Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Dude Ranch Abides

This Saturday my husband Richard and I are flying to Tucson, Arizona to spend a few days at a Dude Ranch. The White Stallion Ranch was recommended to me by journalist Mark Bedor. I met him when we were both standing in line for grub at the Cowboy Festival at Melody Ranch, waiting for an outdoor screening of High Noon. Mark told me I absolutely had to visit White Stallion Ranch if I ever got the chance. So now we are.

When I tell friends we're going to a Dude Ranch they mostly know what I mean. But some don't. That got me thinking. Why "Dude Ranch"? The word "dude" makes me think of Bill & Ted, or The Big Lebowski. But when the word "dude" was first coined in the 1870's, it meant a well-dressed (i.e. rich) city-dweller. According to Wikipedia, the King of the Dudes was a gentleman named Evander Berry Wall. (right) I don't know about "well-dressed"... His coat looks like a bell-jar swallowed a kilt and then burped up some clown buttons. But at least his shiny stovepipe hat matches his patent leather shoes.

So a "Dude" is essentially the opposite of a cowboy. And a "Dude Ranch" (AKA Guest Ranch) is where affluent city dwellers go to "get the Western experience". Today in the US, there are over 100 quality Dude Ranches. You can do full-on cattle drives and squat in the sagebrush, like Billy Crystal and his pals in the fun 1991 film City Slickers. ("Hello boys. I thought I'd mosey on over here. You know, I've never mosied before...") Or you can sit by the pool sipping strawberry margaritas and watching horses from upwind. I think the White Stallion Ranch will be somewhere in between.

The folk at WSR are certainly trendy. They tweet regularly and they are gratifyingly active on Facebook. When I asked them if Richard really truly needed boots to ride, they said any leather-soled shoe with a heel was OK, but boots are best. When I asked if he should buy them here in London or at Boot Barn in Tucson, they said buy them in London. Especially after they found out about our trendy boot shop on the Kings Road in Chelsea.

The wryly named R. Soles (say it out loud) sells fab boots designed by Judy Rothchild and others. You can either go to their shop or buy online. I bought a pair of boots there two years ago in anticipation of a Thelma-and-Louise memorial road trip with my sister. Jennifer and I didn't drive into the Grand Canyon, but we did spend an hour file-riding in Death Valley at sunset. We booked a short session at the glorious Furnace Creek Stables. Everyone there was very nice and professional, but the moment I swung up into the saddle, my mustang knew I was a dudette. He stopped to munch tasty sage whenever he felt like it and ignored my firm prompts to get moving. We were only there for a few hours, so the wranglers didn't have time to teach us anything.

Next week, however, I hope to really learn to ride a horse, not just sit astride one in my designer cowgirl boots. Richard is coming, too, and my sister Jennifer will meet us there. To see how the three of us get on, watch this space.

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