Farmstay U.S. Blog

Created for and by travelers and the farmers, these posts will cover a variety of topics related to farm stays in the U.S.

Archive for tag: ranch vacation

Western Pleasure Guest Ranch in Sandpoint, Idaho

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In the early 90's, a fifth generation cattle-ranching family decided that they wanted to share the beauty, history, and heritage of the land that they'd been working since 1940... and, so, Western Pleasure Guest Ranch began extending their country hospitality to overnight guests.

Located in Idaho's scenic Panhandle region, the 1,100 acre ranch has spectacular views of the Selkirk and Cabinet mountains, as well as being adjacent to thousands of acres of land for horseback riding or cross country skiing. Owner Janice Schoonover tells us that they enjoy four true seasons and "the landscape is stunning with the changes that each of the seasons bring."

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Guests staying at the ranch can enjoy different activities, depending on what time of year they visit. Summertime brings all-inclusive guest ranch packages, which feature horseback riding as the main activity, with additional opportunites to enjoy wagon rides, working with cattle, skeet shooting, and archery. Guests may also enjoy a dinner cruise on Lake Pend Orielle, or canoeing down the Packriver.

In the winter, there are horsedrawn sleigh rides, cross country skiing, and snow shoeing. Right now, in the fall, it's an excellent time for leaf peeping - taking in all the gorgeous autumn colors.

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The lodge - made of handhewn logs - has six private rooms with private baths, plus a rec room, a great room with a large riverrock fireplace, a loft sitting area, and a hot tub. There are also four private log cabins with private baths that each sleep six. The cabins have furnished kitchens and wood stove heat.

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Western Pleasure Guest Ranch welcomes group retreats, family reunions, corporate retreats and provides a beautiful and unique setting for weddings. Beginning September 30th, the ranch will host Bed and Breakfast stays - an example of the different offerings that change with the seasons.

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To learn more about Western Pleasure Guest Ranch, take a look at the video below, and then visit their listing on Farm Stay U.S. Now is a great time to book for a winter getaway, or start thinking about a guest ranch adventure for next summer!

CA Bull Elk Ranch in Richfield, Idaho

NEW MEMBER SPOTLIGHT!

Today we are extending a hearty "welcome!" to CA Bull Elk Ranch, in Richfield, Idaho.

CA Bull Elk Ranch - elk

Located on 800 acres of pristine recreational and hunting habitat, CA Bull Elk Ranch is a working elk and upland game bird operation. Visitors can take part in fishing, hiking, bird watching and wildlife viewing, upland game bird hunting, snowshoeing and x-country skiing, photography, or just unplugging from the hectic world. There are also some of the usual farm animals, like chickens and geese.

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There are four guest rooms with private baths, along with a large common area for relaxing, reading, or exercise. The stay also includes 3 meals a day prepared from food raised primarily on the ranch and by other local producers. Children under 12 are welcome at the ranch.

To learn more and plan a visit, check out the CA Bull Elk Ranch listing here on Farm Stay U.S.!

(Photos courtesy CA Bull Elk Ranch)

Check out this video from Men's Journal featuring Red Reflet Ranch in Ten Sleep, Wyoming! Guests, in this case Ryan Van Duzer, help with herding cattle on this 27,000 acre ranch in the Big Horn Mountains.

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We asked Ryan some questions about his cowboy experience.

What was the wrangling experience like for you - any funny things happen?

The wrangling experience was like nothing I've ever done before. I've ridden horses but never surrounded by hundreds of stinky, stubborn little cows. It surprised me at how difficult it was to make the herd travel in the direction we wanted, I thought they'd just get in line and march off to greener pastures. There was one moment when a rather rambunctious cow picked a fight with my horse, causing it to rear up and I almost flew off. Clay, the head cowboy said in a soft tongue, "We almost lost our host on that one." From that moment on the 'real' cowboys kept the fighter far away from me.

What was the best part of your trip to Red Reflet? And, no, driving the Range Rover is not included!

The absolute best part of the Red Reflet are the owners Laurence and Bob, they treated us like family and after four days together we really didn't want to leave.

What is you best piece of advice for someone thinking of taking a ranch vacation?

