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.

Getting back on the horse after injury

Our pal, Nancy Brown is a writer and horsewomen extraordinaire. When she recently underwent double hip replacement, her first concern was how and how soon she could get back on a horse again. Ranchweb’s own Gene Kilgore knew just who Brown should chat with.

Bob Foster of Lone Mountain Ranch and Bayard Fox of Bitterroot Ranch both knew what Brown would be going through. Brown tells the story on her blog. “Bob Foster General Manager of Lone Mountain Ranch has had experience riding with broken bones. He fell and broke his hip at the femoral neck after landing on a rock. After his recovery, he also returned to horseback riding. And then there is Bayard Fox of Bitterroot Ranch. Fox underwent a total hip replacement about 25 years ago, yet he still enjoys horseback riding today at the age of 83.”

It’s a tale of inspiration and perspiration that you should not miss.

Details: For the rest of the story, check out the Writing Horseback blog.

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Ranchweb and The Ranch at Rock Creek in the news

Nice article in Britain’s The Sunday Telegraph highlighting a dude ranch fantasy trip to The Ranch at Rock Creek in Montana. Author Ian Henderson and his daughter tried living on a working ranch in the Montana mountains. We must admit, though, that this is one of the more luxurious working ranches in the West (Henderson called it ‘the ultimate place to live out those cowboy dreams, whatever your age’)!

The dude ranching industry should be happy with the coverage, as it made the whole industry look good. Gene Kilgore’s Ranchweb got a nice tip of the hat, too.”THE INSIDE TRACK: Gene Kilgore’s website, ranchweb.com, details many ranches, farm stays and b&bs in Montana, including sleep-in-the-dirt cattle drives.”) He could have added, that Ranchweb has more experience than anyone in helping guests find the perfect Ranch Vacation experience for their family. We’re just saying…

Thanks, Sunday Telegraph! For more, see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/activityandadventure/9060187/Cowboy-fantasies-on-a-ranch-in-Montana.html

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Profile: Bill Rankin of the Rankin Ranch

“I always just loved my work here at the ranch,” says Bill Rankin, of the Rankin Guest Ranch. “There was never any question that I would come back to the ranch after college.”

In today’s high tech, diverse, and unconnected world, it is becoming increasingly rare to encounter a family-run business, let alone one that has been in the same family for generations. But that’s what you’ll find at California’s Rankin Ranch. Not only that, you’ll probably get to meet most of the Rankins during your stay.

Bill&GlendaOwners Bill and Glenda Rankin, (at left) are the 4th generation of this ranching family and the first to tell you how pleased they are to have their children and grandchildren working along side them. It continues a family tradition started in 1863. Set in northeastern Kern County, at the end of California’s southern Sierras, you’ll find the mountain valley of Walker Basin. And that’s where you’ll meet three generations of Rankins, operating an historic 31,000- acre cattle and guest ranch.

“We’re lucky,” notes Rankin, “our kids made their own choices to return to the ranch. And it’s wonderful to have the grandkids around every day.” The oldest, at 16, is starting to learn the business. “He does a little bit of everything,” adds Rankin, “because if you do every job, from cowboying to kitchen chores to working with kids, you really understand what it takes to run a guest ranch.”

Begun as the Quarter Circle U Rankin Ranch, it was founded by Walker Rankin in 1863. Like many ranch families, the Rankins have survived heartbreak and tragedy; a 1929 auto accident killed the ranch founder’s son, Lee, and his wife Julia Rankin, themselves the parents of two young sons. But there was triumph, too. In 1948, Lavinia Rankin, the family matriarch, marked her 100th birthday with a big party. This remarkable woman had come to California before its statehood (in 1850), lived through the gold rush, and watched the era of covered wagons give way to the automobile and the airplane.

In 1954, at the sudden death of husband Leroy, Helen Rankin faced the classic decision: keep the ranch, or sell it. She hung on and learned the cattle business and by the 1960s, added a guest ranch. Her son Bill, after graduating from UC Davis, came back to the ranch and married Glenda Hill (who had worked summers at the ranch).

