June 2010

Mystery Bike

The other day I walked in on Steve building a bike for someone very special to the ranch. Just for fun, I took a picture and posted it on our Facebook page asking people to guess for whom this bike is being built. I have a pretty strong feeling no one would guess. And I was right…which for me is unusual. 🙂

The answer pretty well sums up Vista Verde and how we somehow find a way to combine the Old West with the New West. The Old West is cowboys and horses, cattle and campfires. The New West is mountain biking and rock climbing, elegantly prepared Bison and hot tubs under the stars. So, picture a weathered cowboy who spends his days on horseback when not shoeing horses. His hat could tells stories, but he’s also realizing that his body needs a way to stay fit without taking such a beating. The answer? Orval Bedell. Yep, you read it right. For those of you who haven’t met Orval, he’s been involved at the ranch longer than I’ve been alive. Orval grew up in the area, skiing down Seedhouse Road to go to school. He’s trained horses, led clinics at the ranch and put shoes on every one of our horses. This spring Orval watched Steve testing out one of his new mountain bikes and next thing I saw was Steve giving Orval a biking lesson. And this week Art the UPS driver delivered Orval’s new bike. Old West and New West…..there is such a thing as a combination. This might just be the best one I have ever seen to date. Happy Trails Orval! Are you ready for your mountain biking vacation?

Article from About.com about Luxury Guest Ranch



Vista Verde Ranch, Colorado

By , About.com Guide

This luxury guest ranch near Steamboat Springs ski resort welcomes families year-round. Price includes gourmet meals, snacks, beverages (including beer and wine), evening entertainment, airport transfers, gratuities for staff, horseriding and many other outdoors activities. Accommodation-only rates are also available, whereby guests can pay for activities a la carte.

Families can stay in a lodge room or a luxury log cabin; the cabins are standalone units and have up to three bedrooms, with a woodstove and a private hot tub on the deck; fridges are stocked with complimentary beverages. Be prepared to relax and disconnect: there are no phones or tvs in the rooms. (Complimentary wireless is available, though.)

For evening meals, parents can opt for family-style dining, or indulge in a candlelight dinner while the young’uns have their own kid-friendly meal.

The ranch also has a kid’s hut play zone, a Great Room (photo above) with a nightly fire in winter months, and an indoor riding arena. Vista Verde has received a AAA Four Diamond Award.

Seasonal Activities

The all-inclusive rates at Vista Verde offer lots of outdoors fun that families can sample as much or as little as they like. In summer this include horseback riding, clinics with horse trainers and wranglers, guided hikes, guided mountain biking on trails or in a terrain park, use of bikes, guided fly fishing with gear, rock-climbing, river rafting and kayaking, a photography workshop, cooking classes, kids and teens programs, transport to Steamboat, and evening entertainment such as barn dances.* Guests can also enjoy the ranch’s swimming pool.

In winter, rates include guided backcountry skiing, snowshoe tours and cross-country trails, as well as the gear you’ll need for these activities. Winter also offers sledding, horseback rides, sleigh rides, a photography workshop, cooking classes, teen programs during holidays, and evening entertainment. Transportation is provided to and from Steamboat for ski days. Guests can also pay extra for dog sledding, snowmobiling, ice climbing, and massage treatments.

The holiday season is a top time to visit. Before Christmas, each family has its own tree in the lodge to decorate. Families can also try seasonal activities such as making decorations, and take a horse drawn sleigh ride to go caroling.

Kids and Teen Programs

Naturally, horse-riding is a primary focus for all ages, and kids are matched to an appropriate horse for the week. For other fun, “kid wranglers” take kids age 6 to 11 to treasure hunts, powwows in the tepee, boat races in the creek, gold-panning in the river, fishing, campfires… Meanwhile, teens age 12 and up have a separate program, with movie night, adventure rides, and other activities.

Randomness from a busy week at the Ranch

It’s amazing how quickly time flies once we get into our summer season at Vista Verde. There is just so much going on each day and people going in so many different directions. This is so much more than a guest ranch…we toy with calling it an Adventure Ranch with the hiking, biking, rock climbing and all the other activities in addition to great riding. The energy is contagious! I just realized how long it’s been since I’ve blogged. I have a spotlight on Terry in the works, but it isn’t ready. So, until I can slow him down from spending all day in clinics and lessons, you’ll have to settle for a little monologue on my view of the ranch lately.

