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Trip Report: Cherokee Park Ranch, Livermore CO June 20-27

Trip Report: Cherokee Park Ranch, Livermore CO June 20-27

Old Jun 29th, 2009, 07:38 AM
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Trip Report: Cherokee Park Ranch, Livermore CO June 20-27

I am a big fan of ranch vacations; I love spending time outdoors in a mountain setting and I enjoy being active. Over the past several years, I’ve been on a variety of ranch vacations, ranging from Southwestern CO to Northwestern CO winter ranch vacations and down to Southern Arizona. This was my first stay at the Cherokee Park Ranch in Livermore CO. Livermore is located northwest of Fort Collins, not far from the Wyoming border.

Day 1 (Saturday)
I flew United Airlines out of Boston to Denver. I arrived approx 10:45am local time in Denver and proceeded to claim my luggage and then made my way out to the Super Shuttle counter for my ride to Fort Collins, where the ranch would pick me up. The ranch will book this service for you once you send back your pre-arrival documents indicating you’d like to use it ($64 round trip per person). Otherwise, you may drive yourself to the ranch. Anyway, I made my way to the shuttle. Originally, I had been booked on an 11am shuttle, but a week prior to my stay, the ranch contacted me saying the schedule had changed and I was now on a 12pm shuttle. I arrived at the shuttle counter to check in, where they informed me that since it was Saturday, they did not have a 12pm departure-- so I could make the 11am or wait to 1pm. Okaaay . . . so I was back on the 11am and I called the ranch to inform them of this change in plans and they said someone would meet me. It took about 45min to drive to the transfer station in Fort Collins where everyone then disembarks and you get on a smaller van to your final destination. The ranch picks you up at the Hilton Fort Collins and this stop was about 10-15 min from the transfer station. I arrived at the Hilton around 12:30 and ended up waiting about 45 min for a rep from the ranch to pick me up. By this time I was starving, as I had planned to eat at the airport since I was supposed to be on a later shuttle. Brad from the ranch finally arrived around 1:15pm and I found out we would have to wait until 2:50pm for another shuttle to arrive with more guests on it (that shuttle’s schedule had also changed). I announced I was starving, so we drove into downtown Fort Collins to get some lunch since we had a lot of time. We ate at the Cheba Hut Toasted Sandwiches. They have a wide selection of sandwiches to choose from and I opted for a Californian, which is a 3 cheese sandwich. It was quite good and so was the double chocolate cookie I had. We then headed back to the Hilton to await the arrival of the other guests. Once their shuttle arrived, we set off for the ranch, making a stop at the grocery store and liquor store along the way to pick up any provisions people might want (the ranch does not serve alcohol, so you must bring your own if you want it). The drive to the ranch takes about 50 min, 20 min of which is down a long dirt county road. The scenery is nice though, with rolling hills, rocky ledges and buttes/plateaus.

Once we arrived at the ranch, the ranch hands took our luggage to our rooms while secretary Lauren took us on a short tour to explain where everything was and about meal times etc. She also pointed out the location of the always available coffee, tea, water, lemonade and wonderful cookies in the cookie jar (they bake a different kind each day- the chocolate and the sugar cookies were my favorites)! It had been threatening rain for a while now and luckily, just as our tour concluded it started to pour-- and it rained hard for about 1.5 hrs, so it was a good opportunity to unpack and settle in. I was assigned the Hawk room within the “bird house” (the original homestead cabin on the ranch and each room within it is named for a different bird). This room was on the second story and relatively small with a small private bathroom. The bed was comfortable though, but a small complaint I had was that they selected a very large style bed with a tall headboard which significantly blocked one of the 2 windows in the room. My other issue is that my room is the only one on the ranch without its own porch or deck to sit on I believe. The other accommodations on the ranch are individual cabins or a few rooms in the main lodge. The cabins and bird house all line the Poudre River so you can hear the river flowing by, which is nice. In each room was also a small gift basket.

Dinner most nights is served at 6:30pm and you are summoned by the dinner bell. Meals are served family style at 6-10 person tables and you pass plates of food around and serve yourself. Tonight’s meal consisted of baked chicken, wild rice pilaf, baked apples, bread, steamed vegetables and Tennessee Derby Pie (like a toll house pie).

