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JX Ranch Interview

Interviewed by Jeffrey Rolo


Tom & Mimi Sidwell

Tom and Mimi Sidwell are the owners of JX Ranch, a working cattle ranch that also permits accomplished horsemen to experience a slice of the old West.  JX Ranch caught our attention due to a very significant difference between them and other dude or guest ranches; a difference that Mimi Sidwell stated best when she pointed out JX Ranch is  "...not a guest ranch that also has cattle, but a cattle ranch that also takes in guests."

We just had to learn more, so we asked them if they would offer some of their valuable time to be interviewed by us.  As you can see, they graciously accepted, so read on... I think you will find their vacation experience quite intriguing.

AH:  Thank you for taking the time to participate in this interview. Let's start off with a subject you feel rather passionate about: the difference between a dude ranch and a guest ranch. Could you explain why you are quick to distance yourself from the "dude ranch" label, and what you view the main differences between a dude ranch and a guest ranch to be?

By my thinking, a "dude ranch" is more of a resort ranch, which has a lodge and staff consisting of among others cooks and wranglers. They often offer trail rides, a swimming pool and other amenities. It is a nice place for guests to meet other guests and participate in various activities and be pampered. Dude ranches don't require riding experience and riders usually don't saddle their own horses. The horses are "dude horses" which means they will follow the horse in front of them, and the rider simply sits in the saddle (hopefully!) without any active involvement.

A "working cattle ranch" such as ours, is a whole different deal; in our case we don't have any staff whatsoever – Tom and I do all the work on the ranch – we are the ranchers, the cooks, the wranglers and the entertainers! We do not offer any special "activities," we are first and foremost a cattle ranch, and only secondly a "guest ranch." We offer people the opportunity to spend some time on a real down to earth cattle ranch, and get to do some riding and gathering cattle and driving them to new pastures, help doctor sick cattle if we find any, or whatever the day brings. We don't always "plan" the day, whatever needs attending we do, and guests are welcome to participate. They catch and saddle their own horses, care for them before as well as after riding. We don't ride nose-to-tail, but spread out as the country allows, and when we "go to work" whether it is to move the cattle or pen a cow, they are asked to do their part as best they can. Many of our guests also want to help with "foot" work in the afternoon, such as digging postholes, fixing fences, etc. We never say no to that kind of help! In other words, guests get a hands-on cattle ranch experience, which is a far cry from a resort type "dude" ranch.

AH:  One of the things you clearly pride yourselves on is the real ranch experience you offer. In fact it's not uncommon for guests to help with the daily ranch chores, which could sound odd to many readers. Why do you think so many people find working on a ranch to be an enjoyable vacation experience?

We find that many of our guests work in an office environment and simply enjoy getting outside, roll up their shirtsleeves and go to work! The fresh air, the quietness, nature, blistered hands from using a shovel or posthole digger, the aching muscles and the good feeling of a job well done, are all basic human needs that a day in the office somehow cannot accomplish. Besides, I think the basic, much unchanged, life on a ranch appeals to many people in this age of high technology and competition. They want to go back to the basics of life, where a handshake counts, and sweat from work is not frowned upon.

AH:  You require your guests to be experienced horsemen if they are to take part in the full ranch experience, which might seem like an odd requirement when you consider most other ranches will allow just about anyone to jump up and ride one of their trail horses. Why do you feel riding experience is so vital for your visitors?

It is important to us as well as for the guests. When we ride out in the morning, we don't know what we will find, or what we will have to do. We don't want anybody getting hurt, and again, since we are foremost a cattle ranch with a job to do we require that people have some prior riding experience - the more the better, for them as well as for us. You are also very limited in what you can do with beginner riders. The country is pretty rough in places, and you need to know how to negotiate your way around some steep places. Our horses are all ranch horses, they have all been roped off of and drug calves to the branding fire, and they know what to do when a cow quits the herd. They are very gentle, but still not dude horses. The guest ranch operation has to fit in with our daily life to make it work for us.

AH:  Whereas all ranches have a cap on how many visitors they can accept at one time, yours is quite a bit lower than the norm at just four. Is there a reason why you prefer to keep your guests limited to such a low number?

I believe we are one of the ranches with the lowest limit on number of guests at any time. With just the two of us, we feel comfortable dealing with up to 4 guests at a time. Many more and we'd have to hire help, and we don't want to go that route. We have also found in the four years we've been taking in guests that everyone did chose the JX Ranch because they wouldn't find a bunch of guests here, rather they would be part of our little family and part of the ranch in a more up-front and personal way. And we do stay in contact with a large number of our past guests, many of whom re-visit us – they all arrive as guests and leave as our dear friends.

AH:  Do you find that ranch vacations appeal to a specific category or type of people, or do you generally see visitors from all walks of life?

We see people from all walks of life. We've had families with kids here, one all the way from the Falkland Islands, we get young people, older people, all kinds! We've had doctors and lawyers, we've had contractors and blue-collar workers, and anything in-between. To most guests it's been a lifelong dream of theirs, to be a cowboy or a cowgirl for a week of their life, and we try to live up to their expectations.

AH:  Do you receive many visitors from countries aside from the United States? If so, how do they generally react towards the frontier life… a life probably significantly different than what they are normally accustomed to?

