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Make your Western at a ranch reunion by Jacky Runice
When you think about Big Sky country and the wide open west, do you see the proverbial nomadic wanderer á la squinty-eyed Clint Eastwood with a Cigarillo hanging from his lip? You needn’t get the hang of Photoshop to substitute yourself for Clint atop that faithful steed. Be a Maverick and get your group together to do some Dances with Wolves. You could become the Magnificent Seven (or 21 or 48) for just a few days during a ranch reunion, without a worry about any Blazing Saddles getting in the way of your fun.
Wind Walker Guest Ranch
So what if your posse consists of the Cisco Kids, Lone Ranger, the Sons of Katie Elder and the Wild Bunch? A gathering at a ranch means there are plenty of activities for all sorts of varmints as well as help in getting the gang together for fun, fellowship and memories. Take Utah’s Wind Walker Guest Ranch, for example. “With so many activities to experience and enjoy together and apart, we create a space that allows for reconnection and fun while still being able to go home revitalized and refreshed,” explained Brooke Bouwhuis. Of course, there are daily scenic horse back rides for various skill levels: all-day rides, short rides, moonlight rides and specialty rides. For those who really adore the equine life, they also can learn horse grooming and saddling. For those who say, “Okay, been there, rode that; now what?” choose from skeet shooting, fly fishing, Native American sweat lodge experiences, meditative walks, morning Tai Chi lessons, kids’ programs, spa treatments, wine tastings, shopping, golfing, and rafting on a country pond. A winter reunion means snowshoeing, ice fishing and first class cross-country skiing. The group may want to take a wagon ride through historic Spring City, experience an interpretive tour of ancient petroglyphs, or enjoy a chuck wagon dinner by the ranch pond.
Wind Walker hosts an average of more than 10 family reunions every year, as well as many class reunions, church group functions, youth groups and corporate outings. Suzanne Lemen employed the ranch for a six-night company reunion event for 30 people who ranged in age from 10 to 75 years old. “We have had these trips on three occasions: once on a cruise, once to Banff Canada and once to the ranch,” she explained. “The ranch was the most relaxing and easiest of the three and the trip appealed to all ages. The ranch provided a wide variety of activities--not just horse back riding. There was fishing, golf, sightseeing with hiking, sightseeing with museums, shopping, etc. There were picnics, campfires and visits to the Indian lands.” If you’re a reunion planner breaking into a cold sweat at the prospect of organizing a meeting with all of these choices, here’s the antidote according to Lemen. “You don't have to do anything. All meals and activities are planned and it is all-inclusive. They will customize a package for your group. Babysitting is provided so parents can have quiet time, and it is quiet; no phones or TVs. We had special needs children, and Loretta and her team accommodated diet issues and special needs to give the parents needed R&R. The facilities are top notch with beautiful condo-type separate buildings that can be configured for large families.” Lemen was so impressed that she took her extended family to Wind Walker in the winter for sledding, ice skating, snow hiking, sleeping late, sitting by the fire, attending a rodeo and having a wonderful New Years Eve. See what other Wind Walker guests have to say at www.windwalker.org/testimonial.html.
Wind Walker sits in the Sanpete Valley, Utah, rated in the top 10 best recreational areas in the country (www.sanpete.com). “Be it recreation, relaxation, rejuvenation, education, celebration or wedded bliss, we have facilities and planning resources to create unforgettable moments,” beamed Bouwhuis. Contact Wind Walker Guest Ranch at 888 606-9463; www.windwalker.org.
Since the capacity is 25, Montana’s Rich Ranch sees reunion groups typically booking the entire homestead. Imagine having your very own spread from which to enjoy the scenic Blackfoot River valley of western Montana! Located in the Rocky Mountains, the ranch is in the midst of abundant lakes and streams (which are accessible to fish by car or horse) and it’s 11 miles from the town of Seeley Lake, year-round population about 2,500, offering guests a unique small town setting. Although in its 12th year operating as a guest ranch, Rich Ranch is celebrating its 50th year of outfitting in the Bob Marshall wilderness.