We are into our third week of the summer guest ranch season, and so far they have been full of wonderful people and some great memories. I had a really fun day last Thursday as I rounded up a crew to help me get the Wild Yoga location all set up for our first class. The crew ended up being an all girl team of Kid Supervisors. Despite the heavy lifting, the crazy Gator ride up the hill, and the trudge through grass, bogs and across streams to the Wild Yoga location, the girls did great and were laughing the whole time. And that afternoon Kelli and I got to lead our first Wild Yoga practice of the season with a full class of fun guests. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it!
Another highlight for me last week was watching Nicky and Reid halter breaking the 4 foals. Those little babies are smart and strong, and aren’t all that sure that they want to be trained yet! But they are so cute and kissable. I keep threatening that if Little Joe (my favorite) is missing one day, there’s a good chance he’s hidden in my house somewhere.

We’re getting more and more calls about our Cattle Gather weeks in September. Charlie led the inaugural all-day ride up in that section of the forest last week and everyone had a ball. It’s a huge area, some with trails, but mostly a lot of exploring and finding gorgeous views. We’ll head up there with some of our all-day rides all summer to check on the cows and make sure they are staying in the right area. That will help us keep tabs on them so when we lead the gather in the fall, we’ll have an idea of where to find them in order to push them to lower pastures for the winter.

As I headed to the Post Office this morning to get the mail, I spotted a Moots Cycles (really amazing high end Steamboat bike company) van following some guy through town. I crossed paths with them as I came out from getting the mail and asked what was going on. They were following Erik Lobeck as he made his way out of Steamboat Springs on the Tour Divide Race, riding a Moots bike. This guy is amazing…read his story and that of the Tour Divide on the Moots blog. Steamboat Springs is such a diverse town in the sense that it has such strong ranching and rodeo ties but also is home to outdoor adventurers and several well-renowned outdoor outfitters (Smartwool, Big Agnes, Moots, Kent Erickson).

So there is the randomness from the Ranch. We’re loving our guests so far this summer and look forward to seeing those of you coming out soon. Hopefully we can meet some of those who haven’t made it yet. There’s still space in early July!!!! Call me, let’s get you out to Colorado this summer.

Away.com – June 2010

Top Ten Dude Ranches by Gigi Ragland

Our ten favorite dude ranches that offer a week of all-inclusive horseback riding (and other fun outdoors activities), gourmet dining, and a genuine Western experience for the whole crew.

9. Vista Verde Ranch, Luxury Guest Dude Ranch
Clark, Colorado
A stone’s throw from Steamboat Springs, enveloped by towering peaks along the Continental Divide, sits a 1930s cattle ranch tucked away in the Elk River Valley. Original owners, Hollis and Jean Tufly, dubbed it Vista Verde Ranch, translated as “the green view.” During summer, every color of green dots the ranch, from the forest of pines to the mountain meadows surrounding it. The luxury guest ranch is known for attention to detail. At breakfast in the main lodge, guests are greeted by guides and asked what kind of activity they would like to do that day and are offered choices based on their responses. The ranch has a 1:1 guide to guest ratio even at its busiest times. The folks at Vista Verde have thought of everything. There is even a rack of cowboy boots for guests to use for horseback riding (kid sizes, too) if they didn’t bring their own. The ranch offers an extensive riding program for adults and little buckaroos to improve horsemanship skills in addition to trail rides of the Routt National Forest. Foodies will enjoy gourmet dinners, cooking classes, and wine tasting events. And for those who want to round out their round-up of activities, they can head over to the Adventure Center for hiking, yoga, rock climbing, or mountain-biking on full-suspension bikes.

What to wear for your winter vacation in Colorado?


Some of our guests coming to Vista Verde this winter are coming for their first ever winter vacation in the snow. Although we send out a packing list, it can be a little daunting to understand how to dress for playing in the snow. So, here are a couple tips to break it down for those “snow newbies”.

