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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Guest Ranch Properties in the West


A Brief History

The guest ranch industry began in the late nineteenth century with cattle ranches that started to take in guests as a way to bring in more money. The guests were known as “dudes” which means a person who doesn’t know anything, like a greenhorn or tenderfoot. This is where the term “dude ranch” came from. The dudes got to experience cowboy life riding horses, working cattle, learning to drive teams, and roping a runaway calf. Guests rode with the cowboys and fished the pristine rivers and streams.  With scenery of unsurpassed beauty, abundant wildlife and genuine western hospitality, word quickly spread about how much fun it was to spend time on a real western ranch. Adventure seekers from eastern states came to ranches in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and Arizona. The “Dude Ranch Experience” became so popular that in the early twentieth century Montana ranchers made deals with the Northern Pacific Railroad to promote dude ranch vacations to people in the east. As the railroad expanded in the 1920’s, dude ranches spread across the west. At one time it was estimated that there were more than 1000 guest ranch operations.

Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show ran for nineteen years between 1887 and 1906. Along with tours all over the United States the show did eight tours in Europe and convinced countless travelers to visit dude ranches in the West. After World War One the industry exploded with visitors from crowded urban cities flocking to the magnificent landscapes of the American West. In 1926 the Dude Ranchers Association was formed to help promote the industry, establish cooperation among ranchers and railroad officials, and to standardize practices. Motion pictures glorified the cowboy and even Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower spent their summers riding and fishing at Rocky Mountain dude ranches.  Writers like Prentiss Ingraham and Zane Grey and painters like Fredrick Remington and Charlie Russell brought the adventure and romance of cowboy life on an open frontier to millions throughout the world.

Guest Ranch Properties Today

Many dude ranches began as homesteaded ranches in some of the most spectacular settings in the Rocky Mountains. Most of these ranches border National Forest lands giving them unlimited areas to ride and access to exceptional fishing and hunting. Another kind of ranch is a US Forest Service Lease. These ranches operations were set up in the early twentieth century. They are not deeded properties but rather a parcel of Forest Service land designated for use as a guest ranch operations. This provides an inexpensive way for entrepreneurs to buy a ranch business. The rancher buys the right to operate the dude ranch business and pays a minimal annual fee to the Forest Service.

Buyers interested in purchasing a guest ranch operation might question whether they should look at deeded land or Forest Service lease ranches. Generally speaking a Forest Service lease guest ranch operation can be purchased for considerably less than deeded land ranches of similar size. Lower purchase price can make a big difference in the time line for breaking even and in return on investment. Most of these operations are located close to National Parks like Yellowstone and Grand Teton which is a huge marketing advantage.

Deeded land ranches offer security for investors as the land and improvements are tangible assets. Typically these ranches make use of National Forest lands for trail riding and other guest ranch activities and pay minimal annual fees for special use permits (these fees would not apply to private guest ranch operations). Boarding National Forest the ranch retains all the advantages of public land use while enjoying the freedom and flexibility of private property.

Today's dude ranches have modern amenities and activities to enjoy but still retain the charm of the Wild West. Dude ranch vacations offer many activities in addition to horseback riding such as world class fishing, rafting, hiking, hunting, and shooting sports. Many dude ranchers would not consider any other way of life than owning a guest ranch. It can be very rewarding and provide a profitable income. There are also good potential tax benefits both as an agricultural operation and as a business. Many ranches available today ran dude ranch operations in the past but now because of their prime location and historical significance are among the most sought after private ranches in America.

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Saturday, June 2, 2012

My friend Chuck.

A Cowboy is a person who will do anything for money as long as it has to do with horses and cattle.

A Buckaroo is a person who will do anything for money as long as it has to do with horses.

A Wrangler will do anything for money.

Chuck was a Wrangler.

Back in the old days wranglers were teenage boys that were hired on cattle drives to handle the string of horses. (I use the term correct term of string instead of herd because Chuck would have been offended by the word herd.) These were tough, scrawny kids who knew horses and could really handle them. They were poor with shabby cloths, hand me down hats and spurs handed down from their father.

