Outdoor and adventure outfitter, Explore Ranches makes the wildest dreams come true.
Written by Jenn Thornton
“At Explore Ranches, we believe wild places have transformational powers,” says Jay Kleberg, the brand’s managing director and co-founder, along with Allison Ryan and Jesse Womack. “They provide space and scale for personal inspiration. They slow time long enough for us to reconnect with others. They enable us to shed the unnecessary and find our truest self, free of any burdens. They are home to the untamed things that remind us of our beginnings and our smallness. We started this company to honor these places and are building a community of people who love and care for the wild places and all they stand for.”
It’s a big mission that began, of all places, in the Patagonia region of Chile, where Kleberg—fresh from a week-long backpacking trip with the National Outdoor Leadership School and some grad students from UT’s McComb School of Business—called his wife Chrissy and laid out some pretty ambitious plans to expose more folks to the outdoors in Texas and the U.S. Launching Explore Ranches in 2018, Kleberg made good on his promise to “offer authentic outdoor experienced and access to charming ranch homes on some of the world’s least explored private lands,” while aiding local, land, water and wildlife conservation efforts.
Currently partnering with 20 landowners and 23 lodging locations on their ranches and farms, Explore Ranches hand-picks each member of its round-up, so that “we know the perfect place to design an unforgettable experience,” assures Kleberg. Among these is Tejon Ranch, the largest private ranch in California where guests have access to four of the state’s eco-regions—the Sierra Nevada, Pacific Coast, Great Central Valley, and Mojave Desert—where they can mountain bike rolling grasslands, hike oak woodlands, and fish ponds and reservoirs. In northern New Mexico, Costilla Lodge puts guests in proximity to the region’s many riches—snowcapped alpine tundra, 19 fishable lakes, 550,000-plus acres of picturesque lands, wildlife (bison, black bears, mountain lions)—and opportunities to horseback ride through open fields, explore turn-of-the-century charcoal kilns and fly fish for Rio Grande cutthroat trout.
Texas has many sites, including Chalk Draw, with its 20,000 acres adjacent to Big Bend National Park offering views of Mexico and Big Bend landmarks, while containing petroglyphs and pictographs from prehistoric native peoples. Historic Yturria Ranch is a premier wildlife sanctuary and home to one of the largest populations of endangered ocelots in the U.S.; here guests can hop a horse, hunt big game and quail, or take guided coastal fishing and wildlife tours with trained biologists. And, mere minutes from antiques mecca Round Top, Sky Lake Farm pairs high-end modern farmhouse accommodations with access to a growing number of small-town Texas charm, with optional guided activities like fishing and skeet shooting.
The outfitter’s Adventure Specialists, meanwhile, are landowners with “a deep connection to land, water and wildlife in Texas and the American West,” says Kleberg, name-checking the likes of West Texas native Logan Lewis, who “can do everything from guide hunts to prepare multi-course meals on the open fire” and Dan Dyer, a “singer-songwriter with a sound that melds together soul, folk, and country and “brings any starry night and campfire to another level.” Sold.
The adventure is, of course, part of a broader mission. “We’ve watched as more people have experienced the value of open space and of reconnecting with the natural world,” Kleberg says. “As one of our guests put it: ‘We totally get it now. These are all gems that need to be preserved, shared and loved.’ We want everyone to get it.”
Photographs courtesy of Explore Ranches