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“Urban Lock up” is a slang phrase commonly meaning incarceration in a city jail. “Urban Lock-up” could also be applied to those living in a metropolitan setting without access to contrasting rural life experiences. In this case, Urban lock-ups either voluntarily or circumstantially restrict their exposure and experiences to opportunities that are bounded by their metropolitan lifestyle. The larger definition of urban lock-up can address the masses of humanity that know where and how to ride the subway, but may also have no clue about which end of a horse the hay goes into.

Of course the reverse can be true. The country bumpkin might be limited in perspectives due to a reality that is based solely on rural country living. Think of Aesop’s fable about the country mouse. If you aren’t familiar with the tale, it goes something like this. A little country mouse gets a visit from her city dwelling cousin. The cousin brags about the glamor of her city life, and the country mouse decides to travel back to the city with her to see the wonders of the city for herself. They arrive at cousin’s mansion to find a table with the remnants of a grand feast. But as they try to enjoy the feast, the servants come in, as well as all the cats and dogs. Not wanting to risk her life for fancy things, the country mouse packs her bags and heads back to her home in the woods. In this case, the “rural lock-up” country bumpkin may be intimately familiar with the idea of navigation by the stars and various forms of four legged transportation. However, the rural lock-up would be totally lost in the unfamiliar settings of a subway station.   Yes, this reminds me of my first ride on the Tube departing from London’s Kings Cross station. I cannot recall a more anxiety driven moment, with the exception of my attempts to move from Heathrow terminal #1 to Heathrow terminal #2 with a 20 minute connecting flight while recovering from a fresh hip surgery.

The romance and peacefulness of the country life has been immortalized in literature countless times. It seems that many who taste of it cannot easily turn back to a louder, busier way of city life. Perhaps this is what the first dude ranchers felt motivated to share when they founded those early dude ranches. It all started with a few cattle ranchers who shared their country hospitality with transient travelers passing through their home terrain, and with friends and relatives who would return home from the city to help with annual cattle round-ups. These transient guests, passing through the expansive and sparcely populated regions were in need of lodging and meals. In the process of tasting the legend western hospitality of their ranch hosts, and immersing into the incomparable ambiance of the expansive ranches and natural ranch beauty, the traveler’s palate was expanded. The returning guests of the early ranch hospitality industry spread the word across the fruited plains of their home cities and suburbs.

country life

Country living at it’s gorgeous best

In time, the ranchers began to offer more than horse rides and honest cooking to the visiting ranch “dudes”. Because of periodic financial hardships in the cattle industry, many ranchers began to consider this type of ‘dude ranching’ as an alternative lifestyle or at least as a second business model and an adjunct to their traditional ranch operations.  For some ranchers, herding city-folk proved to be more lucrative and less risky than running with a herd of longhorns in a thunderstorm. Go figure! Some ranchers might consider navigating the pitfalls of serving the public to be a debatable trade-off, but there you have it. This natural transition from working the land to sharing the land, brought about the birth of the Dude Rancher’s Association and a “brand” new hospitality niche.

The Aesop’s fabled city mice have adapted to the busy, shiny life of the city and have generationaly forgotten the beauty of their more primitive, rural roots. They have largely lost the genetic memory of their hunter / gatherer root stock, their connect to the land as a means of sustenance.  They have only vague stirrings for the life of participating and contributing in intimate family groups and smaller village settings. The comforts and conveniences of urban life keep most of the masses of humanity willingly locked in their prison of choice. The city lifestyle is rich with edification, culture, and convenience, but it is also a bubble that limits perspective.   It is a metaphorical table strewn with the remnants of a feast, and stalked by dangerous foes. Office politics, traffic jams, living in the masses of humanity, and nuclear levels of stress, stalk the unwary city dwellers and threaten a barrage of modern physiological and psychological ills. So why then do they not turn to the greener pasture of the country, or the place of rural peace? Because they forget. While some do certainly long for a simpler country life, the majority of urban lock-ups have forgotten their own ancestral origins of a simpler, albeit more physical life. And more importantly, change – even healthy change – can be mortally frightening and motivating to remain in the familiar city comfort zones.

cowboy digging on the ranch corral

Physical demands of rural life are often uncomfortable aspects for city raised urbanites

There’s an old saying that goes something like this, “If you don’t try it, then you will never know it.” In many ways, this adage applies to the experience of visiting a dude ranch for the first time. If you haven’t “dude-ranched” before, then you are definitely missing out on the many new experiences that are there to be discovered, or more accurately to be re-discovered. It’s a place where you can taste the unadulterated sweetness of nature, and the foes “stalking your table” will likely be more related to the elements and forces of nature or of unfamiliar quirks of country life. There is a primal connect when your reality is impacted by natural forces such as weather, an unknown horse, or an early morning wake-up call from the chicken coop.