The best advice is to have an open mind and be willing to try everything. Staying at a ranch is much different than staying at a resort because you get to participate in activites alongside real working cowboys. There really is nothing like it and the charm of ranch life is sure to make anyone fall in love with the western lifestyle.


southernazhistoricfarmsTravel Writer and librarian Lili DeBarbieri recently published a wonderful book called  A Guide to Southern Arizona's Historic Farms and Ranches, Rustic Southwest Retreats.

We talked with Lili about her book, Southern Arizona, her travel adventures, and farm and ranching trends. Fascinating stuff -- please read on!

FSUS: When was the first time you heard the term 'farm stay?' How about 'guest ranch?'

Lili: I think first became aware of the term 'farm stay' in association with the volunteer opportunities that the organization World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) offers. This was more than ten years ago but I distinctly remember reading an article about volunteer vacations on Hawaiian farms through WWOOF. I do have to give credit to my home state of Pennsylvania for bringing the more leisurely alterative to WWOOF in the form of 'farm stays' again to my attention. Once I saw that staying on a working farm (in Lancaster County) was the same if not cheaper in price than a hotel or motel but offered such wonderful learning opportunities as an added bonus I was sold! A few years ago, I worked and lived on a historic guest ranch near Santa Fe and that was my introduction to that vacation option.

FSUS: What inspired you to write "A Guide to Southern Arizona's Historic Farms and Ranches: Rustic Southwest Retreats", and why did you choose to focus on Southern Arizona?


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Lili: The type of traveling I tend to gravitate towards in my personal life inspired the content of the book -- unique vacations, working holidays, eco-tourism -- all of which intertwine during a stay on a ranch or farm. It seemed though that much more attention had been previously focused on WWOOF volunteer opportunities as a holiday option so I wanted to bring the concept of 'farm stays' and 'guest ranches' more to the forefront. I like to call farm-stays "WOOF-ing light."
I also thought it would be interesting to write about a part of the country that is not normally as highly associated with agriculture and agri-tourism in the same way that the Midwest, the East Coast or California is as well as to encourage the support of Arizona's local businesses and economy. The incredible landscape, character and color of the region provided an easy palate.

 

FSUS: In chapter two of your book, "Courting Relaxation: A brief history of guest ranching," you discuss how Easterners and Europeans became enamored of Southern Arizona and began guest ranching there in the 1880s, even before there were many modern comforts at the ranches. Was Southern Arizona a pioneer in the guest ranch industry, or was a similar movement happening in other parts of the West at the same time?

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Lili: Yes! Great question. This whole region was very much a trailblazer in the guest ranching industry. Through what I was able to piece together from historical archives there is very strong evidence that the very first guest ranches began right here in Southern Arizona as early as the 1860s but guest ranching was slower to really take off because of the climactic conditions well before air-conditioning that made the tourism season here shorter than other Western states such as Wyoming and Montana, where guest ranching had its early beginings as well.

FSUS: How did you choose the ranches and farms that ended up in your book?


Lili: The criteria I aimed for when I first began writing the book were to put together a list of places that had a great deal of not only history and scenic beauty but were also locally owned, environmentally friendly and were contributing in positive ways to their communities. I started with internet searches and looked at members of professional associations in the industry. Then, over time, I just serendipitously stumbled upon many of the ranches and farms throughout the course of my research.

FSUS: Do you have a favorite story or moment from researching your book?


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Lili: A series of them-the Triangle L guest ranch in Oracle holds a sentimental place in my heart since it was the first ranch I visited back when I began writing the book and I am still amazed by its art, architecture, vibe and scenery. Going up there recently for the annual GLOW festival was like "coming home" in a way. The day I spent at the Circle Z Ranch trail riding through the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve and then afterwards having lunch at the local saloon was a real highlight as well.

FSUS: Veronica Schultz, who co-owns Rancho de la Osa with her husband, says that they run the guest ranch in part "to continue a lifestyle that is dying. Guest ranches are remote, and fewer and fewer exist every year." Are guest ranches in fact decreasing in numbers? If so, why?


Lili: Yes, for example at the turn of the twentieth century, the greater Tucson area alone had over 100 guest ranches and that number has dwindled to about three. The costs of operating a guest ranch and the challenges involved in actually turning a profit, like any business, are considerable. This reality is probably a microcosm of what has happened in many other sectors of society. Modern urban development in the past few decades around the country has overtaken the natural land and wide open spaces needed to own a farm stay or guest ranch and provide the appropriate experiences for guests. What traveler wants to horse-back ride through a subdivision? But there is also a resurgence of interest in unique vacations driving tourists to look beyond generic forms of accommodation and towards a stay in the country.

