We say it all the time, but we do truly believe it: Austin is an amazing place to raise a family. With this in mind, we’re on a mission to go discover all the things which make our town special. To help get out more without getting overwhelmed, we came up with the Austin Bucket List project. Each year, we pick 10 things we’d like to do in Austin — with or without our kids. That sounds doable, doesn’t it? Then, we document our adventures here, with the idea of getting each of you inspired to do the same.
There is something about raising a child in Austin that makes you feel a little separated from the rest of the state. We are a town of many transplants, techies and, let’s face it, weird. Many of us like it that way. That said, it’s good to get out of our Austin bubble to experience what else is going on in the Lone Star State.
Since I’m a native Texan, part of my childhood was spent riding horses. One summer, my friend’s family took me on a trip to the Mayan Dude Ranch in the Hill Country. It was middle school, so I don’t remember too much, but I did enjoy our stay.
Fast forward to early this year, when I considered our options for Spring Break. Since I cover music and get tons of emails about South by Southwest, I find it hard to resist staying in Austin for at least part of the week. Plus, I knew we were going to have two great events taking place. That said, I knew I couldn’t drag my son to that much music, and there are so many fun things to do which are closeby. That got me to thinking about spending a few days in the Hill Country, and made me wonder about the dude ranches in the vicinity.
When I began my search, I was happy to see that the Mayan Dude Ranch is still around. My son is a huge horse (and animal) fan and my parents were up for going with us, so we booked a two-night stay for the first weekend of Spring Break.
Check-in time was at 1pm, so we left Austin around 10am, with plans to stop for lunch in Boerne. It was a beautiful day, so after lunch we also spent some time walking along the banks of the Cibolo Creek on their very nice paved walkway.
After our time in Boerne, we drove to the Mayan. We checked in and got a print out of the day’s schedule. We had arrived just in time for the last trail ride of the day! But after one look at the pool, my 8-year-old declared that he would have to try it out.
As is typical during Spring Break in Central Texas, it was not quite warm enough for a swim. A few intrepid girls were in the pool, but my son spent exactly one minute in the water before jumping out and heading straight for a towel. I would imagine the pool would be a saving grace in the middle of the Texas summer.
After testing out the pool and trying out the basketball court, we put on our Western clothes so we could pose with Redneck the steer.
Later on, Cowboy Cliff gave steer roping lessons. I sat out this one, but my son eagerly joined in.
It wasn’t long before dinner was served: steaks. Most meals are served buffet style under a covered pavilion. The four of us enjoyed the meal, although I realized it was probably a good thing that my husband stayed at home. He doesn’t eat any meat but chicken and he might have been somewhat limited in his choices. That said, I wasn’t at all surprised that meat played a large role in the meals, since we were staying at a dude ranch.
The evening activity was a hayride down to another part of the ranch for marshmallow roasting. A miniature town was set up for the kids to play in, complete with a play structure with a few slides. Afterwards, we returned to our comfortable room, having signed up for a coffee and juice “wake up call” at 7:15am.
We had the choice of either taking a horseback ride to a cowboy breakfast the following morning or to take a hayride, which departed slightly later. We chose the hayride, which meant we could take a trail ride later in the morning. The breakfast was cooked on an open fire near the banks of the Medina River. The food was super tasty — eggs, bacon, grits and biscuits. To complete the mood, one of the cowboys had his guitar and serenaded us with some country classics.
My son had made some friends and played with them in the morning until our trail ride. Right after the ride came lunch and then the afternoon trail ride. The afternoon activity was a wagon ride around the property and we were treated to a roping demonstration by a world-champion trick roper. Dinner was served at the same location we had our marshmallows the night before, and my son played his first game of cowboys and Indians. After dinner, we returned to the pavilion and there were games and prizes.
The following morning, we took the hayride again down to breakfast and chose the first trail ride of the morning when we returned. My dad took my son to an archery lesson while I packed us up. Lunch the day you leave is included, so we ate and then headed to Fredericksburg for another day of adventures.
There was a lot to like about our dude ranch vacation:
- There was a sense of community. It might seem like an odd observation, but unlike what you might experience at a huge resort, you saw the same people at meals and on trail rides. I found myself chatting with the kids on the hayrides, and all the parents kind of looked out for all the kids. There were certainly families which traveled together and everyone was very friendly. Since I had never really been on an all-inclusive vacation, it helped to really enjoy talking to all the other people staying at the Ranch at the same time.
- It was nostalgic. Not only had I visited as a child, but a dude ranch vacation harkens back to a simpler time. While I’ll admit that my son quickly gravitated towards the video game in the main building, after messing around for a few minutes, he spent a majority of the weekend outside and playing with friends he had made. There were no televisions in our rooms, and not even any phones. We didn’t get Wifi in our rooms, which was just fine by us. There were certainly some kids with tablets, but it wasn’t as prevalent as it would have been on another kind of vacation. We all got in the spirit with our boots and cowboy hats, and my son brought along his six shooters and holster, and when we arrived we found many of the other kids did, too. The gift shop sells caps, which the kids really enjoyed, although I admit I got tired of them by the weekend’s end.
- The Mayan is family-owned and the staff is very friendly. There were lots of photos of the family up on the walls near the reception area. It was clear that the family had a lot of pride in the history of the ranch and the experience of the visitors who stay there. I liked the idea of supporting a family instead of some big hotel chain.
- It was a good mix of scheduled activities and down time. As I mentioned, I had never been to an all-inclusive vacation before, so I was curious about whether we would want to make side trips during our stay. Granted, we were only there for a weekend, but I found it a great mix of activities and down time. I often find myself tempted to go all-out on vacation, having every second accounted for, and so it was nice to not have to plan anything and know we’d have built-in activities all day long. My son also enjoys more down time than me, so I think he enjoyed the flow of the days, as well.
- The horses were well taken care of. As I mentioned, my son is an animal lover, and so am I. The horses at the Mayan were clearly well taken care of. I inquired about the age of one of the horses and the young “cowboy” I asked mentioned that the horses at the Mayan live about 10 years longer than the average horse because of the care they receive. I could tell that he was not saying this because it was a sound byte, but rather because he was proud to be a part of it.
- It was a good value. Family activities seem so expensive these days. Yet, when you think of it, the fact that lodging, trail rides, food and activities are all included in the price, the cost of your stay is very reasonable. Add in the fact that it’s just a short drive away, and it’s even something you could do on a weekend during the school year.
To be fair, I thought it would be helpful to mention any potential downsides of a dude ranch vacation. We agreed that it might be rough to visit in the heat of the summer, although there is a pool. I am guessing there are some adjustments made to the schedule and accommodations because of the heat. It also might be harder to visit with younger children, since visitors who are 6 and under can only ride the ponies, which happen at a different time and place as the trail rides and would mean you might need to split up with your spouse or partner if you have multiple children. Those drawbacks seem pretty small in the grand scheme of things.
I’m very glad we crossed going to a dude ranch off our bucket list! Despite my hesitation about my husband not having many choices when it comes to eating, my son and I agreed we’d like to return with him. In fact, I understand that many families visit Mayan Dude Ranch every year. Yee haw!
Have you ever visited a dude ranch? What’s on your bucket list?
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.livemom.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Nicole-Basham-Sara-Marzani-Photography-livemom.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]A native Austinite and soccer-playing mom, Nicole uses her 8-year-old son as an excuse to rediscover her hometown through his eyes. In Thoreau’s words, her mission is to “suck out all the marrow of life”, or in her son’s words, to cultivate in him a love of “advenchers”.[/author_info] [/author]