It was Kathy Germann’s first visit to Rich Ranch so she wasn’t sure whether the staff did anything “special” for the Meyer-Brown reunion, but “I can assure you that the experience there was very special,” the Madison, Wisconsin, resident explained. “Their hospitality is five-star; they were exceptionally welcoming and accommodating for our group. Their service was superb, from managing different arrival times of family from across the country, to comfortable, clean, well-appointed lodging facilities, to adapting menus to a wide range of dietary needs. Our family varies significantly in our interests and physical abilities, and the Riches went out of their way to find activities that addressed our different needs, always with a focus on what we all might be able to do together. Daily family meetings, facilitated by Jack Rich, supported our group in structuring our activities and making decisions with ease, not necessarily an easy task!” It was the first time the blended family of 14 spent concentrated time together. “We're a bit unique in that Dad (Ray) and Mom (Marion) met and fell in love at age 75 after their spouses passed away. They have been together for almost five years and last December two of us thought it might be fun to get the whole family together for a week and the Rich Ranch became our destination,” she said. The clan took in a performance by a local singer/songwriter, fishing, riding lessons, trail rides, a covered wagon ride, overnight fishing/riding/camping trip, inner tube float down the river, whitewater rafting, raft float trip, a visit to a taxidermist, hot-tubbing, bird watching, visiting a fire tower, viewing alpine flowers, lots of singing & storytelling--culminating in songs and s'mores around the campfire the final evening.
After you explore www.richranch.com and decide it’s perfect for your next gathering, hosts Jack and Belinda Rich will help assign lodging by sending a diagram of the layout of cabins/lodge rooms. “We also send a vacation planner for more detailed information to provide us with specifics; special dietary needs or preferences, riding abilities and other interests,” explained Melinda Rich. “We can help them plan additional off-ranch activities such as float trips, rodeos or car tours. We provide information about nearby service providers such as car rentals and pre- or post-trip lodging, Glacier National Park information (guests often plan to visit, before or after their stay with us). Our scheduling is very flexible, which helps in the planning of the week’s activities. We love families and offer a supervised children’s program in the mornings. The parents love this.” One of Rich Ranch’s most popular rides is the Alpine lakes ride which saunters to the wilderness boundary, then guests fish the lakes and return to the lodge for dinner. The ranch borders the Bob Marshall Wilderness and you might choose an overnight pack trip option. In addition to horseback riding and fishing, you might want to consider horse-drawn wagon rides, Ghost Town tour, local artist tour, Bison Range tour, campfire night with entertainment and mountain biking. Want more? There is a fishing pond, an outdoor arena, horseshoes, roping practice, archery, basketball court, hot tubs and table games including pool and foosball. Why choose Rich Ranch? “There is something that you experience at the Rich Ranch that you won't get just anywhere--and that's family,” explained Germann. “Not only are they the fifth generation to live on Montana land, they exemplify the best of what a family can be. It's hard work to run a guest ranch, to be functioning 24/7, with your home open to complete strangers. They do it remarkably well! Their love and respect for each other is easily observed in their interactions. Amidst all the hard work, there's an abundance of laughter and joy and hugs. They not only open their home, they open their hearts to their guests and to each other. It's impressive to see an extended family function so well and providing such great service--it's a real pleasure to be in their company.” Wrangle yourself over to richranch.com or call 800-532-4350 to get details on your reunion home on the range.
Flying E Ranch
Rex and Flora Long have traveled from their home in West Hills, California, to the Flying E Ranch in Wickenburg, Arizona, for the past ten years. “We started going to the "E" for our 40th anniversary, went every year since and recently celebrated our 50th there,” Flora said. “Our four children and their spouses, five grandkids, various friends and their families have joined us every year for the last six years, and even though we see each other often during the year we all look forward to going again. The ranch activities are a good fit for all ages, whether taking a mid-day snooze, swimming, trail rides or hiking. The girls in the family like it there because "no one has to cook or clean up" which is a major plus for a group (16 or so) like ours.”
Flying E has been in operation for over 60 years and enjoys a very high guest return rate. According to Andrea Taylor, General Manager, some guests are returning for the 53rd visit and some families have been coming for over 35 years. “Our guest ranch is a perfect place for a family reunion, as our ranch is only 17 rooms, and our dining room is set up to serve meals family style. Our main activity is horseback riding and we take out two rides a day Monday through Saturday and one ride on Sunday. We offer beginning, intermediate and advance rides, all led by our great wranglers. Team Penning gives our guests the opportunity to work the cattle in the arena and experience the horse and rider connection while penning cattle. Let’s not forget the ever-loved cow patty toss competition that gives the winner bragging rights and an ‘I Won The Cow Patty Toss’ t-shirt to wear with pride,” she laughed.
