I led a horseback trail ride down to the Klamath River years ago, guiding a grandmother traveling with her grandson. As we moved downhill towards the river, the majestic and expansive Klamath River valley was slowly unveiled before the young boys view. He excitedly cried back to his grandmother on her following horse: “Grandma! Look! This is almost as beautiful as virtual reality! This particular moment obviously made an impression on me with it’s seeming reversal of correct priorities. Is complete immersion into, and participation in the realities of natural beauty now candled against the standards established by the virtual realities of the digital world?

Dude Ranch horse back riding

Horseback ride to the Klamath River

Everyone knows that we live in a technological era. The world is covered with little blinking devices that track our location, our activities, and who we are connected with via phone or social media. But, would we not be better off to connect to those whom we are with in the moment? Would we not be more fully edified to link all of our senses to the world we physically live in?   If so, how can we begin to unchain ourselves from our electronic devices?

Scientists fear that technology is slowly draining society of its empathy. The emotionally neutral devices that we rely on for communication are robbing us of the emotions that should be connecting us. Those vital emotions are what enable us to love and cherish one another. They fuel positive experiences, and create lasting ties.

That being said, not everyone wants to unplug from the digital world. And there may be valid reasons for staying updated on important circumstances and affairs via your digital device. However, there are certain times and places when we should be prepared to step out of our digital realities, and be more engaged in the natural reality that surrounds us. One example of a great time to digitally disconnect would be while on a family dude ranch vacation! The direct participation of activities on the ranch, the unmatched natural beauty of the ranch setting, and the shared experiences provide a perfect motive to lessen your screen time and get your head out of the Cloud!

guest ranch realities

Natural beauty- in a non-digital-reality

It is important to note that there are still places within the United States that do not have cell phone service or internet access. This comes as quite a shock to many people, and it is important that you are aware of this before embarking to a remote setting such as a dude ranch. The absence of cell coverage and the limited access to the internet will definitely effect your ability to accomplish tasks if you must connect online to get the job done. In the rural and wilderness areas that typically support dude ranches, there may not even be power lines delivering municipality provided power. There also may or may not be phone service and it’s accompanying wifi connects to the internet! Those who are addicted to or comforted by the capacity to “connect” at any moment may find the thought of being “outside of cell coverage” a frightening and intimidating concept. My response to this addiction may seem a bit intolerant, but for the sake of candor, here goes: “suck-it-up-buttercup”!  Since time immemorial, all of humanity has survived without a cell phone in a pocket.

horse riding at California's dude ranch

Not a cell phone to be found!

We are entirely off the grid at Marble Mountain Ranch. Our power is provided by ranch based generator systems and we do have wifi access in the common areas of the lodge and land-line phones that are accessible in our dining lodge. This is our effort to find center in the need to connect / need to disconnect debate. Many of our entrepreneurial guests come early to the lodge prior to breakfast and join us in our “Starboots Café” for a cup of coffee and a chance to resolve pending business issues on the net. But before you kick your boots off, snuggle up with your electronics, and start spending your vacation time in front of a screen, you should consider some statistics.

According to CNN, the average teenager spends 9 hours a day on the screen. And the average adult spends between 2.5 – 3.5 hours on the screen a day. Folks, that means that we spend at least ¼ of our lives looking at a computer.

Now, with those numbers in mind, consider the lost opportunity for time shared with loved ones if electronics are allowed to diminish your scheduled bonding time while on vacation. The intrusion of electronic media can also impact the quality of your shared time if attention to distracting media reduces focus and attention to relationships and shared experiences. Imagine trying to share a mountain horse ride with a partner who has earbuds inserted and is listening to the ball game instead of the sound of that pacific wren singing in the trees!

shared time with loved ones on vacation

Sharing time with loved ones – communicating and sharing adventures.

You can experience a million things via your device, but none of them will offer you the gratification of being physically present and being directly engaged. C’mon, we all know that watching movies about white water rafting is nowhere near as thrilling as riding the rapids yourself! Watching “Man From Snowy River” is exciting for the duration of the show, but personally riding mountain trails and sharing the adventure with a loved one will remain in your memory banks forever.

We had a group of Google engineers book a week at the ranch about two years ago. We watched in amazement as the group sat circled around the dinner table and ate Heidi’s original and authentic home cooked cuisine with one hand on a fork and the other hand manipulating their cell phones. Each person was quietly eating, without looking up from their devices to communicate with the person sitting next to them or to the person across the table. We wondered how much of the culinary experience, the intensity of the taste, and the aroma of the meal was lost in their diminished focus on the meal. Are your tastes at the same level of amplification if your meal focus is placed onto a divergent topic such as auto-driving google cars? Can you smell the aroma of fresh herbs and spices if you are thinking and focused on production schedules?

We have, however, seen some devices that can enhance your dude ranch experience. One device for example is a GoPro camera that records your activities while you are participating in an event. It offers a hands-free approach to capturing and recording your vacation. Also, the camera and video features on your phone are a lightweight alternative to carrying around heavy cameras or video recorders. Obviously there are advantages to having the right kind of device while on vacation. The correct and appropriate devices can help us preserve that precious time with our families without restraining us from participating. A short caveat to this point though is that we want horse riders to keep focused on the reigns and horse cues. Your cell phone video might just be recording a first person view of a rider coming off a horse!

There is no doubt that technology is affecting everyone and everything about us. While it has its advantages, we should be doing our best to not let it encroach on the quality of our experiences, our effective communications, or let it distract us from the limited time that we have with loved ones.

So folks, if you want digital recreation, stay in the city. Otherwise, leave the computers home and come to the mountains to experience a vacation that will thrill you and your whole family in ways that surpass anything that electronics could offer. You might actually be able to smell the wild basil on a hike to a waterfall, and to fully load your palate with a morsel of pecan smoked Santa Fe style ribs. You might also get to know that person you traveled to the dude ranch with, just a little bit more intimately.

Come join an adventure in reality. Come join us in a dude ranch adventure that will satiate all of the senses.

Doug Cole and Cierra Sorensen

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