California's Historic Dude Ranch: The Rankin Ranch

California's Historic Dude Ranch: The Rankin Ranch
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California's Historic Dude Ranch: The Rankin Ranch

Since the time of Lewis and Clark, folks have been fascinated with the American West. In the late 19th century, romantic accounts of the open range and Western adventurers like Theodore Roosevelt and Buffalo Bill circulated back East, and those itching to escape the congestion of the city vacationed out West to get a taste of life on the wild frontier. For a few bucks, these travelers—called “dudes”—could enjoy the full ranching experience at outfits that offered grub, bunks, and plenty of saddle time to their guests. 

In some ways, dude ranching today has come a long way from its early years (most ranches no longer pick guests up at the train depot in a horse-drawn wagon), but in the most important ways, dude and guest ranches haven’t changed hardly at all in the last century—they still offer horses and hospitality, and share their love for the Western way of life with people from around the world. 

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Rankin Ranch, 150+ years

Caliente, Calif.

661-867-2511, rankinranch.com

Seasons: spring, summer, fall 

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Nestled in the small mountain valley of Walker Basin, deep in the Tehachapi Mountains, is the Rankin Ranch, a 151-year-old cattle and guest ranch that has seen the passing of two century marks. 

An intrepid adventurer named Walker Rankin founded the ranch in 1863. Born in Pittsburgh, the lure of the Wild West and the promise of gold brought him to California in 1854. By way of Panama he made his way to San Francisco, and after some success in the gold fields, he settled in Walker Valley, named for Joseph Reddford Walker, a scout for General Fremont. Rankin became a cattle rancher, and was the first to import Herefords to the area. 

In 1868, Rankin married Lavinia Estelle Lighter, whose family had come to California by covered wagon, and the two had seven children. In the 1870s, the ranch became a stage shop for the overland trail route, and mail carriers and other travellers became the first guests of the Rankin outfit. The barn that stabled the teamster’s horses still stands today. 

The Rankin Ranch has been passed down through multiple Rankin generations, each making their mark on the ranching culture of the area—the family has been very involved in the Kern County Cattleman’s Association and the Kern County Cowbelles. 

In 1965, an official guest operation was added to the cattle ranch, subsidizing the beef income and ensuring future generations of Rankins would have a ranch to run. Indeed, the tradition of ranching has continued down the Rankin line. Today, fourth, fifth, and sixth generation Rankins operate the 31,000-acre ranch, a family guest ranch since its inception. 

Guests today can expect square dances, wagon rides, hiking and biking trails, fishing, and daily horseback rides through California’s cattle country.

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