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Dude Ranch Vacations with Urgency

I am regularly reminded of the investment, gamble, and anxiety that a trip to a new vacation spot entails.  What if the new site disappoints you, is misrepresented, or is otherwise less than advertised?


Here is a mail that came in this morning, that tells us we have been on the radar for this family vacation for 5 years!


“Was wondering if you had availability in July.  We are open for any dates then. It would be for my husband and I, and our 14 year old daughter.


Been thinking of visiting for over 5 years! We were going to go to Europe but I think this actually might be more fun!”

Just a few hours later, we received the following sorrowful e-mail telling of the passing of a dear friend and ranch guest from last year.  He was the patriarch of a marvelous family that gambled on our family ranch as the location for their 50th anniversary celebration.  We have since shared Christmas cards, birthday gifts and photos as we continue our extended friendship.  Now, we join our friends in mourning over the passing of Bill, the gentle and loving patriarch of the family.

“It is with deep sadness I'm writing to let you know of the passing of my father Bill ____.  He died suddenly on Thursday night, Feb 14th.  I'm sure you remember his great personality, stories, and laughter.


We have been looking through photos for a couple of days, many from Marble Mountain Ranch.  It was the best vacation any of us have ever had together.  Before our trip, he was so concerned that his "gamble" on a previously unknown (to us) spot would work out... no need to worry.  Thank you for making our 50th anniversary celebration trip such a fantastic time….”


I am struck by many thoughts and emotions at the time. “What if Bill had also waited 5 years to schedule their family vacation?”   The glorious memories and the family bonding during their shared vacation would not be available had Bill stalled in his commitment to take the family.


We are inescapably mortal.  We have limited time and opportunities to bond with our loved ones, and sometimes it behooves us to capture the shared times sooner rather than later.  Thanks for gambling on us Bill, we will miss you.


We hope that all of you too, as well as our 5 year observer, can join us this year for a vacation that will be on your family’s “best ever” list.


Doug and Heidi Cole

All Inclusive Dude Ranches & The Media

The best advertising is always free.  Word of mouth referrals, Yelp and Trip Advisor reviews are tops on the list of great free exposure for us.  However, every 4-6 months we have also been getting nice coverage in various magazines such as the Sacramento “Style” magazine, the Rachel Ray magazine, and most recently in this month’s “Money” magazine. 


The January 2013 Money magazine has an article on page 55 addressing high value all inclusive  vacations.  The author’s choice for the best dude ranch in this category was, yes, Marble Mountain Ranch.  Wahoo! And  HOOT HOOT!!!


I often struggle with our list of inclusions as I market our packages, because they are generally not available or expected to be included  in typical dude ranch packages.  In fact, the term “all inclusive” has become so diluted that it is unfortunately a point of misrepresentation to some unwary shoppers.   Here is a contrast I see in the industry:


“All Inclusive” inclusions at ranch XYZ = three meals daily, lodging of some sort, some level of horse riding program, evening group ranch events, and ranch infrastructure.


“All Inclusive” inclusions (is this redundant?) at Marble Mountain ranch IN ADDITION to those listed at ranch XYZ = rafting and kayaking three times during the weekly program, daily shooting sports at our range, riding instruction in addition to trail rides, fly fishing instruction and group fish-outs, mid morning bakery brunch, unlimited drinks, taxes, and free airport shuttles.


It seems to me that the savvy shopper might be wise to ask prospective ranch sites the question:  “What is NOT included in your package offerings?”


I had a sad phone call last summer from a guest who had left a competitor’s location early, and was desperately trying to get his family into our filled program.  One of the notable complaints was that there were too many unexpected expenses for his budgeted “all inclusive” vacation.  The anticipated vacation was turning out to be much more expensive than planned.   Unfortunately, there was nothing we could do other than offer a friendly ear.


Anyway, we are thankful for all of the marvelous reviews our guests have posted for Marble Mountain Ranch, and for the regular free exposure our dude ranch gets in the print media.


We hope you and your family can join us in the coming season for a truly all-inclusive dude ranch vacation.  Just park your wallet in your car and enjoy the week.


Doug and Heidi Cole

Dude Ranch Family Fishing Outings

Our signature in the dude ranch industry is in providing a very mixed array of ranch vacation activities.  In addition to the usual horse back trail rides, arena riding, and typical Western events, we add a variety of adventures designed to enrich and expand on the dude ranch experience.  One of the unique events at Marble Mountain Ranch is our "Fish Lake Outing" - a part of our all-inclusive ranch package.

