At the Corral

There are a plethora of activities to try every day here at camp. From morning activities to chugim in the afternoon, evening programs to unit activities, each hour offers new opportunities and experiences. But many campers arrive on site with a specific destination in mind – the corral. It’s no surprise that horseback riding is one of the most anticipated activities of camp. With the horses etched into the camp sign and the saddles adorning the front gate, it’s made obvious from the beginning that the horse programs are an integral part of JCC Ranch Camp.

Each camper’s relationship with the corral begins on the first day of the session. With their cabins, everyone takes a trip to the “boot barn,” trying on the riding boots that are offered to those who do not possess their own pair. Once everyone’s comfortable with the boots they’ll be wearing, they learn about what they’ll get to do once they come for activities, maybe even getting the chance to pet a horse or two. As cabins leave for the next station, daydreams of trail rides float in their minds’ eye, excitement for the activity nearly tangible in the air.

This excitement has not yet abated by the time campers have the chance participate in the corral activity. The hour starts out with campers meeting their horses. Though many of these docile and well-trained creatures are new to camp this year, there are several who have come to call Ranch Camp a home in much the same way as the community’s human members – Seuss, Rojo, and Bones are some favorites, though every horse is well loved and cared for. The first time riding is usually spent in one of the arenas, learning the ropes of horse riding – spacing, steering, and commands are all quickly picked up.

The second (and sometimes even third) trip to the corral holds even more in store. Now that they’ve had some more basic experience, the campers are ready for a trail ride! A journey into the Outer 400 is always a peaceful and beautiful adventure, and some of the trails that the horses follow are also used for activities like hiking and mountain biking. But even if a camper has traveled a specific path before, going through the woods on a horse is an entirely new experience. A trail ride is the perfect way to connect with nature – there’s less talking in these activities, and quiet self-reflection is only natural in these moments, surrounded by trees on either side, sunlight filtering through the leaves and pine needles above, the setting punctuated only by the rhythmic thud of hooves on dirt.

At times like these, it’s obvious how important the corral is to camp, how integral these activities are in fostering the community and camaraderie that everyone leaves with. When given the opportunity to interact with these animals, the horses own calmness and quiet content spreads to those around them. The hard work that both campers and staff alike puts into their time at the corral comes back to reward them, building a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment, leaving everyone who comes through the corral with the knowledge that they have contributed a job well done.

When the Sun Goes Down

The days at Ranch Camp start bright and early, the camp gathering for the morning circle at 7:45, and the hours spent under the bright Colorado sky are always filled with activity and energy. Most things at camp happen while the sun is high in the sky, but this is an overnight camp, and the fun doesn’t stop when the sun hits the horizon. The evening programs, always camp favorites, offer one more burst of excitement before bedtime, but on special nights, post-evening programs draw the end of the day on a bit further for a special treat.

Unlike evening programs, in which everyone at camp participates, the post-evening programs are generally divided by unit. Each unit – Chalutzim, Metapsim, and Toshavim – consists of three or four cabins, and these groups of campers have the opportunity to come together to solidify and strengthen their own communities during these times. This inter-cabin bonding begins with the first post-evening program (affectionately known as PEPs) of the session, a unit initiation. Generally taking place after opening campfire, the different units split off to their own campfires or unit areas to get to know the campers their age, returning campers welcoming the new. Sharing s’mores and campfire stories is the perfect end to the evening.

Other PEPs are a bit more energetic, adding some more thrill once campers are more comfortably settled in. Older campers might venture into the Outer 400 for a night hike or a game of camouflage. Others might put their mind to the test in an “escape room” in the Mo or a puzzle set out for them by a sibling cabin (raids being some of the most popular post-evening programs of all). Some evenings might find dance parties or movie nights, an extra special treat. For the younger kids, or just those who want something more relaxing before bed, storytelling with milk and cookies hits the spot. The rarity of these kinds of activities is part of what makes them so exciting – rest is one of the key parts of success at camp, so the opportunity to stay up past bedtime is always an adventure.

The other night, the Chaltuzim unit participated in a post-evening program, what ended up being one of the most meaningful nights of the session so far. The first group of Mini campers, the youngest cabins that only stay at camp for a week, were leaving the next morning, and the rest of the unit helped them make the night an extra special one. First, each Mini made a “Ranch Camp in a Jar” to take home with them, collecting leaves, flowers, and small rocks to create their own representation of camp – no matter where the next steps of their journey will take them, they will always have a little bit of Ranch Camp to call their own. Meanwhile, the unit’s older campers prepared a surprise at the pool. When the Minis arrived, they found wish boats prepared for them. As campers set the little wooden boats, each holding a tea candle, in the water of the pool, they made a wish that was released as the candles blew out. Standing around the pool as one community, illuminated by the light of the candles below, each and every person felt that those around them had, in the last week, become family.