When Chuck showed up at Black Mountain in 1988 he did not look like a wrangler from the past. He looked like he came out of a box. He had his red stovepipe boots, a blue slicker, and a new white hat. He had a moustache that a cat could lick off. Sam and I looked at him and thought there is a cocky kid. But Chuck was the one wrangler and cowboy who could back it up. Chuck was great with horses, great with people, and a pretty fair plumber.

Today being a wrangler is about taking care of dudes on a dude ranch vacation.

The word dude is defined as “a person who doesn’t know anything”. Chuck took care of his dudes with patience and thoughtfulness. He didn’t just take people on trail rides. He taught them about horses, riding and the cowboy way.

There is an old cowboy saying “Ride for the Brand”. A ranch’s brand is it’s trademark, and it represents pride, duty and stewardship for the ranch. When a cowboy signed on with an outfit he was honor bound to protect the ranch property, livestock and even defend the ranch owners. Chuck understood this and lived by it.

Chuck was not just good with horses and guests he was also a mentor to his staff. Chuck taught them how to handle horses, how to work and how to take care of guests. He didn’t like foolishness. If you didn’t brush a horse right or put a saddle away properly Chuck had a way of looking at you that let you know he wasn’t having it. Chuck didn’t like foolishness but he did like fun. Chuck would dress up as the clown at the rodeo, have a Bush beer or two with the wranglers and even was known to wear a dress at the talent show.

I have known a lot of wranglers and Chuck was the best. He and I only rode together for 3 years but we have been friends for 24 years. After Black Mountain he and I went in separate ways and work on different ranches.

Lisa and I moved to Cody a little over a year and a half ago. At that time Chuck was not riding any more. Chuck asked me to take care of his horse Rowdy. Rowdy was born at Black Mountain. 23 years later I am proud to take care of Chuck’s horse.

Last night Amy, and Rob were sitting with Lisa and I talking and telling stories about Chuck and Kerry and the kids. Rob made the point that it was not coincidence that we moved to Cody at a time when Chuck and his family needed some extra friends. Maybe God does have a plan for us. We are very thankful to have had the time to spend with Chuck and Kerry, Ethan and Eli.

Chuck was a great Wrangler, friend, father and husband. I am proud to have been his friend and I will miss him. Chuck will always be remembered at my fire.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Dude Ranch Vacation is happy to announce our newest featured ranch.  If this is your first Dude Ranch vacation, or you are veteran dude rancher you will surely be impressed. The Beckley family are now 4th generation Dude Ranchers, have been teaching guests from around the world to ride and enjoy western horsemanship since 1952. Three generations of the Beckley's now live on the ranch and are involved in the day to day operations of the ranch. Three Bars Ranch is also home to Beckley Reining horses, where Jesse Beckley trains full time and Jeff and April Beckley train and show as non-pro's. To learn more about three Bars Ranch click on the picture or go to our reservations.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

It’s 5:00 am in Cody, Wyoming, a couple of hours before sunrise.  Ted Harvey is awake and ready for his first cup of strong, black coffee.  He’ll go through a half pot of coffee before noon.  Ted is a handsome man and a solid buckaroo; a seasoned rancher and wrangler.  He wields the wrangler stride, necessary mustache, Levis that fit in all the right places and a wide smile. He has a solid history of skilled horsemanship, lasting kindness and engaging friendship. 
It’s 7:29 am now. The sun is up and trying to shine. On most days the sunrise is golden, azure and gleaming in Cody.  But today it is gray, perse and rainy, a typical autumn morning in wrangler country; hard, rugged and everything nature.  A climate manipulated and defined by the calloused hands and the sun-baked complexion of weathered wranglers. Ted has just come in from the barn; pulling horseshoes and trimming hooves.  He reaches for another steaming cup of stiff, wrangler coffee.