Since this was the first night and people were still settling in, no evening activity was planned. So, I took the opportunity to walk around and then check out the weekly schedule in my room to plan my week.
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Old Jun 29th, 2009, 07:39 AM
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Day 2 (Sunday)
Due to the time change from the East Coast, I woke up at 5:30am (every day!) so I had a few hours to walk around and take pictures etc before the 8am breakfast. Today’s breakfast was scrambled eggs, bacon, grits, biscuits and fruit.

Our first full day on the ranch started with an 8:40am orientation in the Rec. Hall where staff and guests all introduced themselves and we watched a riding safety video. I should also add that the ranch has a photographer who documents everything starting with the orientation on Sunday and you have the opportunity to purchase the set of DVDs (thousands of photos) at the end of your stay. He works independently though, so you will need either cash or a check, as the photos can’t be charged to your final ranch bill. After the general orientation we were broken into smaller groups to meet our horses for the week and go on our first ride. You fill out a form and send it back prior to your stay to indicate your riding experience, so the horses are selected for you prior to your arrival. I was assigned a cute horse named Rush and I really enjoyed him throughout my stay. Our first ride was a 45 minute ride on fairly flat terrain where we crossed a few shallow streams. My group returned around 11am and I took that opportunity to relax by the swimming pool until lunch at 12:30pm.

For lunch today it was veggie or chicken white pizza, caesar salad, and lemon zest cake for dessert. I especially liked the cake.

After lunch, around 1:30pm there was a choice of a fly fishing clinic, nature walk or going on another ride. Being that I am a rider, I chose to go riding again. Each time you ride after the first ride you are given a choice as to what speed ride you want-- slow, medium or fast. Slow I believe mostly walks and I never really noticed the difference between the medium and fast-- though I think the fast ride had a little more loping than the medium ride. Since I’d never been to this ranch before and the horse was new to me, I opted for a medium ride. We trotted a little and did some loping. The terrain was varied and we crossed some water, through some grassy areas and up some hills. I think we were gone about 2 hours.

Dinner was early tonight at 6pm since we were having a hay ride and campfire later on. The meal tonight was a cookout where we dined outside at picnic tables covered in red checked table cloths. There was a choice of BBQ ribs, chicken, corn on the cob, corn bread, salad and a mixed berry crisp with vanilla ice cream.

At 7:30pm we boarded the hay wagon (pulled by pick up truck) for an approx 30 min drive to the campfire site. Once there, the staff performed musical numbers and coffee and hot chocolate were served. There was also the chance to make s’mores if you chose to. The sunset viewing from the location was nice and a thunder storm blew over us, but didn’t shed any rain, though it got quite windy while it was blowing by. We were back at the ranch by about 9:45pm ready to prepare for our next day’s adventures.

Day 3 (Monday)
Today’s breakfast consisted of ham slices and french toast with a berry sauce.

The main activity today was a lunch ride called the Fajita Ride (if you didn’t want to ride to the lunch you could opt to go in the van). I chose the fast ride leaving at 9:30am. It was a really nice ride and we had some really fast lopes (one of them was a gallop) down the dirt road and through some really nice meadows. We also crossed the river about 7 times and in some parts it was pretty deep-- deep enough to soak your feet. The ride was really scenic. We arrived at the lunch spot near Turkey Roost about 12pm or so and the lunch served was delicious. Chips n salsa, fajitas with chicken or pork, beans and large, thick, dark and fudgy brownies with or without nuts.

When it came time to ride back, we rode back a different way than we came, loping through more meadows and having a short race up the dirt road. We arrived back around 2:30pm and I relaxed in the hot tub with some other people from my ride.

Tonight’s dinner was one of my favorites: parmesan garlic bread, spinach salad, pork medallions, pasta in a cheese/garlic red sauce and lemon tarts for dessert.

