One of the perks of my job is I get to go and check out the rides we offer. I have travelled all over the world and have been on some of the best horses, seen some of the most beautiful sceneries and met some of the most interesting people. Even though I was quite busy in the office my wife, Roberta, and I decided to go and check out some of our offers in Arizona again this December – it had been quite some time that I had been there. It is only a short flight from Vancouver and the fact that it had been raining for 2 weeks straight, helped to make a quick decision.
As I said – it had been a while – and I certainly did not remember the variety of the different landscape you find between the southern part and the northern part of the state – it was amazing, but we get to that later.
We found a direct flight into Phoenix, where we rented a car (Jeep Wrangler) and started our journey in the late afternoon.
White Stallion Ranch
Our first stop was the White Stallion Ranch. We have been selling the White Stallion Ranch for over 10 years, so I knew I would find a great place, since all the trip reports have been excellent. My job was to identify what makes the ranch special and what type of our clients would be best served with a stay there – not all great places are perfect for everyone, which is of course true for any of our trips.
The first observation was an extremely friendly staff from the beginning – which contributed to the overall friendly atmosphere of the ranch. They had a full house with over 40 guests, and while at times that can seem isolating if you are on your own – that is not the case at the White Stallion Ranch. It seems the warmth of the staff and owner, Russell True – a very charming man, creates an ambiance that includes everyone. It does not matter if you come with your family, a group of friends or alone: it will not take long before you are part of a group of people. I was riding on my own (my wife does not ride – figure that!) and immediately became part of a group of four when we competed in the Cattle Penning, which is a lot of fun for anyone at any riding level. The guests come from all over the world and most of them come year after year – some even several times a year.
The riding is very well organized and can cater to any riding level. They are extremely safety-oriented from start to finish.
Any time you mount a horse they have a raised platform for you and a wrangler is there to hold your horse (even out on the breakfast ride). Each group of riders (usually 8) will be accompanied by 2 wranglers; one in the front and one in the back. The riding pace is fairly slow, but the “loping rides” do offer several nice short, controlled canters. Two all day rides are offered every week and 2-3 times a week you can participate in the team penning, which was my highlight of the riding part.
Team Penning: Everyone gathers in the large arena in groups of 4 riders. The job is to ride (race) to the end of the arena, where several steers are being held in a corner. The “lead man” gets there first and cuts out 3 of the steers and starts moving them to the right along the fence line. The other 3 riders cover the flanks, so they cannot break out. The goal is to manoeuvre them around the fence and then into a small holding coral. Of course these cattle know what is going on and kind of go on their own – but not always. For example, on our first try one of them decided to head back so our time was not great. But the second and third attempts were excellent at 18 and then 16 seconds – a pretty good time for a bunch of rookies!
Accommodations were spacious, clean and very comfortable. Wi-Fi inside the casitas was very good. Meals were very good buffet style with several options each day. The ranch grounds are immaculate with a very nice garden (lots of cacti) all along the casitas, the walkways and other areas. There is a nice small pool and an indoor Jacuzzi. The massage service seemed to be a great hit with the guests, but we did not use it.
Overall, this is a great place to go relax, have fun and enjoy the Arizona desert. Perfect for couples, groups and individual travellers. It is very close to Tucson but still secluded enough that you can truly “get away” – they have 3000 acres of private land and the rights to ride into the adjoining National Park, which is home to thousands of magnificent cacti. Probably not the best place for people looking for more independent riding or fast paced riding or those that want to have a closer contact with their horse – like brushing and saddling – since this is all done for you by the time you come to the corals. Even though there may be 40 riders it does not feel like it once you are out on the trail.
Rancho de la Osa
Our next stop was to the south – way south. The ranch is fairly close to the Mexican border, but completely untouched from any kind of the issues that one may hear in the news. This is one of the oldest haciendas in Arizona that has been inhabited throughout the times. The thick 3 foot adobe walls must have some stories to tell. The ranch has very much a different feel to it; more of a Mexican influence with palpable history. They were not very busy – just getting ready for the Christmas guests to arrive. Each bedroom, suite, dining room and bar has its own atmosphere with different colors and decors- very unique. The owner of the ranch has a real touch for vogue painting and we were told that it changes on a regular basis – he just loves to paint!
The dining room had a classic historical feel to it. I am sure some movies were made here in the past or will be at some point. It is more like a traditional hacienda rather than a guest ranch. Here the guest will find a very personal ambiance – a perfect place to find peace and quiet for a week. Each ride and activity is personalized to your wishes so riding groups are usually quite small.
Coming from the last ranch we missed some of the abundance of the cacti around the buildings, but overall we felt very comfortable and at home. So if you are looking for a getaway with a historic background … you will love it here.
Tombstone Apache Spirit Ranch
From the border we drove all the way east to visit and inspect this new guest ranch that just opened up outside of Tombstone. I assume everyone has heard of the “tourist” town of Tombstone, its gunfights and other historical re-enactments. Well I had and so thought this was a place for the kids and romantics of the Old West – not really my kind of thing. However, I was in for a very pleasant surprise! At first it all appeared just like I had expected when driving into Tombstone for dinner at the saloon (not the ranch yet) and yes it is a bit touristy, but it became apparent that the people that actually live in Tombstone really like their history and their way of life. They actually dress up the part and it almost looks all real if it was not for some of the tourists around. It gives you a feeling of what it was like in the old days. Having a beer at the bar of the old saloon – knowing that Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday once shared a beer at the same place – was special to me, to my surprise!
