One thing that truly sets Rainbow Trout Ranch apart is the personal involvement of the Van Berkum family. There are certainly other family ranches that are closely involved with their guests, but they are few and far between and it is rare to find any on the same level as RTR. If you run through a typical summer week at the ranch, you’ll find Doug, Linda, David and Jane woven through each day and night.
There is riding and fishing and multiple activities each day and evening, but following are some of the ways in which the Van Berkums are part of each day and night at the ranch, and how each and every week becomes its own family.
On Sunday afternoon Doug and Linda greet each family and show them to their cabin. On Sunday evenings the Van Berkums are always there having dinner with the guests, greeting return guests and welcoming new guests. After Doug or David does a general welcome and introduction, Linda is usually serving out ice cream for the traditional Sunday night sundaes. Later on Doug starts off the Orientation with a fireside welcome and chat and Linda introduces the staff as a whole before each member introduces themselves and says where they are from, their main job at the ranch, their college and major and tells a little of their story. It is amusing that the chefs, the baker and the week’s designated dishwasher always receive the loudest applause. Linda then asks the guests to do the same introduction for their family as well as telling how they came to find the ranch.
And so we are able to meet each member, or re-meet them as the case may be. Plenty of laughs and chuckles later everyone is excited about the week. The staff leaves to finish clearing the dining room, while Jane talks briefly about how Monday works riding-wise and answers questions, the fishing guides talk about fishing and the whitewater rafting trip, and Linda finishes up with a few generalities such as the town list, how to find Doug in case of emergencies and about how the big bell rings before meals.
Then parents and children meet with their counselors in designated areas while David and Jane are in the office ready to answer questions and help folks sign up for anything that interests them such as trapshooting/archery, hiking, train ride and team-penning, and also help size them for raincoats, tell them about the boot box, pick up any necessaries in the Trading Post, and just generally make them feel at home. Linda and Doug are round and about, as well as various staff as needed.
Monday mornings start bright and cheery, with Jane’s Horse Orientation on the Front Lawn, after which families make their way down to the barn where David and Jane and the wranglers personally introduce each guest to their horse before groups go out for a short orientation ride. David and Jane lead rides throughout the week as needed. David teaches Horsemanship Clinics by request and Jane often takes all-day rides to the backcountry, a guest highlight and favorite, as well as Saturday morning specialty rides. This personal touch is something often remarked upon by guests.
Doug grills on Monday nights at the cookout down by the river and is able to greet each guest by their first name. Indeed all the Van Berkums are able to call the guests by name very early in the week—true, many of them are return which facilitates the process, but they make a special effort with new and return, young and old alike and it does make a difference.
Tuesday mornings are about the children, and the teens. The “Cowpokes” are the 6-11 year olds and the “Buckaroos” are the 3-5 year olds. Each group has their own Counselor, just one of the many handpicked staff that Linda spends the whole winter carefully selecting as she sorts through hundreds of applications to make sure they are absolutely the right person for the job. We take our staff very seriously at the ranch because after all they are representing us, and they are absolutely crucial to each guest’s experience. We tell our staff that we can have the best horses, the best scenery, the best lodge and so on, but without a great staff, we absolutely do not have a great dude ranch. They are the most important asset we have. But I digress…
Doug sits on the glorious, gracious front porch of the grand old lodge and tells the children about Doug’s Cowboy Code and from there he teaches them some songs and also the “Hey Howdy Hey” song which soon echoes round the ranch and becomes a mantra of RTR goodwill. Prior to this, Doug has a quick gathering with the teens and discusses that same Cowboy Code with them, but touching upon things such as how we don’t use profanity, how we treat each other with respect out here in the west, how we listen to our elders and value nature. It’s clearly something many of these teens haven’t heard before and it is rather wonderful to see these values flourish as the week progresses—seeing a teen in tears as they hugs their horse goodbye after the rodeo is really a beautiful thing.
On Tuesday nights, David mans the microphone as everyone dances the night away in the vastness of the East Room of the lodge. The children just love it of course, and even those who think dancing might be hokey are soon lured in by the sheer fun that the rest are having and it isn’t long before even those reluctant teens are dancing with the wranglers and each other.
David makes everyone laugh even while they are gasping for breath at 9000ft between songs and by this time you can really see the “family” of the week beginning to form. We’ve always considered Tuesday night the ice-breaker and from there the week just glides by with everyone now one big family.
Wednesday morning often finds Linda leading the Sunrise Hike up to Charity, which is one of the huge rock outcroppings behind the ranch. One of the staff (and they volunteer for this—it is not as if we have to assign someone to the task) goes with her to carry a backpack of juice, coffee and muffins, and guests of assorted ages, abilities and health, climb about a thousand feet to sit on the edge of the cliff and watch the horses come in and the sun come up. They really get to know Linda which they so enjoy, and they come back into the dining room bursting with vitality and accomplishment and ready for a giant ranch breakfast.
Thursday night, often at the teens’ request and much to their pleased parents’ surprise, is usually a recap of Tuesday night’s dances with additional dances added in, and David by this time in top form and teasing everyone about everything. That family feeling is even more in evidence by this time, with older kids taking care of younger kids and pockets of families mixing with each other throughout the massive wonderful old building. The puzzle table in the library is a particularly cozy place to find an eclectic group gathered any time of day and night, often with a staff member or two thrown in.