Flying E offers a heated swimming pool with Jacuzzi, an exercise room with sauna, shuffleboard, horseshoe pit, lighted tennis courts, basketball and volleyball courts and miles of hiking. “We have a large barn with a dance floor on the top, where we host line dancing or square dancing for larger groups,” Taylor said. “Best of all are our breakfast, lunch and dinner cookouts on the desert. These are offered at different times of year, depending on weather and guests in house. What better way to plan a family reunion than to have all of these activities to enjoy, and breakfast, lunch and dinner prepared by great ranch cooks. When you come to the Flying E Ranch, all you have to do is eat, sleep, ride and relax.” For the Longs’ 50th anniversary, Taylor and her crew arranged a Western-style wedding with a hay ride, barn dance and cookout. Like the Longs, groups return to Flying E over and over again. “For instance, our Thanksgiving guests come from California, Illinois, Kansas and New Mexico, and look forward to seeing each other at that time of year, to catch up on children, grandchildren and life in general,” Taylor explained. “These are the kinds of guests who have become our Flying E Family. We also offer our cowgirl weekend the first weekend in March, which has become a great get-together for several gals who are good friends from the St. Louis/Chicago areas. We even host a Red Hat group of ladies from the Phoenix area every April.”
Colorado Trails Ranch
One thing that hasn’t changed over time is the fact that there’s a heap of work to be done every day on a ranch--except you’re the guest and just have to enjoy the fruits of the ranch’s labor from the moment you decide to meet there until you’re waving goodbye across the clearing. “At Colorado Trails we are eager to work with families and reunion planners to orchestrate a distinctive, unforgettable reunion and we take all the work out of your reunion,” said Molly Myers. “No one needs to be the planner, motivator, organizer —because the ranch will do it all for you. Reunion planning and coordination, combined with our competitive group rates, has made us the first choice for family reunions for 46 years. When arranging logistics, we make sure each family gets placed in the perfect cabin and we provide airport transportation. Even the menu can be customized to include a special family recipe or dish. We love to incorporate special touches; the details really make the difference.”
Colorado Trails Ranch hosts about a half dozen family reunions during the 16-week summer season, as well as other group reunions such as old college roommates gathering at the ranch for an annual get-together. Its location, Durango, Colorado, can’t be beat as a destination: summertime in southwest Colorado offers a comfortable warm climate and there’s a wagon load of things to do and see in and around Durango. The area's world-class attractions include Mesa Verde National Park, Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, Durango’s Historic Downtown, and Vallecito Lake. Not that you can possibly get bored back at the ranch. “Because Colorado Trails offers so many activities, there’s something for everyone in the family to do,” Myers explained. “Guests are treated to an array of activities from the tranquil to the adventurous, which means there in no difficulty finding something fun for anyone. Family members can enjoy horseback riding, fly fishing, shooting sports, rafting, swimming, power tubing, nature hikes, a guided tour of Mesa Verde National Park and more,” she continued. “Parents can relax, knowing their children will be enjoying adventures and activities from sunup to sundown as part of the ranch’s outstanding youth program. The ranch’s youth counselors, a rare blend of John Wayne and Mary Poppins, keep all ages of children wrangled all week long. The fun continues into the evening. Nightly activities include a Western square dance, cowboy singer and a campout for the children. Families are finding the appeal of a guest ranch ever increasing. Today’s ranches are less cow camp and more first-class resort, with much more than just horseback riding to offer.”
Cabins at Colorado Trails accommodate from two to 11 people, and each has its own sun porch, so family members can chew the fat and reminisce under the stars. Do some laps in the pool, soak in the hot tub, or coordinate a game on the sand volleyball court, basketball court or horse shoe pit. Take a look at www.colotrails.com for special discount weeks, weeks for fly fishing fans, art lovers and more. “The staff at Colorado Trails is personable and friendly, and will make your entire family feel welcome and well cared for in every way. From small family gatherings to large family reunion vacations, the ranch has the facilities and experience to make your reunion a special and memorable event,” Myers concluded. Allow that staff to give your reunion a great ride by calling 877-711-7843.
About the author
Journalist/Editor Jacky Runice has penned a weekly travel column for Chicago's Daily Herald since 1994 and writes about travel and dining for USAToday.com; CBS Local Chicago; and Examiner.com. She expands her repertoire at Kane, Lake and McHenry County (IL) Magazines with articles about everything from healthy living to technology. A former Chicago radio talk show host, Jacky has three grown children who have inherited her love of sampling new cultures, countries and cuisine.