Driving past the golf course into the Sonoran desert landscape, my daughter and I spotted the stables and let out a little “yee-haw!” We were excited to settle in to
this historic Arizona dude ranch and meet the horses that we would be riding for the next few days. We were both anticipating adventure! My daughter is 11, is an avid horse lover and mostly rides English on her Welsh Cobb pony Gabe in Scottsdale. I ride infrequently but Western is the style of riding I learned when visiting my aunt and uncle every summer in West Texas.
Located in Wickenburg, Arizona, Rancho de los Caballeros has more than 80 trail horses that carry hundreds of ranch visitors every year from mid-October to mid-May. After the last trail ride in May, the horses are trailered to Wyoming where they spend a few weeks in cool, lush pastures before heading off to their summer job – working at a dude ranch in the cooler climes of the states. In the fall, they will make their way back to Rancho de los Caballeros and enjoy a warm winter and spring in the desert. Can they be considered snowbirds?
On most days, there are several trail rides to choose from, including a children’s ride (ages 6-12), a family ride and a nature ride. On Sundays there is one morning ride and the horses get the afternoon off. Most rides are one and a half to two hours in duration and are led by friendly and experienced trail guides. During the peak weather season, a weekly trail ride to the lunch cookout near Vulture Peak is a highlight. Groups leave the stables for a two-hour ride through the desert washes and ridges (while others opt for the 20 minute mini-van ride) and meet at the cookout location surrounded by Saguaro cactus, desert marigolds and impressive mountain vistas. Chairs are placed in circles simulating a campfire and horses are tied up on lines reminiscent of the old cowboy movies. Picturesque for sure, but being able to experience this community gathering is something special.
Containers of lemonade and iced tea sit alongside a bartender pouring wine and offering beer for those who desire a little boost after the morning ride. When the sound of the triangle is heard, kids and adults line up for the scrumptious buffet of salads – green, potato, macaroni – and burgers, dogs and homemade veggie patties hot off the grill. Not to miss is the cowboy beans (get two servings!). From what we could surmise, the combination of pinto and black beans, veggies and a secret sweet-like ingredient make this an award-winning side dish.
Having been around horses off and on throughout my life and being an advocate for animals, I was very impressed with the way that the ranch personnel handled the horses and how they helped visitors, even those with no horse experience, learn how to safely ride and work with their mounts. Equally impressive were the horses themselves. Safety is my number one concern and I was happy to see that these horses were comfortable around each other and with people. They were alert and friendly and seemed to take their jobs seriously. Riders of all ages and stages (inexperienced through professional) can find what they are looking for at the stables.
Other outdoor activities at the ranch include swimming in the heated pool, golf on the nearby course and tennis. The ranch also offers a full-service spa, saloon, kids club, nature hikes, trap and skeet shooting and the perfect environment to unwind and appreciate life. We enjoyed sitting poolside for lunch one day and Eco relished the opportunity to take a dip after each of her rides. The breakfast and lunch buffets offer plenty of variety and because meals are included in the stay, there is an ease and simplicity about mealtimes. For dinner, the men are asked to wear jackets or Western vests (if you don’t have one, the ranch has some available to “borrow”) and reservations are suggested for one of the three seating times nightly. Dee, the ranch wrangler, visits each table to answer questions and sign up riders for the next day.
Rancho de los Caballeros means Ranch of the Gentlemen on Horseback and the lobby area, with its massive stone fireplace, cozy seating vignettes, card room and pool table, exudes Southwestern charm and reminds me of Camelback Inn and the old Mountain Shadows in Paradise Valley – casual elegance. Tucked into an area off the lobby is a shelf of scrapbooks that holds memories of the ranch and its visitors since its founding in 1947 by three families – depicted in the ranch’s Sun C brand with three rays of sunshine – one of which still runs the ranch today (the Gant family).
Part of the Historic Hotels of America, Dude Ranchers’ Association and the Arizona Dude Ranch Association, Rancho de los Caballeros is also rated in the Top 50 Ranches and Golf Digest’s top 5 golf courses in Arizona. Cultural offerings can also be found in the nearby town of Wickenburg, such as the Desert Caballeros Western Museum and performances at the Del E. Webb Center for Performing Arts.
Spending time together in the saddle, by the pool and playing pool, at mealtimes, and in our room without the typical time constraints provided an opportunity for my daughter and I to enjoy each other’s company and get to know a little bit more about each other on a different level. When it was time to leave, we were both sad but vowed to book our next visit as soon as we looked at our calendars. See ya’ll real soon!
Visit Rancho de los Caballeros at www.ranchodeloscaballeros.com.