Fish Lake outings are an opportunity to re-create a traditional lake-side fish-out with family and friends.  After our ranch based morning events and a lodge lunch, we board the ranch vans and head to higher elevations in anticipation of an afternoon and evening of fishing, campfires, camp games, and bar-b-que.  Our target destination of "Fish Lake" is 1780 feet above sea level and about a 40 minute drive from the ranch.

The lake is surrounded by an aquatic forest of lily pads, riparian vegetation, and mixed hardwood / conifer forest.   The heavy foliage, including Port-Orford-Cedar, makes the lake margins difficult to access for fishing but great for shaded hiking.  Our answer for fishing access is to fish the lake center and margins from our drift boats and inflatable kayaks.  The experience is serene and intimate as the boats quietly move around the lake, carrying groups of 3-4 anglers per drift boat.  Even if you choose not to fish, quietly moving across the lake in our oar powered drift boats is a remarkable meditative experience.  Your time on the lake, along the shore or in camp  provides a perfect opportunity for photography, bird watching, sketching, campfire music and reading.

The evening at fish lake is a perfect opportunity for novice anglers to try the sport of fishing.  We bring all necessary tackle and gear for the outing.  Early in the summer, the recently stocked lake provides ample access to rainbow trout that eagerly come to spinners and crank-baits presented with spinning rods and reels.  We usually harvest 1-2 fish in the evening and release the balance of the captured fish.  Excited first-time anglers often get an opportunity to clean and sample a fire-roasted trout by contributing to "feeding the village."  As the summer progresses, the resident trout become more challenging to take.  Late summer fish-outs will focus more on the bass fishery and on taking blue-gill from the lily-pad filled lake margins.   
Our lake-side fish camp is an improved Forest Service site with permanent picnic tables, vault type restrooms, and fire rings.  While transportation to the lake is provided by our ranch vans, you may also bring your own vehicle, if you prefer to enjoy a more private trip to the lake and back at the end of the evening.  The typical fish lake outing brings us back to the ranch around 9:00 P.M.

California Dude Ranch Winters


Here at Marble Mountain Dude Ranch, in Somes Bar, California, we live in a climate that is classified as temperate, with the four seasons clearly defined.  At the moment, the clearly defined season is WINTER!  Upriver at Happy Camp, snowdrifts are ranging from 2-6 feet deep with downed trees, downed power lines, and power outages, resulting from the heavy snow.  It’s just a royal mess.  Many of the town residents have had barns collapse under snow loads, trees have fallen on homes and equipment, many roads are impassible, and life is all around more difficult.


Just 35 miles downriver at the Marble Mountain Dude Ranch, we have mildly slushy rain and no snow on the ground at the moment.  The river corridor is hidden under floating masks of fog with teasing filaments of winter light.  I have to qualify the image though.   If you leave the river highway and drive 5 minutes up any secondary road to gain elevation, you are again hindered by deep snow, fallen trees and impassible roads.


We are grateful at Marble Mountain Ranch for the consistent power provided by our off-grid hydroelectric plant, for the dramatically milder winters (although they are very wet), and for this winter season when we can live a more private life out of the public eye.  Yes, we love all of our dude ranch guests, but this season is our time to rejuvenate and connect with family in a private venue.  We hope all of our dude ranch guests are also enjoying this season, the family connections, and the time to reflect on deeper aspects of our lives.  Merry Christmas and happy new year to you all, and we wish the best for all of our extended ranch family.   And yes, we hope to see you all again this coming summer.


Doug and Heidi Cole

Kid Friendly Dude Ranches and Family Friendly Ranches

We were recently contacted by a large print publication doing an article on multi generational travel.  In the course of our discussions it reminded me of our rather unique position in providing kid friendly dude ranch vacations.  With our group rafting trips, arena ride training, and family groupings, we may be the best dude ranch for kids and whole family bonding.


 It seems to me that there are two divergent approaches to handling kids at a dude ranch. 

1.     Create a kids only program that separates the youth from the family.  Councilors and youth staff run a ranch version of a summer camp in this business model.  It works well if you can keep the kids happily engaged, but you still loose out on the prospect of generational bonding during this time.