Friday is a fun day—they all are of course, but Friday is particularly so because it is “Doug’s hamburgers by the pool day.” We used to have all-day rides on Friday but now we have them on Wednesdays and Thursdays as all the return guests simply refused to miss Doug’s burgers! Anyway, it is burgers by the pool often followed by basketball challenges across the pool which result inevitably in the loser, and seemingly plenty of others, ending up in the pool fully clothed. Even Doug has ended up in the pool a time or two, cowboy hat and all. It is cheerful and fun, and everyone is truly ranch family by now. After that is team-penning and archery/trap-shooting, not to mention the usual rides, hiking and other options available.
Friday night, Doug takes the Cowpokes and Buckaroos and assorted staff on a long hayride to learn and practice songs for the sing-along on Saturday night—they’ve had hotdog and s’mores first down at the picnic grounds. The teens and their fun counselor have pizza, then s’mores and then an often thrillingly dangerous game of Capture the Flag on the grounds (sometimes the simplest things seem to be the most fun), whilst the adults, firm friends by now, enjoy Candlelight Dinner in the lodge, fueled by wine and truly delicious food, Chef’s Choice, tastefully served by the dressed up staff. The wine is poured by Linda, beautifully turned out and gracious as always, and it is a lovely night, brought to a not so gentle close by the later arrival of the cheerful children from their hayride, full of news and song.
Saturday is the last full day and it begins with family rides, although often the children prefer to ride with their newfound friends and spurn the idea of riding with their parents. The afternoon is the ranch rodeo, complete with “grand” entry and the national anthem, often sung by guests, or a combination of guests, or guests and staff, but if necessary by Jane. David commentates with his usual humor, and Jane is in the arena to keep an eye on things while first the Buckaroos (led by the Counselor), then the Cowpokes, teens and finally the adults each try their hand at the barrels and then the poles. It is certainly not forced but most enjoy having a go at it. They are given the opportunity to practice earlier in the week, often combined with the team-penning, but many of them go cold-turkey which works fine too. We stress horsemanship rather than speed, and it is a cheerful time with everyone rooting for each other and laughing, taking photos and loudly encouraging the arena activity. Doug hitches up the handsome team of Percherons to his historic wagon and does a few turns and exhibitions in the arena, usually with a guest driver or two and a load of happy children. There are usually some staff clowns, and we do a “pony express” race between the wranglers which is fast and furious and fun for the guests to watch. After the race, the wranglers line up and we thank the guest crowd for a great week and tip our hats to them which ends the rodeo. Often we team rope afterwards which is a fun spectacle.
Saturday night truly brings the whole week together. Doug cooks steaks down at the picnic grounds and by this time everyone is truly close, and family with one another. They mix and match and laugh and have fun together, and six days later, that same group that met the Sunday before have a totally different dynamic when they sit down for sing-along later that night in the lodge. They sing “Home on the Range” and “Don’t Fence Me In” and “Red River Valley” together, and they cry and laugh when their kids sing the songs they learned on their hayride, especially when they sing their very own lines in “The Old Chisholm Trail” led by Doug.
Then the counselors each hand out awards to “their” kids and teens, and David hands out awards to “the big kids”—there is lots of laughing and hand clapping and teasing that accompanies this. And it doesn’t end there because Doug invites anyone up for the “talent” part of the night and you can only imagine what might happen next. Certainly there is real talent, and we’ve had it all, from opera to amazing violin playing and even bagpipe playing and cowboy poetry and skits and songs and gorgeous dancing. But we’ve also had some that make you want to giggle or hide or cringe, but mostly laugh together. And it is all in good fun and we all clap and cheer. And the staff join in—and often it is a mix of guests and staff. Or teens, or guests. It is just good old plain fun. And there’s the staff song of course. And the night ends with Jane’s ranch song, and a few words from Doug culminating with “Thank you for coming—and in the words of Will Rogers, ‘Goodbye, Good Luck and May the Good Lord take a Likin’ to Ya’.”
And that’s the week. Sunday morning is usually tears and goodbyes and email addresses although we do send out an email with all contact information, which everyone is happy to share with everyone else because that is the kind of place this is, and folks want to stay in touch. Linda does most of the checking out, and although the gratuity is optional, people usually leave a healthy tip because as they so often say, “Your staff is wonderful and they restore my faith in young people…” They often book the next year right then and there, with their deposit right along with it. That is dude ranching. And that is Rainbow Trout.
You can’t imagine how a week of shared experiences will bond a group together. When you eat together, ride together, dance together, mingle together all week, you become close friends at warp speed. It is hard to really explain, but we see it every week We see these people cry when they say goodbye to each other. We see them come back together year after year. They send us photos of their get togethers after they leave the ranch. Our kids and theirs become Facebook friends and circles. Friendships form and truly endure. It is just absolutely cool. And it happens week after week, year after year. It takes all of us, and we truly love what we do For us, dude ranching is personal.
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