Layers, layers, layers. Yep, that is really the key out here. Because what is comfortable at 10am, might be too much clothing at noon. They most important part of layering is to have the right materials. You need to make sure that the base layer is not cotton, and is designed to wick moisture away from your body. Wool is great, but there are plenty of synthetic fabrics that work well. This link toChristy Sports page for base layers for women should help give you an idea of what works well. You’ll want a top and bottoms (also known as “long johns” in the good ol’ days) to complete your base layer.

Next up, a middle layer. I like a good, basic fleece top. But, a good wool sweater will do the trick too.

Lastly, you’ll want your outer layer. Waterproof is a must, as even though our snow is dry and fluffy out here, if you spend a lot of time getting personal with the snow (falling down) then you’ll be thanking that outer layer for keeping your dry and warm. Need a better visual? Here is a link to Christy Sports jackets for women. And this link will give you an idea of what works for pants. Sorry guys, I gave links to women’s wear as that is typically who is doing the shopping!

Now, keep in mind that I am gearing this list towards those who are coming for the full winter vacation experience. For those of you wanting to focus more on the cross country skiing and snowshoeing, a lighter outer layer will be better. When you do those activities, you get pretty warm and a heavy outer layer will be too much. While we do sell some shell pants and jackets for these type of activities in our Nordic center, here is an example of one of the jackets we have carried in our shop.

For footwear, the best bet is a sturdy snow boot. You can use them for most of the activities here, and then for skiing we have the boots for that. I am a fan of Sorels, but there are plenty of other options out there as you can see in this link. Make sure you give your great boots a chance to work with wool socks, and not cotton.

Lastly, don’t forget a warm pair of gloves (or mittens) that are waterproof, a warm wool or fleece type hat and your sunglasses and sunscreen. Check out this page for winter accessories.

It seems like a lot, but all of this gear will make your winter vacation so much more enjoyable! With the right gear, it’s never too cold out in the snow.

Examiner.com – June 2010

By Angele Sionna
Western US Travel Profiles: Vista Verde Guest Ranch

* Steve & Kelli King
* Adventure Center Manager/Ranch Support Manager
* Open since 1970’s
* P.O. Box 770465 Steamboat Springs, CO 80477
* 58000 Cowboy Way, Clark, CO 80428
* vistaverde.com
* www.facebook.com/vistaverderanch

Examiner: What makes your establishment unique?
Steve: We are a guest ranch that is open for summer and winter, offering not just horseback riding. In the winter, we have groomed nordic ski trails for both classic and skate skiing as well as snowshoeing, but we are most popular for our backcountry ski touring. We have been told by our guests that the backcountry guided skiing we do here is very hard to find anywhere else. Most people think of backcountry skiing as jumping off cornices in avalanche prone slopes. What we do is ski in the forests, on frozen rivers and meadows with your guide making the trail for you. Most often, we hardly ever see another soul out there, except for the occasional moose, elk or porcupine. We teach not only backcountry skiing skills such as the best way to get up when you fall in 3 feet of powder or how to begin a basic telemark turn, but also all about our environment, snow science and animal habitat in the winter.

Examiner: What is a little known factoid about your place?
Kelli: In the winter, about 55% of our guests are repeat customers and we have about 40% in the summer. We have some guests who have been coming for over 20 years!

Examiner: What is your specialty?
Steve: Diversity of activities and quality in each diverse activity we offer and our commitment to service. It sounds cliche but we really do go out of our way to make sure that each individual feels taken care of in all aspects of their stay from the housekeeping staff, ranch hands, guides, kitchen staff to management, it is what we pride ourselves in. Whether we are shoveling your deck, cleaning your cabins or guiding you on a backcountry ski tour, each and every employee takes it as their personal responsibility to make sure you are taken care of and cared for.

