Ari­zona Trails

Snow on the ground? Give your trail horse a break, and en­joy the rus­tic el­e­gance of a Tucson guest ranch.

Horse & Rider - - Contents - BY KENT AND CHARLENE KRONE

Snow on the ground? Give your trail horse a break, and en­joy the rus­tic el­e­gance of a Tucson guest ranch.

You awaken to the sound of gal­lop­ing horses thun­der­ing into a cor­ral. Out your win­dow you catch glimpses of these steeds rac­ing through clouds of dust to wran­glers’ shouts. Af­ter a hearty break­fast, you find your per­sonal horse, and mount up.

You pen horses, tend cat­tle, then en­joy a rugged ride in the moun­tains fol­lowed by a lope through an end­less desert. A great sense of free­dom and seren­ity set­tles in. You have a tasty lunch on the trail, then ride back and set­tle down on the ranch house’s front porch un­til time for a chuck­wagon bar­be­cue din­ner. You top off the evening with a soak in a spa and the li­ba­tion of your choice.

Wel­come to a guest-ranch va­ca­tion in warm, wel­com­ing Tucson, Ari­zona. The area is steeped in West­ern his­tory and cat­tle ranch­ing, a her­itage lo­cal guest ranches keep alive for all to en­joy.

We’ve found that a guest-ranch ex­pe­ri­ence can be life-chang­ing. Many folks leave the ranch with a re­newed sense of pur­pose. Guest ranches also cre­ate a sense of fam­ily that will tempt you to re­turn year af­ter year.

Ready to hit Ari­zona trails and en­joy au­then­tic ac­com­mo­da­tions? Here’s the run­down on four of Tucson’s best guest ranches: Elkhorn Ranch, Ha­cienda Del Sol Guest Ranch Re­sort, Tanque Verde Ranch, and White Stal­lion Ranch.

Elkhorn Ranch

Elkhorn Ranch ( elkhorn­, 50 miles south­west of Tucson, fo­cuses on top-notch trail horses, a value passed down through gen­er­a­tions. In 1922 Ernest and Grace Miller started their first Elkhorn Ranch in Mon­tana’s Gal­latin Val­ley. In 1945 the Millers came to the Babo­quiv­ari Moun­tains, 50 miles south­west of Tucson, to es­tab­lish a win­ter-sea­son work­ing and guest ranch.

For years the Millers hauled their horses, tack, and all the guest-ranch trap­pings north and south with the sea­sons. Fi­nally, in 1961, their son Bob and his wife, Jan, stayed in Ari­zona. With their four chil­dren they built the Elkhorn Ranch into the won­der­ful place you see to­day.

The third gen­er­a­tion of the fam­ily— Charley and Mary Miller and Tom and Anne Miller—live and work at Elkhorn year-round, main­tain­ing the work­ing ranch and rais­ing and train­ing their trea­sured horses.

The ranch herd cur­rently con­sists of about 120 sad­dle horses, breed­ing stock, and colts. The Millers es­tab­lished their own breed­ing pro­gram at Elkhorn with a Thor­ough­bred-Percheron cross stal­lion and Quar­ter Horse mares. Draft-cross horses typ­i­cally have sound minds and strong, ath­letic bod­ies.

As foals ma­ture, they’re grad­u­ally turned out onto the moun­tain­ous coun­try around the ranch. The Millers’ train­ing pro­gram starts colts around age 2 and turns the horses into trail mounts around age 4. The Millers take their time to pre­pare trail mounts men­tally and phys­i­cally.

Guests may keep the same horse through­out their visit. Rid­ing the same horse ev­ery day cre­ates an op­por­tuni- ty to form a bond be­tween rider and horse. Rid­ing the ranch’s 10,000 acres is an ad­ven­tur­ous way to ex­pe­ri­ence the area trails. Lope in the desert, walk the re­mote canyons, and tackle the Babo­quiv­ari Moun­tains. A de­li­cious lunch is in­cluded on all day-rides.

Six guides take out small rid­ing groups; each ride is tai­lored to the guests’ de­sires. The horses get ev­ery Sun­day off, cre­at­ing a per­fect time to re­lax, swim, hike, bird­watch, and see the lo­cal sights.

Ha­cienda Del Sol Guest Ranch Re­sort

Ha­cienda Del Sol Guest Ranch Re­sort ( ha­cien­dadel­ is lo­cated on Tucson’s north­ern edge. The ranch’s Span­ish Colo­nial ar­chi­tec­tural style is in­spired by the Moor­ish ar­chi­tec­ture of the 18th and 19th cen­turies. Step into Ha­cienda Del Sol, and travel back to the lux­u­ri­ous days of Tucson’s past. The re­sort is one of our na­tion’s His­toric Ho­tels of Amer­ica, rec­og­nized by the Na­tional Trust for His­toric Preser­va­tion.