FSUS: Can you talk a bit about the trends in farming and ranching happening in Southern Arizona?


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Lili: Guest ranches during the 1920s and 1930s were that generation's answer to a "staycation." Traveling overseas was really only an option for the very wealthy. Now, with the high cost of air travel there is that comparable economic incentive to participate in agri-tourism as people everywhere are looking for more affordable options for travel.
At any given moment there are different trends and words circulating in the public's imagination have influenced farming, ranching and the accompanying tourism --sustainability, heritage foods, farm to table, back-to-nature, purposeful living. The desire for simple, timeless travel experiences is certainly an influence.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the art and films being made brought a lot of travelers and would-be adventurers out West. Now, what drives the interest in staying on a guest ranch or farm is more food, health and wellness related. The slow food movement ignited an interest in cooking with fresh, local, seasonal foods. I can't open a popular women's magazine without seeing an article listing the "best farmers markets around the country" or the "health benefits of fruits and vegetables", the glamorization of rural living!
Overall, there is more of an awareness of and desire to intentionally support local businesses in general and that has spilled over into the idea of "knowing your farmer" and to the financial support of local farms and ranches through direct purchases as well. It is now a selling point for a business to use local ingredients or materials. I notice that farmers and ranchers are really reaching out to involve, promote and educate their communities. Guest ranches in particular have really upped their game over the years and now offer so many varied opportunities to not only enjoy the outdoors but to really take something away in an educational sense from your vacation. In our school districts in Arizona, gardens are used for teaching children about science, math and many other subjects and sourcing from local farms into many school cafeterias is quite commonplace now and it was not say twenty years ago. It is a turn for the better.


To buy Lili's book, visit www.farmstayus.com/shop/guidebooks

 

 

 

This month we feature an interview with a very dynamic duo, ranch stay members Ron and Chris Wilson of Lazy T Ranch in the Flint Hills of Kansas.

FSUS: Ron and Chris, you both have quite the bios! You are both 5th
generation ranchers, plus Ron has been (in his words):

A 4-H member, FFA officer, farm radio broadcaster, college lecturer,
Congressional staffer, association executive, rural development
director, corporate vice-president, small business co-founder, rodeo
ticket-taker, Sunday School teacher, diaper changer, bottle washer,
tractor driver, posthole digger, thistle chopper, haybale stacker,
fence fixer, calf holder, manure scooper, and tail twister.

And Chris has served as the President of the American Agri-Women and as Kansas
Deputy Secretary of Agriculture! family


How and why did you two decide to host a Ranch Stay amidst all of this?

Ron & Chris: Five years ago we moved back to the ranch and built a new home.  Mom moved up with us two years ago, leaving her house empty so it was available to remodel and serve as a guest house.

FSUS: What's the setting of your ranch like? What's the landscape like,
and the climate?

Ron & Chris: You've heard of flat, treeless Kansas?  This is the exact opposite.  We are nestled in a region called the Flint Hills, with tall hills, deep draws, plenty of native stone, and lots of trees and brush.  We have four distinct seasons, each of which has its appeal.

FSUS: What do guests typically do during their stay at your ranch?

Ron & Chris: Guests can enjoy their privacy if they like, because we are in a secluded spot although close to Manhattan, but usually our guests choose to visit our historic stone barn, feed horses and goats, and enjoy the landscape.  Sometimes a family will gather eggs from our chickens and have them for breakfast.

ranch-houseFSUS: Since both of your families' roots in ranching go way back, and you are involved with many facets of ranching and ag policy, I expect you have some insight into ranching history and trends. How has ranching changed or stayed the same in this country over time?

Ron & Chris: This is generally cow-calf country, with herds of brood cows populating the rangeland.  Cattle feeding is not predominant here, although there are some feedyards.  Cattle feeding has become concentrated, particularly in western Kansas where several large packers have located.  Beef is our state's largest single ag industry, still dominated by decentralized groups of producers (as opposed to pork and poultry, which have become more unified or vertically integrated).  In addition to ranchers, there are lots of farmer-stockmen raising grain and cattle.

