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Ponderosa Ranch Interview

Interviewed by Jeffrey Rolo

A Scenic Bluff

Ponderosa Guest Ranch is a family-run working cattle ranch that allows a limited quantity of guests to experience a true frontier vacation chock full of horse riding, hiking, hunting and more. Unlike the typical dude ranch, when you attend this ranch you won't just be tossed on a horse and offered a glorified trail ride; you'll actually have the opportunity to join the Steineke / Lund family on their day-to-day ranch operations such as checking up on and/or herding cattle.

Donna and Dale Steineke, as well as their daughter and son-in-law Kim and Jeff Lund, were all kind enough to donate some of their time to partake in the following AlphaHorse interview. I think you'll enjoy hearing what this family has to say, particularly if you are planning a horse vacation in the near future.

AH:  Thank you all for generously donating some of your time for this interview. One of the aspects about Ponderosa Ranch that caught my eye is that it appears to be a family-run business rather than a large commercial affair. What advantages do you believe a closer-knit operation offers visitors?

Kim: We can offer an experience or vacation tailored specifically to a particular group or family and their interests and experience with horses. Our guests will be a part of our family during their stay, more of an intimate setting that a larger guest ranch or dude ranch.

Also, our ranch is located 7 miles from the highway, which makes it very quiet and peaceful, no traffic, no people, just our family, our guests, and the animals.

AH:  Since family is an important aspect to Ponderosa Ranch, would you share a bit about yourselves with our readers?

Donna: As we share our peaceful scenic world of pine tree studded sandstone ridges separated here and there by lazy creek bottoms, guests may observe and share in the family members enjoying the challenge of working together in a happy, loving, and productive way while always hoping that somebody's sense of humor will save the day. Daleís first four loves are his family, his ranching, wildlife observation (former hunter) and golf. We think they are listed in the order of priority.

I am a retired schoolteacher who also likes nature, enjoys gardening and interacting with people. We owned a ranch in Northeast South Dakota for thirty years and were looking for a place with warmer winter weather. When the kids said they would join us in Nebraska, it was the icing on the cake, or maybe it was the cake.

Kim: Jeff and I grew up in the Dakotas on farms near small farming communities. We lived on the West Coast for 10 years, before moving back to the Midwest to be closer to family and to leave the city life for the small town and ranch life. We saw the opportunity to operate a guest ranch in conjunction with Dadís cattle ranch to be a great way of life and a great environment to raise our children in. We have two children, Katie, (6) and Trevor (4).

AH:  For those of us who may not understand the differences between a normal dude ranch and a working guest ranch such as yours, could you point out the key differences?

Kim: Our primary source of income and primary purpose is to raise cattle. The cows are not just props that we have around to give the guests something to do out there on a horse. It is a more authentic experience than a dude ranch, and requires a higher level of horse skill. In order to participate in moving the cattle from one pasture to another or just riding out to check the herd, our guests must have previous experience with horses, and preferably are intermediate riders.

AH:  Since horseback riding is an integral part of the ranch/vacation experience, tell us a bit more about what visitors can expect.

Kim: Guests can bring their own horses if they like, or use our horses (we have 6 horses currently). If a guest is still a beginning level rider, we would choose one of slowest, gentlest horses and spend an hour, maybe an hour and a half, going over grooming and saddling the horse, then move to the round pen and work on basic commands on the ground, and then if they are comfortable, mount and ride, gaining confidence in their control of the horse while still in round pen. Then we would go on a short ride, maybe an hour, out to check the water level in one of the storage tanks.

For the more advanced riders: they would start by helping to catch, groom, and saddle the horses. Then we would go out for a 2-3 hour ride in the morning to either check on the cattle, or rotate them to a new pasture if necessary. Our main herd rotates between 9 large pastures throughout the summer months, and the average stay in one pasture is 6-7 days. In the afternoon, if they want to go for another ride, we might go out to check the level of water at one of the windmills, ride a fence line to check for fence in need of repair, repair a broken pipe or valve in the watering system (hopefully not to many days like that). Every day is a little different as to what tasks are the most important.

AH:  Experiencing the frontier/cowboy life is certainly appealing for many of us, but what other activities might a visitor enjoy while vacationing on your ranch?

Kim: I think this is a really good question, as you might get a group or family that has a couple of horse enthusiasts, and a few who arenít. Our guests can hike throughout the ranch on either the cow paths or logging roads that run throughout the ranch. We provide a topographical map, and if desired a set of walkie-talkies, for those who might want that extra security exploring such a large area. It is truly a treat to come upon a doe with twin fawns, or a group of turkeys with their little ones trailing behind.

