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by Halley Sanford May 16, 2021 4 min read

We photographed Gayle at the Dixie Dude Ranch in Bandera, Texas. We shot on location and stayed on location. Not sure if you’ve ever been to a dude ranch, but we imagine it’s a bit of a different experience depending on the reason for your visit (and whether you grew up in the country already). In most cases, it’s city-dwelling families with young kids who are seeking a taste of the adventures of ranch life. In our case, we were a ragtag crew of adults looking to play dress-up and recreate a mid-century Western set. Here’s a little recap of our dude ranch experience through the DDR lens and the other happenings on the set of Gayle:

FRIDAY NIGHT MEANS “KEVIN AT SEVEN”

Obviously, this is something that’s specific to the Dixie Dude Ranch, but we’d venture to bet most family-friendly dude ranches these days have some sort of trick roping performance. On our visit, Kevin at Seven took place just after Friday night dinner (we’ll talk more about the meals later) and let me tell you, they really want you to go watch. “Y’all coming to watch Kevin at Seven? He does trick roping. Just right outside.” “Kevin at Seven is about to start, you might want to get a seat.” “It’s time for Kevin at Seven, just right outside.” So, we humored him and clapped and cheered for his tricks, although perhaps our favorite was correcting the city kids to say “yes, sir” and “no, sir”.

DUDE RANCHES ARE FOR DISCONNECTING

Part of the experience is being low-tech, getting off the grid, really living that rugged ranch life, and they aren’t shy about encouraging that; their WiFi password was literally PleaseLimitData. Point taken. Great for family vacay, not so great for a remote working situation. Poor Mitchell had to drive into town to upload and download and to create your fabulous Double Dose email. But, we commend their commitment to authenticity.

YOU EAT WHEN AND WHAT YOU’RE TOLD

A neat, unique element of a dude ranch is that all meals are served family style in a dining hall. Everyone in the whole camp eats at once, signaled by the dinner bell. (They ring once as a 10-minute warning, and then once when it’s time to be served.) You gather around a long picnic table, and you’re served up large dishes of mains and sides, and you pass them around and fill your plate with whatever and however much you please. It’s a good old fashioned suppertime, usually a downhome meal, like fried catfish and collard greens and mac’n’cheese. And just like any good southern host, they keep it comin’! At breakfast one morning, they brought out a second (or maybe third) plate piled high with hot pancakes and when someone said, “Oh, I don’t think we need more pancakes.” our true-southern server just drawled back, “Dud’n matter.” P.S. That was some of the best, coldest milk we’ve had in a long while and the lemonade was to die for.

FAMILY MEANS KIDS, KIDS MEAN NOISE

Part of the appeal of a dude ranch family vacation is that it’s contained and it’s a safe place to let kids run free and frolic and play. And shriek. Now, y’all know we love kids – we are used to and enjoy having a whole mess of them around, whether they’re ours or not. That said, this was the first time we were attempting to shoot video with audio, having Kaylin and Lozzie say clever little lines into the camera and give that coquette cowgirl vibe to the collection. And, well, it makes for a comical game of timing the shot between rounds of tag. Oh, and that wasn’t the only “kid” noise we had to work around – those baby goats were LOUD.

(Sidebar: This was our first shoot using walkie talkies, and while our work is top-notch, we think of ourselves more of a family than a “professional” crew, so we all lost it the first time Mitchell radioed, “Cease all radio communications, we’re recording audio.”)

ANIMALS ARE COMMUNITY PROPERTY

Dogs, cats, chickens, goats – they’re all living the LIFE out at a dude ranch. They’re pretty much granted free reign of the property… including the bunkhouses. One pretty little kitty wandered into Miss Hedy the Cat Lady’s bunk, and was essentially adopted on site. “This is Dixie. She likes Goldfish and parmesan crackers.” Dixie remained Hedy’s pet for the entirety of our stay, and she even declined room service so she didn’t get caught, declaring “I must protect the contraband at all costs!”

As you can see, we really hammed it up and made the most of our dude ranch experience. We make it a point to have fun and to laugh as much as possible, because believe that when you’re having fun on set, it shows up in your photographs – Gayle is living proof!


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