FSUS: Ron was dubbed the "Poet Lariat" of Kansas in 2003 by then-governor Bill Graves. Ron, why did you start writing Cowboy Poetry? Do your ranch stay guests get to see you perform? ridinginparadecloseup

Ron: I grew up here on the ranch and have always been a cowboy at heart.  Years ago I was at a conference in Colorado where they had a cowboy poet as entertainment.  I had never heard or seen such a goofy thing, but it was definitely entertaining.  Years later I tried my hand at writing and performing it myself, and have had a great time since.  Overnight guests don't get cowboy poetry as such, but they do if they schedule one of our beef barbecue suppers.

FSUS: Could you tell us about the special events you have at your ranch throughout the year? Like the fall festival and National Day of the Cowboy?

Ron & Chris: Most of our activities are done by appointment, such as when tour groups or organizations book an evening for supper and entertainment.  However, during weekends in October, we hold our Fall Festival which is open admission for pony rides, pumpkin patch, hayrack ride, kid activities, etc.  In 2012, for the first time, we hosted a National Day of the Cowboy celebration and had about 50 people come out for speakers, picnic supper, and western entertainment.  It was a lot of fun and would hope to do it again.

FSUS: What are the accommodations like at your ranch?

Ron & Chris: The guest house is a remodeled and expanded family farm home, with three bedrooms and a large common living room.  It has satellite television, but it also has card games and marks on the wall to mark the kids height on their birthdays through the years.  The front porch is native stone and the house is nestled into our corner of the river valley, surrounded by the Flint Hills.

FSUS: What meals do you offer, and what's on the menu?

Ron & Chris: We offer lunch and supper but supper is our most common offering: beef barbecue with all the trimmings.  See http://lazytranchadventures.com/lazy-t-ranch-beef-bbq.htm

FSUS: Anything else you'd like to highlight?

barn-w-horsesRon & Chris: A friend of ours has a saying:  Horses are magic.  We have had visitors who apparently have never seen a horse up close and personal, and they seem to find them fascinating.  People love to pet and feed them.  The goats will eat feed right out of kids' hands, which tickles their palms and causes them to have a blast.  Kids have described their birthday parties here as their best ever.

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For more information on Lazy T Ranch, visit their Farm Stay U.S. listing or their website: http://www.lazytranchadventures.com/

Wilson Ranches RetreatWilson Ranches Retreat is our featured ranch stay of the month! The ranch is a 9,000 acre cattle ranch in Fossil, Oregon, with plenty of opportunity for scenic horseback rides and cattle roundups, hiking, and scouring for prehistoric fossils. The Wilson Family has deep roots in the area and a fascinating story. Here's our interview with Nancy Wilson:

1.     The Wilson Family came to ranch in the Oregon Territories by traveling the Oregon Trail back in the 1800s. Do you know much about their trek and why they made it?

Phil and Nancy's families homesteaded in Wheeler and Gilliam Counties in the 1870's.  They travelled on the Oregon Trail in the early 1850's to the Willamette Valley before coming to North Central Oregon.

2.     What made you want to continue your families' ranching tradition?

Love of the land and Phil didn't have enough sense to leave.  Phil came home to the ranch about-history-right-side-bottom-image
after graduation from college.  This is a great life and the Blessings are many!

3.     How has ranching changed over the 150+ years your family has been ranching?

Wilson Ranches has gone from the horse-drawn age to the combustion mechanical age to the computer age.  The only aspect of ranching that has been little affected is the cattle operation.  The LE brand has been in the family for four generations.

4.     You follow a "green-friendly, twice-over" grazing program. Could you tell us how this works?

Wilson Ranches follows a "green-friendly, twice over" grazing program to increase grass production.  Each pasture is grazed, rested, and grazed again in a rotational system with multiple pastures.  Wilson Ranches is managing the resources of the ranch for future generations.

5.     What kind of experience does your ranch offer guests?

The deck at Wilson Ranches Retreat is a great place to watch the cattle or deer grazing.  The Retreat is shaded by trees, which are often alive with a variety of birds as this is a songbird migratory route.  This incredible secluded scenic area with spectacular sunsets and brilliant star-studded nights will captivate you.

welcome-right-side-bottom-imageOur guests enjoy horseback riding in a geologically and historically rich area of Wheeler County, or a quiet hike to view the wildlife and diverse plant life on Wilson Ranches.  Guests are welcome to help move cattle from mid-spring to late fall.  A 4-Wheel Drive Sunset Tour is also available.  This tour is approximately five hours and will give you a magnificent view of the Cascade Mountain Range (Three Sisters to Mt. Rainer).

