Bitterroot Ranch (Courtesy Ranchweb)

Been on a horse lately? The concept of the dude ranch vacation has changed radically in the past decade, as ranches have adapted to dudes who don’t necessarily want to sit in the saddle all day. So we decided to track down Eugene Kilgore, the Founder and Director of Ranchweb.com, an internet site for Ranch Vacations Worldwide. Kilgore’s Ranchweb website lists nearly 100 different sub-specialities for travelers looking to personally tailor their dude ranch experience, from polo to yoga, rock climbing to birding. Food has gone from hearty to upscale, as ranches seek out chefs who’ve trained in top kitchens in New York, San Francisco and Chicago. The sheer profusion of speciality ranches – Pilates anyone? — has led Kilgore to start a couple of companion sites for ranches dedicated to fly fishing, hunting and food and wine. We caught up with Kilgore – where else – out West.

Where are you now?

I’m in Chama New Mexico. I just came from visiting Frank Simms, who manages The Lodge at Chama. And I just visited four ranches that are part of one individual’s 15,000 acres of ranch land outside Pagosa Springs, Colorado. He is developing some fantastic fly fishing and he’s investing in a multi million dollar stream re-structuring/re-building program. One of the properties has an "end of the road" setting with million dollar views, completely restored cabins and a weathered old barn. It reminded me of the opening of the movie "Home Alone."

Kilgore1_1 Eugene Kilgore (Courtesy Ranchweb)

How did you get started in the ranch business?

I guess you might say I followed my heart and love for cowboys and The West. We went to Trail Creek Ranch in Jackson Hole when I was 8 and I fell in love with the West. I started out to be a doctor but I left medical school in 1980. I founded the Kilgore Ranch Company that year and began re-searching dude ranches. One thing lead to another and I wrote my first guide book "Ranch Vacations"in 1988. We now have six editions and 160,000 copies in print. I married my Brazilian wife in 1995 and started Ranchweb.com in 1995 and then had our son Francisco. He’s now age 11 and he’s seen too many ranches to mention. One of our latest projects is launching http://www.duderanchfoodandwine.com/ and most recently our new dude Ranch Blog.

How often do you travel?

It seems like I am on the road for weeks or months at a time during the course of the year. Many of the properties that I see are off the beaten path and some ways from each other.

Where have you been lately?

I was in Hawaii to visit several up-country ranches that take guests for overnight and offer day rides. I was recently in Paris and met with travel companies and a number of travel agents. And I was in Portugal to learn more about the riding adventures there. In the last couple of months, I’ve been to Colorado and New Mexico to visit some of the best private waters in the country, as well as New York to see some of the ranches we have in New York state. You know, many years ago there we quite a few dude ranches in northern New York.

Kilgore3 Trail Creek Ranch (Courtesy Ranchweb)

What’s the appeal of dude ranching?

It’s the outdoors, nature, horses and riding, the romance of cattle ranching and fly fishing. These are a few of the things that capture our hearts and souls. Another thing that’s special is the camaraderie.

How has dude ranching changed in the last 10 years?

Most ranches have become "multi sporting," if you will. Many ranches now offer massage and many more are bringing on chefs and serving organic food. And many more ranches are catering directly to women.

What about luxury ranches?

Yes, luxury seems to be a "buzz" word in the world of travel and more ranches are developing luxury amenities and services. However, I would say that the underlying appeal is the "rustic" comfort and simplicity of ranches and most people come to enjoy those qualities.

Kilgore4 Lodge at Chama (Courtesy Ranchweb)

How about newer activities that you find on today’s ranches?

Well, they include yoga, naturalist-led hiking, massage, cattle penning, and women’s guided fly fishing. This last one is a big trend. There are more women fishing and more women guiding.

Are there still hard riding ranches?

The honest truth is that insurance companies have really come down hard on what ranches can and cannot do. There are a few ranches like the Bitterroot in Wyoming that let their riders "ride hard," if you will. This ranch is unique as they run rides all over the world and are really geared toward "advanced riders." That’s not to say that ranches won’t let riders canter and we outline this in our guide and on Ranchweb.com.

Okay, tell us the perfect ingredients for a great ranch.

Probably the most important ingredient is to find one in which the "chemistry" is good between the guest and the owner/host.

What do you like about travel?

I think travel is the only thing that unites the world. Religion doesn’t, politics don’t, sports do not. It is travel that brings people together. I like people, I love exploring and I get to explore some of the most beautiful places in the world and meet some of the greatest people connected with the earth in the world. The greatest challenge facing all of us today is the environment. Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, has become the impetus or mentor, you might say, to my interest and dedication to the challenges facing us and the need to heighten awareness. His book "Let My People Go Surfing" is a powerful testament of what we all can do if we have the will. I hope more people will read it.

And what do you detest about travel?

Airport security searches.

What places are high on your agenda to visit?

Brazil, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand and Australia.

And what can’t you leave home without?

Cowboy boots, fly rod and Blackberry.

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