Examiner: What is your patrons’ favorite thing about your establishment? What’s your favorite?
Kelli: The staff. Of course they love the activities, the food and the accommodations but what really seals the deal is the staff. They make it all come alive and real, they make it homey and comfortable. They help the guests really connect with our place, so that they feel like VVR is a part of them. They know year after year that they will feel at ease here, know what to expect, it’s a slam dunk! Our favorite thing about VVR, besides getting to work with these passionate people, is getting the opportunity to be the conduit or catalyst for reconnecting our guests with our gorgeous and spectacular environment and reconnecting them with the 14 year old that resided in them (in us all!) and gets to come out and play! To guide them in doing an activity they might not otherwise do any other time of the year, in an environment so pristine and beautiful and to provide the appropriate terrain and level to do it so that they feel successful, alive and excited to do it again and again, that’s what we love about our job! In the recreation industry, we get to help people re-create themselves and reconnect.

Examiner: Anything new on the horizon that people can look forward to trying?
Steve: We are all very excited about our new indoor riding arena. In the past, we have always offered some trail riding in the winter but this year, we can now offer indoor riding and lessons too.

Examiner: What is the top thing you recommend visitors to your city do/see – besides your business, of course?
Kelli: If folks are at all into Alpine skiing, they can not pass up skiing Steamboat Springs well known ‘champagne powder”! A soak in the Strawberry Hotsprings is a great treat after a day of skiing and if you have kids, our daughter Maddie, who is 11, would recommend a trip to Fuzziwig’s, an awesome candy store in Steamboat. Favorite place for breakfast or lunch: Azteca, the breakfast burrito is huge and they even offer tofu! And if you must dine someplace other than VVR for dinner, Cafe Diva is wonderful!

Ciaobambino.com – September 2009

By Amie O’Shaughnessy, Editor of Ciaobambino

I recently interviewed a family that stayed at Vista Verde Guest Ranch outside of Steamboat Springs in Colorado for our family ranch vacation portfolio. You know you’ve found a gem when the first statement about a property is, “Vista Verde is the greatest vacation experience we’ve ever had.”

I get that. Our dude ranch experience at Smith Fork Ranch is one of my all-time favorite experiences too. What makes these ranch trips stand out is that you actually vacation. For me, this means enjoying an absolute break from the schedule and demands of day-to-day life (with or without kids). The beauty of ranch vacations is that you are active (not just sitting by a pool), but someone else does all the planning and it’s logistics free. Heaven!

The family I interviewed about Vista Verde loved the service level at the property. Dude ranches cater to groups at a time, so having a high service level is key to ensuring there is enough personalization that the experience meets your needs.

They also raved about the riding program. Most “real” dude ranches focus on horseback riding. A few things to note: 1) All programs have minimum age requirements. Riding is a great activity with school age kids and up. If you have younger children, ensure there are supervised activities for younger kids available or you won’t be riding either. 2) Horse quality is important. In the absence of a review that mentions this, check Trip Advisor for comments related the horse feedback.

See my post on how to choose the best ranch vacation for more tips on things to evaluate before making a decision on where to stay. Ranch vacations are not inexpensive—it’s worth doing an extra bit of homework to ensure you choose the right venue and destination.

Top 10 Family Resorts in the US


Thank you to Foxnews.com and Gayot for including us in this story!

Top 10 Family Resorts in the US

Geographically diverse, the U.S. offers an overwhelming range of destinations when it comes to planning family getaways. From Wild West ranches to laidback beaches to urban escapes, this list will help you hone in on a place for every interest. It also takes the adult factor into account. You may be a parent, but this is your vacation too, which means you want more than just water slides and bingo nights. What's wrong with a great wine list, spa treatments and golf for mom and dad, along with circus activities, scavenger hunts and fire truck rides for the kids? Understanding the needs of adults and children, these properties are not only for staying together, but for playing together — and apart — while on holiday.