6.    What do people see and do while there?

Wilson Ranches Retreat is a great place to headquarter your exploration of the Clarno, Sheep Rock and Painted Hills Units of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.  It has the richest find of prehistoric fossils in the world.  Public fossil digging is available behind Wheeler High School in the town of Fossil.  The John Day River offers world-class small mouth bass fishing and river rafting trips.

7.     Could you describe the landscape, flora, and fauna around your ranch?

Wilson Ranches is a diverse area with an extreme mixture of geologies with formations from 50 million years ago to the present time.  Rolling hills to deep basalt canyons, high lava ridges and buttes with amazing views of the Cascade and Blue Mountain Ranges.  The landscape is covered with wild flowers in the spring and early summer.

8.    What's the climate like? about-main-top-image

The climate is semi-arid with an annual average rainfall from 12 to 16 inches per year.  Temperatures in the winter are usually mild but can go as low as 15 degrees below zero for short  periods of time.  Summer temperatures vary from 70 to 100 degrees.

9.     What's on your breakfast menu?

Breakfast is served family style each morning at 8:00 am with the Wilson Family sharing their experience of life on the ranch and interesting and entertaining stories by Phil.  The breakfast menu includes bacon (sausage, ham or beef little smokies), farm fresh eggs, biscuits (blueberry muffins, coffee cake or German pancakes), fruit, and Bob's Red Mill oatmeal with all the fixin's (pecans, brown sugar, raisins and craisins).

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For more information on Wilson Ranches Retreat, visit their Farm Stay U.S. listing and their website. All photos on this blog are courtesy Wilson Ranches Retreat.

Karen Searle, Owner/Manager of Montana Bunkhouses Working Ranch Vacations, has the impressive distinction of creating one of the first agritourism cooperatives in the United States. Today Montana Bunkhouses includes 20 authentic ranch vacations spread across Montana's remarkable landscape. Karen plays matchmaker between ranches and guests, and aims to give great personal thought and attention to pointing guests to their ideal ranch vacation.

Farm Stay U.S. recently had the pleasure of asking Karen about her organization, ranching in Montana, all of the great press Montana Bunkhouses has received, and more. We're excited to share her answers here. Photo credits for all the photos in this blog go to Montana Bunkhouses.

1. Montana Bunkhouses is a group of 20 working guest ranches that have teamed up to  offer guests a great selection of authentic cowboy experiences. How and why did the group form?

Families who want to pass their ranches down to the next generation are under increasing economic pressure to sell out. To give ranchers another option, I formed an agritourism cooperative, modeled after the European Farm Holiday program. The supplementary income each host ranch receives will hopefully help future generations to sustain their ranching way of life. We are able to offer a variety of authentic cowboy experiences, because that is exactly what we are, authentic. Ranching is a labor of love; we do not ranch because it is easy, we ranch because it is who we are. Montana Bunkhouses provides a gateway for others to share and understand our disappearing way of life.

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2. What kinds of experience do your guest ranches offer? You act as a matchmaker between guests and ranches: how do you know which ranch is the best for for a particular guest?

I am a native Montanan with ranching roots and I guess you could say I'm a travel coordinator and matchmaker. I know these ranchers personally, they are my friends and neighbors, and I understand what makes each of them unique. I devote myself to getting to know guests as well, not just as potential customers, but also as friends. Developing personal connections with our guests means I am able to match them to a ranch not just based on their interests, but also based on their personalities. My goal is to match guests with a ranch that will give them the authentic ranching experience, with emphasis on the areas they find most interesting, and introduce them to people who will become "family" during their visit.

3. There's a cluster of your ranches concentrated east of Bozeman and west of Billings. What's special about that area?

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The idea for Montana Bunkhouse Working Ranch Vacations started where I live in southwestern Montana, and the participating ranches now stretch border to border -- each in dramatic landscapes -- across the entire state. It is a great benefit for our guests that the area with the highest concentration of ranches is within the distance of a day's excursion to Yellowstone National Park.

