Win­ter Rid­ing in Ari­zona

Trail Rider - - CACTUS COUNTRY - STORY AND PHO­TOS BY JULE DROWN

FFrom Novem­ber through April, the warm, sunny Ari­zona desert of­fers win­ter trail rid­ing at its finest. If you plan to head to this area this win­ter, here are some help­ful hints from a lo­cal. (For con­tact in­for­ma­tion for the des­ti­na­tions and rid­ing clubs men­tioned, see the re­source guide on page 23.)

Pick a Lo­cale

If you have time, bring your horse, and stay for an ex­tended visit. If you’re look­ing for a com­bi­na­tion of nice weather, plenty of trails, and nearby ameni­ties, head to Phoenix or Tuc­son, Ari­zona’s two largest ci­ties. Day tem­per­a­tures will usu­ally range from the 50s to 80s. There are sev­eral horse-ori­ented com­mu­ni­ties in the Phoenix area. Two of the best are Apache Junc­tion and Cave Creek. Both of­fer plenty of spec­tac­u­lar desert rid­ing. In Tuc­son, check out Saguaro Na­tional Park, both the West and East units.

The town of Catalina, north of Tuc­son, at­tracts nu­mer­ous snow­birds with horses. Many peo­ple rent or own win­ter homes in Catalina with a cor­ral for their horses. You can ride your horse right down the lit­tle streets of Catalina to ac­cess miles of trails along the Santa Catalina Moun­tain foothills.

If you like slightly cooler tem­per­a­tures and would rather be away from the city,

Jule Drown head to a smaller com­mu­nity, suck as Will­cox, Ben­son, or Wick­en­burg. In th­ese ar­eas, you’ll need a trailer to reach out­ly­ing trail­heads on pub­lic lands.

Hit the Trails

It’ll prob­a­bly be easy to hook up with other rid­ers to ex­plore the lo­cal trails. For ex­am­ple, in Tuc­son, rid­ing clubs — such as the Tuc­son Sad­dle Club and the County Line Rid­ers — of­fer vol­un­teer-led rides ev­ery week. Check the clubs’ web­sites for de­tailed in­for­ma­tion on their ac­tiv­i­ties and how to join.

It’s also easy to in­cor­po­rate trail rid­ing into a short win­ter va­ca­tion in Ari­zona. Around my home in Tuc­son, I rec­om­mend Hay Creek Ranch in Or­a­cle, Ari­zona, and Lazy Horse Ranch in Pearce, Ari­zona, near wine coun­try and the moun­tains once fre­quented by the Apaches.

The White Stal­lion Ranch and Tanque Verde Ranch are es­tab­lished guest ranches in Tuc­son.

Three fab­u­lous state parks in Ari­zona wel­come eques­tri­ans: Catalina State Park; Or­a­cle State Park; and Dead Horse State Park.

Catalina State Park, north­west of Tuc­son, has pipe cor­rals that hold up to 16 horses. You can also set up your own pen. If you’d like to stay a week or two, there’s plenty of room for your liv­ing-quarters trailer. The overnight fee is nom­i­nal and restau­rants are lo­cated right across the street from the park en­trance.

My friends and I like to tent camp for a week­end with my horses at the park’s eques­trian cen­ter. It’s also a popular des­ti­na­tion for lo­cal rid­ers who en­joy day rides.

Or­a­cle State Park is on the other side of the Santa Catalina Moun­tains from Tuc­son. Although there isn’t any overnight camp­ing, you can stay at nearby Hay Creek Ranch. The Ari­zona Trail is among many trails that cut straight through the park.

All trails al­low rid­ers, ex­cept for the ones sur­round­ing the park’s vis­i­tor cen­ter, which is used for en­vi­ron­men­tal ed­u­ca­tion. The park, 3,700 to 4,600 feet in el­e­va­tion, is rainier than the other parks listed here; this wet­ter cli­mate sup­ports trees and grass. With no ci­ties in sight, the park also of­fers amaz­ing vis­tas.

Be fore­warned: Or­a­cle can re­ceive snow

From Novem­ber through April, the warm, sunny Ari­zona desert of­fers win­ter trail rid­ing at its finest. Here, Jule Drown rides her geld­ing, Ale­gro, while pony­ing Cle­mentino, on a beau­ti­ful win­ter’s day near Tuc­son’s Santa Catalina Moun­tains.

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