The evening activity tonight was a square dance held outside under a large portico behind the Rec. Hall. However, I do not dance so I just watched despite much cajoling from staff and other guests to dance. I get confused with dance steps and am quite sure I would have screwed it up entirely. This event ran from about 7:45pm to 9:30pm. Those who did participate seemed to enjoy themselves a lot though.
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Old Jun 29th, 2009, 07:40 AM
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Day 4 (Tuesday)
Today, like every other day, I was up early and watched the wranglers run the horses in from the pasture where they stay overnight. Each morning they run them all in to cull out the ones they need to tack up for the day and then they run the rest back out again. It’s a really neat thing to watch and document on film.

Breakfast today was shredded potatoes or an egg and cheese breakfast sandwich on a croissant.

Today I had a really hard time picking my activity. There was the choice of a rafting trip on the Poudre River, riding or an all day trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. I had a tough time deciding which I wanted to do, as all 3 choices sounded good to me (they come around and ask you at dinner the night before what you plan to do the next day-- and for rafting I think you needed to sign up by Monday morning). It was hard to pull myself away from riding, but I opted for the RMNP trip. One other guest went as well. It is a 3 hour drive from the ranch and Brad drove us there. We parked at the Bear Lake Trail Head and did a 2 mile roundtrip hike to Alberta Falls. It’s a pretty easy hike down a graded path and it was the closest I think I’ve been to a waterfall before, as you can climb right up the rocks along side the falls and sit as the water ricochets off. We stayed at the falls about 20 min and then walked back out to the truck and drove to a picnic area with tables and had the lunch the ranch packed (ham and cheese or turkey and cheese sandwiches, chips, apples, peanut butter cookies and bottled water. We left the park around 2:30pm, so unfortunately we spent more time in the car during the day than in the park, but it was beautiful there and even though I only saw a very small part of it, I know I’d like to go back some time. We saw some elk on the drive out, so that was nice as well. The setting around RMNP/Estes Park is very pretty-- more like the other areas of Colorado I’ve been to with snow capped peaks in the background, while the ranch is located more in of a grasslands/rocky area but you don’t really have the snow capped mountains.

I should also note that if one chose to go rafting or riding in the morning, a skeet shooting was offered in the afternoon.

Dinner tonight was another one of my favorites: salad, beef ribs, mashed red skin potatoes, wheat rolls and cheesecake with hot fudge sauce on top. This was one of the tastiest dinners for me.

Tonight the entertainment featured a mountain man presentation. This is a sort of living history type presentation where a man dresses up in character and “becomes” a mountain man from the 1800s. You learn about fur trapping and how they lived etc. The presentation lasted from about 7:30-9:15pm, but ended up going until 10pm since people asked questions etc.

Day 5 (Wednesday)
Breakfast today was cinnamon rolls and bacon.
Today was going to be a long day for me. I had signed up for the overnight camp out ($100 extra) and if you participate you choose from either an all day 32 mile ride or a 45 minute ride to the camp site. Of course I chose the 32 mile ride without question and I’m glad I did! It was a fun ride with lots of spots for loping and we did have some adventures along the way. Since we would be having lunch on the trail, our lunch was packed in saddle bags. One horse decided to roll in a large puddle and the rider didn’t get his head up in time, so he rolled in the water and ruined the cookies. Next we herded some cattle we encountered and raced along a lake front and ended up at our lunch spot where we ate lunch sans cookies, due to the earlier mishap. While we were eating, a baby moose wandered over near where the horses were tied. Luckily, no mother moose seemed to be nearby, so we didn’t have to deal with any mad moose.

After departing from lunch, on our first lope after lunch a teenage boy fell off due to a tree branch/puddle incident. He hit the ground really hard (thankfully did not hit his head) and was not feeling well for a while so we stopped for about 25 min or so for him to rest and begin to feel better. We finally arrived at our campsite around 5:30pm.

The campsite is actually pretty close to the ranch and the person who had opted for the short ride over, was there waiting for us along with the 2 wranglers who would be spending the night and the cook. The accommodations consisted of a central campfire surrounded on 3 sides by wooden lean-tos covered in canvas tarps. Sleeping bags had been set up under the tarps. They had also brought a grill up to the camp to cook some of our food. Dinner was good: chips and salsa, pork chops, potatoes with bacon, cheese and onion and peach cobbler cooked over the campfire. The evening was spent eating and sitting around the campfire until around 10:30pm and then most of us went to bed.

