Dixie Dude celebrates 75 years of entertaining guests Owner gave Bandera the title, 'Cowboy Capital of the World'
By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer
Part II of a 3-part series on the Dixie Dude Ranch
The Dixie Dude Ranch, celebrating 75 years in the guest ranch business, has long drawn visitors from around the globe. Just last month, one of Japan's top high school basketball players joined a little pick-up game on the ranch's court.
It has been featured on the NBC Today Show, CNN, MTV, Travel Channel, Bravo Channel, History Channel and the BBC.
Ranch buildings and activities have become recognizable backgrounds for major advertisers such as Texas Tourism, Dodge, Halston, Nieman Marcus and Dairy Queen.
Making a feature film with NBC's Hoda and Kathy Lee was a lot of fun, said Diane Conoly, wife of ranch manager Clay Conoly. "They were great sports," she said. "It was so hot that day, we thought they were going to melt." When she offered the leads access to some cooling misters, they adamantly refused, worrying about what the humidity would do to their hair.
"We get a great group of guests," said Clay. "They come from all over the world and they seem to be at their very best."
While the cabins are beautifully appointed with western furnishings, kept clean and comfortable by an outstanding housekeeping staff headed by Rhea Walker, the ranch has preserved many old outbuildings.
Weathered gray wood appears to barely support the picturesquely sagging rusted tin roof of the old barns and sheds. "Our guests love the look," said Diane. "They come back after several years and they look around and say, 'Oh, it still looks the same!'"
Clay Conoly grew up in Beeville, but spent summers on the ranch visiting and helping his grandparents. He and Diane met at the wedding of a mutual friend.
While it seemed a natural thing for Clay to step into the management role of a working ranch that catered to guests, Diane "had no experience with ranch life at all!" Through the years, she has found numerous niches in the business where she contributes, although she claims to "keep a low profile."
One of her chief jobs is managing the gift shop which she has doubled from the original small 10x12 foot shed.
She keeps it fully stocked with cowboy hats and other western accouterments, the Dude Wrangler Cookbook, Texican products and all the little Texas souvenirs any tourist could want. She recently completed the preservation of the ranch's brochures and postcards for a coffee table book that reflects the Dixie Dude's history. "The early ones say $5 a day," she says with a laugh.
It costs a bit more than that to stay at the ranch today, but, as Clay put it, "It's like staying on a cruise ship on land." The rate includes your room, three home-cooked meals a day, two horseback rides a day, access to yard games, swimming, hiking, fossil and arrowhead hunting, bird watching.
In the evenings, entertainment can include music, a bonfire, visits from Lonesome the Longhorn Steer for photo ops, and dance lessons.
"Everything is family oriented," said Diane. "Families do everything together."
Indeed, family seems to be the key word at Dixie Dude. The Conoly family works together in management, the guests become family, and the employees are also treated like family. "We have around 12 full-time employees and two or three part-time," said Clay. They do everything from food service, housekeeping, wrangling, landscaping and maintenance, entertainment and gift shop. Many employees have been with the ranch for years. "We also have a lot of what we call boomerang employees," said Clay. "They work here for awhile, go away, then come back."
The family feeling is important. One long-time cook asked to have her ashes scattered on the ranch when she died. "I like the feeling of a big family," said Clay. "Everyone works well together."
He added, "We're so blessed in the people who work for us. The hours are long and the work is often grueling, and they stay with it until the job is done."
Next week: Part III
Pictured: Photos by Carolyn B. Edwards
The gift shop at the Dixie Dude offers plenty of western duds, ensuring that every guest can go back home looking like a genuine cowboy.
Texican products provide guests with a taste of Texas to take home with them.
A taste of Dixie Dude
From The Dude Wrangler Cookbook
Compiled by Diane Conoly, updated 2004
Chinese cabbage salad
1 pkg. Shredded cabbage
1 pkg. Shrimp-flavored Top Ramen noodles
1 small pkg. Slivered almonds
3 stalks green onion
1 can baby shrimp, drained
1 pkg dry seasoning ingredients from Top Ramen
½ C. vegetable oil
¼ C. sugar
Crumble noodles and mix first 5 ingredients well. Pour dressing over all and mix well. Refrigerate to chill before serving.