If you are a modern day city mouse, AKA our urban lock-up, you may not know what to expect from a stay on a ranch. Your city based paradigm and urban life experiences make it difficult to understand what is in store. You might be comfortable in city life, and you might not want to step outside of the bubble of familiarity. If this is you, stop for a minute and reflect on the prospects of a momentary pause in fast-lane life, stop and go traffic, and a reprieve from that skyscraper sky line and smog. Sometimes a brief look into a contrasting reality can provide a refreshing perspective. You might also have occasion to peacefully reflect on your core values, your life directions, and your priorities. Pushing the envelope, and seeking newness, or rediscovering roots can be a life changing end result of taking time away from the routine of normalized city life.

relaxing on the river

Quiet times of solitude, while immersed in wilderness beauty, facilitates healing and re-focusing.

We know that each person must decide for themselves what the purpose of their vacation is, and what sort of adventure they want from their vacation experience. After all, the little country mouse would never have known what was available at her cousin’s table if she hadn’t gone and experienced it herself. When we are nearing the end of a week-long program at Marble Mountain Ranch, I often survey our departing guests and ask: What was your favorite experience while with us? And, Did you have any first time experiences? The answers are often remarkable and frequently entertaining. One family did a group survey of their party and totaled over 110 new experiences while on vacation at our ranch! Here are just a few that were on their list:


  • White water rafting and kayaking
  • Horseback riding in an arena /barrel racing
  • Horseback riding in western tack
  • Horseback riding through creeks and along the river
    horse riding vacation

    Arena horse back riders may find thrilling first time experiences by riding in a wilderness setting.

  • Horseback riding through the mountains to high elevations
  • Feeding apples to a horse
  • Enjoying delicious ranch-style meals prepared fresh every day
  • Helping feed and handle small ranch animals such as bunnies, chickens, goats
  • Swimming in a river
  • Hiking up to a waterfall – swimming under a waterfall
    waterfall hike at California

    Most of our guests enjoy a life moment by hiking to the spectacular Ukanaom Waterfall.

  • Singing karaoke, Hearing DAD sing karaoke!
  • Throwing a lasso
  • Throwing a tomahawk
  • Throwing little brother in the river
  • Throwing (skipping ) rocks across the river – yes, lots of iterations to “throwing”
  • Harvesting fresh lavender / weaving lavender wands
  • Taking an ATV ride
  • Fishing
  • Shooting a .22, shooting a shotgun, shooting black powder muzzle loaders, shooting anything!
    shooting black powder

    Most of our guests find it thrilling to shoot a frontier black powder muzzle loader. This is almost always a life “first”. This is the original version of “poppin caps in the hood”

  • Learning about archery
  • Rowing a boat across a pond
  • Roasting s’mores
  • Riding western style
  • Riding a draft horse
  • Making fresh apple cider
  • Eating eggs fresh from the chickens / collecting fresh warm eggs
  • Clay pigeon shooting
  • Operating a skip loader
  • Playing shuffleboard

Part of experiencing new things means taking risks, and inevitably, stepping beyond your comfort zone. But the ranch is an outdoor play place that offers countless firsts for people from all walks of life. So, it’s only natural that at some point, you will reach the border line.  Here, your paradigm of what you are comfortable with is confronted by what you are NOT familiar or comfortable with. For example, imagine you are horseback riding on a mountain trail for the first time. The ride is going smoothly, and your confidence is beginning to show. But you balk in the saddle when your wrangler shouts out, “remember to lean back in your saddle on this steep incline down to the river. It will take a while to get down there!” And as you descend that dusty trail down to the water, you can’t help but imagine all the different ways that this could go wrong. Yet the horses ride on with the riders remaining comfortably in the saddle. And at the end of the day, you may find yourself reminiscing over the pleasant company of the other riders, or the sound of the river flowing, or the friendly face of a ranch dog trotting along beside you. Your anxiety is now diminished and you are left with the memory of an edifying and pleasant riverside trail ride.

We do our best to help guests anticipate their ranch experience so that things can go as smoothly and comfortably as possible. But there are some things that commonly surprise our guests during the course of their stay. For example, it is common for guests to NOT anticipate:

  • Having no cell phone reception
  • Not having access to a bar
  • The long distance drive to reach conveniences such as stores, movie theaters, hotels, airports, shopping, etc.
  • The reality that the ranch is in a wilderness. This means that it is common for wildlife to come into the ranch property and behave like wildlife. We see bears, raccoons, deer, elk, fox, and sometimes mountain lions. All of this is a natural consequence of living in a remote and forested wilderness location.
    Bear visitng Marble Mountain Ranch

    A neighborly visit from one of our local bear. Yogi Bear is the epitome of a local country bumpkin, and he is happy to share your picnic!

As adventure guides and ranch hosts, we have no intention of making anyone nervous or uncomfortable. But because of the many unique experiences that we offer at Marble Mountain Ranch, we know that many of our guests are unsure of what to expect while at the ranch. If you find yourself stuck at the border, and considering crossing into the dude ranching unknown, allow us to offer these words as friendly advice, “If you don’t try it, then you will never know it.” Consider looking outside of the urban bubble, and investing in a brief look back to a simpler, country style of life, with a new set of adventures and a new set of opportunities.

Cierra Sorensen, and Doug Cole

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