Smiling Dog Ranch
29 sites · Lodging, RVs, Tents20 acres · Alpine, TXFormerly known as Eco-Ranch Sustainable Living, new hosts assumed the ranch on February 1, 23 and look forward to hosting you.
The Smiling Dog is a remote working homestead, located on 20 acres close to both the National and State Parks. With unobstructed views of the surrounding mountains and arroyos the property offers guests a chance to unplug and enjoy exploring unique terrain on site.
The Big Bend region is a certified dark sky community and is recognized as the darkest park/community in the lower-48. With no light pollution on the ranch, the stargazing is spectacular. Guests are encouraged to bring headlamps or flashlights with red filters to allow you to safely see your surroundings while preserving the darkness for your eyes to adjust.
The ranch is fully off-grid, powered by solar energy. Water is collected through rain catchment and is pumped into filtered tanks which provides the majority of our water supply. At times during drought conditions we do have to bring water in from Study Butte or Alpine so we ask all of our guests to conserve whenever possible.
Wildlife is in abundance in the desert, our naturally created water reservoir often brings in a variety of animals in the evenings. Guests could expect to see coyotes, rabbits, foxes, mule deer, aoudad sheep, and even elk. There is also a large drove (herd) of wild donkeys that roam freely and are beloved by the community. There are also predators but they are rare in the area. Mountain lions and bears do live in the area, but stick closer to the mountains instead of open areas like the ranch. Insects and snakes can be found throughout the desert as well as migratory butterflies and birds.
Guests have several options for their stay- there are 20 dispersed campsites that can accommodate a single camper to large groups with multiple vehicles. Each site has fire rings for campfires dependent on weather conditions. During periods when there is a high fire danger, ground fires are not allowed. Guests can bring above ground fire rings, or small propane grills and provide their own wood. Travel trailers and smaller RV's are also welcome, though we do not offer hookups or waste disposal. There are also 2 small, basic rooms with full size futons that can house 2 adults or 4 if you are really good friends. A communal area houses a small kitchen area with a propane powered camp stove, mini-fridge, sink with basic cookware and utensils. In addition there are two restrooms, one with a shower, and both with sinks and flush toilets. There is a third bathroom located near our largest camping area. You are free to use the restroom outside, our plants love the extra water, but you are asked to pack out any toilet paper and use the restrooms for solid waste.
We do offer all guests free Wi-Fi internet access but we cannot guarantee the strength and availability, though we do find most guests can connect. We have upgraded to Starlink which we hope will offer more stability and stronger signal. There is absolutely no cell signal once you turn off of the highway and at the ranch- we use Wi-Fi calling and texting but also have a landline in the event that it is needed to reach the outside world.
We are located just under 5 miles from 118, though it takes 15-20 minutes to reach the ranch on dirt roads. Most vehicles can safely make the drive but high clearance vehicles are strongly encouraged. For the most part the road is smooth but you should pay close attention as their are ruts- take your time and watch the road. We strongly recommended that you download directions before arriving.
Any rain, even small amounts make the roads impassable due to bentonite clay which becomes thick mud which guarantees the need to be towed out. If the forecast calls for rain you should be prepared to make plans for other accommodations or you will be risking getting stuck. Rain is not common outside of the late summer months but should you need to cancel due to weather, you will be fully refunded. This should not discourage anyone, 99% of the time there is no rain to be concerned about, but as your hosts, we care about your comfort and safety and feel obligated to make all guests aware.
A few other things about the ranch- we live on site in the main house (as of March 1, 23) and are in the process of renovation. We are also upgrading guest rooms and communal areas, as well as working on projects throughout the ranch. We have a small flock of chickens and sell their eggs when available. There is a large greenhouse with an aquaponic system that is a work in progress, we hope to have fresh vegetables this summer! Check in is located at the main house, at times we will not be immediately available but you will find your information and a map outside the main door. We will come greet you as soon as we are free. Because we live on site and this is our home, we ask that guests do not explore the main house, livestock pens, greenhouse or covered work areas without permission. We welcome your friendly and well-behaved pets, we have pets of our own who love guests. We ask that you leash them when near the house and watch them when at your campsite or exploring. Please pick up after your dogs if they use the bathroom in common areas, or near campsites. Any waste in the arroyos can stay where it is.
You will be expected to pack your trash out, there is no trash service for the ranch.
Safety information: This is the desert and you are responsible for your own safety at all times. There is absolutely no swimming in the catchment reservoir and you should not drive anywhere outside of the defined roads. The nearest hospital is located in Alpine, a 70 mile drive north, so drink lots of water, wear a hat and sunscreen, sturdy shoes, and don't touch anything pokey or that has a face. We do have first aid supplies available and you'll find commonly used supplies in the communal area. All food and drinks should be securely stored and under no circumstances should you feed the wildlife, with the exception of birdseed for our resident birds. If you have food scraps that are safe for the chickens, they will be more than happy to handle that for you.
We look forward to the opportunity to host you, and welcome you to enjoy the desert we love so much. One sunrise or sunset and we are certain that you will also love it here. If you have any questions please don't hesitate to reach out.
-Ashley and Raymond