Guest dude ranches are a highly popular form of tourism in many western states - the Colorado Dude & Guest Ranch Association has nearly 30 members, each charging from about $1,800 to $3,600 per person (high season) for a week-long adventure of horseback, fly-fishing, and typical ranching activities. As vacation styles go, dude-ranching hasn't picked up much of the gay and lesbian market. This has much to do with the somewhat conservative reputations of ranch owners and staffers, and the propensity for somewhat more glam activities on the part of GLBT travelers, most of whom come to Colorado with skiing and - at least in Denver - clubbing in mind. But as we all know, there are plenty of exceptions out there to every generalization. Dude ranches offer a rugged, rustic, and in many cases quite posh vacation experience, typically against a stunningly beautiful backdrop of soaring mountains, verdant meadows, and roaring rivers.
Ernie Noia, the owner of Lake Mancos Ranch near Durango, Colorado, spends much of his time at his other home in Palm Springs, where he's cultivated made many friends of the years in the gay community. It made perfect sense for Noia to try reaching out to the GLBT market - he even invited a friend, Michael Green, one of the owners of the Triangle Inn gay resort in Palm Springs, out to Lake Manchos Ranch to help train his staff in GLBT sensitivity - a visit that went well for all parties involved. Additionally, he's had openly gay Palm Spring radio personality Bill Feingold out to broadcast live from the ranch.
Noia would love to see more gay guests anytime of year, but he's especially excited about a new GLBT week he's developed for the ranch with the respected tour operator, OutWest Global Adventures. The 7-day, gay-oriented Colorado Dude Ranch Vacation at Lake Mancos Ranch takes place Sept. 5 through Sept. 11 and costs $2,075 per person, based on double-occupancy (there's a $500 single supplement available, too).
If you're concerned that your lack of horseback or ranching experience might be an issue, fear not. Noia points out that roughly 90% of the ranch's guests are beginners. "We start off slow, an hour of riding the first day, building up to an all-day ride near the end," says Noia, who also points out that he's assembled an experienced team of wranglers to help guests. Other activities on-site include hiking, country-dancing, and soaking in the pool and hot tub. There's also an excursion one day to nearby Mesa Verde National Park, which contains vast troves of ancient cliff dwellings.
Many guests spend time before or after their visits touring other parts of the Four Corners region, including Durango, Ouray, Pagosa Springs, Telluride, Monument Valley, Moab, and more. Here's my guide and gallery to Ouray, Colorado, which is famous for its hot springs, as well as my guide and gallery to Durango.