As I walk into the old limestone entrance to the Mayan Dude Ranch, there are cowboys lounging on couches getting ready for the first trail ride of the morning. Outside I see bunkhouses and dude wranglers moving about. It’s like I’ve taken a step back to a more relaxing time, where western traditions, history, pride, and hospitality shine bright. I am taken back by how much I feel at home.
I am here today to tour the ranch and meet the legendary Hicks family, who has operated the Mayan for more than 70 years. I’m also here to present owners Greg and Nancy Hicks with custom designed Hyo Silver belt buckles featuring the Mayan logo. Hyo Silver has an exceptional community connection with the Mayan. We are both located in Bandera, Texas — the Cowboy Capital of the World — and we share the same western traditions and dedication to hospitality and customer service. Greg Hicks is also chairman of the Bandera County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Greg continues his family legacy of promoting tourism in Bandera, he has a deep-rooted passion for showcasing Bandera’s attractions, traditions and unique experiences. I am so proud to meet and write about this beautiful family and our shared traditions.
Tara Hicks Williams is a ranch hand, former model, and fourth-generation member of the Hicks family. Tara gives me a guided tour of the world-famous Mayan Dude Ranch, which her family has owned and operated since 1951. She first walks me over to an antique dresser with a collection of memorabilia bearing witness to more than five working generations. Before we can take a look, however, we see a gorgeous peacock through the window hopping onto a horse saddle and then looking at us through the glass.
Sitting right on top of the dresser, I point to a set of teeth. Yes, that is someone’s real set of gold dentures. Crowns and all! And etched on each tooth is a letter spelling TEXAS! I am told their owner was legendary Bandera musician Lou Colburn. Lou was a wrangler at the Mayan and many of his songs were played on the radio throughout the state and parts of the South. He played with the likes of Adolph Hofner and the Pearl Wranglers, who are credited with being the first to record the western-swing classic “Cotton-Eyed Joe.” Together they frequently performed at the Mayan Ranch. Lou’s golden Texas smile was made famous when he was featured on the cover of Texas Highways magazine! Throughout my tour, I loved how every photograph and every trinket had its own extra special noteworthy story. Tara was the best tour guide.
I asked Tara what she believes sets her family ranch apart from other dude ranches, and I loved her response. “There is no competition,” she says sincerely. “The Mayan Ranch is one of a few truly all-inclusive ranches in the state, meaning your rides, lodging, meals, snacks, entertainment, and drinks are included, even beer and wine. You can enjoy two picturesque trail rides a day, a swim in the Olympic-sized pool, or you can enjoy the Medina River that horseshoes around the ranch where you can see a fence line of cowboy boots that decorate each post in the distance. You can also go arrowhead or fossil hunting, explore 27 dinosaur tracks, listen to live entertainment every night, and you are fed the best Hill Country meals in town!” This is only a small taste of the kind of hospitality you get while experiencing the freedom of nature in this historic destination.
As I moved around the ranch I felt like I was on a Hollywood cowboy movie set. I enter a room full of pictures of old western movie posters and I am transported back to a time when real Hollywood cowboy films were shot at the Mayan. It continues to get more magical as Tara leads me to a framed photo of actor Mathew McConaughey holding his “Mr. Texas” award and wearing his western pearl snap shirt that says “Bandera, TX.” “How do we bring him back to Bandera for a visit to our small town?,” I ask Tara. She says we will have to try someday.
Next I am looking at a framed vinyl record featuring the songs “The Bandera Twist” and “Mayan Polka.” Did you know that the Mayan Dude Ranch once had its very own record company? Rockabilly singer Sid Starr was signed to the Mayan Records label in the 1950s. I’d give anything to play that record and hear the needle scratch along while on an old Western sawdust dance floor right now! (You can listen here.)
Throughout my tour, a real feeling of “hospitality,” or “horse-pitality” as they call it at the ranch, has been taken to another higher level with the Hicks gang. The Mayan Ranch is easy to fall in love with and it’s even easier to understand why their motto is: “There’s no place like this place, anywhere near this place, so this place must be the place!”
My next stop was a sit down with family matriarch, Judy Hicks. First I’m introduced to Judy’s daughter, Kelly, affectionately known on the ranch as Kowgirl Kel. (Kelly’s late husband and former Mayan wrangler Lore Orion was a musician and songwriter. He wrote songs for Waylon Jennings, Chris LeDoux, and Tim McGraw.) Kelly escorts me into the dining room and thanks me for being early saying, “Mom doesn’t like to wait and she’s always early to everything, so she’ll appreciate you being on time.” I can immediately tell why Kelly is so popular with the guests at the Mayan. She has such amazing energy and enthusiasm as she says, “If you can come to visit the Mayan Ranch and feel like you’re taken back in time and feel at home with the soil, the dirt, God’s people…that’s what we are about.” Her message really resonates.