Orig­i­nal own­ers John and He­len Mur­phey, who helped build the ranch, were con­nois­seurs of beauty. He­len helped carve in­tri­cate pat­terns into the li­brary’s beamed ceil­ings. Hand-ham­mered light fix­tures and hand-painted tiles were done by lo­cal ar­ti­sans. The Mur­pheys de­signed their ha­cienda to be a desert haven and an artis­tic re­treat.

From 1929 to 1948 the place was called the Ha­cienda Del Sol Ranch School for Girls, of­fer­ing a col­lege-prepara­tory cur­ricu­lum along with West­ern ranch ac­tiv­i­ties. The ranch gained na­tional recog­ni­tion with such names on the ros­ter as Pills­bury, Van­der­bilt, Kel­logg, West­ing­house, and Camp­bell.

In the late 1930s, fa­mous Swiss ar­chi­tect Josias Joesler was com­mis-

sioned to re­build ar­eas of the ha­cienda in a South­west­ern style that was later in­stru­men­tal in in­flu­enc­ing Tucson’s dis­tinct ar­chi­tec­ture. Ha­cienda Del Sol is one of the old­est ex­am­ples of Joesler’s work in the re­gion. His work con­tin­ued un­til 1948 when the prop­erty be­came a guest ranch.

As a guest ranch, it be­came a fa­vorite hide­away for such lu­mi­nar­ies as Spencer Tracy, Kather­ine Hep­burn, John Wayne, Clark Gable, and Howard Hughes. Even­tu­ally the ranch fell into de­cline un­til 1995 when new own­ers en­vi­sioned restor­ing the ha­cienda to its for­mer glory. Great care was taken in keep­ing the orig­i­nal build­ings and nat­u­ral sur­round­ings in­tact. This ar­chi­tec­tural show­piece fea­tures thick adobe walls, bee­hive fire­places, and lov­ing per­sonal touches. In 2005 32 ad­di­tional guest rooms with views of the Santa Catalina Moun­tains were added to the re­sort.

The grand de­sign, along with el­e­gant and ca­sual din­ing op­tions, make Ha­cienda Del Sol a once-in-a-life­time guest-ranch des­ti­na­tion.

At the orig­i­nal en­trance we were greeted with an ar­ray of flow­ers, shrub­bery, and herbs. In the lobby we ex­plored rooms re­stored to their past grandeur. Of par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est to us was the small li­brary, in­tact with orig­i­nal books from the 1930s.

The sta­bles are lo­cated down the hill from the main struc­tures. There are fewer trail-rid­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties here than at other area guest ranches. How­ever, the ranch does of­fer short, cross-coun­try, and sun­set rides. Am­ble through a gor­geous desert with ex­pan­sive vis­tas aboard one of the re­sort’s trusty mounts.

Tanque Verde Ranch

Tanque Verde Ranch ( tan­queverde may well be the crown jewel of Ari­zona guest ranches. Lo­ca­tion plays a big role. Sit­u­ated east of Tucson and en­com­pass­ing 640 deeded acres and 60,000 leased acres, the ranch rises into the Rin­con Moun­tains bor­dered by Saguaro Na­tional Park and Coron­ado Na­tional For­est.

Brownie Cote, a mem­ber of the Dude Ranch­ers Hall of Fame, first de­vel­oped the prop­erty into a guest ranch. He was mo­ti­vated by a pas­sion to “de­velop the lives of youth.” What bet­ter way to achieve this goal than through out­door ac­tiv­i­ties and horse­back rid­ing?

The Cote fam­ily still owns and man­ages the ranch. Over the years Tanque Verde has ex­panded to ac­com­mo­date a va­ri­ety of guests yet has re­tained its true na­ture. It’s a beau­ti­ful ranch where guests can ride to their heart’s de­light, then ride some more. With a choice of 150 trail mounts, each guest can be care­fully matched to a horse.

Tanque Verde of­fers a va­ri­ety of rides daily, along with spe­cialty rides, such as sun­set and break­fast rides. The break­fast ride was a fa­vorite of ours: soft, but­tery morn­ing light bathed the cholla cac­tus and re­flected off wind-sculp­tured rocks. As the sun peered over the Rin­con Moun­tains and we reached the break­fast spot, the smell of ba­con in­fused the sage­brush-scented air. A per­fect morn­ing!

Tanque Verde knows the most im­por­tant in­gre­di­ent of a suc­cess­ful guest ranch—happy, sat­is­fied guests! The ranch strives to make each guest’s stay a mem­o­rable, happy ex­pe­ri­ence.