4. What sets Montana ranch vacations apart from ranch vacations elsewhere in the U.S.?

"Saddle Up" and experience a part of the Old West that still exists.  We love sharing the ranching way of life and what comes with it.  With over twenty Montana Cattle Ranches hosting guests, we offer a wide range of choices. Working ranch vacations offer more than just head to tail horseback riding. Guests participate in seasonal ranch activities while learning about conservation practices and sustainable ranching in the Rocky Mountains. It is traditional for ranch families to get together during brandings or roundups or cattle drives and they welcome guests to join them. Guests enjoy the camaraderie and appreciate the skill involved in the roping and wrangling. Springtime in the Rockies brings the perfect combination of nature and nurture. During calving and lambing guests can make a difference -- watching expecting mothers, reading the weather, and lending a hand in preserving new life. Something vital fills each and every day.

5. What's your background? How did you end up with such an unusual and fascinating job?

Ranching is in my blood. I grew up on a cattle and sheep ranch in southwestern Montana, and am sympathetic to the challenges of the family farm. I am the galvanizing force behind the agritourism cooperative. I was credited by a former director of Cooperation Works, a national center for cooperative business development, for having put together the first agritourism cooperative of cattle ranches in the United States. The co-op was formed after I was selected as a representative to the 2002 World Congress on Rural Women and Rural Issues in Spain. I see agritourism as a way to help preserve family ranches and to narrow the divide between ranch and city dwellers on land use and wildlife issues. Those objectives have put Montana Bunkhouses on the forefront of a trend in the travel industry labeled "geotourism," travel that sustains or enhances the character of a place, helping to preserve its heritage, habitats and scenic beauty.

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6. Is there a 'typical guest' that you work with? What kind of folks crave a Montana working ranch vacation, and what are they looking to do during their stay?

Why do guests come?  Montana is a place where myth has long been in partnership with reality. The kinds of folks who find me on the internet are searching for "working ranch vacations." They are not interested in simply traveling to another destination, they are seeking a life changing experience. Whether they are looking to connect with their roots, or reconnect with their family members, or establish a connection with our ranching way of life, it is all here. We offer the opportunity for them to share the ranching way of life with people who are tied by birth or choice to a part of America that to some feels like the country's soul!

With our working ranch vacations, everything on-ranch is included: comfortable lodging, hearty family style meals and seasonal ranch activities. Rates vary from $1500 to $1900 per week depending on the ranch and the hands-on experience they offer.

7. Your group has gotten a lot of good press! Do you have a favorite article (or two) that you want to share with our readers?

Yes, we have gotten a lot of good press as you can see if you go to our Montana Bunkhouses News Page. The USDA/Rural Developments folks told our story in their national Rural Cooperatives magazine. We've been featured in newspapers in places a far-flung as New York, Chicago, and Sidney, Australia. Respected travel magazines including Condé Nast Traveler and Sunset Magazine have celebrated our unique vacations, as well as journalists in China, Taiwan, Japan, Italy and the United Kingdom. But the one that I'm the most proud of - my favorite, hands down - is being selected for the National Geographic Geotourism MapGuide of the Greater Yellowstone area. Anyone who visits Montana will want to have this map in their back pocket. You can order a free copy of the map from our website, www.montanaworkingranches.com. We are the only Montana ranch vacations to have met National Geographic's criteria for authenticity of experience, culture and heritage. We're proud of that.

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8. What has changed for the ranches since your group formed? What changes do you foresee in the future?

Change is measured in generations in Montana. Our agritourism cooperative is just starting its second decade, so we can only speculate what the longer term impact will be for the ranchers down the line.  Already, the diversified income from agritourism has provided everything from money to remodel a kitchen right on down to the money necessary to make the next ranch loan payment. In some cases it means the difference on whether the ranch family's son or daughter can return home so they can carry the ranching traditions on to the next generation. But the benefit is not just measured in dollars and cents. We enjoy sharing our way of life. It jogs us off-center so we don't simply take for granted what we've been born to do because we see our ranching world through our guest's eyes and it brings us joy.

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To contact Karen, send an email to karen@montanabunkhouses.com, call 406-223-6101, or visit Montana Bunkhouses Farm Stay U.S. page. Karen likes to warn potential guests with a wink: "Caution!  Working Ranch Vacations may be habit forming."

Thanks to Montana Bunkhouse Ranches for the use of the photos in this blog.

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Whit's End Ranch"This place is like an undiscovered gem," says Bridget McNees, who along with her husband Mac owns Whit's End Ranch outside of Clifton, Tennessee. Many of Bridget's "camping cabin" guests agree, and once they arrive they can't help but call on their friends to come join them, saying, "You're not gonna believe this place. You have to come out here." As Bridget tells me, one cabin rental often becomes three.

