The New Home on the Range
Bloomberg Businessweek|May 31 - June 07, 2021 (Double Issue)
A quest to rescue America’s dude ranches, one city slicker at a time.
Jen Murphy

Cinco, my gray-and-white speckled quarter horse, lets out a loud whinny as he trots faster and faster into the sagebrush dotted landscape. It’s all reminiscent of a John Ford movie set: the herd of bison roaming lazily in the distance, the stealth coyote that darts between patches of yellow-tinged brush, the wide-open terrain with no designated trails.

Leading me is wrangler Lauren O’Toole and her mare, Campbell. It’s spring, which means the cows have just given birth. O’Toole tells me to keep the moms and calves together by gently nudging my horse alongside them, then effortlessly uses her rope to catch the legs of one of the young. She dismounts, gently flips and unropes the bucking animal, and holds it down while administering vaccines and tagging its ear. The entire process takes two minutes. This is life on a working ranch, and I’m here to become versed in all its rugged glory.

The untamed, 103,000-acre Zapata Ranch, on the eastern edge of Colorado’s San Luis Valley, may accept tourists like me, but its revenue still comes primarily from raising cattle, not doling out spa treatments. Hospitality here is more about education than entertainment, though the multicourse meals showcasing the ranch’s beef might convince you otherwise. It’s one of three so-called guest ranches across the American heartland run by Ranchlands, a company trying to revolutionize the business by harnessing Americans’ appetite for adventure tourism.

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