My 19 year old daughter who is attending college in Oklahoma wanted to spend her birthday and spring break "doing western things" which included riding a horse. She had mentioned maybe going to Bandera since it was "The Cowboy Capital of the World". So I did a little research on the internet and found Rancho Cortez. All the Dude Ranches have a 2 night minimum stay which with 3 people was a little out of our budget. However, Rancho Cortez offered a "Spend a Day at the Ranch" package which included (2) 1 hour rides, lunch, dinner, hayride, feeding Longhorns, campfire with s'mores and storytelling. So I called and talked with Cheryl who was extremely helpful and booked a Tuesday for our adventure and kept it mostly a surprise from both my wife and daughter.
We arrived about 9:30am to check-in and get acclimated to the ranch before our day began at 10am. We were greeted by Sabrina in the office and given the layout of the ranch and what our itinerary was for the day. We were the only people for the dude ranch on this day so we had full rule of the roost. We were met by the owner Cowboy Larry Cortez and our guide Cowboy Dallas. They asked us some questions to get an idea of our experience which was none. My wife was very scared about riding a horse but Larry and Dallas immediately put her at ease. It was obvious from the beginning that both Larry and Dallas love what they do and take both Safety and the Cowboy Experience very seriously. It is not a job to them it is a way of life. They love what they do and they love their horses and have them very well trained. We went for an hour long trail ride with Dallas leading and Larry trailing to keep an eye on us. The Ranch property is beautiful and we thoroughly enjoyed the ride and the storytelling. After the ride we walked around the property until the Lunch bell at Noon. On this day they served char-grilled cheeseburgers with all the fixings with potato salad and cole slaw. The food was great. After our meal we hung out with the horses for a while until Larry called us over to one of the arenas where he showed us 3 beautiful Peruvian Horses he just purchased. Cowboy Larry asked my daughter if she wanted to ride one of them and let her ride "The Cadillac" of horses with a smooth trot. Afterwards we went on our second trail ride which was even more beautiful than the first. Dallas did an excellent job watching us and really took care of my wife making her feel very comfortable. She is no longer afraid to ride horses and is now looking forward to her next challenge. When we returned, Cowboy Larry brought his personal horse over to have our daughter take pictures doing tricks on his horse as well as ride around the arena. WOW. He is so good with people and he really goes that extra mile to make sure you are having a great time. We then got to help out with feeding and caring for the horses to reward them for a job well done. Then Cowboy Larry showed our daughter how to lasso. He is an amazing teacher and had her lassoing in just a few minutes. We looked at the time and it was 35 minutes until dinner so Cowboy Larry said it's time to feed the Longhorns. So we hopped in the truck and rode to another part of the ranch where we fed the cattle. Then he asked our daughter, "Do you want to ride the bull?" Really? So up she went on top of the Brahma bull for yet another picture opportunity. We then headed back to the main ranch area for dinner. Fajitas! The meal, once again, was fabulous. The greens were all organically grown in their own garden and all the food was prepared by their first rate chef. He fixed a Tres Leches desert that was to die for. They also run a weight loss farm on the ranch so they are very good at preparing quality meals that are good for you. What a great day! But unknowingly the best was yet to come.
We felt that owner Larry Cortez and his staff had already done way more than they promised and way more than we ever expected. So, we offered to Larry to skip the campfire and the s'mores since we were the only ones there and suggested that he go home early. He would have none of it and said he really wanted to spend the time with us and to meet him at the campfire site. So we headed up to the campfire thinking this is one of the best days ever in our history of vacations. A few minutes later Cowboy Larry joined us, lit the campfire, and asked if he could tell us a story. We agreed and Larry proceeded to paint us a picture of the American Cowboy by telling us a story as only Larry can tell. I mean we felt like we were right there in the story with the cowboys. The story had historical value as well as giving us a true sense of what is was like to be a cowboy as well as the harsh conditions that our forefathers had to deal with during these times of western expansion. He allowed us to truly experience what it was like to be a cowboy. He also told us what it means to be a cowboy in today's world. He is a very special man that has, what I believe, a God given ability to communicate to others what a true cowboy is as well as what is important in life. He made a huge impact on my daughter, my wife and myself. It is a day that we will remember and cherish for the rest of our lives and will think about often. We are now thinking about when we can go back to experience this again. I have not been to any other Dude Ranch so I can't speak about them. They all seem to offer the same physical experiences like riding horses, feeding animals, lassoing, ...etc. But I can't imagine them bringing to life the true sense of what it was like to be a cowboy more than what Cowboy Larry and Cowboy Dallas did for us. It is a vacation and an experience that has had a huge impact on our life and a one that we will cherish for as long as we live. Thank you Rancho Cortez. We hope to see you again soon.