Day 6 (Thursday)
Got up around 7am and our breakfast consisted of coffee cooked over the fire, bacon, steak, eggs and more of the same potatoes from the previous night.

We left the campsite around 10:30am for the short 45min ride back to the ranch. I’m glad I did the overnight, as I enjoyed the ride over there, the food was good and I’d never camped or slept outside before (I don’t have any friends or family that would do that), so it was a fun experience.

Back at the ranch, lunch was make your own Philly Cheese Steak and dessert was a warm brownie/blondie combo, which was really good.

This afternoon I opted not to ride, as if you had done the long ride the day before, you could only do a walking ride that afternoon in order to give the horses a rest. So I opted to give mine the afternoon off, and instead took a hike to Turkey Roost. This was a fairly steep, uphill climb over many rocks. Do not attempt if you have bad knees. The views from the top were wonderful and the landscape up there was different as well--big boulders, some of which had been hollowed out and filled with water forming little pools, and lots of scrubby and gnarled trees.

Another option that was offered this afternoon was a van trip to Laramie WY.

Dinner tonight was the adult candlelight dinner while the kids ate outside. The meal included a pear salad with crunchy brown sugar pieces, duck and asparagus served over polenta and a brioche bread pudding with bourbon sauce (I think). The main course was not my taste, so I helped myself to the kids meal of linguine with meat sauce and garlic bread and brought that back inside to eat instead.

Our evening activity tonight was a visit to a neighboring couple’s house, Lars and Amy (Amy also leads the ranches hikes and nature walk). Amy is an artist and their house was designed by them and is very unique and filled with lots of her art. The fruit daiquiris were delicious as well. Around 9:30pm a thunder storm went by and caused the power to go out, so around this time we all headed back to the ranch where, as expected, there was also no power.
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Old Jun 29th, 2009, 07:42 AM
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Day 7 (Friday)
The breakfast meal today was breakfast tacos (taco shell with spiced hamburger, egg and cheese) as well as oatmeal.

Today, being our last full day at the ranch, we had a rodeo in the morning. At around 9:45am those of us who were riding in it, rode up to the arena. The rodeo arena is quite nice with a viewing pavilion and a judge/announcers stand. As luck would have it, I was the first contestant in each horse event: the barrel race, pole bending and key hole. I did fairly well and it was more fun than I thought it was going to be. I was sort of dreading it, as I hate being the center of attention, but it turned out to be lots of fun and it was fun watching everyone ride their horses and cheer each other on. There were a few non horse events as well in which I participated, such as the egg toss and the boot race (it is broken down by age/sex and the contestants line up on a line and remove one boot. The boots are put in the center of the ring and you must run, get your boot on and run back across the line and whoever crosses with their boot on first, wins). There was also a sort of pudding/pie eating race between 2 kids.

After we finished up with the rodeo, there was still time before lunch, so I was able to sit by the pool before our lunch cookout of burgers, a sort of potato salad, potato chips and warm chocolate chip cookies for dessert.

For my afternoon activity (last ride!) I opted for a fast ride to hunter’s cabin. This is a fairly steep climb up and seemingly steeper down, but there is a great meadow where you can lope for a long distance, so that was a fun ride. It was raining lightly when we started out, but it stopped but the wind was quite strong for about the first 20 min or so. But because mountain weather is pretty changeable, it was soon okay again. It was sad when it was over, as we had to say goodbye to our horses. Mine had been great for me all week, so after giving him some horse treats (provided by the ranch in your gift basket) and a final pat, he was sent back out to graze until his next guest he gets assigned to.

Our last dinner tonight was again a cookout, this time chicken, steak, baked potato, grilled onions/peppers, rolls and apple cobbler with vanilla ice cream for dessert..

Tonight’s entertainment was the staff show and rodeo awards ceremony. The staff show was made up of several skits and a couple musical numbers. The awards ceremony took place between skits and the wranglers give out the ribbons. In the kids divisions (12 and under) everyone gets a ribbon for something. The adult divisions are slightly more competitive. I managed a first in the women’s key hole, 2nd in the women’s boot race, and 3rd in the women’s barrel race and women’s pole bending. The skits that the staff put on are pretty funny and it was a nice way to end the week.