The Ponderosa Horses

For adults: we have a nice collection of novels and board games available for a lazy afternoon, and if that sounds like too much work, we have a hammock for a nice afternoon nap.

For kids: we have many kidís toys, books, puzzles, games, videos and movies (rated G and PG). And of course because we have young children ourselves, that means playmates to go along with these items.

A day on the ranch for the children (at least 3 or 4 years old), might include going out and feeding some carrots or cornhusks to the horses, and brush and pet them. Depending on age and riding experience, we could saddle up our smallest horse, and lead them around the yard or corral with the lead-rope, for a "mini-ride." Older and more experience kids could go out with the adults on their ride. Child care is also a possibility for parents who want to ride, but whose kids arenít old enough or experienced enough to leave the corral or yard. For those visiting early in the season, watching a baby calf being born might be another great experience.

For railroad buffs: Crawford Hill, located on our property, is a sought after sight to photograph the coal trains being pushed up the hill by three extra engines. The buffs come from all over the United States.

For bird watchers: Both Donna and Dale have their favorite bird identification books. In South Dakota, they landscaped their yard with flowers, bushes and trees to attract a variety of birds and butterflies. They hope to do something similar in Nebraska, plus the Pine Ridge area has great natural habitat. Also, bird feeders are used to attract birds near the house for those of us who like to watch vicariously.

AH: Being one with nature, your ranch has an expansive variety of wildlife that guests can observe and/or photograph. I've heard that even mountain lions aren't unheard of around your parts? What types of wildlife might guests have the pleasure of witnessing while on your ranch?

Jeff: Mule deer, white tail deer, wild (Merriam) turkeys, coyotes, eagles, hawks, porcupines, raccoons, elk, rabbits, grouse and quail. Yes, we have also heard rumors of mountain lions being spotted from the natives, but have not yet seen one ourselves.

Donna: We saw lots of blue birds, flicker and killdeer. There are some finch and quite a variety of species of hawks.

AH: Although hunting isn't my cup of tea personally, you also offer semi-guided tours for hunters. Please tell us a bit more about that, since many reading this might enjoy this sport.

Dale: Semi-guided hunting simply means that hunters are shown the area they can hunt in as well as given a map of the area. Hunters enjoy the challenge of developing their own successful strategy. White tail deer, mule deer, Merriam turkey are the hunts available.

AH: Since guests are limited to a party of four at one time, they will be lodging in their own cozy cabin. Is there anything visitors should bring along with them in preparation, or is the cabin fully stocked and ready for them?

Kim: Our standard vacation package would include us stocking the cabin with food for our guests to prepare their own breakfast and lunch. They would dine with us in the main house for the evening meal. However, again we are flexible and we can adjust the price for the vacation package if guests would like us to cook more or less or not at all. The cabin is equipped with a microwave, stove, small refrigerator, coffee maker, toaster, dishes, towels, linens, etc.

We will send a list when a guest makes a reservation of items they may want to bring with them, such as sunglasses or a hat for riding, a jacket for cool evenings. The only item we require that they bring is boots with a heel for riding (no tennis shoes or hiking boots).

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

Kim: Yes! We are a 1-2 hour drive from all of the popular tourist attractions in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Monument, etc. Locally, Ft. Robinson State Park, Agate Fossil Beds, Museum of the Fur Trade, Toadstool Geological Park, are all within a 30 minute drive. Crawford has a nice 9-hole golf course. There is a PRCA rodeo held over the 4th of July. Our website has more details on local events, attractions, and area history.

AH: Well, it sounds to me that you have a lot to offer visitors seeking an authentic ranch experience. Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers before we conclude this interview?

Kim: We prepare simple, home-style cooking, meals. Nothing gourmet or fancy, but we are committed to healthy fresh food. We like to garden, we purchase beef from local ranchers or butcher our own, and our milk we purchase from a local dairy farmer the day he milks. So some of our favorite meals are BBQ chicken or ribs with Jeffís great homemade BBQ sauce, corn on the cob from our garden (if we get to it before the raccoons), a salad with lettuce and other vegetables from the garden, a slice of homemade bread with homemade butter. How about some homemade ice cream for dessert?

One final thought, we eventually plan to turn the house we are living in now into an additional space for guests to stay. We could host slightly larger groups/families, for family reunions, retreatsÖ but would only be able to cook for groups of less than 10 people. We would only be able to take 4 people at a time out on horse, but any guests are welcome to bring their own horses.

Donna, Dale, Kim and Jeff

AH: Thank you all once again for taking the time to chat with me about your fine ranch.

If you would like to learn more about Ponderosa Ranch, please visit their site at http://www.ponderosaranch.net.

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