rankinranchFor a few days I was able to satisfy my childhood fantasy of having my own horse while on a recent trip with my family to the Quarter Circle U Rankin Ranch in the Tehachapi Mountains.

I had the opportunity to ride a chestnut-colored horse named Wyatt on pine-scented trails and along a creek. Although we were just two hours from our home in L.A., it felt like we had stepped back into the Old West (but better since there’s indoor plumbing and central air!). Situated on 31,000 acres of hills and meadows with grazing cattle, the ranch is fairly isolated and lacks cell phone service (a bummer for my kids but a nice break from my work emails).

The ranch isn’t fancy but provides clean, spacious cabins with lovely views, three home cooked meals daily and all ranch activities – horseback riding, fishing and swimming. The seasonal children’s program for ages 4 – 11 is included in the rate too.

The pioneering Rankin family staked a claim to the property in 1863 and it’s been in their hands ever since as a successful cattle ranching operation and guest ranch. Actually, I have to admit that my kids – Megan (15), Michael (19) and Christina (21) – were initially skeptical. Especially Michael and Megan. No cell phone service?? Although they never quite got over that, the serenity of the place and warm hospitality from the Rankin clan (parents Bill and Glenda and their four adult, married children) finally won them over. How could Michael and Megan not warm up to someone like Glenda who prepared a breakfast tray when they overslept and missed the pancakes and bacon served from 7:30 – 9 a.m. in the dining room?

Since the Rankins live on the property, we saw them throughout the day. During meals, they confirm horseback riding schedules that are later posted outside the recreation room – the hub of evening entertainment, such as bingo, square dancing and talent shows. I seemed to mostly run into Sarah Rankin Wilder, who shared childhood stories with me. Her first job as a young child was stocking the soda machine. Today, she shares guest ranch management duties with her sister, Amanda, and their mom.

Taira Rankin (married to the Rankin’s son Jason) is head wrangler and chatted up guests as we rode single file on trails through meadows and hilly paths surrounded by pine and oak trees.

After just a day, we felt totally comfortable with the Rankins and our fellow guests. The ranch accommodates up to 50 people at a time (there were 30 during our stay) so you get to know the other guests quickly. Especially during the daily social/happy hour at 5:30 p.m. Although the ranch doesn’t have a liquor license, guests may bring their own alcohol. And people did. During our stay, we met people from England and Belgium. An English couple, Jenny and Guy, made friends quickly when they whipped out a bottle of gin and cranberry juice (bought from a mini market 10 minutes away) to share with all the adults.

One of our favorite activities – and all my kids agree on this – was a dinner hay ride through the meadow to an outdoor tri-tip and chicken barbecue. After dinner, my husband, Bruce, and I competed (and lost) in a horseshoe tournament while our kids watched and took photos.

Then, under a darkening sky beginning to twinkle with stars, we climbed back onto the wagon for the short ride back to the ranch.

The spring and summer months are best for families to visit. October is ideal for moms, especially those who enjoy scrapbooking.

Daily rates range from $150/night in off season to $215/night in the regular season. Scrapbooking weekends take place in October. The 2011 season opens with spring break Family Fun for All April 8 – 22. For more information, visit www.rankinranch.com.