Day 8 (Saturday)
This was the very last day at the ranch and we only had a few hours. I walked up the driveway before breakfast to get some exercise since I’d be sitting most of the day. Breakfast today was toast with a fried egg on top, fruit and sausage patties.

After breakfast I had about an hour before the ranch would drop me back in Fort Collins for the Super Shuttle, so I took the time to walk around and go see the foals that had been born during my week at the ranch. Finally, it was 9:20am, our appointed leaving time for getting to Fort Collins to make the 10:30am shuttle. We once again made the long drive to Fort Collins, which seems to get shorter every time you drive it. We arrived at the Hilton at 10:20am and ultimately arrived Denver Intl Airport at approx 12:10pm. Since my flight was not due to leave until 4:30pm, I had plenty of time and ended up having even more since it ended up delayed for 1.5 hours. Despite the annoyance of being delayed, at least DIA is a decent airport to be delayed at--much better than some I’ve been to.

I would return to Cherokee Park Ranch, as it does have a nice setting and I really enjoyed the riding (which for me is very important). Much of the riding is nose to tail on trails though, but this is a sensible approach, as the horses get very competitive with each other when allowed to pass, especially when loping. It is not a complaint in my book, just an observation I figured I’d share in case this mattered to anyone who is interested in this ranch. They have a high percentage of repeat guests which shows that people are happy with the product they provide. In addition, many of the staff members are former guests; they came with their families as children each year and are now working there while in college. Another thing I will mention is that the ranch gift shop does not sell western hats, as some ranches I’ve been to do sell. So if you go to Cherokee Park and want to get a hat, plan to pick one up in Fort Collins before your arrival or at home before setting out. The ranch does have a rack of loaner boots though, so if you don’t have boots, you may find a pair there to use. I would suggest obtaining your own before your arrival if possible though. Again, I would return to Cherokee Park but I rank it as my second place favorite among the summer ranches I’ve been to (I don’t include the winter ranch in this ranking, as the focus of activities is different in the winter).

Unfortunately, I think ranch stays are an often overlooked type of vacation. Many people assume they are only about riding all day, sleeping in bunkhouses and sitting around a campfire roasting hot dogs. This does not have to be the case, though I’m sure that type of experience exists if that is what you want. A trip to a ranch does not have to be truly rustic. True, ranch vacations are best if you enjoy outdoor activities. They afford you the opportunity to try some activities you may never have had the chance to experience before. However, all ranches are not created equal; some are focused on luxury, some are bare-bones roughing it and many more are in the middle of the spectrum. Also, keep in mind that even if you are not obsessed with horses and riding, you may still enjoy a ranch vacation, as many ranches offer a variety of activities (hiking, mountain biking, fishing, trap shooting etc) and some ranches pride themselves on preparing gourmet meals and offering nice wines at dinner. Some ranches focus more on fishing than riding, if that is your thing.
Another aspect to a ranch vacation is the staff and other guests you will encounter during your stay. Most of the ranches I’ve stayed at do a great job of hiring staff that are friendly, knowledgeable and interested in making sure you have a wonderful time on your trip. Ranches can excel at giving you personalized attention and making sure your vacation is everything you want it to be. In addition, interacting with your fellow guests can be fun as well. I am not the most outgoing person in the world (far from it), but even I have enjoyed getting to know others from different parts of the country (and world) with similar interests to mine. I’ve found that for me, the ideal number of guests during a stay from a social perspective is about 28-35. This size group works out well because it is large enough that you are bound to find at least one person/group you hit it off with and enjoy spending time with. For a quiet person like myself, when the numbers start getting to be upwards of 50, it can be overwhelming and hard to get to know people. The flip side is if the numbers are too small, you could end up in a situation where you don’t really gel with anyone else there. On the other hand, from an activity perspective, sometimes a smaller number is best because it allows for even more personalized scheduling and attention. Whether you want a big ranch or a small ranch really depends on what you are looking for.
Using a web site such as www.ranchweb.com (or the book that goes along with the web site) will help you decide on the type of experience you want and help narrow down your choices. When I first started researching ranches, I found those resources to be very helpful. No matter what your preferences are, there is likely a ranch out there for you to enjoy! Happy Trails!
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Old Jun 29th, 2009, 09:40 AM
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Nothing like being verbose, huh Mirimar?
I will be going to CPR July 11-18. It is my third year with my son, who is now 8. This is a great ranch run by great people. It is not too fancy, caters to riding, good food, great wranglers, swimming pool & nightly entertainment. Best rates for a seven day stay. Some ranches only give you six nights. This ranch also doesn't nickle and dime you for stuff like transport from your pick-up location as others do.
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Old Jun 29th, 2009, 10:51 AM
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Yes, one of my criteria when choosing a ranch is that it either be a Sat-Sat stay or Sun-Sun stay. Some ranches have you check in on Sunday and out the following Saturday so you end up getting one day less on the ranch, yet charged the same price.
AttyWSW- have a great time during your stay-- I'm sure you always do or you wouldn't keep going back! Have fun!
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Old Jun 29th, 2009, 12:03 PM
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This brought back some memories...We stayed at CPR back in 1994, and it sounds like it hasn't changed since! Oddly, I just gave a friend a pot full of zig-zag succulents that have grown from a cutting given to me by Amy at the visit to her house.

