Top Ten Dude Ranches - Page 2

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5. Zapata Ranch, Working Guest Dude Ranch
Mosca, Colorado

An iconic western scene: snow-capped peaks rim the horizon, cottonwood groves grace the plains below on a seemingly endless expanse of prairie. It's the kind of place where one can envision Indian hunting parties of the past, chasing mammoth herds of thundering bison for miles across the vast open range. Luckily for visitors, the 100,000 acre historic Zapata Ranch is part of the largest Nature Conservancy Preserve in the state of Colorado, where encounters with deer, antelope, elk, and herds of bison are still part of the western experience. Vacationing ranch guests can select from three programs: Horsemanship Experience, Ranching with Nature, and, for those more inclined toward active endeavors off the horse, the Great Outdoors Exploration option. Zapata offers one-of-kind adventures to include horseback rides or tours through bison herds, an overnight camping cattle drive, and the chance to explore another one of nature's wonders next door: Great Sand Dunes National Park. Truly, Zapata Working Ranch is one of the West's most unique operations focused on conservation, preservation, and education.

4. Rowse's 1+1 Ranch, Working Guest Dude Ranch
Burwell, Nebraska

The heartland played a big part in taming the Wild West, carving the character of many a pioneer who ventured across weather-beaten rangeland and wind-swept prairies. The Rowse family still upholds the mantle of their pioneer forbears with indomitable spirit and a hard-working ethic. The family has been ranching in the Sand Hills area of Nebraska since 1884. Rowse's 1+1 Ranch is a working cattle and quarter-horse ranch with more than 7,000 acres near Burwell, Nebraska. Guests who want to saddle up and enjoy "cowboy life" can work the land alongside the Rowse family and be assured that "head-to-tail" trail rides are verboten. Riders are paired with a well-trained quarter-horse (the family runs an award-winning quarter-horse breeding program) for the week. Summer brings cattle drives, working cattle, cowboy socials, and team roping. October is fall Round-Up, which involves long cattle drives on horseback.

3. McGinnis Meadows Cattle and Guest Ranch, Working Guest Dude Ranch
Libby, Montana

Pretty as a postcard mountain vistas. That's what guests will have to contend with while mastering their horsemanship skills at this northwestern Montana ranch. It's hard to concentrate when the terrain is so doggone gorgeous, but as a working cattle ranch the emphasis is on the horse and cattle program where beginner to experienced riders will leave after a week having learned a great deal more than expected. McGinnis Meadows instruction is based on the Brannaman style of horsemanship, which was featured in Robert Redford's 1998 movie, The Horse Whisperer. The method is considered gentle and effective, with the intention of creating a unique bond between horse and rider. In July, the ranch will be offering special Buck Brannaman Ranch Clinics, colts starting, and horsemanship from the ground up. The ranch drives cattle all summer long in the surrounding 75,000 acre Lost Trail Wildlife Refuge. That's when newly learned horsemanship skills can be put into practice. Horse and rider will track, cut, pen, and move cattle up to the high country.

2. Tanque Verde Ranch, Luxury Guest Dude Ranch
Tucson, Arizona

A Southwestern palette of muted green, brown, and rusty red colors the Sonoran desert. Set within this other-worldly landscape is Tanque Verde, an historic guest ranch considered an oasis of luxury. Guests looking for a desert riding experience will find an outstanding riding program at TVR, where there are more than 60,000 acres of natural beauty to explore, including the Saguaro National Park and Coronado National Forest. For families who want their kids to learn horseback riding, the Children's Horse Program is highly acclaimed. Daily rides and horseback riding lessons are specifically geared for each age group; buckeroos ages four to six and wranglers aged seven to eleven. The cherry on the cactus are the "specialty adventures," which range from embarking on a private horse riding experience with a Tanque Verde Wrangler to a Pack Trip Week, Poker Ride Adventure, or Women of the West Adventure.

1. Cibolo Creek Ranch, Luxury Guest Dude Ranch
Marfa, Texas

It's easy to see why folks say everything is big in Texas. Sprawling across 30,000 acres of prime cattle country is one of the "purtiest lil ole ranches" in the country. Folks in this part of the West have a tendency to say "lil ole" even if something seems really big to the rest of us. Cibolo Creek Ranch offers guests one of the biggest areas to explore in all of Texas, with numerous adventures within and outside of the ranch at nearby Big Bend National and State Parks. In fact, the landscape is so dramatic that it seems like a movie set or a foreign country. There's sagebrush, tumbleweeds, cactus, canyons, creeks to cross, and mountains to climb. Indeed, at any point during a trail ride edging the Rio Grande, horseback riders might look around expecting to see mythic cowboy Gus McCrae ambling along with Woodrow Call at his side (characters from the novel Lonesome Dove). Cibolo Creek reflects the rich cultural heritage of the land and its previous occupants: Spanish, Mexican, and Apache and Comanche Native Indian tribes. The authentic flavor adds to the swanky resort amenities, allowing guests to escape back in time while enjoying modern luxuries.

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