When 180 horses’ hooves pounded the ground a few feet from me, manes flaring and breaths misting ghost-like in the chill Colorado mountain air, this city boy was transfixed.
It was the 5:30 morning roundup at the C Lazy U Ranch in Granby, Colorado, up in the snow-capped Rocky Mountains.
The whinnying echoed in the nearby corrals as we walked the short distance to the campfire and the big enamel coffee pot, joining the handful of early risers watching the sun burn off the mist.
I’ve always wondered what people did at Dude Ranches.
And at the C Lazy U they do a lot of things, all connected to the Cowboy Culture, with the horse at the heart of the experience.
There are a dozen or so Dude Ranches in Colorado, and they all have solid family programs built ranch life led by authentic cowboys and cowgirls.
I saw lots of teens and a few pre-teens (all horse lovers!) grooming their horses, laughing and joking as a group, coming back exhausted but happy after their trail ride, and eager to head to the kids’ canteen to eat and talk about the night’s up-coming campfire.
Vista Verde Ranch in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, is another Dude Ranch, and as close to home on the range as you’ll likely get
Like any good Dude Ranch experience, it’s all about freedom and space and some sense of what’s left of the western experience.
And, of course, it’s about horses; about exploring crystal streams or snow covered hills, on the back of a horse or hiking a trail with a friend.
Folks eat well at Dude Ranches, but they dine graciously at Devil’s Thumb Ranch in Tabernash, Colorado, and stay in fully-equipped, beautifully designed log cabins.
Garth and Debs, the resident wranglers, know their horses, and like most wranglers are patient with beginners and families.
At the end of the day’s trail rides or Alpine Hikes, guests ease the rough spots with sophisticated massages and fine wines in the saloon.
And while it may be tough for city dwellers to imagine all this space, peace and beauty, it’s here. And it’s authentic.