These post-evening programs, like many other areas of camp, are what help to make this community such a special place. The things that happen when the sun goes down are obviously unique experiences that could not be had other places, bringing meaning to the words “sleepaway camp.” But more importantly, these are the times when campers are most able to connect with each other, the atmosphere created by these programs the natural setting for friendships to bloom. With every post-evening program, the bonds of the community grow ever stronger, building up the camaraderie that will still connect every member of camp long after the session itself is over.

Embracing the Unexpected

The only predictable thing about the weather in Colorado is that it will be unpredictable. Luckily, we’re used to sudden weather changes here at camp, and even when an outdoor activity may not be possible, the excitement and fun of the day continue at the same level inside. For some campers, the back-pocket, rainy day activities are some of the most anticipated of the session, the fact that they come only every so often adding to the surprise and making them even more special.

Sunday was one of those stormy-weather days. The morning was just as warm as usual, the sun shining down to light the morning’s activities. On horses or mountain bikes, in the yurt for music or the Mo for drama, campers spread out around camp with water bottles in hand and sunscreen on their skin, ready to face the heat. The clouds that made their way over the horizon in the afternoon brought with them a reprieve from the temperature and the promise of one of those surprise rainy day programs. As the refreshing rain began to fall after dinner, the community made its way to the Mo for one of the most classic camp evening programs: Ranch Camp Idol! Each cabin worked together to create a lip-sync and dance to a song of their choosing, adding the finishing touches to their performance before going onstage and showing their friends their act! But Ranch Camp Idol has none of the judgement or competition of its namesake – passion and excitement are more important than talent, and the laughs of the other campers indicate everyone’s success.

A similar storm followed on Monday evening, the clouds that would soon give way to rainbows beginning to appear around dinnertime. Luckily, the scheduled program for the night was already meant to take place indoors – it was time for the Shuk! The perfect way to close out Israel Day, the Shuk is one of the most highly anticipated evening programs. Campers had been preparing all day to set up their station in the traditional Israeli market, and as they hung up their posters and set up their wares, the colors and energy in the Chad (or dining hall) perfectly mimicked the real thing. The room was soon full of excitement and cheer as campers took turns selling the goods they had worked so hard to produce, browsing the other tables in the meantime. With hot chocolate and brownies, nail painting and temporary tattoos, personalized bracelets and balloon animals, there was plenty to do and see, the Shuk over much too soon.

The schedule for the next week and a half is already full, so many experiences to be had and opportunities to share – but some of the most fulfilling times, the things that will stand out in memories, are not on the schedule. The unexpected and unplanned is always embraced here. Whether it’s a rainy-day program or a surprise raid from a sibling cabin, an impromptu song session or spontaneous game of gaga, the moments in between the planned ones often spark the most spirit and creativity. When thinking back to the summer many months from now, it is these memories that hold the strongest feeling of community, that will bring back the warmth of camp’s camaraderie.

Tradition Old and New

Just as there is a first time for everything, there is a last time as well. Yesterday was one of those days, the last opening day of a session for the summer. Though it may seem to some, such as campers who come to camp for multiple sessions, that the end of the summer is all too close, the start of school too soon, the end of this most beautiful of seasons was the furthest thing from everyone’s mind as the front gate swung open to welcome the third session campers! The sounds of the crunch of gravel under the tires of buses and cars, the release of air as the doors swung open, and the cheers and shouts of excitement fell on ears like a symphony, the music of a community finally together. The song went on throughout the rest of the day as campers settled in. With cabins traveling together to take a dip in the pool or try on boots at the corral, the property was truly alive with the people who make it Ranch Camp.

This session is the largest one this summer, a fact that was evident as the group gathered before lunch for the opening circle. With so many members of one community, the opportunities for bonding and friendship skyrocket, and as everyone sang the Ranch Camp song, the spirit and enthusiasm in the words were such that the boy scouts on the bordering property must have heard every line. This energy, the beginning of what will stay with everyone through the session, did not abate in the afternoon, carrying through bonding games and unpacking time to Bombardier, the trivia-tag-teamwork evening program that has quickly become a camp tradition.

