City slickers find unique experiences at Western Dakota Ranch Vacations.

When Lavon and Dorothy Shearer started their Western Dakota Ranch Vacation business they didn't know what the term "cash flow" meant. "You paid your bills and anything large was paid at the end of the year," Dorothy says. "But, we can't operate like that anymore. Our vacation business creates a cash flow and it means we have an income at a time when there often is no income."

To help ease the financial changes in the ranching business, the Shearers entered the ranch vacation/bed-and-breakfast (B&B) venture in 1989, with son Grant and wife Jodee. Since they live near world-famous Wall Drug, Wall, SD, tourists stopping there often asked local merchants where they could see a real-life ranch. Next thing you knew, they were headed out to the Shearers' 800-cow operation.

After spending so much time showing "westward-ho" travelers what ranch life was like, Dorothy says they decided it was time to try and make money from their good-natured efforts.

So, they started researching the ranch vacation idea and attending tourism conferences. "We had to figure out how to sell a product," Dorothy explains. "We had to learn a whole new language and needed to put packages together, like a three-day stay including meals, lodging and horseback riding. That way, people could begin to understand what we were selling. The South Dakota tourism folks helped us explain the ranch by using phrases like 'never-ending view, blue skies, etc.'

"The B&B concept had already been established and understood. What we needed was a way to be compensated for showing people around to see the ranch life," she says.

And that's exactly what they do. Although they're open year-round, from May to September they average about two families a week staying in their ranch home. That doesn't count guests that come just to ride horses or spend the day, nor the hunters they've hosted for more than 20 years.

The Shearers host large groups, too, like the Girl Scouts, who camp on the ranch near the Cheyenne River. They also host bus tours heading West and have even put up the president of Alitalia Airlines and his group.

Meals, Lodging And More The Shearers provide the setting, lodging and meals. Guests staying in the house get a full breakfast, box lunch and evening meal. Those camping normally get a chuck wagon dinner or supper prepared and served by Wes (a local ranch hand) on an authentic chuck wagon. "He loves the part and can be as ornery as heck if he wants to be. But, people like that," Dorothy says.

If guests want the full outdoor experience, they have the option of sleeping in a tepee, log cabin, bunkhouse, sheepherders' wagon or prairie schooner.

By the way, these tepees have some celebrity status. They appeared in the movie "Dances With Wolves," filmed in South Dakota. Besides helping with the ranch vacation business, Lavon's stable of buckboards, chuck wagons and horse teams have appeared in many Western movies with him at the reins.

Provide Variety Of Package Rates The Shearers have assembled several packages from overnight to week-long stays. For example, a five-day stay typically includes all meals, lodging, a wagon ride and chuck wagon supper combo, some horseback riding, a Badlands tour via car, participating or observing ranch activities, a night in the cabin or Indian tepee for $330/adult. A seven-day stay runs $450. And if you bring your own horse, they'll provide stalls and corrals.

For overnight stays, or the true B&B experience, guests get a night's lodging in the ranch home, cabin or tepee, and breakfast the next morning. It's $40 for singles, $55 for couples and $75 for private baths.

Although the ranch may seem remote to some, it's a 15-minute drive to Wall Drug, 20 minutes to Badlands National Park and 90 minutes to Mt. Rushmore or Deadwood.

The Shearer's five guest room, three-bath home lends itself to the bed-and-breakfast crowd. "Some people dream about traveling or buying new outfits. We always dreamed of building a new house," says Dorothy. "When our kids grew up and left, it was obvious we had something to offer. The bed-and-breakfast would help pay taxes on the house and justify a way for me to live in my dream home."

The Shearers get to travel without leaving home. "We've had people from around the world, like England, Finland, Germany and Japan stay with us," says Lavon. "People that come here are fun and apparently they think we're fun, too."

Western Dakota Ranch Vacations offers a variety of package rates and will tailor unique adventures for special groups. For more information contact Lavon and Dorothy Shearer, HCR 1, Box 9, Dept. B, Wall, SD 57790 or phone 605/279-2198.