and there’s so much to do: riding shaggy-coated horses in deep snow. Cross-country skiing past tall, leafless aspen. Sitting by the fire with a crisp Chardonnay in hand.
Since they have so much news, I thought I’d pass along the latest from Stephanie. “There’s a lot going on at Vista Verde the past couple years,” she says. “We are in the midst of a major lodge expansion, which is due to be finished before summer and is stunning already!  Our indoor riding arena is being erected so we’ll be able to offer more riding opportunities in the winter.”

And she continues, “Cabins have been remodeled, with others waiting for their turn.  New ownership, a fabulous new chef, and some new members of management have added an extra oomph of excitement to what we are already passionate about- providing an unforgettable Western vacation experience.”

There’s a lot to do here in winter, from nordic skiing, sledding, sleigh rides, and horseback riding, to just relaxing in the outdoor hot tub. And the downhill ski slopes at Steamboat are just minutes away.

We’re always thrilled to hear about ranch news, so keep sending in those notes! Just click the envelope at left to email us.


Tips on getting a dude ranch job: 3

You may have a ranch in mind where you’d like to work. But do you really know your target ranch? Here’s how to find out more:
-When you have selected several ranches that would be a good fit for you (and vice
versa), learn everything you can about them. Ranches now post enormous amounts of information on the internet. Also, don’t hesitate to call them with well thought out questions. Study the ranches that are close to that ideal you have in mind. Then, find out:

  • What makes them different from others?
  • What is their hiring schedule?
  • What are their requirements from applicants? (eg. videotape?)
  • How many of last year’s staff are returning this year?

Shop ranches – pretend you are taking the vacation of your dreams, and call them with your questions. When you apply, make it clear that you have studied the ranch as a potential employer – it shows them that you are serious. When a cover letter addresses the owner by name (easy to get from the ranch web site) it makes a much stronger positive impression than “To Whom It May Concern.” Collecting this information takes only a few minutes, but can pay big dividends.

Thanks to Ellen & Dan Morin of Sundance Trail Ranch for all of the above ideas.

For more, visit


Tips on getting a dude ranch job: 4

We got a followup note from Ellen Morin, at Sundance Trails Ranch in Colorado, adding her suggestions to Dan Morin’s. She says, with tongue in cheek, “Everyone knows that the best way to get a ranch job is to marry the owner!” On a more serious note, she adds, “A million years ago, I wrote a wrote a paper about this very subject!” Below, with her permission, are some of her suggestions.If you want to stand out, you should:

-Honestly determine if you fit (square pegs should not work in round holes)
-Know the rules
-Know Your Target
-Let the ranch know that you have studied them
-Follow Ranch practices
-Make it easy for the ranch to check your references
Call the ranch to determine its hiring schedule; for example, most northern ranches begin accepting applications by Thanksgiving and make hiring decisions in December.

And for more information, visit


The birth of a ‘new classic’ Western shirt

What’s Cacties? No, not a group of desert plants with spines—it’s a new line of Western wear shirts and ties. Creator Jimmy Griscom started the company, called Cacties, just a couple of years ago “for the cowboy in us all”.

Two years ago, he made the decision to leave his Wall Street trading desk behind. “I grew up wearing suits and ties,” Griscom says, “but there’s a cowboy in us all, and mine wanted to get out.”

He started out making ties that can best be described as ‘Will Rogers meets Ferragamo’. We’ve seen them, and they’re elegant, high-end (100% silk), and made entirely by hand in the USA; they each have a pattern featuring fun but tasteful western-themed icons—look closely and you’ll see tiny images of flags, chaps, cacti (hence the company name), cutting horses and the like. Each of the 28 designs retails for $80, so they’re not cheap, nor do they look it. They’ve caught on with Wall Streeters, like Mad Money pundit Jim Cramer, and politicos like President George Bush (who has a passel of ‘em).

Griscom’s next goal? Merely to make “the best high-end Western-influenced shirt on the market”. The typical western shirt is very utilitarian, he says, and he wanted to make something that “a real cowboy would wear to get gussied up in” but that the guy in Manhattan would also want to wear.

