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May 02, 2021 1 min read

Most folks have heard of dude ranches, and even have a vague idea of what they are, but likely haven’t given much more than a passing thought to origins of the experience – or the name.

Dating back to the late 19th century, dude ranches were born in a time that saw both a decrease in the sustainability of ranches on cattle alone and an increase in the romanticism of the American West. There was an inherent curiosity among eastern socialites about the rugged ranch lifestyle and ‘how the other half lived’, which fostered an opportunity for agritourism that provided the advantage of the experience without all the risk for the guests and a supplemental source of income for the ranchers.

In more recent years, these curated cowboy experiences have trended toward calling themselves ‘guest ranches’ over the traditional term ‘dude ranch’, a shift that is seemingly two-fold: ‘guest ranch’ is a little more evident and indicative of what it actually is, and in its origin, ‘dude’ was meant in kind of a patronizing way, a term that full-time cowboys used to refer to well-heeled city-dwellers who traveled out west for a temporary taste of the lifestyle, but would be unlikely to survive the day-to-day demands outside their comfort zones for long.

In addition to the name, the experience and the audience has also evolved. Originally intentionally authentic and rugged, the adventures were catered primarily to adult males craving a look at the life. Nowadays, the accommodations are more comfortable and the events are catered toward family-friendly entertainment, with things like trick ropers and tame trail rides.

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