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Teen Dream? 10 Things This 13-Year-Old Learned on a Colorado Dude Ranch Vacation

June 30, 2014

Yahoo Travel isn’t just for grown-ups. When 13-year-old Abby McElroy went on a recent dude-ranch vacation with her mother Lisa — who writes for Yahoo Travel — we were curious to hear what the junior McElroy had to say about the experience. Here’s her report:

Abby McElroy, dude ranch convert. (Photo: Lisa McElroy)

I wasn’t too sure what I thought of the idea of a week-long vacation on a dude ranch. A dude ranch? Really? I pretty much never wear jeans, I don’t own a pair of boots, and I’m into texting with my friends and playing Candy Crush on my phone. What I found at Colorado’s Lost Valley Ranch? That I had a lot to learn about how cool a “dude” ranch can be.

Related: Read Abby’s Mother’s Guide to New York City

A warm welcome at Lost Valley Ranch. (Photo: Lisa McElroy)

1. They’re not just for dudes. In fact, Lost Valley Ranch is all about families. There were tons of little kids, plus older people who have been going there for something like 30 years. And there were at least 10 or so people my age, from all over the country.

The McElroy Family at Lost Valley Ranch (Courtesy: Lisa McElroy)

2. You’ll make four-legged friends, too. The wranglers matched me up with Breezy, a pretty 15-year-old paint mare who knew exactly what to do — follow the other horses and keep going steady. Because she was assigned to be my horse for the entire week, on up to two rides a day, we got to know each other really well. 

Abby and Breezy on a sunny day. (Photo: Lisa McElroy)

3. Even if the riding seems scary at first, you’ll be a pro by the end of the week. OK, well, not exactly a pro. But if you want, you can learn a lot about horseback riding in just a few days. When we first arrived, I thought we’d just be walking through trees. Nope. We trotted and galloped, went way up some pretty big hills (it’s Colorado, after all), and stayed out for hours. At first, I held on for dear life. By day six, I knew how to control my horse and really enjoyed the challenge. Now I think I want to take horseback riding lessons at home.

Related: How to Travel with Your Sullen Teenager (and Keep Them Off the Phone)

A view of Lost Valley Ranch. (Photo: Lisa McElroy)

4. You can live without a cell phone for seven days (I mean it). My parents had conveniently forgotten to mention that the ranch was remote, up in the Colorado mountains. No Wi-Fi! No cell phones! OK, we could get a Wi-Fi signal in the main lodge, but I couldn’t text my friends at all. After the first few days, I stopped running down to the lodge to check email and just enjoyed being away from everything.

Abby could live without her cell phone – but not her stuffed animals, which she brought along. (Photo: Lisa McElroy)

5. Everything tastes better when it’s cooked outdoors. For example, one morning the teen group had to get up super early and ride out to a meadow, where a wrangler cooked pancakes in any shape we wanted.  I asked for a dachshund, which seemed like a good idea — until the head and tail fell off. Still, it was seriously tasty.

A staffer making pancakes to order. (Photo: Lisa McElroy)

6. You’ll be so tired at night that you’ll forget you’re on vacation with your parents. Lost Valley Ranch kept us busy from morning until night. For part of every day, I was riding with the teen group. In the evenings, I’d meet up with my parents and square dance or make s’mores or eat ice cream or watch a silly show the staff put on. I have to say that I’ve never seen a melodrama before, but I liked booing the villain and cheering the hero (in a white hat, of course).

Teens participating in the teen program. (Courtesy: Lost Valley Ranch)

7. Cowboy hats look good on everyone.  Speaking of hats, I conned my mom into buying me one with a turquoise brooch on the front.I told her I needed it because the sun was getting in my face on the rides.  Really? I like the way it looked when I braided my hair.

Abby, in her cowboy hat. (Photo: Lisa McElroy)

8. Staying hydrated is really important in the mountains. Otherwise, the altitude can really get to you. Sure, I carried a water bottle with me on my rides, but at the end of the day, I needed more. I’d head to the old-fashioned soda fountain and order a “Sassy Massy” — a milkshake concoction of Oreo, mint, and chocolate ice cream. 

9. So is eating a good breakfast. And lunch. And dinner. Cowboys (and cowgirls) are known for chowing down on some pretty amazing grub — and Lost Valley Ranch kept up that tradition. I’m talking homemade cookies, French toast with fruit on top, the best mac and cheese you’ve ever had. And, of course, those pancakes in the shape of dachshunds.

Related: Please DO Feed the Animals

Leaving behind the McElroy family brand. (Photo: Lisa McElroy)

10. A piece of me will always be at the ranch. In the summertime, all the guest families stay a week. On the last day, every family gets to stamp the wall with its own personal brand that the family designs. The wranglers take red-hot irons and burn the brand into the wall. It’s there forever! When you come back, they mark the wall next to your brand.  Our dachshund (with our initials) will be waiting for us when we go back to the ranch in years to come. 

Abby McElroy is a 13-year-old travel writer and middle school student in Wallingford, Pennsylvania. Abby loves fish, dachshunds, and theater. She is working on her first novel.

Riding off into the horizon. (Photo: Lisa McElroy)

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