Larry and Gina Bel­trame trav­eled

here from Des Moines, Iowa. Larry, who loves horses, was hav­ing the time of his life. Gina, who was un­able to ride be­cause of a car ac­ci­dent, wor­ried that she’d feel like “a fish out of wa­ter.” Much to her de­light, she loved all the non-horse ac­tiv­i­ties, as well as the ranch ca­ma­raderie.

Julie and Amanda Michel, a cheer­ful mother-daugh­ter cou­ple from North Dakota, loved the sun and spa ser­vice. In the morn­ing, they were head­ing out on their first horse­back ride. “It doesn’t get bet­ter than this!” Julie told us with a grin.

When you’re not rid­ing, sign up of one of Tanque Verde’s ed­u­ca­tional pro­grams. We loved the na­ture walk! We learned about the ed­i­ble and medic­i­nal prop­er­ties of plants we see when rid­ing in the desert. Af­ter a day in the sad­dle, you can soothe away sore­ness in the hot tub, fol­lowed by the ranch’s sig­na­ture prickly pear mar­garita.

White Stal­lion Ranch

We first vis­ited White Stal­lion Ranch ( whitestal­ on a warm, sunny win­ter day. We’d just left snowy west­ern Mon­tana and rev­eled in the con­trast. We’d heard about the ranch by word-of-mouth. The ranch lived up to and ex­ceeded our ex­pec­ta­tions.

Rus­sel True’s par­ents ac­quired the ranch in 1965. Rus­sel is en­thu­si­as­tic about the ranch and its his­tory. White Stal­lion was built in the early 1900s as a cat­tle ranch. The orig­i­nal build­ings were made from adobe brick.

David Young, the prop­erty’s first deeded owner, home­steaded here from 1936 to 1939. Grad­u­ally the prop­erty be­came a guest ranch and was pur­chased by Rus­sel’s par­ents, Allen and Cynthia True. At that time the ranch con­sisted of 17 rooms, 17 horses, and 200 acres. Tucson was ex­pand­ing, caus­ing a dras­tic drop in the num­ber of guest ranches. Be­ing far­sighted, the Trues be­gan pur­chas­ing land, in­creas­ing the ranch size to 3,000 acres. To­day the ranch has 41 rooms plus a four-bed­room ha­cienda.

White Stal­lion Ranch has one of the largest pri­vately owned herds of horses in Ari­zona and a herd of cat­tle. The Trues do a good job of putting these horses to use; there are a num­ber of rides to choose from. Moun­tain rides take you into the Tucson Moun­tains to Movie Pass, named for the Hol­ly­wood movies filmed there over the last 50 years. They also of­fer half-day rides, wine-and-cheese rides, and fast rides.

Fast rides are an ex­cit­ing way to ex­pe­ri­ence the desert. There’s noth­ing like gal­lop­ing on a speedy, well-trained ranch mount with the wind in your face and saguaros fly­ing by. To do the fast ride you must pass a lop­ing test in the arena. We had to take the test even though we’re horse own­ers. We felt bet­ter when we learned that a world cham­pion rodeo cow­boy va­ca­tion­ing at the ranch also had to take the test.

Our fa­vorite was the all-day ride, a com­bi­na­tion of walk­ing and lop­ing on a 23-mile loop through a sec­tion of Saguaro Na­tional Park. Con­sider this ride if you’re an ex­pe­ri­enced and con­di­tioned trail rider, as you’ll be in the sad­dle for around eight hours. How­ever, time goes by quickly as you ride through rugged canyons and stretches of desert and visit Na­tive Amer­i­can pet­ro­glyphs. It’s an ex­cel­lent way to cap your va­ca­tion at White Stal­lion Ranch. 

FAR-LEFT: Step into Ha­cienda Del Sol Guest Ranch Re­sort, and travel back to Tucson’s lux­u­ri­ous past. TOP-RIGHT: White Stal­lion Ranch’s moun­tain rides take you to Movie Pass in the Tucson Moun­tains, where Hol­ly­wood Westerns were filmed. BOT­TOM-RIGHT: Rid­ing Elkhorn Ranch’s 10,000 acres is an ad­ven­tur­ous way to ex­pe­ri­ence area trails.

TOP: At Ha­cienda Del Sol’s orig­i­nal en­trance we were greeted with an ar­ray of na­tive flow­ers, shrub­bery, and herbs. BOT­TOM: The break­fast ride at Tanque Verde was a fa­vorite: morn­ing light bathed the cholla cac­tus and re­flected off wind-sculp­tured rocks.

White Stal­lion Ranch has 41 rooms, plus a four-bed­room ha­cienda.

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