By the time the community gathered together the next morning, camp already felt like home, the rising morning sun a perfect way to awaken from such a good night’s sleep. Soon the voices of camp were waking up as well, birds chirping in trees providing a backing track to the songs integral to the morning circle. Modeh Ani comes first, welcoming our souls back into our bodies. Then comes both the American and Israeli national anthems. The circle is finished off with Shigaon, energetic and fun, to learn a new Hebrew word each day – today was “agvaniot” for tomatoes! Though the first three songs are tradition, Shigaon is newer, but equally as loved.

The combination of old and new is part of what makes Ranch Camp such a unique setting. Tradition is part of what keeps members of the community coming back for summer after summer, passing down the heritage of camp from one generation to the next. Even many of the staff members grew up here, now dedicating themselves to keeping the spirit of Ranch Camp alive. But just like the Shigaon song, or the introduction of exciting new activities such as Bombardier, the new parts of camp are just as important. And just as these new aspects of camp come to fit perfectly into what may be more traditional, it doesn’t take long for new members of the Ranch Camp community to realize that they are in a place where they belong. Returning campers take the hands of the new ones, showing them the ropes, teaching them the words, making sure they are included and involved. By the end of the day, old and new campers are nearly indistinguishable, all equally comfortable with the knowledge that they will be cared for and accepted unconditionally. Everyone in the community stands on an equal playing field, hand in hand, ready to spend the next two and a half weeks together as one.


The days here at Ranch Camp start out bright and early, most cabins shaking off sleep around seven. Unlike what may be the case during the school year, these mornings are met with no complaints or groans – instead, the day is greeted with excitement. Anticipation for what the next few hours will hold pours out of every cabin, dousing the camp in energy. This particular morning was especially bright and early, the excitement in the air especially energetic. Instead of being woken by their counselors, campers were roused by pounds on doors and blowing horns amid cheers and shouts of “It’s Maccabiah!”

The entire camp poured out of their beds at once, racing to throw on their brightly-colored clothes and meet at degel, the morning circle, fifteen minutes early. Most were already familiar with Maccabiah, and had been anticipating it all session. Those who had yet to experience this special day caught on quickly with help from their peers, learning that Maccabiah is an all-camp, all-day color war. The entire community splits up into four teams – green, yellow, blue, and red – and spends the day engaged in friendly competition, taking part in all sorts of competitions to earn points for their team. Each Maccabiah has its own unique theme, with today’s being Harry Potter, each color representing a different Hogwarts house.

At breakfast, each team gathered in the commons to cheer on three games of volleyball (one for each age unit) before heading inside to the Chad, where the meal was spent sitting with their teams instead of cabins. Though Maccabiah may appear to be just a full day of fun and games on the surface, a closer look at moments like these reveals the opportunities for cross-cabin friendships to be fostered and teamwork to be strengthened that appear all throughout the day. The ruach, or spirit, of the cheers and chants never tear other teams down. Instead, they lift each other up, instilling confidence and camaraderie in the community, the room brimming with the true spirit of Maccabiah before the first meal of the day is even over.

By the end of breakfast, the sun had warmed away any cool drafts of air from the night before, the sky blue and clear as campers scattered underneath it. Each team spent time creating their own chants, songs, skits, and posters to present to the other groups. Afterwards, the age units traveled around to different stations, competing in trivia, various sports, and even cake decorating, varied and diverse activities that had something for everyone. Next was a silent lunch, both a fun challenge and a respite from the shouting and cheers of the rest of the day, followed by Menucha. In the afternoon was the Macc-o-peel, for many the pinnacle of Maccabiah.

The Macc-o-peel (or, to stick to the theme, the Magic-o-peel) is an all-camp relay race spanning the entirety of the Inner 40. Starting with a race up from the front gate and ending with a water-moving challenge, this is another activity that has a place for everyone. By the time they’ve reached the sports field for the race’s finale, campers might be soaked with water, covered in face paint, or sticky from whipped cream, each contentedly exhausted and proud of their contribution. No matter which team comes in first, everyone celebrates together with a color-powder party. Tonight, as everyone danced together amidst the bright (and washable!) powder, the teams mixed together, no longer separated, all united again as one community.

Such an active day could only be closed by one of the most unique evening programs: a movie night. Though it may seem a basic pastime, movies become novel once again at camp, a projector and a screen suddenly unusual and exciting against the background of the technology-free environment. Campers relaxed and enjoyed the film together, staying warm with the feeling of camaraderie around them despite the setting of the sun on the horizon. The camp was especially quiet tonight, most everyone asleep as soon as their heads hit their pillows, quickly deep in dreams of color and competition, teamwork and strength, ruach and cheer.