The Ranch is a 307-acre parcel of land. At Whit's End, there is plenty to explore: forest, trails, hayfields where a neighboring farmer cuts hay, 27 acres of pasture, creeks and rivers, and a beach perfect for swimming for kids and adults both. Guests choose from seven secluded cedar cabins made of wood harvested and hand-milled on the property by Bridget and Mac. The seven cabins combined can sleep up to 25. Bridget calls them "camping cabins," but these are far from roughing it in a tent.

Whit's End Cabin

The cabins are private, set back in the woods, and come complete with fridges, microwaves, linens, heat, air conditioning, and covered porches. There's also a communal outdoor kitchen and grill. Guests get the perks of a hotel room and of camping, both in one place, and they don't have to pack anything but food. Bridget, who has camped all over the U.S. and Canada, is a warm and amiable host. Guests seem to become quick friends with her (and with each other).

Bridget is more than willing to show guests her various building projects around the property, and to teach them what she knows about construction if they're interested. Guests can also learn to mill lumber and drive the tractor to help with forestry work and maintenance. But most of

Whit's End swimming

them focus on "kicking back and relaxing" on the creek side beach, Bridget says. She tells me she's not planning to build any more cabins, so that the kind of vacation Whit's End offers is always going to be an idyllic, "Pollyanna-type" experience.

The area around the ranch is full of activities: horseback riding at Green River Stables, where Whit's End guests get a special deal, canoeing on the Buffalo River, or golfing at a Jack Nicklaus signature golf course. Despite all the attractions, says Bridget, the area is very quiet for all it has to offer.

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The town of Clifton is an historic riverboat port with well-preserved old-time lanterns and cobblestone pathways. The small town has everything you need -- restaurants, a dock, a pharmacy, and Bridget's favorite, a "beautiful little café" that she likes to recommend to guests for breakfast and lunch, and for the "eye candy" antiques that the café owner sells onsite.

Whit's End Ranch offers 7 cabins that rent for $75 (no kitchenette) to $100 (with kitchenette) a night. Cabins sleep up to four guests, and all are welcome to use the outdoor barbeque and common area kitchen.  For more information,including Bridget McNees' contact information, check out the Whit's End Ranch Farm Stay U.S. listing.

dunes-and-mountains-fsImagine riding on horseback alongside grazing buffalo, with pristine sand dunes ahead and a skyline of snowcapped, 14,000-ft mountains rising high behind the dunes.

Sounds unbelievable, but at Zapata Ranch in Mosca, Colorado, it's day-to-day reality.

Zapata Ranch is set on 103,000 acres bordering Great Sand Dunes National Park. "Western Horseman" magazine calls the area "one of the world's most spectacular and diverse landscapes." The ranch is owned by the Nature Conservancy and managed by the Duke and Janet Phillips family. Over three generations of ranching history has allowed the Phillips to hone their style of land stewardship and ranching in harmony with nature. Ranching here is practiced with conservation always in mind.

Bison-Clouds-Mountains-farmWith 2,500 bison, Zapata Ranch's herd is one of the largest conservation herds in the world. Two thousand are managed as a wild herd that is only gathered once a year from a 50,000 acre pasture where they roam free.

The ranch's 300-1000 cattle are managed using a system of intense rotational grazing, which means lots of animals on a relatively small pasture for a short period of time. The cattle are used to conserve the open prairie, as they eat foliage, turn over ground with their hooves, and are moved to new pasture once they've finished, giving the pasture enough time to rest and re-grow before being grazed again. The pace of the rotation is planned with keen attention to the rain, moisture, and pasture quality.

Herds of wild elk and antelope roam the land freely, sharing pasture with the bison and the cattle.

Guests come for the amazing natural beauty and because they crave a true ranch experience where they can be a part of the rhythm of life on a vast working bison and cattle ranch. Three main guest programs are available: The Horsemanship Experience, Ranching With Nature, and Great Outdoors Exploration.

cowgirls-fsDepending on the season and each visitor's preferences, guests might spend a day rounding up cattle or fixing fencing, hiking or riding on an interpretive nature trail, or improving their horsemanship skills. After all this, guests enjoy a dinner of grass-fed bison or beef from the ranch, with local produce prepared by skilled chef Mike Rosenburg, who once served as personal chef to the Carnegies.

