Life in the Old West

True stories, tall tales, memorabilia of the American West

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Dude ranches now add swimming pools to Old West experience


Western “dude ranches” have always been attractive to those who want a taste of the Old West, only want it limited to vacation time, or want it carefully controlled as they enjoy the Old West atmosphere.

Nowadays, apparently, the dude ranches have decided to go more “amenity friendly” in recent years, adding such special contemporary vacation touches as swimming pools, zip lines, and even paintball battles!

Swimming pools in the days of the Old West? Really??

I’m not too familiar with the whole dude ranch industry, nor its history. But what I’ve researched about the matter says they began out West in the 1880s (not long after the Battle of Little Big Horn, one source pointed out) in response to Eastern and foreign wealthy folks who wanted to experience the adventures of life in the Old West. But, of course, these moneyed folks wanted some safety and comfort in their adventure. Nothing wrong with that, of course. And certainly those landowners and ranchers out West who wanted to make a few bucks at the expense of dandies eager to spend their money were only doing the thing Americans have done since the first merchant sold the first product on our nation’s shores.

Indeed, the dude ranch industry was very much part of the same supply-and-demand forces that made a popular hits out of Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West, as well as rodeos large and small that sprang up all over the country during the same time period.


Digging around on the Internet, I found that the early dude ranches were mostly started by Easterners who had gone West, fallen in love with the Western lifestyle, and then started dude ranches to accommodate those who wanted that experience. One source said that these Easterners-turned-Westerners had a real impact on bridging the cultural and educational “gaps” between East and West, and that many extended that impact by becoming very active in Western states’ politics and futures.

But those old-time dude ranches would mostly focus on such activities as “horseback riding, fly fishing, wilderness pack trips, hunting and helping with ranch activities,” according to that history of dude ranches. I’m sure the early dude ranch owners and visitors alike would be surprised at today’s spas and swimming pools — to say nothing of how they would react to paintballs and zip lines!

Of course, anything that challenges today’s Americans, particularly today’s young Americans, to connect with life in the Old West is a good thing. Such citizens, young and old, can only fall in love with the Old West as they are exposed to it. If that means adding paintball, climbing walls, and swimming pools to the dude ranch agenda, then so be it.

Perhaps the zip line would look good zinging people over the swimming pool? Sure, why not.