The Outer 400

When the words “Ranch Camp” are spoken, a very specific image comes to mind for many. Maybe some picture the Ranch Camp sign, where cabin photos are taken at the beginning of every session. Others may imagine the front gate, the first thing that lets people know they’ve finally arrived. Or maybe it’s the Chad, the Mo, a cabin, a favorite activity area. These images of camp are widely varied, but all have one thing in common – they exist in the inner 40 acres of camp.

The camp property is split into two parts: the Inner 40 and the Outer 400, each named for their respective acreage. Though most members of the community spend the majority of their time in the Inner 40 (where many of the previously mentioned classic camp images reside), the Outer 400 exists as a wealth of experience and opportunity, a sliver of the natural world that campers are able to engage in on a frequent basis.

While most activities are located close to the cabins, there are a few exceptions that take place past the fence. One of these is archery, a camp favorite and highly anticipated by all. Trained instructors teach the campers how to load, aim, and shoot their arrows, everyone taking part in this long-established sport while surrounded by the environment that it was designed for. Another one of these activities is ropes. Sometimes visible through the trees, the ropes course can be spotted during the drive up the main road. Activity groups bond and take their teamwork to the next level on low ropes before making their way further up the path to the high ropes course, where the beautiful scenery can be taken in from the best vantage point at camp.

These activities are some of the best around, but sometimes, the Outer 400 is best experienced without distraction. Campers in the EQ and Beginner Horsemanship programs (and very often those in the regular ranch programs as well) take their horses on trail rides, becoming one with the nature around them through their collaboration with the beautiful animals. The mountain bike activities are perfect for those who crave a more fast-paced kind of excitement, and for those who prefer to take their time and fully envelop themselves in the natural world, the teva wild hikes offer a wide and varied range of experiences. From the wide and sunny meadows to the cool and shady sand caves, the Outer 400 offers new discoveries and diversity at every turn.

But for many, time in the Outer 400 is best spent in one specific way: camping. Younger kids may sleep at Eddie’s Corner, an outdoor area mostly used for services that allows quick and easy access to bathrooms and cabins, making sure that what may be someone’s first foray into sleeping out is an experience that is both exciting and comfortable. Older kids might trek out farther, taking their sleeping bags to well-known campsites like Cold Mountain or Upper Mushroom. Campfires, s’mores, and storytelling round out these picturesque evenings under the stars. Even if the destination is a bunkbed rather than a tent, night hikes are the perfect opportunity to observe the world of Ranch Camp from a different perspective, moments for meditation or just quiet reflection offering a chance to process the excitement and experiences of the rest of camp.

Summer camp exists to many as a respite from the outside world, a place full of peace and joy, where community is prioritized and everyone is accepted just as they are. This is exemplified all over camp, but especially strongly in the Outer 400, where all experience levels are welcome, the awe fostered by nature is shared by all, and the surrounding natural world strengthens the bonds of all who enter and experience it together.

The Fourth of July!

Most mornings, upon waking up, the campers know what to expect from the day ahead of them – track activities in the morning, cabin activities and chugim in the afternoon, snacks and cabin time in between. Though the schedule may be the same, every moment holds potential for excitement and new opportunities. Some days, however, vary from the norm. Days like Maccabiah, the all-camp color war, or Israel Day. Most of these camp “holidays” make an appearance every session, but the session two campers are always in for a special treat, as they get to experience an extra special day at camp: the Fourth of July!

Like most days, the morning schedule consisted of tracks activities, breakfast and degel (the opening circle) taking place at the usual time – but the excitement in the air that began building with the sunrise made the morning feel different. Decked out in red, white, and blue, the camp community gathered to begin the celebrations, joining together into some especially rousing renditions of Modeh Ani, Hatikva, and, of course, the Star Spangled Banner. Breakfast reflected the mood of the day, pancakes topped with strawberries, blueberries, and powdered sugar to match the classic American colors.

The real celebrations, however, kicked off at lunch. Many people have traditions on the Fourth of July – perhaps a family camping trip, a barbeque, a trip to see fireworks. Ranch Camp is no different. Every year, the camp gathers on the field next to the pool instead of the Chad (or dining hall) for lunch, the smells of sunscreen and chlorine overpowered by the delicious scent of a classic Fourth of July picnic. Burgers, potato chips, and coleslaw are enjoyed while resting on towels in the shade, happy conversation floating on the breeze. Once they’ve eaten their fill, campers are free to jump in the pool or enjoy the annual camp carnival. Snow cones and cotton candy are a fitting dessert to the nutritious meal, enjoyed in between turns at a blow-up water slide, poses at the photo booth, friendly competition at various games, and a chance to soak counselors at the dunk tank.

