Sitting on the Adirondack rocking chair, feet up on the fence rail, the only sound is the birds echoing each other’s songs in the tall pines poking up all around. Pine fragrance floats in a slight tremor of a breeze, mixed with the flavor of fresh bread wafting its way down from the dining lodge.
Grab a pen and add “dude ranch” to the family bucket list. Watching last night’s award ceremony where each of the more than a dozen children received golden horseshoe awards, parents positively beamed at their kids’ broad smiles and shy acceptance speeches.
One of the horses in the corral lets loose a whinny, and it reminds that in a couple of hours, I’ll be on the trail heading into the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado for four hours on the trail. The 50-acre base camp that comprises the ranch is extended by its access to 2 million acres of mountains, rivers and lakes.
This is Majestic Ranch steps from Mancos Lake, north of Mancos, Colorado. The bright red cabins contrast brightly with the rich green grasses. Horses graze in a corral to the east of the bunkhouse with its private rooms, weathered, rustic wood floors, very comfortable bed, and highly contemporary quarry tile shower for two.
Often used for corporate retreats, this holiday weekend the ranch has a several families, two women from Canada on a girl’s holiday, a family reunion, plus travel writer and companion.
This is one of those experiences bringing families and couples together. Majestic Ranch piles on the keep-‘em-busy list and with its child activity counselors and lets mom and dad do grown up things with the kids delving into summer-camp-style experiences.
One parent said that they appreciated not having to worry about their youngest children while on an included rafting trip with their older son. “It was a great father-son bonding experience,” Ryan said.
Unlike some dude ranches, guests are assigned a horse for the duration of the trip. This allows a relationship to build between horse and rider. As equestrians understand, horses and riders get to know each other, and for dude ranch guests, it helps even the klutziest rider – like me – to feel comfortable on a long ride.
Majestic Ranch also has a stable of mountain bikes. As with horses, guests are fitted to their bicycle and use the same bike throughout their stay. The other end of our bunkhouse has a fitness center with a nicely equipped set of free weights. Definitely something needed after the dessert last night.
Within literally minutes of arriving, we were greeted by guests and staff, names exchanged, and the experience turns from merely arrival to a friendly welcome.
“You came as strangers, became friends, and are leaving as family,” said Robert Bucksbaum, owner of the ranch. The wrangler-in-chief is very hands on. He leads some of the horseback and mountain bike rides, heads up the hiking group headed to the top of a 13,000-foot west Rocky Mountain peak, and is slicing the prime rib at dinner.
Jeremy and Karen and their two children from Orange County, California, wanted to skip the routine beach vacation and come somewhere that had a lot of activities for kids. Their son, Jeremy said, made a slew of friends and spent much of his time – except for the karoke duet with dad at the campfire – sitting with his new-found buddies.
Chef Daniel summers in Mancos and does the same duty at one of the Deer Valley, Utah, ski lodges in the winter. The kitchen has a sous chef, pastry chef and full staff working with local-sourced meats and vegetables.
Guests stay in either family cabins or private rooms in the bunkhouse. The staff around Robert are friendly and helpful and go out of their way to meet guest needs. Karen told us that they were even able to accommodate a family group keeping kosher.
Nancy, on a solo adventure from Florida said that she did a lot of research before picking Majestic Ranch. “It had very high ratings, and a lot of freedom,” she said. “Some dude ranches have pretty rigid schedules. Here you pick your activities.” She took advantage of a whitewater rafting trip at no extra charge. All Majestic Ranch activities are included in the daily rate.
Among the activities for parents and children is roping, and a rather-modified family rodeo. Several kids were bursting with pride at the awards ceremony taking home a golden horseshoe with the names of their horses and status as “best arena rider” and “rodeo winner.” All children received awards.
There are multiple types of dude ranches for vacations. Majestic Ranch is not a “working dude” ranch, it’s a guest ranch. It’s an inclusive escape from city life. The days can be as packed with activities as one wants, or leisure time in game room, library or pool can be on the agenda. I’m kinda partial to the rocker on the bunkhouse porch here and there through the day. In fact, I think I’m going to swap out the desk chair back at the office in civilization.
While a monsoon dumped buckets of rain, we sat on the porch with Candy and Amanda, the Canadians. “I picked this out,” admitted Candy. “We do our girls’ getaway every year, and we were tired of Las Vegas.”
If asked to star-rate a dude ranch, it doesn’t work the same as lodging. Our room, Weaver – there are no room numbers – was on the end of the bunkhouse. In the moderate Colorado night following a monsoon storm, it was warm and cozy.
The room has a split personality. Its door, bedside furniture is rough-hewn and rustic. Were it not for the size of the rough-pine king bed and its array of pillows and comforter, I’d think this was an Old West cabin. The other side of the rustic setting is the modern bathroom with exterior sink and granite counter, double closet, and the quarry tile shower-for-two. That portion of the room is as elegant as some of the luxury hotels where I’ve lain my head.
For kids, the ranch has a sheltered collection of teepees where a couple of nights during the week, the counselors take the children for an under-the-stars outdoor night—giving parents some time to share. A rather unscientific survey of a few of the campers brought giggles, nodding heads, and a chorus of “it was fun!”
Kids are accommodated for dinner as well. While most of us feasted on a locally-raised prime rib, pizza was available for the young. The previous night, we were told, chicken fingers were offered.
Late in the afternoon, the guests head over to the old western town façade for a round of laser tag. The sound of the laser guns is not quite the same as six-shooters, but even grandma and grandpa took on the grandkids in a round to see who’d be last one standing. It was one of the granddaughters, who took control of the wagon in front of the livery.
Ryan and Carrie from Denver, were here with their son for the annual family reunion with his brother’s family and their parents. We were standing in back of the “general store” façade waiting for their parents and all the grandkids to shoot it out on the laser tag court. Ryan kept talking about how much fun the week had been for the family.
“We like meeting for something unusual,” he said. “This ranch experience is one of the best we’ve had.”
It’s the next morning while this is being written, and the sun is rising with the coolness of the morning now showing the radiant warmth of a beautiful day ahead. It’s about time to mosey on up to the lodge and settle in for a ranch breakfast – too much good food on the spread to sample it all.
“We hadn’t even started packing the suitcases,” said Paul from Chicago at breakfast, the last day of his family’s week at the ranch. “And my daughter asked, ‘Daddy, can we come here again next year.’”
Majestic Ranch is considered one of America’s Top 50 Ranches.