Ojai Valley Inn & Spa 
Popular as a weekend spa and golf escape for Angelenos, the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa offers an ideal retreat for both adults and kids. Dating back to the 1920s, this sumptuous property features kid-oriented adult activities such as biking and fishing, as well as Camp Ojai (ages five to twelve), where offerings include animal yoga, Chumash rock painting (based on local Native American traditions) and history hikes. Teens also enjoy dedicated programs, ranging from Friday night "dive-in" movies at the kid's pool and Latin groove dance classes to tennis clinics, golf clinics and special spa treatments. Accommodations are residential in style, with comfy, contemporary ranch décor, and dining celebrates California produce and products. In short, this is the place to go when you want to combine luxury with an enriching experience for all ages. For more information, read a complete hotel review of Ojai Valley Inn & Spa

Steamboat Springs
Vista Verde 
You gotta love a place that boasts its own Kids Wranglers. No, these babysitters in boots don't round 'em up and rope 'em in. Instead, they teach horseback riding basics, host powwows in teepees and fill tiny bellies with nutritious food while you enjoy a wine tasting class or dinner by candlelight. From the welcoming day hayride to the marshmallow roast on the last night, Vista Verde's all-inclusive getaways are filled with traditional ranch activities and a few unusual extras, such as gold panning, hunting for animal tracks and fire truck rides — complete with sirens blaring — into town for hand-cranked ice cream. The ranch has separate programs for younger children and teens, so the older kids can play it cool while taking an adventure ride or embarking on an overnight campout. And if you'd like to come in the winter, kids will find just as much to do, with skiing, snowshoe outings and igloo building. Just outside Steamboat Springs, this working ranch offers lodge accommodation and private cabins with up to three bedrooms. For more information, visit VistaVerde.

Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge 
Antelopes, gazelles and giraffes, oh my! Leave it to Disney — creators of "The Lion King" — to bring the savannas of Africa to Orlando. Four tropical savannas, to be precise, separated by guest room wings. Make sure to ask for a room with a balcony overlooking the wildlife … and don't be surprised when a zebra or wildebeest strolls by (at a safe distance). African style pervades this resort and 43-acre wildlife preserve, from the thatched roofs to handcrafted artifacts to regional cuisines. Kids are invited to participate in cultural safaris, night vision animal viewing and junior research projects; as well, they can hit the waterslide at Uzima pool or check out the flamingos while they play at Hakuna Matata Playground. Adults who want a night out on their own can entrust kids aged three to twelve to Simba's Cubhouse, featuring supervised activities, Disney movies (big surprise) and dinner. Read a complete hotel review of Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge

Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort & Spa 
Kids' clubs are an art form at luxury resorts in Hawaii, but the Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort & Spa offers more than just a few youth-oriented activities. Everything about the property feels as if it was made to accommodate parents traveling with their offspring, from Atlantis submarine tours (check out the sunken coastal freighter and old passenger plane) to the Friday night fireworks show with hula dancing. This 22-acre beachfront "village" in Waikiki also offers more than a dozen restaurant options, daily wildlife feedings on the grounds and Camp Penguin for ages five to twelve. The half- and full-day programs (for a fee) include diversions such as supervised Hawaiian crafts, lei-making, Hawaiian storytelling and outside visits to places like the Waikiki Museum.

New York City
Four Seasons Hotel New York 
We have always loved the Four Seasons hotel group for its efforts to pamper little ones. Call before you arrive, give the names and ages of your kids, and they will be welcomed with special amenities, appropriately sized robes, board games, coloring books, children's DVDs and complimentary toiletries (for babies). Kids' dishes are offered in the restaurant and on the room service menu, and the range of freebies is seemingly endless: childproofing, cribs and rollaways, Diaper Genies, bottle warmers and even strollers for perambulating Park and Madison Avenues. Take advantage of babysitting services while you hit the spa, and ask the concierge to help arrange carriage rides, museum tours and helicopter excursions. Best of all, there's no extra charge for kids seventeen and under to share a room with their folks. Read a complete hotel review of Four Seasons Hotel New York

Lake Toxaway 
Earthshine Mountain Lodge 
All-inclusive, Earthshine Mountain Lodge introduces kids and parents to an eclectic range of experiences. On Pioneer Mornings, you can apprentice in a blacksmith shop, press apple cider and make candles. And on Cherokee Mornings, you can learn the traditional ways of the Cherokee tribe, with activities that include making pottery and throwing tomahawks. Educational opportunities include the Destination 1840 immersion in living history, and Earth Explorers, where folktales become reality as kids discover their natural surroundings. Because the resort believes that family vacations are about more than just dropping your children off at the "kids' club" and then heading to the spa and golf course, activities here are made for the entire family — creek hikes, turtle tracking and zip-lining are just the beginning. There are even Hunger Games weekends for fans of the popular book. Storybook rooms are available in the hand-built cedar lodge, while the Sunrise Cottage offers a selection of larger family suites. For more information, visit Earthshinemtnlodge.com

Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch 
With its scenic championship golf and pampering Spa Avania, this 27-acre Hyatt Regency knows how to meet adult needs. And if those adults happen to be traveling with their youngsters, they can rest assured that they can actually get some R&R while their offspring are entertained at Camp Hyatt Kachina (with two programs for ages three to five and six to twelve). Heavily influenced by Native American culture, the camp offers a wealth of activities, including arrowhead arts and crafts and Apache relay races, as well as desert scavenger hunts, mining at the Lost Dutchman's mine, cactus garden tours, Western sand art and Mexican bark painting. Enhancing the resort's draw for families even further is a 2.5-acre water playground with ten pools and a sand beach. For more information, visit Scottsdale.hyatt.com

The Hotel Hershey 
When it comes to product placement, it doesn't get more scrumptious than this. Willy Wonka, eat your heart out. Just one aspect of the Hershey, Pennsylvania experience, The Hotel Hershey pairs adult pastimes such as golf and spa treatments (chocolate-themed, of course) with the Cocoa Kids Club, a daily supervised program (for a fee) featuring tennis, basketball, swimming and arts and crafts. For guests thirteen to seventeen years of age, Club Adventure sessions include hiking and woodland exploration, team-building activities, skating and scavenger hunts. Nearby Hershey Park boasts eleven different roller coasters. And the hands-on, interactive Hershey's Chocolate World will tempt sweet tooths of all ages with an inside look at chocolate making: take a simulated ride through the Hershey's factory, create your own candy bar (including packaging) and save your appetite for a chocolate tasting adventure. Surprisingly — and pleasantly — the hotel itself avoids kitsch; Spanish in style, it was built in the 1930s (though it has been renovated and expanded) and is a member of Historic Hotels of America. For more information, visit Thehotelhershey.com

Barton Creek Resort & Spa 
From the Kids Club (six months to eight years) to Camp Barton (with no more than five kids per counselor), Barton Creek Resort & Spa will keep your offspring entertained. Swimming, nature trail hikes and scavenger hunts are just a few of the standard activities on offer, while fishing excursions and Friday Field Trips offer new experiences for young guests. During the summer, weeks at the camp are themed — for example, Buckaroo Blow-Out Week focuses on cowboy activities, while Party with the Planets Week gives kids the chance to discover the mysteries of outer space. Although this property has all of the expected kid-centric amenities, they have a hard time competing with the outdoor allure of this 4,000-acre Texas Hill Country resort. As for mom and dad, relaxation comes in many forms: unwind in the spa, play a round on the golf course or curl up with the kiddies for family movie night on weekend evenings. For more information, visit Bartoncreek.com

Highgate Springs 
The Tyler Place Family Resort 
Since 1933, Tyler Place Family Resort has been specializing in family vacations. Unlike many resorts that focus on the kindergarten and grade school crowds, this one caters to all ages, from newborns (musical games, bikes with baby seats, a fleet of strollers) to teens (water skiing, ropes courses, campouts). Those who came as kids when Tyler Place first opened now bring their great-grandchildren. It's hard to name an experience you won't find at this 165-acre lakefront property: it offers lake trampolines, circus activities, family field days and pontoon boat rides. There are special weekend and weeklong family retreats, and plenty of adult pursuits, like meditative yoga, pottery classes and Champagne cruises. With a picturesque setting on Lake Champlain, the resort features a selection of cottages and suites, all with separate parents' bedrooms. Though they're rustic rather than swanky, the accommodations are just right for a casual family escape. For more information, visit Tylerplace.com


South Bay Magazine – June 2010

Totally Dude- Days and Nights on the Ranch
By Dianne Bates

It started in the middle of Jeff Bridges’ acceptance speech for Crazy Heart. Then I heard there was a remake of Big Valley in the works. A friend persuaded me to join efforts to save American wild mustangs from slaughter. I seemed to be nursing an inside longing to return from the blindingly instant world of tech relationships and business dealings to a simpler slower place.