When we went our girls were 7 and 9. The younger one was not too interested in riding, but the staff kept her busy during the day. We did the white water rafting, which was a lot of fun, and the overnight, which wasn't as much fun as I was thrown from my horse and had a concussion! Overall though, we really enjoyed our stay there.

My only complaint about our stay was one about size you touched on briefly...we were there the same week as a big extended family from Atlanta that came every year. They basically felt they owned the camp that week, and their kids were pretty obnoxious. By the end, my daughter locked one of their grils in the bunny yard,and the father & my husband nearly came to blows. It was pretty ugly, and I felt the camp employees did not handle it at all well.

Two years later, we went to the "Flying U' in British Columbia. We really loved that one, as they give you a map and your horses in the morning...no wranglers needed, unless you request one, and we were able to just explore as a family all day.
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Old Jun 29th, 2009, 12:43 PM
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Icuy-that is too bad that you didn't have the best of luck having a good group during your stay. It really is pot luck when you take a vacation such as this and most of the time I have been lucky (including this time), but once there was a time I simply just had nothing in common with the few others who were at the ranch during my stay, so it was not ideal.
That ranch in BC sounds interesting. I love trying different ranches, as they are all different with their own unique personalities and traditions.
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Old Jun 29th, 2009, 12:48 PM
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Thanks for the great report Miramar - we have never done this type of vacation but after reading your report may certainly think about it in the future.

You said that Cherokee Park Ranch ranked #2 on your list - just curious - what was #1?
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Old Jun 29th, 2009, 01:00 PM
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lindsyb- Colorado Trails Ranch in Durango was my favorite so far for a summer stay. It was also the first one I went to, so that could be part of it too. But I thought the food was better. The riding was great as well (though I really enjoyed the riding at Cherokee Park as well). It's hard to explain, but when you find the right ranch for you you will just know it. If you do decide to try this type of vaction, definitely do lots of research-- it will be worth it, as you will be more likely to be pleased with your choice if you look into all possibilities.
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Old Jun 29th, 2009, 02:51 PM
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Thanks Miramar - I will certainly do my research when the time comes. I think researching a trip is all a part of the experience and I love it.

Unfortunately we have some issues right now that prevent a longer vacation so I am living vicariously through all the great reports here.
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Old Jun 30th, 2009, 05:42 AM
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Icuy, last year my son and another kid got locked in the bunny cage together. EVERYONE (including my son)thought it was hilarious! They had to find a wrangler who knew the combination.
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Old Jun 30th, 2009, 12:43 PM
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Just out of curiosity I compared Cherokee Park Ranch rates with Colorado Trails Ranch for two adults, one child. Colorado Trails was $6,605 for a week. Cherokee Park was $3375, or about HALF the price!! Personally I go for the most bang for the buck. You would NOT be disappointed in CPR.
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