COBWEB CORNERS: The era of the dude ranches

By Mel McFarland

       We all seem to think of tourists as a fairly recent phenomenon, but that is not the case, even here. As I read the newspapers from a hundred years ago, tourists were already a big thing. The tourist season was mainly summertime, but even in the winter there were stories in the papers about ways of attracting more of them to the area.
       By the 1900s, the area around Manitou Park had been known as a resort for tourists for almost thirty years. In the Ute Pass area, many resorts started out as ranches. In the 1880s, word spread that these were fun places! Within a few years some had evolved from working ranches into "dude" ranches. I am sure most of you have an image of what those are. Teddy Roosevelt made the whole idea popular around 1900.
       "Dudes" (Easterners, big-city folk and the like) would come out and stay on a ranch. In the early days, some would actually work while others just wanted to relax and get away. The worker type became the exception, and those wanting to relax grew. Another group, those wanting to get away but be entertained, started to become the majority. On the ranch, the owners started turning some of the work into entertainment - for example, riding fences became trail rides. Branding even became entertainment for the dudes.
       But by the 1930s, some of the attraction had started to wear thin; plus, there was competition from well-marketed dude ranches, such as the Paradise Ranch in Woodland Park. By World War II, most of the glory days had faded. If you look, you can find bits of dude ranches here and there, but most were broken up in the 1960s, and by the '70s they had virtually vanished. I see old dude-ranch post cards and brochures in antique shops. Years ago there were still signs from some of them here and there.
       Only related to the dude ranches were the chuckwagon dinners, such as Flying W still offers. In the Garden of the Gods, the Junior Chamber of Commerce had chuckwagon dinners for years, using a pavilion that was torn down about 20 years ago. Part of their fun was "branding" someone with a hot branding iron! Actually there was a big slab of wood in their pants that got the branding, but you could forget those jeans!