Bill and Glenda, to quote their family history, “raised their four children Jason, Rebecca, Sarah and Amanda to respect the land, and their family’s heritage.” In a twist on modern trends, all four graduated from college and came back to live on the ranch and work in agriculture. And there’s a sixth generation here: Walker, Cody and Wyatt Rankin, Zachary Been, and Emma Mae and Josephine Wilder. All the grandchildren live on the ranch, taking care of both the cattle and guest ranch businesses. “I’m lucky,” Rankin admits.

What keeps ‘em all down on the ranch? “You live with nature,” explains Rankin, “and you get that energy that comes out of the trees and plants, and lots of satisfaction from seeing your cattle grow and mature and seeing your family grow up with good morals and ethics.”

To remain viable the Rankins continue to diversify the ranch operations and aim high. In 2008, Glenda was recognized as the Kern County CattleWoman of the Year.

But don’t ask Bill Rankin how to stay on the ‘cutting edge’. There’s no sheepishness in Rankin’s voice when he says, “I don’t think we have a cutting edge; what’s important here is old- fashioned tradition. Hospitality, honesty, and genuine enjoyment of people.  That is timeless. That’s at the core of guest ranching, and that never goes out of style.” Amen, Bill.

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Personality profile: Bayard Fox, Bitterroot Ranch, Wyo.

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“In seventy years of riding I have been privileged to know some superb horses,” says Bayard Fox. “They are a glorious part of my life and have enriched my existence immeasurably.  If I ever get to heaven, it could hardly be that great a place unless horses are there too.”

You gotta love a guy that loves horses. That’s Fox riding through the picture at left (in front, in the dark blue shirt). And it’s not a terribly surprising sentiment, coming from a dude ranch owner like Bayard Fox, who has since 1971 operated the Bitterroot Ranch outside Dubois, Wyoming.

It’s the rest of the story that you almost can’t believe. Horses, career accomplishment, and a passion for adventure are woven through the fabric of Bayard Fox’ incredible life. Hollywood screenwriters could not have made this tale up—you’d never believe it. But it’s all in his bio. Read on…

Bayard Fox began life in 1929 on a farm in Chester Country, Pennsylvania; then in 1943, Fox headed west for a horse packing trip through Yellowstone Park and southern Montana.  Soon, Fox began a pattern of cramming several lives into one, working variously as a seaman, a forest fire fighter, and a longshoreman in Alaska before graduating from Yale in 1951.  He did some work as an advertising model (in a DeBeers ad, shown below), and learned to fly fish (bottom right). Bayard_Kane_FoxHe also biked through Europe, lived and worked in Germany, France, Switzerland, Poland, Iran, Congo, the Central African Republic, Kenya and the Solomon Islands, becoming fluent in many languages along the way.

In Iran (while working as an agent for the CIA), Fox spent a couple of years riding and hunting with the local people.  It was while practicing lancing from horseback (for some pig sticking with the Bakhtiari) that Fox had a life-changing accident. His horse cartwheeled on him, smashing up his left hip and the lifelong horse-lover was left to move about on crutches for two years, unable to walk or ride.

For some that would mean tragedy. But for Fox, that was simply a motivation to work hard to recover. Along the way, he set up a langouste fishing business in the Solomon Islands. Of course—swimming was something he could still do.  Fox spent over two years roaming about the remote parts of the Solomons, diving for langoustes with the natives. Because he was swimming so much, and working in the water, he eventually began to recover. Tentatively at first, and then with greater strength, he began to walk and ride.

