Mac Cowboys

Maria Speaks Episode 30: Mac Cowboys.

Join me and a bunch of other Mac geeks for a dude ranch mini-vacation.


Welcome to WickenburgA few months ago, I started thinking about how cool it would be to have a computer conference here in Wickenburg, at my favorite guest ranch: Rancho de los Caballeros. Los Caballeros is not only the nicest dude ranch in this Dude Ranch Capital of Arizona, but it has the most interesting activities and the absolute best restaurant.

The idea was to invite a bunch of authors and let each of them do three or four sessions over a five-day period. The sessions would be in the morning and there would be all kinds of activities in the afternoon, like horseback riding, golf, shopping trips into town, Jeep tours, and, of course, helicopter rides. The people who came would have a lot of fun, learn a lot, and have a great opportunity to network with other Mac users. For some people, it could even be considered a business trip. Best of all, I could introduce people to Wickenburg, the little town I live in and often blog about.

The event would be called Mac Cowboys because of the western dude ranch theme.

Now in case you don’t know, I’m a busy person. It took me nearly forever to talk to the ranch people and crunch the numbers to see what the trip would cost. It looked feasible, so I set a date in early December, before the busy Christmas holidays. Then I got a list of possible author/speakers from one of my editors at Peachpit and invited them to attend.

I guess everyone is just as busy as I am. None of them could attend. I hope that it’s nothing I should be taking personally.

Desert SceneSo rather than give up the whole thing, I decided to restructure the event. I shortened it from five days to four. I cut the speakers from five to one. I cut the sessions from 12 to just two and made them more discussion based, giving all the participants a chance to share what they knew and ask everyone questions. I arranged the activities so all participants could go together, giving everyone an opportunity to network like crazy outside the meeting rooms. Then, with greatly reduced costs, I recalculated the per-person cost. The numbers I came up with were certainly within reason for a 4-day, all inclusive weekend at a luxury dude ranch.

Now I’m taking it public, offering it to the readers of my blog, podcast listeners, and the folks who buy Mac books from Peachpit Press.

Please understand that this isn’t a typical computer conference.

For a moment, think of the last computer conference you attended. You know, the one in the big conference hall with thousands of attendees shuffling around a show floor with shopping bags. The one with overcrowded dark classrooms with bad sound systems and speakers telling you more about whatever it is they’re trying to sell than something you really want to learn about. The one where you paid to get into the conference hall, you paid to sit through seminars, you paid to stay in a hotel, and you paid to eat disappointing meals. The one with uncomfortable free shuttles or long walks from your hotel to the conference hall. The one where your only entertainment were demos on the show floor or sad vendor parties with bad food and expensive alcohol.

Now wipe those ugly thoughts right from your mind.

Wickenburg SunsetMac Cowboys is a mini-vacation first: a four-day, three-night stay with luxury accommodations at a ranch that can only accommodate about a hundred and fifty people at once. You get yourself to Phoenix Sky Harbor airport or Wickenburg and just about everything else is paid for — ground transportation to and from the ranch, hotel room, three meals a day, horseback riding, golf, Jeep tour, helicopter tour, swimming, tennis, nature hikes — all kinds of activities. There’s even free wi-fi access in certain hotspots throughout the ranch. All you pay for is alcoholic beverages and extras like skeet shooting or golf cart or club rental.

I’ve set aside three short hours a day on the two middle days for official business stuff: a pair of conference sessions where you can learn more about using your Mac. One session covers Mac OS X topics. The other covers Web publishing topics. And there will be plenty of informal sessions among participants to pick brains and get burning questions answered.

And if you’re wondering what December is like in Wickenburg, AZ, imagine 60° to 70° F sunny days — often without a cloud in the sky. Weather won’t keep you inside during the day. Sure, at night it gets cold, but it also gets dark. And you have to rest sometime.

Sound good? I think so — and I do this stuff all the time.

This first Mac Cowboys event, which is scheduled for December 7th through 10th, 2006, is a test of my idea. If it works out on this small scale, it should work out on a larger scale with more speakers and more guests. If it ever outgrows Los Cab or I feel like trying someplace new, I can take it on the road to another ranch. I’d like to do it once or twice a year, just to keep life interesting.

So consider this your formal invitation. Come on out to Wickenburg and be a Mac Cowboy for a few days.

Want more information? Check out the Mac Cowboys Web site at

What do you think?