Zapata Ranch can host 25 guests at a time (or up to 30 for families), which allows guests to enjoy activities specifically tailored to their particular needs and interests.

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Zapata Ranch offers not only natural beauty and conservation-based ranching, but also creature comforts not typically associated with working ranches, including elegant rustic décor and a hot tub with a sand dunes view. There are three separate lodging facilities: the Zapata Inn, which served as the original homestead when the ranch was settled in the 1800s, the Stewart House, with full kitchen, pool table, living room and fireplace, and the bunkhouses. A spacious, converted old barn also serves as an education and meeting center.

Off-site activities include fishing, hiking, and whitewater rafting.

The Philips love sharing the incredible property and lifestyle with guests, and the inn provides an important supplement to the ranch business - one that, unlike ranching with nature, is less affected by climate.

Flying H Ranch, home of Bucks and Spurs Guest Ranch, is a 700 acres cattle and horse ranch in the verdant Ozark Mountains of Missouri. Owners C. and Sonny Huff offer horseback riding and cowboy vacations with options for every guest -- from relaxation to high adventure. Guests stay in a secluded 3-bedroom lodge or 2-bedroom cabin.

wild rideBucks and Spurs is one of our featured farms of the month, and their guest testimonials agree that it's a pretty special place. We were fortunate enough to interview C. and Sonny, and get the inside scoop on their ranch and natural horsemanship program. Here's the interview.

1. Could you tell us a bit about your ranch? What's it like there?

C. & Sonny: We hope you will read the blogs on our web site as they have a lot of descriptions from guests. The ranch is a working facility with Angus cattle and horses. It borders the Big Beaver Creek that offers great fishing and floating options. The terrain is rocky with bluffs, cannons, and meadow and open fields.

2. What kinds of experiences do you offer your guests?

C. & Sonny: We offer a lot of riding -- relaxing trail rides and adventurous wilderness rides. We ride through the cattle herd for health checks and move them to fresh pasture. We book stays for the novice rider right up to those very experienced horse trainers. We also offer our own Flying H Natural Horsemanship Program for those that express interest.

3. You pride yourselves in your Natural Horsemanship Program. What's natural horsemanship?

C. & Sonny: Our own Flying H Natural Horsemanship Program teaches communication skills andoffers the horse a chance to respond to the slightest signal.

Riding the open fields4. What do participants learn and do?

C. & Sonny: Participants from the beginner to advanced horse handler learn to be light-handed using reins and bit last and both have a chance to earn friendship and respect.

5. How did you develop the Natural Horsemanship Program? How did you learn to be a 'Horse Whisperer'?

C. & Sonny:C. grow up in a horse-loving family and just always had a very natural way with horses. We began studying Monty Roberts and realized that what C. was doing with his own horses was called Natural Horsemanship. Then we included in our research and study some John Lyons, Pat Parelli, Clinton Anderson Larry Trocha and others while developing our own Flying H Natural Horsemanship Program that has been approved by some colleges for Equine Internship Credits.

6. What's special and different about Missouri Fox Trotter horses?

C. & Sonny: Stamina and the Fox Trotting Gait offers a smooth ride and they are so versatile, we use them as our ranch horses for cattle drives, cutting, roping, sorting and penning.

7. Could you tell us about the Angus cattle you raise?

C. & Sonny: They are the BEST. We have improved our herd with embryo transfers and an AI program. We sold our first Embryos this year. Our goal is to have bulls and females in the top 5% of the Black Angus breed for the major traits related to performance, maternal and carcass EPDs. We are excited about our adventure into the Angus business. We feel that this exciting opportunity will further our commitment toward producing the right kind of cattle that meet with our customers demands. We hand-selected every female in our Angus program from the breed's most proven and progressive Angus operations. We feel fortunate that many of the Angus breed's most popular and high-dollar generating females are now home at Flying H Ranch, home of DHT Angus and Bucks and Spurs Guest Ranch.

Driving Catte to fresh pasture8. You've been in ranching for many years ... what's changed about cattle and horse ranching, and what's stayed the same?

C. & Sonny: C. grow up farming and ranching near our present ranch. Sonny was new to the business ... 40 years ago. Technological advancements have allowed us an astonishing ability to track herd quality. The long hours and hard work required to run livestock hasn't changed and neither has Mother Nature!

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For more information on Bucks and Spurs Guest Ranch, check out their Farm Stay U.S. listing and their website http://www.bucksandspurs.com/