In 1971, Fox bought the Bitterroot Ranch. With his family, Fox runs Black Angus and Highland cows plus horses, including purebred Arabians which they raise and train.  In due course, Fox and his family began running it as a dude ranch catering to an international mix of guests. For 25 years, the Foxes also ran a wilderness hunting camp behind the ranch. Today, the Bitterroot is “more a destination for equestrian vacations than it is a typical dude or guest ranch,” says the ranch website. “We focus on providing our guests with quality riding and are especially proud of our Arabian horses, many of which have been raised and trained on the ranch.”
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Soon, the Foxes found new projects. East Africa was a logical place to grow new aspects of the business, since Bayard’s wife, Mel, grew up on a farm near Mt. Kilimanjaro, worked in Kenya’s national parks, and speaks fluent Swahili. In 1980, Mel and Bayard embarked on a new horse-related venture, escorting a group of former ranch guests on a riding safari. Their venue: the spectacular Masai Mara in Kenya, Africa’s famed game country.  The excursion was a smashing success, heralding the creation of Equitours Worldwide Riding Holidays—now the largest riding tour company in America. Headquartered in Dubois, Wyoming, Equitours organizes and sells rides in 30 countries today.

Ask him how his international travel has influenced him and he’ll say it has, for one thing, helped him be a better dude ranch owner/host. It also inspired him to start Equitours. “One of the things I appreciate the most is travel on horseback,” notes Fox. “You see things from the back of a horse you can’t see any other way. Equitours fits in well with the dude ranch business,” he says, “because I often ride with folks I’ve met on my travels.” Fox, his wife Mel, son, and daughter-in-law have all traveled and experienced various riding techniques and riding gear from all over the world, so much so that it has expanded what they know about riding beyond what’s practiced in the American West. One thing he learned on his travels that has helped his dude ranch: “There’s more to riding than what most other classical Western dude ranches offer,” Fox says.

The international ride the he finds most inspiring? “The first ride, into Kenya’s Masai Mara (for advanced riders),” he answers, calling it the best not only for wildlife, but the ride itself, past the colorful Masai tribes and for the splendid polo ponies who at times race the wild zebra and wildebeest.

One of Fox’ main concerns now is with the future of dude ranching, especially in a society more involved with the virtual than with the real. “Video games, computers, TVs those don’t let you get connected to the land,” Fox contends. “A visit to a dude ranches requires real participation. I’d like to see more ranches go back to the old style horse and cattle ranch, and emphasize riding over heated swimming pools and TVs in every room.”

And for ranchers wanting to attract more of the international crowd, Fox suggests learning another language or two, educating themselves on foreign cultures, add website translators, and find good overseas tour operators.

Fox’ point of view about computers and gadgets on the ranch is understandable; he carved out a life that emphasizes the real over the virtual in every sense. Bayard Fox has lived a life of adventure, travel, and accomplishment. Through it all, he made sure he was never too long out of the saddle. In fact, the dude ranch owner estimates he has spent over 40,000 hours on horseback, riding enough miles to circle the globe six times or more. “People more likely to accept you when you ride up on a horse,” Fox contends.

With a life like that, the guy should write his autobiography. We hope he is. Thing is, it may be tough to find a title that adequately sums up Fox’ incredible life. The title would have to include words like “Joie de Vivre” to convey his zest for life,  “Quest” or  “Adventure” to convey the Indiana Jones nature of his roaming, and both “Fearless” and “Hospitable” to convey his personality. And then the title should somehow work the ideas of family, ranching, Wyoming, and world traveling into the title. Oh heck, maybe the Bayard Fox story should just be called The Man Who Loved Horses.

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Profile: Tim Singewald of DC Bar Guest Ranch

Tim Singewald didn’t start out life on a guest ranch, but it was his lifetime goal to own and run one. And he made it. Today, he’s owns and runs BRIDGER WILDERNESS OUTFITTERS/DC BAR GUEST RANCH in Pinedale, Wyoming. But his path to ranching was circuitous, involving pre-med studies, working in the Arctic, and finally working in the city, as a vice president in banking. pic11

“It was my goal to retire at age 30 and move to the woods,” says Singewald. “I was making good money in the city, with the country club membership and all, but I gave it up to live and work on a ranch.” That was 27 years ago, and he wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. But it hasn’t always been easy.

“The first year in the guest ranch business,” he remembers with a laugh,”I took no salary–the ranch needed every penny.”