We recently got a look (and feel) of Cacties’ two-pocket, antique horn snap denim classic western shirt ($125); it is made from a 60/40 blend of cotton and tencel indigo chambray and has that smooth, silky feel of a well-worn “old favorite” shirt—without the well-worn look. The line has become a favorite of singer Vince Gill, who wore one for an appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. 

Take a look at the Cacties website. If the shirt looks half as good on you as it does on Griscom (pictured on the About page), then you’ll consider it money well spent. For more, click here.


News from the 2009 DRA Conference

I had a chance to chat with Colleen Hodson, Executive Director of The Dude Ranchers’ Association (DRA) about their recent gathering in Arizona. The DRA is in its 83rd year, going strong since 1926. “The turnout was great ,” Hodson said. “You can’t go wrong in sunny Arizona in the middle of winter!”

And she told me that the host ranch, Tanque Verde, really “put on the dog” for the group. “We had everything from fire dancers to foot rodeos to country western dancing and live auctions,” Hodson explained.

When I asked what a foot rodeo was she explained that it was a lot of fun contests played on foot (no horses allowed). “You catch a chicken— blindfolded, put panties on a goat, throw a tomahawk,” she said, with a laugh.

The fun stuff loosened up the crowd before they got down to business, listening to important messages from speakers such as James Owen, author of Cowboy Ethics and a former hedge fund operator who “got tired of Wall Street and realized that if we all lived the way cowboys and dude ranchers live, we’d all be better off”.

A web guru “told us all how to better use the web—which is increasingly important,” Hodson contended. Later on, Bill Reynolds from the nonprofit Paragon Foundation spoke about land use and water rights, “an issue to many of our members”. Tracey Knutsen of Alaska spoke about adventure travel litigation and explained the importance of waivers and releases.

“We give out scholarships to those pursuing careers in our industry, and we teamed up with TROT (Theraputic Riding of Tucson) to auction off weeklong stays at dude ranches,” she said, noting that they raised well over $18,000 for the good cause.

And the group elected its new president: Russell True, of White Stallion Ranch, near Tucson. True spoke about how ranchers are going to have to “cooperate, collaborate, and find ways to work together to strenthen the DRA.” 

We’ll have an interview with the new DRA president in the coming weeks. Watch for it.


From the 2009 Dude Ranchers Association Conference

Recently, the Dude Ranchers’ Association Conference was held at Tanque Verde Ranch in Arizona. Later this week, we’ll tell you more conference news. Gene Kilgore had some inspiring thoughts for conference-goers, and we thought we’d share a portion of his speech with you.

 “I have titled my speech Champions of Goodness. That is what dude ranching is all about. That is what you, Dude Ranchers, all share. Goodness! And do we all ever need goodness in the world today. An Interviewer once asked me what I like most about ranching and I replied ‘It is simple: no phones, no emails, no faxes, just some good old fashioned horsin’ around!’ 

These past 29 years in ranch country have been exciting, enriching, and tough, too. I began the first edition of my book [Ranch Vacations] in 1988, penniless in a small cabin in Lake Tahoe. I was working three jobs and wondering how I was going to make it. 

By the grace of God I am here today – surrounded by some of the best people in the world—the dude ranch community.

Thankfully, I have been supported by my wonderful Brazilian wife, Regina, and son Francisco. Supported by a magnificent team of men and women who work with me. And inspired by you—ranchers who share their lives. All of us are making the world a better place. My journey has taken me to many wonderful ranches and allowed me to meet so many good people. All I want to do is continue bringing the world the best of ranch country, which ultimately means bringing more reservations to ranchers who are riding with us. It is that simple—we are in the success business; we are all about helping you keep winning. That is what I have built my reputation on.

The challenges ahead for ranching, our countries, and the world are enormous. We are in a financial crisis most of us have never seen. The effects are rippling around the world and are now affecting ranchers. Leading economic experts say this will get worse in 2009. Millions of layoffs. These are tough serious times!

Yet the opportunities for us all to share the ranch message are greater than ever.

Ranching is still one of the best remedies to combat all the stress that is so pervasive in our lives today. Reconnecting with nature, old fashioned goodness, and camaraderie are what we all need. You bring out that goodness and make communing with nature and animals the best!”