Then we drove on to the ranch, which is just a few of miles outside town. The owners (some investors from Germany in co-operation with some of the business men of Tombstone) created a smaller version of Tombstone itself; of course a newer version, but just as captivating and at a 4-star level. They created a small Western street with the facades straight out of the movies. The only things missing were a couple of horses tight up in front of the rooms and they are working on that.You could not find more friendly and hospitable hosts – always eager to please. Everyone that works at the ranch seemed to be living their dream (they all were really into it) which was a nice atmosphere to enter into.
All the rooms have their entrances off the “main street” and each room has its own ambiance and style. I would certainly rate all of them 4+ stars and one of a kind as a guest ranch. The whole set up comes with an excellent restaurant (many dinners are taken outside on the main street) with a superb chef, a full Western saloon with authentic bar and poker table. We had some of the best lamb ever and played poker with Doc Holliday (the one in the show in Tombstone). My wife, who had never played in her life of course, cleaned up and won everything, but I think Doc must have cheated a bit and gave her the good cards.
The riding was very enjoyable with lots of options for a nice canter and my horse was one of the best horses that I have been on for a while. The ranch is working on some great day trips where they will take the horses and rider to different trailheads for a good variety of scenery and trails.
They also took us into the Dragoon Mountains, which was a great experience. Two native guides took us along, explained their history and culture and traded stories of the time of Cochise and his favourite hangout. They brought some of the roots of cacti and other natural foods that can be found in abundance out there which were quite tasty. Some of the walls had rock paintings dating back to the Anasazi people that were there long before the Apache. We all returned to the ranch with a feeling of better understanding the old times … wonderful, but my wife said that she is glad that she did not live back then … I think I would agree even though it was probably a bit better for us guys than for the women … what a tough life … or what do you think ? We both came back appreciating our life today just a little bit more. We cannot wait to go back to the ranch, maybe in February.
Apache Ride/Cross Country Arizona
Our next visit was to our partners, Dominique and Ron, who run the Arizona progressive camping rides. From Tombstone we drove back to Tucson to meet with them. Their little horse ranch is just 30 minutes south of Tucson, but you think you are in the middle of nowhere. They are very happy in the little hideout with all of their horses. From November to March they are off after a 9 month “camping trip” all across Arizona from the Apache Ride and the Cross Country Arizona to the Geronimo/Grand Canyon and Monument Valley rides. Driving across Arizona we actually had the privilege to see many of the different riding areas and they were really spectacular, especially the Superstition Mountains. Dominique and Ron are true horse people: they live and breathe “horse”. They have chosen a very unique lifestyle and seem to be very content with it. We talked a lot about the horses, tack, the horse trailers and the shower set up, the limitation of water in some areas and how beautiful Arizona really is. I am glad that we found these great people to run our trips.
Cattle Ranch in Pleasant Valley
From Tucson it was a long and beautiful drive to the north (5 hrs). The cattle ranch is just outside of Payson, which seemed to be in a different state altogether. Desert and cacti gave away to mountains, canyons and large forests. Here there truly were some of the most spectacular US sights that I have ever seen.
We reached the ranch after dark and had to drive the dirt road going in very carefully. I recommend that if you drive in do so while it is light out. Also you will be able to see more of the great surroundings!
The lodge is breathtaking, spacious and far beyond anything one would expect at a cattle ranch. The dining and living areas are comparable to a 5-star resort, the kitchen is top notch and the rooms are very, very, very nice. I would say that from a “cattle ranch” perspective this is the most luxurious.
We were greeted by the owners’ daughter who specially came up to the ranch just because of us, since there were no guests at the moment (full house the next week). She is an excellent host and fantastic cook (don’t plan on losing any weight up there – it is just too good). We met Pete, the manager, the wrangler and his two young sons (he has a total of 5) and had a great time. All of them are truly interested in providing a great time for their guests.
The ride out into the ranch and range further opened my eyes to the beauty of the area; pictures just cannot do justice – you must see it to appreciate it. Wide open grasslands, big canyons, meandering creeks; all were just spectacular and my horse was very nice to ride. There are plenty of elk and deer, and some black bears and cougars in the area. We did not see them all except plenty of the Whitetail Deer. The ranch also offers skeet shooting (from 10 stands), an archery and shooting range, sightseeing trips by jeep as well as good fishing in their own private pond.
After our relaxing stay we headed back to Phoenix along the “back road” which we truly enjoyed and I would recommend to anyone that decides to drive in and has an extra hour to spare. You could not ask for more spectacular scenery including big canyons, lakes and desert full of typical cacti. The highlight was the area of the Superstition Mountains, which we now saw from the other side, rounding out the impression they left. I should not forget to mention that the ranch is in the Tonto National Forest which embraces almost 3 million acres of rugged and spectacularly beautiful country, ranging from Saguaro cactus-studded desert to pine-forested mountains beneath the Mogollon Rim – worth visiting for anyone that spends any time in Arizona.