Judy Hicks is as sweet as can be. I had heard so many lovely things about her that I didn’t know whether to shake her hand or hug her right away. It was an honor to share time with her. Born and raised in Wisconsin, she says she was destined to meet Don Hicks, the love of her life. They were married for 70 years. She laughs and blushes, and her eyes water while she opens to me and shares that there was no other man in the world made for her. I saw the sparkle and I also saw the sadness. “There is a strong grounded faith, hope, and oh so much love that surrounds me and my family, you just keep going. We’ve made countless memories over the years and shared so many laughs with family and guests alike! Did you know we used to tell our dudes ghost stories, bury wranglers in the ground, and scare the kids?,” she says as she laughs…. “Oh, we couldn’t do that anymore! Things have changed so much.” Judy has 10 children, 2 adopted, 31 grandchildren, and 29 great grandchildren. To my surprise, she said she was an only child. I shockingly said, “And you started all of this?” The Mayan Ranch may have started as a Girl Scout Camp in the late 1930s, but Judy had her very own Boys & Girls Club!
As I speak with Judy, I continue to discover fascinating facts about the ranch she loves so much. She proudly points out that National Geographic published two stories about the dinosaur tracks discovered on the property. There is so much history on this legendary ranch. Judy and Don also traveled all over the world promoting tourism as ambassadors for the State of Texas as well as the City of Bandera and their legendary ranch. They traveled on a stagecoach and by horseback promoting the Dude Ranch scene in Los Angeles, Miami and New York City. They also went overseas to London, Paris, Rome, Munich, Salzburg and Hong Kong to share the noteworthy tourist destination.
As we talk, Judy’s son Timmy joins us for a quick hello after serving up the ranch’s famous cowboy breakfast. Timmy is the CEO of the Mayan and a behind-the-scenes leader of the family. If there is a meal to cook, dishes to wash, or people to greet, he is present or making it happen. I say, “It takes a village” and he says “or a big family.”
Timmy was absolutely right about that. There are 98 Hicks family members. They pride themselves on their faith, hard work ethic, and love. Those values are what make the Hicks family so strong and the Mayan Ranch so special. You can feel the warmth and welcome when greeted by everyone. Judy has raised a beautiful family who loves their small town of Bandera and the people in it, as much as they love their beautiful ranch. She hopes that when people from far away travel here, they can see and feel the gifts the Mayan Ranch and her family are preserving and the love they spread. At my goodbye to Judy I asked, “Can I call you mom?” She gives me the warmest hug and says, “I am everyone’s mom around here!”
I was so excited about my next stop, styling Greg and Nancy Hicks for a photoshoot! I knew that they needed some Hyo bling to go with their boots and western swing! I went with a bold look for Nancy by choosing some of the grand original pieces from our Turquoise Collection. I chose one of our most popular sterling silver Rodeo Event Cross Pendants for Greg, which he fell in love with! Both lassoed up their look with their new custom Mayan Belt Buckles. We even had a couple of wranglers join our photoshoot, and they put the “yee” in my yee-haw! Wade Lowrie rocked our Hyo Silver Come and Take it Belt Buckle, while Shawn Williams showcased our Don’t Tread on Me Belt Buckle. The wranglers put the horses out to pasture at the perfect time, which allowed me to get a magical shot of Greg and Nancy as the horses ran behind them on their daily journey to their very own Medina riverfront oasis!
The family invited me to stay for their evening BBQ which included some delicious brisket, homemade bread, and live music. I sat with Greg while we watched his sister Kowgirl Kel teach the guests how to line dance with so much spirit. Greg shared his BBQ brisket secrets and we talked about how ranch life, paired with old fashioned family values and the presence of loved ones, can lengthen your lifespan. Greg has such an appreciation for how hard his family works to keep the spirit of the Mayan Ranch alive and he looks forward to the future. I said to Greg, “You know, western movies are coming back! I can see another Hollywood film being filmed out here again, as history always repeats itself.” He said, “Yes, I can see that, and I’d love to see it happen.” In fact, you might catch a celebrity or two from time to time at the Mayan. The Mayan has hosted President George H.W. Bush, ZZ Top, Willie Nelson, Astronaut Steven Smith, NFL and College Hall of Famers Darrell Green and Jerry Sisemore, ESPN analyst Digger Phelps, boxing champ Terry Daniels, and the Cisco Kid (actor Duncan Renaldo) just to name a few.
I also learned that if you plan right, you might get a reservation. So be sure to plan! Families have been coming back for family vacations for their entire lifetimes. Watching tradition come to life is what is so special at this dude ranch. Everyone knows your name. Everyone says “hi” or “howdy.” Everyone is family. There is also something for everyone with an endless spectacle of things to do wherever you look. Bandera may be a tourist town, but generations of small-town business owners sure know how to make you feel like that good old southern hospitality hasn’t been lost. For more than 70 years, the Mayan Dude Ranch has brought a world-famous ranch experience true to Old West tradition with wonderful hospitality — which makes for the ultimate really good time.
That’s why all of us at Hyo Silver tip our hats to the Mayan Dude Ranch and all the local family-owned businesses here in the Cowboy Capital of the World that offer the true essence of small-town charm in true western tradition. We also invite you to visit our historic showroom, where you can experience another magnificent piece of Bandera’s history in our heartfully preserved and restored 1860 limestone building.
Written by & photographed by Jennifer D’Spain