Actually about 50-60% of our guests come from overseas! We've had guests from England, Holland, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, France, and as I mentioned earlier, from as far away as the Falkland Islands. They are all fascinated with the West, and are amazed at how unpopulated the West really is, and how vast. Europe is so crowded, and they have a lot of cloudy weather there. They enjoy the sunshine, the stars at night that you can see so clearly here, the howls of coyotes at sunset, and of course the riding and the cattle work. Most Europeans ride "English," so Western saddles and neck-reining is usually new to them, but anyone who can ride English can ride western, not necessarily the other way around! I speak German, French and Swedish (I was born in Sweden), and Tom speaks Spanish, so between us we get along pretty good with foreigners, who for the most part speak pretty good English anyway.

AH:  I imagine life on the ranch probably keeps a person on his or her toes, for you never know what surprises animals or nature may have in store for you. Do you have an interesting or amusing recollection or anecdote you would like to share about something either you or a guest to your ranch experienced?

Oh, without mentioning any names, I can share a joke I pulled on some German guests we had – you have to come with a good sense of humor, it makes life so much easier! I was riding through a pasture with these guests who were visiting us for the second time, and Tom and I had set some H-braces where we were planning to build a gate and also a fence-line on either side, but at this time all there was were the H-braces. I rode between them where the gate would be, stopped when we got through, and asked one of the guests if he would please close the gate behind us. Eager to help, he got off his horse, walked up to one H-brace, found no gate, then looked over to the other, found none, looked down the to-be fence-line and saw none, and slowly realized I had pulled his leg! With big grin he gave me a look, picked up a stick and threw it at me! We all laughed so hard we almost feel off our horses!


A herd of cattle

One time we had some guests of which one had her birthday while visiting us. I enjoy surprises, so while Tom took them riding, I baked a birthday cake, loaded the truck with a card-table, folding chairs, table cloth, plastic champagne glasses and plates, and halters for the horses, drove to a pre-determined scenic spot on the ranch and set up under a tree, and waited for them to show up. As they came up the draw, Tom told me later that when one of them saw me, they asked Tom if that was a trespasser up ahead, and he told them probably, and after some silence they asked what he would do, and he answered very seriously, "we’ll chase them out of here, I expect," after which they got really quiet, probably expecting a shoot-out a la OK Corral! As they got closer they realized it was I, and were very surprised. We tied the horses up under the trees, had some champagne and ate cake, and the guest whose birthday it was told me that no one had ever made a surprise birthday party for her, and she was touched to tears. It made us feel all fuzzy inside to have been able, with such a small gesture, to make a difference in someone's life.

AH:  This next question might seem rather irrelevant or shallow to some, but quite frankly I have a weakness for good cooking… particularly country and western cooking. What types of mouth-watering dishes might I expect while visiting your ranch?

Mimi: Mouth-watering?? Well, I have a sign hanging in my kitchen that says, "Countless people have eaten in this kitchen and gone on to lead normal lives," so I guess it's not too bad…

We usually keep beef as well as buffalo and pork meat in the freezer, and most meals contain one or the other. For a Swede I've been told I also fix pretty good Mexican food, and I make it hot! It'll cure whatever ails you. I try to cook healthy, but don't overdo it. It's gotta be good too, and sometimes that requires cream and butter, and I use a lot of garlic. We had some guests of which one was a vegetarian and hadn't eaten meat for ten years, but wanted to try it here on a ranch. She liked it so much, she had meat every night, and she could put it away too, little as she was!

AH:  For an additional cost, visitors can create their own genuine leather western riding chaps under your guidance. This is definitely an option that would appeal to me, in fact I can think of no better souvenir after a time on a western ranch. But just how difficult is it to create riding chaps? Would someone artistically challenged such as myself be able to craft a quality set?

All it takes is some time, and work. I guide them through the whole process, but the guests make them all by themselves. We don't make fancy show-chaps, only fairly simple working chaps. They can put their initials on them, or stamp the belt etc., but it is not difficult. Depending on the style of chaps the guests choose, it takes generally a few afternoons and evenings to finish them.

AH:  Are there any local sites or attractions that may appeal to visitors of your ranch?

We are only an hour away from the grave of the infamous outlaw Billy The Kid, which is in Fort Sumner, which is also home to the Billy The Kid Museum. We are 1.5 hours away from the American Quarter Horse Heritage Center & Museum in Amarillo, Texas, and the 120-mile long and 800 feet deep Palo Duro Canyon south of Amarillo. We have two large lakes within 50 miles of the ranch, with boating and swimming. Many of the towns around us have rodeos or ranch rodeos, and County Fairs on specific dates which we will try to post in advance on the website. Other than that it's just ranch country all around us.

AH:  Well, given all the above it sounds like anyone looking for an authentic western experience should strongly consider JX Ranch. Before we conclude this interview is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

If people have a low tolerance of heat, they may consider coming in April/May, or Sept/October. June, July and August can be quite warm, however, if we get those wonderful afternoon thunderstorms and showers, it can also be very pleasant and cool. Nobody can predict the weather in New Mexico, but that is a general rule.

Starting in 2005, we will also be renting out the cabin, when it's available, to groups or individuals who would like to bring their own horses and go riding on their own on the ranch. There are many scenic, fun, and sometimes challenging, places to ride, and incredible views up on top! We can guide them, or they can ride on their own.

And finally, we welcome any and all who would like to spend some time on a real cattle ranch, not a guest ranch that also has cattle, but a cattle ranch that also takes in guests! Be flexible, come with a sense of humor, be prepared to ride and to work, and we’ll all have a good time!

 Mimi and Tom

Thanks again for taking the time to talk with me today.

You can view some gorgeous photos and see what you can expect with a JX Ranch vacation by visiting our JX Ranch Photo Gallery.

If you would like to learn more about JX Ranch, please visit their site at http://www.jxranch.com/index.htm.



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