In 1967 Ted came into this world in Seattle, Washington. His family moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina when he was five years old. At the age eight, he was introduced to a horse for the first time while visiting distant relatives in France.  His encounter with the horse was exciting and humbling.  Ted remembers, “We were on a farm and there was a horse there.  My twin brother and I had gone out in the morning to pet the horse.  The farmer had just fed him his oats. I really wanted to pet the horse.  My brother kept telling me to leave him alone. The horse was swishing his tail and laying his ears back. I really wanted to pet him.  After a bit, the horse had had enough, turned around, and kicked me squarely in the butt.  He kicked me clear over a fence.  My brother is still laughing about that one.”

At the age of fourteen, in 1981, Ted and his family traveled to Cody, Wyoming for a dude ranch vacation.  Arriving at Valley Ranch, a sprawling ranch south of Cody, Ted became fascinated with the ranching lifestyle.  Staying at the ranch lodge, he became accustomed to the aroma, feel and sensations of western living. The horseback riding was exceptional; well-equipped for family vacations and novice riders. “Back then, I don’t remember much in the way of instruction,” says Ted. “They showed us how to go, stop and turn and that was about it.  In the lodge each evening at dinner there was a sign-up sheet for riding the next day.  You could choose between slow, intermediate or advance.  I went on every advanced ride for the two weeks we were there and I was hooked.  I knew then that dude ranching was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”  Ted’s experience at the ranch would set the course for his future vocation and instill his love for horses.

Returning to North Carolina, Ted dreamed of being back in the mountains of Wyoming, riding horses and meeting new people.  “At that point in my life I knew nothing of horses or dude ranching.  I needed experience.  So, during high school, I worked shoveling manure at local stables. They would let me ride from time to time.  At seventeen, I returned to Valley Ranch and enrolled in their Wrangler School.  This was a six week course and consisted of eight other wranglers.  This was the real beginning of my formal education as a wrangler; I was a boy of seventeen from North Carolina chasing eighty horses across the Shoshone River at 5:30 in the morning with real cowboys who at the time I considered legends.” 

While attending Wrangler School, Ted had the opportunity to meet some real western characters; famous wranglers, gracious hosts and lifelong friends. “Everyone has people they have met who have had a profound effect on their lives,” he says.  “For me one of those people was a woman I met at Valley Ranch named Irma Larom.  Her husband, Larry, started the ranch in 1914 with one of the Brooks Brothers as a partner. By the time I got there in the 1980’s he had passed away.  But she was still there.  She was about 140 years old.  She wore full-length formal dresses everyday.  She liked to flirt with the wranglers and tell stories about going to New York City in the 1920’s and staying at the Waldorf Hotel.  They would party in New York in the winter and invite their friends to Wyoming for summer adventure.  Irma said to me once, ‘A well-run dude ranch is hospitality at its finest.’ That has always stuck with me and I have tired to live up to it.  Valley Ranch no longer exists, but for me it is where everything began.”  Ted’s journey to becoming a world-class wrangler was becoming reality.  His hard work and dedication to his dream was coming to fruition.  All he needed was a good horse, fitted chaps and a wide-brim hat. Oh…and a good dog.

Wrangler.  It’s a tough word, not for the weak of heart.  Being a wrangler is hard work, long days, extreme environments, great friends and the sweet fragrance of horses - a lot of horses. Wranglers have an honorable place in American history.  Ted explains, “Historically, wranglers were teenagers hired on the big cattle drives of the 1880’s – 1890’s to take care of the string of horses the cowboys used to work the cattle herd.  Depending on the size of the herd, a cowboy might have as many as six to eight horses.  On most drives, the cowboys did not own the horses they rode.  They were owned by the cattle company. This was to prevent the cowboys from quitting and riding off in the middle of a drive that lasted for several months.  During an average day, the cattle might only move eight to ten miles, but the cowboys would ride three times that and change mounts several times a day.  It was the wranglers job to make sure the horses were groomed, fed, shod and generally cared for so they were ready for the cowboys. Today, wranglers are people who work for outfits taking usually inexperienced riders on trail rides, cattle drives and arena events.”

After Wrangler School at Valley Ranch, Ted attended college in Riverton, Wyoming.  He majored in horsemanship, a two-year program including training in overall horsemanship; livestock feeding, colt breaking and training, farrier science, ranch management, English riding etiquette, and team roping. “What I really took away from this experience was a little knowledge about many different equine areas, and it gave me an experience base to land my first paying job as a wrangler,” he states.  “But, if I had known then what I know now, I would have majored in business.”

