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Top50 Ranches - The Best Ranch Vacations, Western-Film Style

I have a confession to make. While chasing a stray calf that had decided to make a run for it away from the herd, for a few brief moments I forgot I was performing real cattle duties on a working ranch, and I was transported to a scene out of an old Western movie. Dirt on my face after weeks in the saddle without rest… keeping an eye out for unseen enemies hiding out in the surrounding rimrocks… knowing that catching this one stray calf could make the difference between happy-ever-after and never-to-be-seen-again. Then reality kicked in, and the stray calf decided that actually he’d rather be with his friends anyway, and casually ambled back to the herd – probably completely unaware that a wannabe cowgirl had ever been chasing him down.

But I’m sure I’m not alone in my haphazard daydreams. Anyone who has ever watched a Western movie secretly wishes they could walk in the spur-clad boots of the brave, heroic cowboy who always (well, usually) manages to save the day and ride off into the sunset. And stepping onto a Western film set is easier than you might think at one of the best ranch vacations– no whimsical daydreams involved! Visit specific ranches, for example, and you can ride out to an old hideout Butch Cassidy used in the 1890s. Located at the bottom of a wooden canyon near a little stream, there is a hideout that offers views of anyone coming from almost any direction for several miles. All you need is an escape route… and the hideout has just that! Just kick on along the trail up the canyon wall to make your speedy getaway.

Early Western movies may have been largely shot in studios, but as the popularity of the genre increased and film budgets grew, location shooting began in desolate corners of US states including Arizona, California, Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming. Visit a ranch in any of these areas and, although you might not be setting cowboy boot on movie ground, the scenery you’ll take in is as authentic as any Western movie.

If you’re after a best ranch vacation, western-style, like something out of a John Wayne movie, head to a ranch in Arizona or Utah – where the film that made him an overnight star, Stagecoach was largely filmed, as were many of his subsequent movies. Robert Redford fan? Take a ranch vacation in Colorado, the backdrop for much of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. There are plenty to choose from – check out High Lonesome and Latigo Ranch. Talking of Colorado, western novelist Louis Lamour was said to have written one of his books while staying very close to Latigo Ranch. Or why not head to Montana – the setting of another Redford movie, The Horse Whisperer? Take your pick from Averill's Flathead Lake Lodge, Bar W, Bonanza Creek, Lone Mountain Guest Ranch, McGinnis Meadows, Ranch at Rock Creek, Runamuk Guest Ranch, Sweet Grass Ranch and Triple Creek Ranch. As for Brad Pitt fans (guilty as charged), take your western ranch vacation in British Columbia, Canada, where Legends of the Fall was largely filmed – check out Free Rein and Tod Mountain. If it’s equine movie stars you want to meet, look no further than Tod Mountain Ranch, home to movie star Jet – the four-legged stunt double filmstar who was featured in the recent hit movie Flicka II starring Patrick Warburton, Tammin Sursok and Clint Black, which was filmed in and around the Kamloops area. According to the bible that is Wikipedia, “Westerns often portray how primitive and obsolete ways of life confronted modern technological or social changes.” In a way, that still resonates today. With technology and society as we know it evolving at an almost frightening rate, the best western ranch experiences – although by no means primitive or obsolete – can transport you to another world far, far away from what we vacationers call reality. As for the ranches themselves – well, they may as well be in the movies, as they really are living the life Western movie buffs can only dream of.

Signing off for Top50 Ranches, Mel Rutherford, Horse & Rider, Pony Mag, UK

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