Guest Ranches and Dude Ranches usually share a common thread in their ranch histories and origins. Most dude ranches tend to be heritage sites with generational roots firmly based in the cattle ranching industry. This is understandable and expected for a travel niche based on the western cowboy experience. However, there are some exceptions to this, and one noteworthy example is the story of Marble Mountain Ranch, with its service origins based in the whitewater rafting trade.
How do you get from a rafting company to a dude ranch? As I watched the evolutions in the rafting trade, first from my 1968 river guiding start date, to the 1990s operations of my own rafting company, I sensed a slow-down and saturation of the rafting industry. With my wife and business partner Heidi, we began to explore diversification opportunities for our rafting company by seeking to add horseback trail riding opportunities for our rafting guests.
Our first connect to anything cowboy or horse related in Access to Adventure, our rafting firm, can be traced to riverside “western theme nights” promoted to rafters interested in the cowboy experience. A Western Theme night was essentially a cowboy dress-up, BBQ, and western campfire / game night on the river’s edge.
The horses actually came later when we purchased a historic ranch / resort on the Klamath River. Our original intent was to create a rafting hub that included a sideline offering of horseback trail rides. The surprising reality was our discovery of an unexpected strong market demand for vacations that equally balanced time on the river and time in the saddle. We had underestimated the role of the horse in our new vacation offerings. As the horse herd grew, we added wilderness pack services, we recaptured historic trail systems departing from the ranch, and we built California’s only dude ranch covered riding arena. California’s “saddle / paddle dude ranch” or “raft –N-ride” holiday was born as our service offerings of river time and trail time equally balanced out our daily schedules.
The Saddle / Paddle vacation is dependent on a diverse range of outfitting skill sets covering both whitewater and horsemanship. It is also dependent on a geographic location that has both horse friendly terrain, and abundant white water. This mix of natural resources and the diversity of terrain is an underlying foundation of the Klamath National forest and the home of Marble Mountain Ranch.
In today’s evolving business climate, we see an advantage for businesses to be more spartan, lean, and capable of quick evolutions. We need to be receptive to new product ideas. We need to look at evolving market demands, purchasing platforms, changing market trends, and the “larger business picture.” If Heidi and I had not looked beyond the status quo of rafting business models prevalent in the 1980s, Marble Mountain Ranch and the saddle / paddle vacation would likely not exist in 2015. So, what do you think? Is a combined week of mixed access to the wilderness via river, trail, and foot more / or less appealing to you than a solid week either on a raft, or on a horse?