From the first year we visited when I was only seven years old until I graduated from high school at 18, my Aunt Linda and I stayed at Ranch Rudolf (RR) year after year without fail. When I went off to Michigan State University and later moved to the Netherlands, the tradition ended. Until this summer.
My Aunt Linda has always loved horses, fascinated by the majestic creatures. When I was seven, she discovered this dude ranch in Northern Michigan and planned to go, however, it closed down just before she made the reservation. Searching for a new location, she haphazardly stumbled across Ranch Rudolf situated just southeast of Traverse City. As no one else in the family wanted to go riding, she approached my mom asking if I’d like to tag along with her. My bags packed complete with a pair of jeans for riding and a swim suit, off we went.
While I don’t exactly remember this, my aunt likes to tell me that first night was agony. Apparently I woke up at three o’clock in the morning begging to go home. Barking “No way am I driving you home now. You can wait until the morning,” she rolled over and went back to sleep. Let’s just say the next morning I wasn’t so eager to return down state. That summer was the first of many we spent at Ranch Rudolf, and my love for horses skyrocketed.
Every year, we stayed at the motel although we could have camped, as there are camp sites available. The lodge is nothing fancy, yet clean, comfortable and cozy. Why did we (and do we still) love Ranch Rudolf? For the horseback riding, tubing down the river and overall relaxed atmosphere. We loved riding through the Pere Marquette State Forest on horseback, on occasion even packing snacks for a longer ride. Afterwards, we tubed down the Boardman River, the chilly water serving as an ice pack on our butts after a warm ride.
Except for the first year, we never left the property. We brought cereal for breakfast and ate lunch and dinner in the restaurant. The salad topped with cheese, bacon, onion and the best part of all – the dressing – made the meal. In our humble opinion, we feel there is no reason to leave. In addition to the stables and tubing, guests can participate in a variety of activities – canoeing, kayaking, fly or trout fishing, reading in the hammock, swimming in the pool, playing ping pong, archery, ladder ball and sand volleyball, or hiking. Although we only go in the summer, Ranch Rudolf is popular year round, with people coming from all over to snowmobile and cross-country ski in the winter months.
The Ranch is family owned and as years went by – like many other families and groups – we became familiar faces. On occasion as I got older, I sometimes stayed up longer and helped out at the stables, eager to learn and spend more time with the Hamill family and the horses. Even though we saw the RR crew only once a year, the moment we reconnected it was like no time had passed. I looked forward to the visit every year, seeing old friends and making new ones, and I even kept in touch with one girl in particular Candace.
This summer (July 2015) Aunt Linda and I returned after being away for nine years. Apart from updates and routine maintenance, nothing had changed. The same smiling faces welcomed us upon our arrival. Melody and Sid looked exactly the same and their children – LeeAnn and Justin – are both married and have children of their own. Some of the horses are still around from when we used to come regularly (horses can live into their 30s). The river was just as cold as we remembered. Additionally, breakfast is now included when you stay at the lodge, a custom we could get used to.
In a way, I grew up at Ranch Rudolf. I learned how to love and respect not only horses but people. I was taught responsibility. I became independent. I developed a special bond with my aunt. I made memories that will stay with me for a lifetime.
Do you have a place you visit annually? I’d love to hear about your traditions in the comments.