2.     We prefer to create a program that enables whole family participation and facilitates shared events.  This allows bonding across the generations.   This is an especially important consideration if you are a parent or grand parent who is hoping to grow and strengthen family connections.  From what we see in ranches following the “kids only” programs mentioned first, the adults often get their “alone time” at the saloon, and the teenagers are left to themselves in the game room.

Clearly there is a risk management consideration when it comes to choreographing rides that include divergent skill sets.  To this end, we run all of our trail rides to match the skills of the LEAST capable rider.  This forces us to segregate out advanced riders from beginners, and yes, the family is separated in this scenario too.  We manage the rafting by providing several participation levels for the raft trip.  Parents with young children can run the river in an oar powered raft with the guide doing all the work.  Families with older kids might choose a participatory paddle raft, or even single person inflatable kayaks.


There is a place for both these approaches to family friendly dude ranching,  but at Marble Mountain Ranch we target whole family participation in as many venues as possible.  


If your preference is for more of an adult vacation, we suggest a Fall season visit.  September through November brings us a singles, couples and more mature guest audience.  The Fall also generally has smaller guest populations at the ranch, and allows us more flexibility in customizing riding, rafting or fishing trips to suit your individual needs.  


We hope you can join us  for one of the best kid friendly and family oriented guest ranches in the West.


Doug and Heidi 

Solitude on the River

My normal day is filled from sun up to sun down with endless tasks: Feed the horses, clean the cabins, rake the leaves, harvest, can the harvest, feed the horses, watch our grandchildren, drive the shuttle, breakfast, lunch, dinner for our many guests...well you get the idea.  Life is full of little payback moments though.  They all add up to a joyous, happy, and well lived life.  Today, as I often do, I took a few moments of solitude after getting everyone off on the river.  It was barely light. River mist filled the cold air that frosted my breath.  The river felt cold as I waded out even though I was in waders.  Once I was standing in my desired space I cast my line across the river and watched as it slowly swung across the current, cutting it's own path through the water.  I looked up at the mountains, trees, and clouds of this beautiful place I am blessed to call home and peace filled my soul.  Fifteen or so casts later all of a sudden my line squeals with delight as my rod bends toward the water.  Twenty-five minutes later after much jumping, diving, and tail walking I am holding a 22" adult steelhead and gently removing the hook from his mouth.  I bend over and cradle him in the water letting him take the initiative to swim away.  He flips his tail at me as he rushes away and once again I am left in the glorious peaceful solitude of the river.

Girls at the Dude Ranch? You betcha!

While our primary target audience at Marble Mountain Ranch is families traveling with kids, we often have clients seeking a serene spot sans the distraction of young-uns.  For us, the answer is simple: come when the kids are in school.

After September first, it seems that most of the schools are in full swing. Our ranch guest population, by default, now turns into a more adult crowd.  The guest profile now is composed of couples, solo travelers, and groups of women/men traveling for a common purpose. 

One of our popular Fall offerings at Marble Mountain Ranch is our Bed and Breakfast Cooking Retreat .  This event  emphasizes the culinary experience here and is ideal for couples  or women's travel.  The Fall season also coincides with the prime fly fishing season and one fun variation of the "couples travel" theme is to mix daily fly fishing for steelhead trout and upscale dining and wine pairings in the evening.

Groups of women/girls traveling is a growing travel trend and has been a common theme at Marble Mountain Ranch.  The emphasis  for these groups has been on the horses, with group trail rides, and on team rafting or the dining experience...and getting crazy at times.  Yes, we call these "GURLS" groups. 

Solo women travelers also will find the dude ranch experience to be a safe and rewarding option.  Here you can mix adventure with an outdoor venue that is comfortably managed for solo traveling. 

The opportunity to enjoy spectacular Fall colors, serene mountain settings, horseback trail riding, fly fishing, and rafting without the intrusion of children makes this the ideal time to plan for your girls outing or that romantic get-away you are dreaming of.

See you this next Fall!   Doug

My Favorite Things

My favorite things...
    Family, friends and flowers are my favorite things. 

Saturday I got to spend the morning with Taylor hiking along the Klamath river and teaching her to cast.  We had lots of fun, saw a huge salmon (didn't catch it), followed some bear prints, and collected rocks. 

I am looking forward to lots of family time and time with friends this coming week for Thanksgiving and am very grateful for family, friends, and flowers in my life.  