As the sun climbed higher in the sky it became obscured by clouds, afternoon storms so reliable here that they are nearly a part of the schedule – but the weather didn’t put a damper on the celebrations, the festivities at the carnival bringing in the true atmosphere of summer. Like the chugim offered most afternoons, campers were free to choose which activities they took part in, but the sense of community that the mingling of age groups and genders brings was felt even more strongly than usual. Instead of splitting into groups for the free choice activities, every person at camp took part in the same activities at once, sharing the joy and enthusiasm that the carnival fostered. By the time it was over, it felt less like a carnival and more like a party, a gathering not of strangers but of friends and family. Bedtime came with the knowledge that the next day would return to the regular camp schedule, but the companionship and cheer fostered in just one afternoon is something that will not fade with the experiences of the days ahead.

Different Tracks, One Community

Each session at camp gives its campers a truly unique experience. Session one is two weeks long, a shorter session for those who want just a taste of camp. Session three is two and a half weeks, perfect for the kids who are craving even more time at camp (and who likely have been missing it the first few weeks of summer). Session two, right in the middle, is especially different – this is the session with the track system.

In the first and third sessions, campers (with the exception of campers in programs like EQ) travel around to the classic camp activities with groups of their same age. This is, of course, an amazing experience for many, giving the campers a well-rounded summer filled with many new experiences and interactions with all kinds of people. Some other campers come with something more specific in mind, looking forward to the drama and art activities, or excited for high ropes and mountain biking. These are the campers for whom the track system was created.

Every morning after breakfast, campers gather in the commons to split into their activity groups. Unlike the other sessions, these groups are not limited by age. Instead, campers join up with others in the same track, getting the opportunity to interact with people of all ages and genders. Once they’ve joined their groups, the day kicks off, each track nearly bursting with excitement for the specialized activities ahead of them.

First is Beginner Horsemanship. The EQ, or Equestrian, program has been an integral part of camp for years, offered for older campers every session. The Beginner Horsemanship program acts as an intro to EQ, giving younger kids who otherwise would participate in the ranch program the opportunity to work closely with horses, gaining skills and knowledge that will come in handy for their later participation in the EQ program. Decked out in boots and helmets, the Beginner Horsemanship kids can usually be found in the corral, saddling horses or learning to trot while bonding with both the horses and each other under the bright Colorado sky.

The kids in the Outdoor Adventure track share a similar desire to surround themselves in the natural world. Each day holds a new surprise in store. Hikes in the Outer 400 imbue a sense of awe as campers learn about the kind of flora and fauna present at camp and engage in nature hands-on. Mountain bike rides offer a similar ambiance, with the added rush of excitement and a new vantage point. Other times, the Outdoor Adventure group learns about the different knots and belaying techniques used at the ropes course or how to feed the animals in Teva. No matter what they’re doing that day, the name of the track holds true – every activity is an adventure.

For those more athletically inclined is the Sports track. Spending time on the bright green turf of Niven Field or in the cool clear water of the pool, the campers in the Sports track keep themselves active. These activities go above and beyond what regular activities like court sports or field sports offers. The campers throw their enthusiasm into learning the ins and outs of specific sports, working on their footwork in soccer, accuracy in basketball, or strokes in swimming. Through the activities, team bonding is more than natural, and campers leave the field each day with an even stronger sense of community and the knowledge that their camp friends always have their back.

But camp isn’t exclusive to outdoorsy or athletic individuals. One of the most anticipated tracks of the summer is the Arts and Culture track. Throughout the two and a half weeks, the campers in this track work towards a common goal: to put on a musical at the end of the session! Campers can audition for roles, but you don’t have to be onstage to be a star. Other campers in the track make the sets for the musical, and others design the costumes. Everyone’s passionate work culminates when the performance is put on for the rest of the camp, the perfect way to end the session.

The track system at camp is special to camp for so many reasons. The opportunity to focus on a passion is an obvious one, but another more subtle benefit is the impact the track system has on the community. With the opportunity to spend time with not only their own cabins, but campers from all over as well, both campers and staff alike come to share bonds with many people in the community. These bonds form a network that ties everyone together, and though the tracks may be different, there are many more similarities to share. The session has only been in for less than a week, but already, it’s obvious that the experiences they will have and the people they will meet in these next two and a half weeks will have a lasting impact on the lives of every camper.