I craved Western. I had to get off the speeding bandwagon and ride the horse.

I decided that a visit to the Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort near the über-Danish town of Solvang might provide a good transition from the city/hotel/spa/party scene I’d been covering to the laid-back land of open hills and sing-a-long sunsets. So what if they had a spa!

What to wear, what to wear…I stressed over the fact that Alisal’s dining room has a no-jeans policy. What the…? I packed an assortment of cowgirl-punk-business clothes and decided to figure it all out when I got to the ranch.

I breezed through the alpine architecture that is Solvang and, you betcha, soon passed Alisal’s expansive rural golf course and pulled into an oak-lined drive with lovely cottages on one side and a pasture on the other. A canoe was waiting for me at Alisal Lake. A very large canoe. Big enough for an entire tribe. A cold wind blew across the plains (sorry, I had to write that), and the lake was choppy, so I switched to a paddleboat and happily made it to the middle of the lake before my legs gave out. I rested for a bit, watching the tiny lake birds (whose numbers, I later learned, were being diminished by resident bald eagles). I peddled back to shore where several fishing families enjoyed my several attempts to dock and tie my boat.

My room was in a lovely duplex cottage on the stream. The clean and modern western accommodations included a wood-burning fireplace, and that suited me just fine. I headed to the dining room for dinner, striding into the bar in a long dark skirt, Levi’s jacket and eggplant cowboy boots. Oh, and a blue silk calico scarf by Single at my neck. I was Barbara Stanwyck.

Everyone else was dressed in business attire. Except for the staff, I was the only person thematically attired. Ouch. A glass of wine at the bar alleviated my fashion pain. In the Ranch Room, I enjoyed a luscious dinner of horseradish-encrusted salmon and greens, then strolled through the starry, dark bullfrog night to my room, wondering if ALL western-style dining rooms were required to hang red-checkered curtains.

There are no TVs or phones in the rooms so I built a fire, donned my P.J. Salvage stagecoach-and-cowboy jammies and poured myself a glass of 2003 Alisal Santa Barbara County Syrah. Produced by Lucas & Lewellyn winery, the lush 14.5% wine was a perfect finish to a long day. The full-bodied wine burst with a berry rush, and then revealed herbal notes. The long finish was velvety with hints of vanilla. Perfect.

It was never this good on the trail.

7:30 am. Too early, but I’m on a schedule. I threw on some jeans, a man-shirt by Fashion Week’s Seth Wellington, Levi’s jacket, boots and black bowler and headed to the barn for the breakfast trail ride. The corral was crowded with wranglers and families dressed in everything from English riding helmets to hoodies. I, of course, was the only one dressed like Butch Cassidy. It was refreshing to note that no one felt obligated to whip out an iPod.

We all rode in small groups along green trails and valleys filled with deer and cattle. The beautiful ranch was given to actor Leo Carrillo’s grandfather by the king of Spain and is currently used to fatten up cattle for market. I admit it made me a bit sad to see all those cows walking in lush open pastures, eating all that green grass, thinking they must be in heaven, unaware of their fate.
I hadn’t been on a horse in years. The horse knew it, I knew it, and my legs would know it the next day.

We arrived in a clearing where we were served a huge outdoor breakfast cooked on-site. Pancakes, eggs, bacon, sausage, fruit, biscuits and gravy, hash browns and various breads were piled on plates as cowboy poets and singers entertained the riders. Then another hour ride back. I was beginning to understand the logic of having a beautiful luxurious spa at the resort.

But I had to get home, so I bid the Alisal a fond farewell and headed into the sunset. Was it fun? Yeah, pardner. Real fun.

A few days later, when I got the full use of my legs back, I decided to get a refresher course on horsemanship. I’d seen the look in my mount’s eyes when I disembarked. It was sarcasm. I drove to the Palos Verdes Peninsula for a session at Cowboy Boot Camp. Jim Moore and his wife Lori Barnett own and operate two camps in California. The one in Rolling Hills Estates is located in a horse-owner community filled with miles of horse trails.