Ted’s first position as a wrangler was at Black Mountain Ranch in McCoy, Colorado.  It is at Black Mountain Ranch where he met Rowdy, a bay Quarter Horse gelding. Rowdy’s dam was a Quarter Horse named Joker who belonged to Sam, the manager at Black Mountain Ranch. Ted recalls his years at Black Mountain. “I started there in 1987 as a wrangler. After about a month into my first summer, the head wrangler was fired for let’s say inappropriate behavior with a married female guest.  The manager came to me and said you are the head wrangler now.  The following summer we had a guest named Chuck.  He was a wiry, cocky twenty-three year old from Pennsylvania who, after being a guest like me, wanted to live the dude ranch life.  The manager and I agreed to hire him.  Chuck turned out to be the best wrangler I had ever known.  We only worked at Black Mountain for three years together and went our separate ways. Chuck went to work as a hunting guide for an outfitter on the western slope of Colorado.  I went to Tumbling River Ranch near Mount Evans, Colorado, and became the head wrangler there.”  When Chuck left for his new position in Colorado, he took Rowdy, the bay Quarter Horse gelding, with him. Rowdy has been in Chuck’s family for nearly twenty-three years now. Recently, Chuck was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).  Ted says, “Chuck and his family now live in Cody. I am honored to keep his horse for him.  My daughter, Wren, who is six years old, is learning to run barrels on Rowdy.  She won’t ride any other horse.”
While at Black Mountain Ranch, Ted had the opportunity to meet great equestrians from around the world. “In 1988, a group of guys called the Newfoundland Trail Riders came to Black Mountain Ranch.  These guys all owned horses and were good riders.  They brought their own chaps, spurs and saddles with sealskin saddlebags – packed with dried salted cod and Screech rum!” Ted exclaims. “We took them on an all day ride everyday they were there.  We did a 3-day pack trip and really had a lot of fun with these guys.  At the end of the week, their president thanked me for a great week.  He said they wanted to have a pair of custom chaps made for me to show their appreciation.  They were really beautiful and well-made, excellent leather, and stamped, ‘Thanks from Newfs, 1988’.  That was one of the nicest gifts I ever got.” 

Ted’s riding tack has grown throughout the years.  He is not partial to a particular saddle maker, but, through experience, prefers custom tack.  “The saddle I ride was built on a wade tree, with a big Mexican horn and a five inch cantle.  I have saddlebags that are actually permanently attached to the saddle,” he says. “I also ride with a custom made leather cantle bag.  With the cantle bag, I don’t like saddles with Cheyenne rolls.  Working on dude ranches, I ride a lot of different horses and find that the wade tree, with its high gullet, fits most horses well.”  A classic ‘wade tree’ saddle is designed for working ranch horses.  The tree defines the shape of the pommel and cantle. Riding horses with diverse physics require a multi-fit saddle that the rider is accustomed to and is appropriate for all horse types. 

Between 1992 and 2001, Ted was hired as head wrangler for Tumbling River Ranch in central Colorado.  Located deep in the Colorado high country, this ranch had an elevation of 9,200 feet.  “We rode to 12,000 feet on all-day rides every week during the summer.  One of the rides was a place called Rosalie.  There is nothing quite like riding a good horse above timberline with 14,000 foot mountain peaks all around you.  This was my church.”  The Colorado Rocky Mountains.  Beautiful, breathtaking and a trail riders dream. 