“We grew up on Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and a variety of TV westerns where the cowboy way of life was always in front of people,” notes Singewald. “We learned from them how to treat your friends, how to tell the truth.” And to want to visit a dude ranch.

But today’s young people don’t really “get” what a guest ranch is, he feels. “I have found that the majority of the population have no idea what a Guest Ranch or a Dude Ranch is. A better way to describe it [a guest ranch] to today’s younger travelers might be to call it an adventure ranch or learning ranch.”

“I’d call it American Eco-adventures,” Singewald contends. “And to compete in today’s market, we have developed a lot of programs that teach a whole variety of outdoor skills—how to find edible plants, pack a backpack, catch a fish, build a survival shelter.

Indeed, visitors can find plenty of experiental learning on a ranch, and so many travelers are looking for that. “Ranchers might learn to explain to the public: you don’t just have a great time at a ranch; you learn something while you’re doing it: Have fun, learn new skills, and spend your vacation dollars at home,” he suggests.

Still, Singewald is optimistic; “as an elk hunter, I’m the definition of an optimist,” he explains. “…We chase one of the most elusive, majestic creatures on the continent, hoping that through some miracle it will all come together.  My goodness – it’s amazing how it all works out sometimes.  We’ve learned to keep working and work hard and things work out.”

Details: BRIDGER WILDERNESS OUTFITTERS/DC BAR GUEST RANCH has Two trophy class fishing rivers in the valley, scenery, adventure, horses, fishing, hunting, family guest ranch activities, beaver pond full of trout and overnight pack trips. For more information, click on BRIDGER WILDERNESS OUTFITTERS/DC BAR GUEST RANCH, or click/go to www.bwo.com.

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Ranchers of the Year Award

2008 Ranchers of the Year
Wayne and Judy Kilpatrick
Triple Creek Ranch, Darby, Montana

What sets the Ranchers of the Year apart from the operators of hundreds of other great ranches Gene Kilgore has visited? Some criteria are specific, such as: ensuring the ranch offers an amazing menu, lodging that brings both comfort and style, and offering a wide range of activities to guests. Others are less concrete: the way they’ve responded to challenges that face every dude and guest ranch owner—including maintaining a top-notch staff and keeping up with the times with innovative programs and offerings.


And the general managers of the Triple Creek Ranch meet all those criteria and more. After some 25 years as general managers of the ranch, Wayne and Judy Kilpatrick are still enchanted by their surroundings here in the heart of the Bitterroot Mountains.


Today it’s bitterly cold, with 8 inches of snow on the ground, but Wayne Kilpatrick feels like he’s in Heaven. “I’m living the lifestyle some people only dream about,” he notes, “surrounded by wildlife, mountains, clean air, and with a pretty short commute!”

But don’t let him kid you—he and wife Judy have no simple job managing a ranch with a lodge, 23 cabins with all the amenities, horses, herds of cattle, a full program of activities (from fly fishing and hiking to cattle work) and a staff of about 50. Yet, from the welcome basket of warm cookies to the tasteful décor and extraordinary service to guests, it all happens seamlessly.

Their secrets? “We make sure our staff has the opportunity to travel and work in other top facilities,” notes Kilpatrick. “It helps them to learn new techniques and to stay on top of trends.” And the décor? “You just have to keep current and freshen them constantly,” says Judy Kilpatrick.

How do they keep performing at such a high level?
“You have to believe in the concept of service,” believes Kilpatrick, “and teach your staff that it feels good to do fun, individual things for guests,” he adds.


 ”It takes effort, but it says you care,” he believes. And if you convince the staff to care at that level, it makes a huge difference, Kilpatrick continues. 


“Once it has happened, they know how cool it is and how much fun it is; they get reinforcement for doing it—and maybe a tip,” he says. He also adds that the whole staff gets a share of gratuities. “So they all understand the importance of that level of service. The system does work—but the manager has to be a facilitator and believer.”


You can’t argue with results, which is why we’re honored to present Wayne and Judy Kilpatrick with Gene Kilgore’s award for Ranchers of the Year, 2008.

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