Our family of four just returned (in August 2011) from a wonderful, weeklong visit to Tarryall River Ranch in Colorado. We traveled to the ranch, along with 25 relatives, to celebrate the second part of a destination wedding (the wedding itself was held elsewhere). We have been fortunate to travel a lot (having visited much of the USA and over 60 countries) and yet all of us agreed that this was one of our best trips ever.
What made it so special? Although our family might emphasize different aspects, I think most would agree that the following stood out:
1) The incredible location: the attractive ranch is situated in a beautiful setting and is surrounded by more than 100,000 acres of national forest that can be used for a wide variety of western-style, horseback riding trips.
2) The owners, family members and staff: The owners, Kevin and Lisa Tesch, set the tone and model for everyone else. It is clear that customer enjoyment is their number one priority and everything else follows from that. As a result, the attitude and effort among family members and staff is virtually indistinguishable. One’s ranch experience begins with daughter-in-law Bridget, as head chef, and Lisa providing delicious, varied and healthy meals three times a day. The friendly and efficient staff members, including KC, Ana, Louisa, Lauren and Alex, go out of their way to keep plenty of hot food on the tables, replenish drinks, etc.
After enjoying a delectable meal, Kevin, his sons Kelvin and Klayton and incredible non-family wranglers Emma, Maggie and Emily take over in providing a wide variety of rides for novices and experts alike. Because there are so many trails at their disposal and thanks to their scheduling flexibility, one can go for hour, half-day or all-day riding adventures. For the energetic visitors, two engaging family members, Kody and Klayton, offer additional activities including a beautiful, sunrise hike up a nearby mountain, skeet shooting, western dancing in the evening, etc.
By the way, don’t be surprised if most of the family and staff are already calling you by your first name on Day 2 – it’s just another example of how much they care about making you feel welcome and comfortable at your “second” home.
3) The riding was fantastic in all respects. For starters, it helps to be able to ride in such a beautiful and diversified setting. But it’s much more than that! The engaging wranglers really make an effort to get to know each guest and figure out what they’d most enjoy doing from a riding standpoint. They also go out of their way to match the correct horse (and saddle!) with your experience, skill and expectations. So, as an example, even though many in our extended family were relative novices, we emphasized that we didn’t want to just go on “nose-to-tail” rides and, sure enough, by Day 2 and 3, we were already doing some trotting and loping (cantering). By the end of the week, we felt prepared enough to participate in and thoroughly enjoy the planned rodeo events, including barrel and pole races. Others also participated in a fun, competitive cow herding session (called team penning) where you had to isolate and corral 3 cows to the other end of the arena as fast as possible. What a hoot!
4) The facilities and amenities: The ranch consists of several cabins nicely situated around the spacious grounds. We liked the layout of the cabins, their cleanliness, reliable water pressure and plentiful hot water, etc. The ranch offers limited internet access but no TV – just the right combination for a dude ranch in the 21st century. In addition to the comfortable and attractive dining room, there is also a large lodge where evening events take place. One night we were treated to a wonderful cowboy singer, Will Dudley, who was so good that we bought one of his CDs and have been enjoying it since our return home. On another night, we enjoyed songs, stories and jokes around a roaring campfire. In addition, there is a large hot tub next to an inviting pool. If one has the energy, you can also enjoy half-court basketball, horseshoe contests and volleyball as well as other facilities (e.g., a jungle gym-like fort) designed for younger kids. Finally, you can also book an exhilarating white water river trip or try your luck at fly fishing.
5) Ambience: The ranch offers so many interesting and diverse activities that it will appeal to everyone from grandparents to little kids, with certain programs tailored for specific age groups if desired. Everything is very informal and one can do as much or as little as you want. We had some members in our party who participated in every riding opportunity while some others preferred to sit back and enjoy the scenery, catch up with their reading and enjoy pool activities. This informality and relatively small nature of the ranch (accommodating fewer than 35 individuals) also made it easy to get to know the other guests, including a wonderful family of three from the Netherlands.
While I could easily go on a lot longer, I’ll conclude by saying that we didn’t know quite what to expect at a dude ranch. But, after a week at Tarryall River Ranch, we realized that we hadn’t just gone to “a” dude ranch. Rather, we had been fortunate to spend a week at a Very Special Ranch, one in which we felt that we had become friends with the Tesch family and their just-like-family staff and wranglers, had gotten to savor some of the beautiful Colorado countryside, become much more adept at riding and ended the week feeling most refreshed. Indeed, when one has only been away for one week but it feels like a month, you know you’ve experienced and thoroughly enjoyed a very different type of vacation.
If you’re interested in giving a dude ranch a chance, I heartily recommend that you go to Tarryall River Ranch. It’s a trip of a lifetime!