by Jennifer Nicole Dienst and Kaylee Hultgren | August 19, 2008
Dude ranches (like Echo Canyon Guest Ranch, pictured) rely on nature for unrivaled décor and recreation.
Building a themed event from the ground up can be daunting, not to mention expensive. That’s why venues offering ready-made atmosphere and décor can be a meeting planner’s boon. Following are some examples of event venues whose built-in themes mean there is little or no assembly required.

Dude ranches

Dude ranches are oases of authentic western Americana, complete with working cowboys, strutting horses and colorful terrain. Colleen Hodson, director of the Cody, Wyo.-based Dude Ranchers’ Association (, which represents more than 100 properties west of the Mississippi, says their appeal for meetings is a secluded atmosphere and sense of place. “Since there are no distractions, the creative juices start flowing,” she says. “It relaxes everyone and encourages out-of-the-box thinking.”
Another perk: Service tends to be more personalized at a dude ranch. “You get one-on-one attention here,” notes Hodson, “which is difficult to get at a hotel, when four other conventions may be going on at the same time.Ranch pricing tends to be all-inclusive, encompassing accommodations, three meals a day, and activities such as cattle-pinning and ropes courses. Amenities vary from place to place, ranging from resort-like pampering to what some folks might consider “roughing it” (no spa, no LCD TVs, no golf courses). Some of the larger venues can accommodate groups of up to 250 people.Among venues on the higher end of the scale is the 79-room Rancho de los Caballeros ( in Wickenburg, Ariz. The ranch’s 20,000 acres feature 18 holes of golf, a spa and a 4,500-square-foot conference center. Groups can enjoy special evenings and entertainment at no additional charge. A popular choice is a Southwestern-themed event, hosted by chef Mamma Lupe, who presents a delectable spread of traditional Mexican dishes, like enchiladas, handmade tortillas and carne asada. For added flair, sombreros, Mexican blankets, piñatas and handpainted wooden cutlery are part of the package. Mariachi and flamenco bands can be hired for an additional fee.In La Veta, Colo., the Echo Canyon Guest Ranch ( covers 60,000 acres designated by the U.S. Department of the Interior as a National Natural Landmark. Groups of up to 50 can meet at the property’s Longhorn Conference Center (which is A/V and Wi-Fi equipped) and partake in pistol shooting, archery, cattle drives and country-western karaoke. Varied nightly entertainment, including cowboy singers, movies (guess what genre?) and Texas Hold ’Em poker tournaments, are part of the package. A 12,000-square-foot lodge with two lounges, a 5,000-square-foot covered deck and a game room accommodates groups of up to 40 for overnight stays.