I felt Jim sizing me up as he introduced me to various horses. He stressed his emphasis on horsemanship and told me he often trains actors to ride for film and TV. His horse was a huge mustang, and he chose a smaller, older Arabian for me (go figure). As we hit the trail behind his house, he politely advised me about small things I’d forgotten: correct boot placement in the stirrups, posture, and the importance of communicating with your mount.

“Horses know they are just food for predators,” Moore told me. “You have to be in control so they feel safe.” By the end of the ride, I felt I’d regained my former skills as a horsewoman.

There are myriad ways to satiate your western self. Rancho Oso near Santa Barbara is a bit more rustic than the Alisal, and families can even sleep in covered wagons. Marble Mountain in northern California features white water rafting. Most ranches offer riding, fishing and family activities. Many have golf courses and spas. Ranches in Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico offer a change of vistas and different versions of cowboy food. If you’re a couch cowboy, there’s always the Autry Museum.

I wouldn’t advise a single person to visit a ranch with the hopes of meeting a potential date, though. Ranches appeal to groups and couples, and most of the horse wranglers and staff are married. I know this because I asked. All those single cowboys of my fantasies — Flint McCullough, Little Joe Cartwright, The Sundance Kid, and Wyatt Earp — returned to my memories. At least the married horse wranglers I met all politely and gentlemanly said, “Thank you, ma’am,” and I guess that will have to do.

Well, technically east, for us Californians, still you can’t get more authentic than Colorado’s Vista Verde Ranch. YES, it’s a luxury ranch and you get to sleep indoors, but as a guest to Vista Verde once told them, “We were treated like royalty, but made to feel like family.” The facilities are rustic yet romantic, the setting breathtaking. Hosting no more than 40 folks at a time, the atmosphere is intimate and accommodating, the staff a joy to interact with. Check out the property in the glorious white winter, riding-friendly summer, or my favorite, autumn, when Steamboat Springs’ explode in seasonal color. You just don’t get that same experience in the Sunshine State. www.vistaverde.com.

This week at the Ranch

By Front Desk Manager Christi Cline-
The countdown to opening day is on and finishing touches are being made at our Colorado guest ranch. Here’s a recap on the past twenty four hours here at Vista Verde. Yesterday morning our staff saddled up for a mock breakfast ride. This was partly to give practice to the servers, chefs and wranglers, but it was definitely time for staff bonding, laughs and a chance to snap some gorgeous morning pictures atop Indian Hill. Nothing is more spectacular than a Colorado mountain sunrise. The storm clouds started to build a bit, but the morning sprinkles didn’t scare off our riders. We made it back in time for more staff meetings and department time. Terry Wegener, our horse trainer thought the storm might initiate a delivery down in our mare barn in the evening…and his predictions were right! While our staff was having game night at The Steaming Bean coffee house in Steamboat Springs, Nicky, our assistant horse trainer and wrangler, delivered a colt at approximately 7:30 p.m.. She went to check on Rachel (the mare) and had a feeling that things were about to get exciting. The delivery was a quick one, between quiet peeks into her stall and excited calls to Terry, who is in Scottsdale Arizona judging a horse show, Nicky was coached through her first delivery! Sallie was videoing and helping relay messages from Terry the whole time. The baby colt and mare are healthy, happy and doing well. At first we thought we was sorrel in color, but in daylight now we see that he is a red roan and has a unique blaze in the shape of a bird. Names are in the mix as of yet, but Gus is high on the list, coming from Lonesome Dove.

Guaranteed there will be more exciting news in the next few days as we get ready to open our doors Sunday to our first summer guests. Today, staff are working on trails for biking, hiking and riding. Tonight we’re having a barn dance to learn the Salty Dog Rag, our staff dance and my personal favorite! Tomorrow, they’ll be busy with more meetings and working with their managers. We will keep you in the loop through our Ranch Facebook page. For our summer guests we are ready and excited, so hurry up and get here! For those of you who haven’t booked your summer family vacation yet, check back soon as Stephanie will be putting up some special offerings to fill the last cabins.