All Things Pear

All things Pear…from Heidi at the Marble Mountain Ranch kitchens

 Most of the fall is usually fishy, with fishermen coming and going for our steelhead fly fishing trips , or nutty, with walnuts and pecans dropping both nuts and leaves faster than I can pick them up.  However,  today all things centered around Pears at our family ranch.  Although we did not have much of a pear harvest from our own trees this year, due to odd spring/summer weather, we were blessed to be able to obtain pears from our church farm in Medford Oregon.  Today I woke up with the daunting task of figuring out what to do with 120 pounds of pears after having already processed about 60 pounds of Bartlett pears.  Today I was working with Comice, D’anjou, and Bosc pears.  My counters are now covered with beautiful jars of pickled pears, pear honey, and pear mincemeat.  We enjoyed the pear mincemeat with our pork tenderloin tonight and smothered our corn bread in pear honey. YUM!  Hope you are all having a marvelous fall.  It’s a glorious time of year filled with lots of color and the harvests of the season. 

Here is a another of  my "what's in the refrigerator"  blog entries, title Autumn Pear Torte

Autumn Pear Torte


    * 2 1/2 cups flour

    * 8 oz. (2 sticks) cold butter, cut into 1 inch lengths

    * 1/4 cup sugar

    * 1/8 tsp. salt

    * 1 egg yolk

    * 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

    * 2 tsp. water

    * 1/3 cup fine breadcrumbs (or ground almonds)

    * 6 ripe (d’Anjou or Comice) pears

    * 1/2 cup sugar

    * 4 Tbs. (1/2 stick) butter, cut into 1 inch lengths

    * 1 1/4 cup blanched or unblanched almonds

    * 1 egg

    * 1 tsp. flour

    * 1/2 cup heavy cream

    * 8 oz. mascarpone


To make the pastry, put the flour, butter, sugar, and salt in a food

processor, and process until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. In a small bowl or measuring cup, mix together the egg yolk, with the vanilla and water. With the machine running, pour in this mixture and process until the dough just comes together. Press the dough into the bottom and up the sides of a 10 inch springform pan and chill until needed.

Meanwhile, peel, halve, and core the pears. Spread the breadcrumbs over the bottom of the prepared tart shell, and arrange the pears all over the bottom with the rounded side out. You may need to cut some of the pears to fit in the shell.

To make the filling, put the sugar, butter, almonds, whole egg, flour in the food processor and process until smooth. Cover the pears with the almond mixture. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven until golden brown, approx. 1 hour. Let rest for an hour before serving (This torte will keep in the fridge for a week). Serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream mixed with mascarpone.  Serves 8


This year we are starting an new program of Bed and Breakfast culinary retreats .   The pear torte will be highlighted on one of our upcoming classes.    We hope you can join us!~  Heidi Cole

Peter's Horse Camp

When Peter, our eldest son, left San Francisco and his career path of law to return home, I doubt he thought about the possibility of his running  horse camps at Marble Mountain Ranch.   Of all our activity offerings here on the ranch, horses are his least favorite.   He loves the whitewater, enjoys the guiding for fly fishermen, and the shooting, and the background raising of his two daughters in the old-school nuclear family setting.  Oh yea, the gardening suits him well also.

But, he would just as soon shoot the horses.   If one gets out of the pasture, shoot it.   If a horse doesn't run straight to him and stand still waiting for a halter, shoot him.   Tolerance, patience, compassion and horses are not words he knows how to join in concept.

So, this week Heidi and I left to visit our second son, and to celebrate their daughter's third birthday in a quick visit prior to the arrival of a 51 person charter school horse camp on the ranch.  I think the karmic fate of Peter must have had some sort of cosmic pull in the natural course of events, because I am now sitting in a hospital room in Portland, waiting for my wife Heidi's acute gal bladder failure to be rectified, and my son Peter is looking head-on into the lights of a solo directorship of his very own youth horse camp.  

Heidi will eventually be discharged from the hospital and life will go on normally.  However, I wonder how my son will survive an equine baptism by fire as he runs and directs this horse camp over the next three days.    He has plenty of good support around him.  Our new wrangler from Humboldt State University, Lanadawn Nusz is doing an early season showing to help with the horse classes, Chelsea's father Ken will be on hand to manage infrastructure, and our friends from Happy Camp are  coming down to assist in the kitchen.  This is another good reminder of how vitally important a good support system is and a confirmation that again:  Nobody gets there on their own.  Nobody certainly can get their on their own trying to run a quality family dude ranch .

Public thanks to the team for being there.   We love you.   Doug

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