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(Published: 2007-01-23)

There are many worshippers at the altar of luxury, where “having arrived” is defined by the status symbols we accumulate and “living the good life” is epitomized as a life of excessive comfort and leisure. Brands like The Ritz Carlton, Porsche, and Manolo Blahnik are all considered temples of luxury.

Now, imagine a different kind of luxury, one where you are invited to “rough it in comfort,” where Wrangler is top shelf, and status is defined by whether or not your boots are handmade. That’s exactly what you’ll find at Ranchos de Los Caballeros, an
oasis of elegant rusticity in the high desert of Wickenburg, Arizona. My husband and I spent New Years at the ranch, and our stay prompted many thoughtful insights about trend and countertrend.

First, a little history and background. Wickenburg was the original capital of Arizona, and at one time staked a claim to being the “Dude Ranch Capital of the World.” Los Cab (as it is affectionately called) opened for business in 1948 at the height of the guest ranch trend. For years, guest ranches had based their appeal on their rustic nature. Simplicity was seen as part of the “authentic” West and therefore was a requirement for a true dude ranch vacation. Los Cab followed that trend, but at the same time, embraced a countertrend.

Management at Los Cab understood the paradoxical nature of the marketplace and found a way to reframe the “dude ranch” into a “ranch resort.” They realized ahead of the curve that their guests were no longer going to be satisfied with shared bathrooms, plain ranch food, and a range of activities that began with horseback rides and ended with cookouts.

By providing guests the opportunity to play tennis or golf, go swimming or skeet shooting, or take a nature hike in the desert, they broadened their appeal while still offering an authentic dude ranch experience. When the ranch opened for business, press reports noted that: “Los Caballeros makes it possible for the city-bred dude to rough it in comfort” by providing “a nice combination of the typical western informal ranch with the luxurious appointments of the modern resort.”

It was a brilliant point of differentiation and a major reason for Ranchos de Los Caballeros’ continued success. Part of the loveliness of the ranch paradox is that even as modern amenities such as TV and Internet access are introduced, guests can still experience many aspects of the authentic past. A full ranch breakfast is standard fare, with no Starbucks in sight. The daytime dress code is blue jeans and cowboy boots, but dressing for dinner is required. Guests can participate in a team penning competition, or enjoy a hot rock massage at the new spa. Many guests sleep with the chiminea aglow and the screen door ajar in order to hear the coyotes howl at night.

It’s a mixed crowd at the ranch, and everyone fits in comfortably. City slickers and wranglers, Easterners and foreigners, golfers and artists, kids and grandparents, all enjoy “roughing it in comfort.” You’re as likely to meet an engineer from South Africa, as you are a car dealer from Kentucky. Many families bring several generations to the ranch and celebrate the holidays together; in some cases the grandparents have been coming to Los Cab since they were young.

I think the kids we saw at the ranch this year were very lucky to be taken out of their virtual world of computers and video games to enjoy an authentic ranch experience. Kids at Los Cab actually play with each other; there’s not a video game in sight. Disney’s version of “counterfeit authenticity” may be the norm, but every once in awhile it’s good to walk in other worlds, especially if it’s the real world.

To learn more about roughing it in comfort at Los Cab, visit

Whoa Cowboy

Los Cab Kids

Robyn Waters is president and founder of RW Trend, LLC. She is the author of The Trendmaster’s Guide: Get a Jump on What Your Customer Wants Next, and The Hummer and the Mini: Navigating the Contradictions of the New Trend Landscape. Learn more about Robyn at All Rights Reserved.

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