In 1994, while head wrangling at Tumbling River Ranch, Ted meet his sidekick, Spur. “I think everyone is entitled to one great dog in their lifetime.  Mine was a black and tan coonhound named Spur,” Ted says, remembering Spur. “He was a birthday present from my parents. He was the runt of the litter.  When they went to pick him up he was nine weeks old, had pneumonia, was tied under a pickup truck and the breeder was going to let him die.  My parents got him for $50.  I had Spur for fifteen years.  He spent most of his life on a dude ranch and went on trail rides daily in the summer.  Spur was truly my best friend.  On my 30th birthday, I was on a working ranch in Roy, New Mexico.  This was a 23,000 acre ranch and very remote.  The closest neighbor was about 45 minutes away, if it wasn’t raining.  On my birthday, I was the only human on the ranch and I didn’t get a single phone call all day.  But Spur was there for me.  In his later years he slept about 23 hours a day.  In the end, he died at the age of fifteen on his couch in his sleep.  He lived well and died well.  I will never have another dog like him.” No wrangler is complete without a well-loved dog.  Spur was just that and much more.

From the Colorado high country, Ted moved to Whitefish, Montana.  There he was the general manager of the Bar W Guest Ranch.  This was another opportunity to meet more horses, more dude ranch vacationers and make more friends. Ted says, “For my 40th birthday the staff gave me a pair of custom boots.  These were really high quality boots with my initials on the uppers.  During a cattle drive on the Blackfoot Reservation, a man offered to take my duffle bag which had a leather vest, a pair of Levis, gloves a fifth of Wild Turkey, and most importantly my custom boots.  I thought he meant he would take them to the truck, but apparently he meant take-for-good.  I miss those boots.”

After leaving the Bar W Guest Ranch, Ted purchased Zeus, an almost-black Appaloosa.  Zeus had been stabled at Bar W for over five years.  Zeus was notorious for his disorderly disposition and bucking episodes. He was originally purchased from Mouse, a Blackfoot Indian.  Ted explains, “Mouse is a horse trader in the truest sense of the word and has some really great horses.  The Blackfeet have always been known as the best horseman of all the tribes. Zeus was the kind of horse that exploded into everything he did.  Because he loved to GO, the wranglers tended to let him go.  Unfortunately, this was not what Zeus needed.  He needed a consistent rider that would help him to calm down.  He now lopes on a loose rein and is a different horse.  My four year old son rides with me on Zeus.”
Ted owns another horse, Comet, who also came from Mouse.  Comet is a fifteen year old Palomino gelding. “Comet was given to me as a gift by the owner of Bar W Guest Ranch when we left there to move to Cody in October of 2010,” Ted says. “At that point Comet was already my horse since I had been, with a few exceptions, the only one to ride him. Comet is my friend and really fun to ride.  He is the kind of horse that will run the barrels at a dead run and five minutes later walk around the barrels with my four year old son, with his head down and a loose rein.  Comet has power steering, power breaks and cruise control.  In my life I have had several great horses, but Comet is the best.  He will do just about anything I ask; cross a deep river, go over the bridge, or jump off a cliff.  He is fun to ride.”  Comet is 15.3 hh and 1,200 lbs.  He is Ted’s all-time favorite horse, friend and confidant.

Ted’s favorite horse breed? A Quarter Horse, of course. American bred, with the largest breed registry in the world, the Quarter Horse is a wranglers dream.  Quick, efficient, compact and smart, the Quarter Horse is well-suited for American terrain. Ted expounds on his experience with other horse breeds, “I am a believer that after each breed’s basic characteristics, horses are a product of their environment.  In high school, I worked at a couple of Arabian Show barns mucking stalls.  The horses spent most of their time in a 12 x 12 stall and they were always trying to kick, bite or stomp me.  At the time, I hated those horses and thought that was just the way Arabians were.  Since then, I have had numerous Arabs on dude ranches and while they generally are a little more high strung, I have had some that were great dude horses.  I have known mountain trail riders who swear by various breeds, but in my opinion, most of them can be turned into great trail horses if they are treated and used right.”
Working outside, in the elements, with horses, surrounded by sky, streams and mountains.  Wrangler.  A vocation synonymous with chaps, saddles, bits, bridles, manes, tails, and dirt.  What is the difference between a cowboy and a wrangler? Ted explains, “Often the words cowboy or wrangler are used interchangeably, generally representing a man who can ride.  A funny story: On Cowboy Sunday, the kids were at the front of the Church and the Minister asked if they knew a cowboy.  My daughter answered that her dad was a cowboy.  When asked then if I have cows, she said, ‘no, but we might get chickens.’ My three year old son stood up and then announced to the congregation that he was a cowboy…and he had a toy gun, boots and spurs to prove it.  I used to think being a real cowboy was having those things, too, but I have learned it takes a lot more.  When my son crawls into bed at night we always say ‘The Words’….they go like this:

