OCEAN SPRINGS, Miss. (WGNO) - When the king of rock and roll wanted a break from the maddening crowds, he traveled to a dude ranch in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. The setting is now the Gulf Hills Hotel and Conference Center, but from 1951 to 1957, it's where Elvis and his entourage came for the other version of "R and R."
"It was Elvis, the band, the entourage, mom, dad, everybody and their brother came here," says Donna Brown, now the General Manager of the property.
"He came here first of all because of his love for horses and we were the dude ranch," says Donna.
"Back in 1951 Gulf Hills -- you might as well have been in Timbuktu. This was a hidden gem. I mean it almost still is."
Elvis rode a horse named Eli, and legend says that the ranch is where he learned how to water ski.
Now, there's a 2,000 square-foot suite named the "Love Me Tender, Love Me Suite." It has three bedrooms and four bathrooms, all decorated in authentic 1950's era style, along with plenty of Elvis memorabilia.
Donna says the wife of one of the hotel's owners did all the collecting and decorating, keeping it classy, but catering to the king's love for the extreme.
"So like the headboards are huge. They're 6 feet tall and they're made with leather or velvet and massive woods," describes Donna.
At first, the hotel owners who took over the ranch weren't sure if they would play-up the Elvis connection -- but once they opened their doors, Donna says it was an easy decision.
"That first six months that we were here, not a day went by -- and to this day it continues -- that somebody doesn't stop in, call, send an e-mail and say 'Did this used to be the dude ranch?'" she laughs.
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