- 1. A resort patterned after a Western ranch, featuring camping, horseback riding, and other outdoor activities.
Not even two months after my move to Texas, I felt compelled to seek out a more authentic ‘Texan’ experience than just shopping and eating my way through Houston. So when my parents came to town for a visit, I knew the time was right to head out to where the stars at night, are big and bright (clap, clap, clap, clap) deep in the heart of Texas.
Nothing better encapsulates the image of Texas more than staying on a ranch (except, perhaps, clapping along to the aforementioned song). So as I planned our jitney into the famed hill country, I settled on a place called Rancho Cortez, located on the periphery of Bandera, Texas – the self-proclaimed “cowboy capital of the world”. As it turns out, I chose wisely, and the experience had was both fun and authentic. The follow is a breakdown as to why.
Bandera is set some 45 minutes northwest of San Antonio. It features a small main street brimming with Western facades and numerous souvenir shops to go along with a few eateries. Rancho Cortez is perhaps a ten minute drive out of town, nestled in the rolling hills that characterize the region. Coming from Houston, ANY hill was a welcome sight, as a little topographical variety is good for the soul.
Check in takes place in the main office/general store that looks like it was lifted right out of a ghost town. Here you can buy sundries and souvenirs – including an authentic cowboy hat, which I might add, will actually come in handy during your stay. Guest cabins of varying sizes dot the property, many of which are great for families as they contain kitchenettes and bunk beds for the kids. There’s a large barn structure housing a game room in the event that you’d like to stay indoors (?!) as well as an outdoor pool. A covered hot tub is available for a post-ride soak, and since the ranch also doubles as a fitness spa (with extensive programs and training) there is a well-equipped fitness center and an indoor pool as well.
Meals (generally included depending on your package) are served in a no-frills dining hall where you can interact with fellow guests, or even ranch owner Larry Cortez, whose Texas-size personality feels right out of the movie City Slickers. The food is basic but tasty, and I was glad I was not here on a fitness program, as those guests had a far more restrictive diet.
Of course, the real reason for visiting a dude ranch is the horses, and I am happy to say that all of the many horses I encountered were well-cared for and in good health. It was easy to see the handlers’ genuine respect and concern for the animals, and this of course assuaged my guilty conscience for having some poor horse have to walk around with someone the size of me on its back. Which brings me to the next point…
The Horseback Riding
Guests are divvied into riding parties so that there’s never an exceptionally large group out at one time (and so that the horses are not overworked either). The guides will lead the posse through groves of trees, expansive meadows, and lovely hilltop vistas. Rides will last about an hour unless prior arrangements have been made. As any non-rider can attest, an hour is enough time to enjoy the experience without feeling overly saddle-sore. For guests on the all-inclusive package, they are entitled to two rides a day – plus a hay ride through the property, which at times will include a visit to the impressive herd of cows on site.
Off the Horse Activities
Since horseback riding will only take up about two hours of your day, the ranch does offer other diversions to pass the time. There’s a scenic trail that winds across the hill overlooking the property, where at the top guests can play in the obstacle course put there for those on a fitness package. Or you can do what I did, which was to walk past and shake my head at doing that stuff under a hot Texas sun.
The ranch hands will also tutor interested guests in the art of roping. It took a little while but eventually I got the hang of it. In the event that I were tasked with lassoing an absolutely stationary colt from a few feet away, I’d feel pretty certain about my chances of success. As for moving targets, not so much so, though one of the cowboys very nonchalantly lassoed my wife mid-step and attempted to teach me how to do it. Call me a Neanderthal, but it dawned on me that such a skill would be quite useful, not to mention a very effective way to meet more women after she leaves me for lassoing her in public.
Perhaps the most enjoyable of all activities offered at Rancho Cortez takes place at dusk. This is when they get a fire started in the stone fire pit, allowing guests to pull up their chairs and enjoy the ambiance as the stars start blinking on one by one. On some evenings they have a singer drop by, who will regale guests with folk songs and other ditties accompanied by guitar. Between the twang of the voice, the crackling of the fire, and the mix of starlight and firelight, there’s no mistaking that you are truly (clap, clap, clap, clap) deep in the heart of Texas.
I came to Rancho Cortez for a genuine, non-touristy ranch stay, and I didn’t leave disappointed. The price was quite reasonable, the staff friendly and personable, and the scenery was all I could hope for. I would heartily recommend it to anyone seeking a cowboy experience in the Lone Star State. In fact, I can’t wait to receive other visitors, as it will give me an excuse to come back. Dude, that’s something to look forward to.
For a witty tour of the planet, don’t forget to download a copy of my travel guide You Can Keep Your Adventure, Just Leave Me the Toilet Paper, available at most major online retailers.