Living Conditions for Ranch Workers
Free room and board are two of the best perks that dude ranches provide. Instead of sending that hard-earned paycheck to a grumbly landlord and surviving off instant noodles, employees live for free and dine with guests. That means you eat what they eat, and because the kitchen is out to impress, you'll certainly eat well. With an increasingly health-conscious client base, you'll probably stay quite healthy too, and most kitchens happily provide for vegetarians or special diets (making friends with the chef is always a good idea!)
Unfortunately, staff accommodation doesn't exactly live up to the guest quarters. Ranches typically house their staff in dorm-style bunkhouses, which may or may not be single sex, so you're essentially guaranteed at least one roommate. No overnight guests or pets are allowed, and couples or those seeking privacy are ordinarily out of luck. Staff share bathrooms and cleaning duties, and sometimes a separate staff kitchen. Ranches usually supply a common recreation room as well.
These range from a few sad couches to a decked-out lounge with TV, DVD, stereo and surround sound. More and more ranches also enjoy the wonders of wireless Internet, so with a compatible laptop you can stay plugged in to the outside world.
In keeping with their conservative character, dude ranches actively discourage any sort of substance use or abuse. Illegal drugs are strictly prohibited (with some ranches reserving the right to drug test), and alcohol and tobacco generally frowned upon. While a few properties have bars and serve booze on the premises, others ban alcohol altogether. Most seem to stay the middle line, permitting moderate drinking in private and smoking in a designated, guest-free area. If you're a drinker or a smoker, definitely check on each ranch's policy - every one is different, and you want a clear idea of rules and expectations. See How to Pack for the Ranch on a different page.
Although they rarely throw raging parties, dude ranch staff do manage to enjoy their time off. Most take advantage of a nature lover's playground by hiking, swimming, fishing, riding, biking, snowmobiling, rafting, skiing, or simply relaxing in the sun. Sports are a popular activity, with competitive games of softball, volleyball, soccer and ultimate Frisbee spicing up the evenings. Old school pastimes like card tournaments, board games, story telling and sing-alongs entertain guests and staff alike, and if all else fails, you can always read a book.