Always tell the truth
Always be honest
Always do the right thing
Always admit when you are wrong
Always do what you said you would do
Always respect others

Someday, whether my son is riding the range or working in a bank, I hope he will understand that his character and the choices he makes are what make him a true cowboy.”
Ted is currently a wrangler instructor and a dude ranch consultant in Cody. “The thing I am spending the most time on these days is managing Turpin Meadow Ranch in Jackson, Wyoming,” he says.  “This ranch was foreclosed and the bank hired me to run it until a new owner can be found.  My consulting includes caring for ranch horses, legal issues, horse program development and long-term ranch management.  Most likely I will be involved with this ranch for some time, including finding a new string of about sixty horses for the ranch.” Ted is a successful wrangler, businessman, equestrian, family man and friend. If you are considering a dude ranch vacation, give Ted a call.  He’ll provide you with accommodations befitting any want-to-be-wrangler; a quality horse, a sturdy rope, a night under the stars and memories that will last forever.

* * *
For more information, visit Ted’s website
For more information on Larry Larom, visit

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Turpin Meadow Ranch Moose

Working in the lodge at Turpin Meadow Ranch yesterday I looked out the window to see these two huge bull moose.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Horsetown USA seeking new dude ranch.

Recently a economic development person contacted me from the town of Norco, California. This town's nickname is Horse town USA.

The long-term goal is to develop the town into a horse oriented vacation destination.  Norco is about 50 mile east of Los Angles. They are actively looking for investors to come in and build a resort dude ranch operation to compliment other horse related attractions in the town.  They are offering tax incentives and land prices are reasonable. Favorable grazing leases for horses would also be possible as part of the package.

Concept: With 50-250 rooms, this Western-style resort would strongly reinforce the Norco’s brand of “Horsetown USA.” It would be situated in an area where the resort’s amenities can tie into the rural equestrian lifestyle of Norco, and a site that is secluded from traffic and urban activity. Potential amenities include golf (or privileges at Hidden Valley Golf Club), tennis, swimming, fitness center, full-service spa, fine dining, banquet facilities, parking for horse trailers, and on-site equestrian activities that can be integrated into the City’s existing 140-mile network of trails.
Clientele: Upscale travelers insisting on a greater package of amenities, more attentive service and higher quality on-site dining. Corporate events would also be attracted to this kind of property.
Potential Sites: The prospective site (est. 25-75 acres) requires scenic backdrops and considerable buffering from traffic and development. The best possible location, based on aesthetics and available acreage, is part of a 429-acre parcel in southeast Norco. Some of that property could be leased and much of the activity is compatible with a nature conservancy.

Concept: A more down-to-earth variation on the Western resort concept. Instead of standard guestrooms and suites—or in addition to them—the accommodations might consist of more rustic (but potentially upscale) cabins, casitas or even luxury tents. Most guest ranches are located on working cattle ranches, predominantly in the Rocky Mountain region (some offer riding privileges in nearby National Parks). Very few are located in Southern California and there are none in the Inland Empire. A Norco location would require a deviation from the usual formula, but would offer a unique experience for visitors from L.A. or San Diego.
Clientele: Adventurous upscale travelers looking for a completely different experience relatively close to home. Guest ranches are also popular for corporate team-building events.
Potential Sites: Because guest ranches require extensive trails and grazing land, the minimum size site for this kind of concept is typically 100 acres. However, some of that property could be leased and much of the activity is compatible with a nature conservancy. The best possible location, based on its scenic nature, compatibility with current zoning and ample acreage, is the same 429-acre site in southeastern Norco.

The City of Norco is actively seeking out hospitality industry investors, particularly those experienced with guest ranches or other non-traditional  properties. For more information please contact Ted Harvey 406-314-5330. or visit my web site.