Ari­zona Par­adise

Trail Rider - - NEWS - BY JULE DROWN

Head to the his­toric Cir­cle Z Ranch in Patag­o­nia, Ari­zona, for high desert rid­ing un­der wide blue skies and warm sun­shine. Plus: Two bring-your-own-horse des­ti­na­tions in South­ern Ari­zona.

IIf you’re ready for a get­away, pack your jeans and boots, and head to Ari­zona’s Cir­cle Z Ranch (520/394-2525; www.cir­, lo­cated just an hour from the Tuc­son air­port, near the town of Patag­o­nia al­most to the Mex­i­can bor­der.

The Cir­cle Z is a 6,500-acre desert par­adise in­ter­sected by a lush ri­par­ian, tree-lined stream that of­fers com­mand­ing views of the Patag­o­nia and Santa Rita Moun­tains.

Ari­zona’s old­est guest ranch, the Cir­cle Z has been host­ing guests for 91 years. The ranch’s ster­ling rep­u­ta­tion is ev­i­denced by the suc­ces­sive gen­er­a­tions of fam­i­lies who visit, as well as the peo­ple who re­turn an­nu­ally.

Sur­rounded by a large cat­tle ranch, state land, and the Coron­ado Na­tional For­est, the Cir­cle Z of­fers un­lim­ited room to ride.

The ter­rain is di­verse and spec­tac­u­lar. You’ll tra­verse grass­lands and craggy slopes, tak­ing in spec­tac­u­lar views of dis­tant high moun­tain peaks framed by wide blue skies. At an el­e­va­tion of more than 4,000 feet, this is the high desert of south­ern Ari­zona.

I re­cently spent a day in the sad­dle at the Cir­cle Z. Here, I’ll give you an in­side look at the ranch from a trail-rider’s per­spec­tive. (For two places to ride in the area where you can bring your own horse, see page 56.)

Ranch His­tory

The Cir­cle Z has a sto­ried his­tory. It be­gan as a sheep and cat­tle herd­ing out­fit in 1874 by Den­ton Sanford, a na­tive of New York. In 1925, the 5,000-acre Sanford Ranch was sold by Den­ton’s daugh­ter to the Zins­meis­ter fam­ily. The fam­ily opened their ranch to guests the following year.

Within a few years, the ranch could ac­com­mo­date 70 guests, who stayed an av­er­age of a month or longer. By 1929, the an­nual Fourth of July pic­nic and bar­be­cue at the Cir­cle Z Ranch was one of the county’s big­gest at­trac­tions: up­wards of 2,000 peo­ple would at­tend. In the early years, some guests would ar­rive at the ranch by rail.

The ranch changed own­er­ship sev­eral times dur­ing the De­pres­sion and World War II, when fewer Amer­i­cans va­ca­tioned. In 1949, the Cir­cle Z was bought by Fred Fendig, who be­came the owner/man­ager for 25 years. When he de­cided to sell the ranch in 1974, there was con­cern that it might be sub­di­vided or be­come a ten­nis re­sort.

En­ter Mrs. Preston Nash, a ded­i­cated con­ser­va­tion­ist who had warm mem­o­ries of her vis­its to the Cir­cle Z as a child. Nash and her hus­band pur­chased the Cir­cle Z Ranch

in the 1970s to pre­serve its gues­tranch sta­tus.

To­day, the ranch is op­er­ated by their son, Rick Nash, and his wife, Diana. The fam­ily continues to pre­serve the ranch for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions to en­joy.

Diana spends the win­ter months over­see­ing the Cir­cle Z and serv­ing as the mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor. Friendly and wel­com­ing, Diana is the per­fect host­ess and man­ager. She en­sures that each guest is hav­ing a great time, even if that means run­ning home for a straw cow­boy hat for a rider who for­got to bring one.

The ranch’s gen­eral man­agers, Ge­orge and Jenny Lorta, are the back­bone of the Cir­cle Z. They man­age the horses, rid­ing pro­gram, and din­ing room, and main­tain the fa­cil­ity.

Ge­orge has worked at the Cir­cle Z for 40 years. In the tra­di­tion of self-suf­fi­cient South­west­ern ranch hands, Ge­orge pur­chases rolls of leather and keeps a sewing ma­chine in the tack work­room to do his own sad­dle and bri­dle re­pairs.

Head to the his­toric Cir­cle Z Ranch in Patag­o­nia, Ari­zona, for high desert rid­ing un­der wide blue skies and warm sun­shine. STORY AND PHO­TOS BY JULE DROWN

Bred for the Trail

All of the Cir­cle Z Ranch’s horses have been bred or pur­chased to fit the de­mands of safely and com­fort­ably tak­ing peo­ple with a range of rid­ing ex­pe­ri­ence on rugged rides.

The ranch fea­tures a herd of more than 100 stock-type horses that have been bred

on the ranch or nearby. Ev­ery horse that comes to live at the ranch is freeze branded on the hip with the Cir­cle Z logo.

All the Cir­cle Z horses have big, strong hooves, gen­tle dis­po­si­tions, and the abil­ity to take rid­ers out on de­mand­ing trail rides. At least ev­ery two weeks, each horse is given a week off from rid­ing for his men­tal and phys­i­cal well-be­ing.

The ranch al­lows the foals it breeds to thor­oughly ma­ture be­fore putting them in the guest string, typ­i­cally when they’re about 8 to 10 years old.

The Cir­cle Z herd lives the good life. They spend nights in a 700-acre fenced area near the creek, with large trees for cover. Each morn­ing, they’re moved to a large, open cor­ral to spend the day. Or, they’re tacked up and rid­den by guests.

Each horse is given plenty of al­falfa hay sup­ple­mented with grain and bran on the days he’s rid­den.

In the heat of the sum­mer, when the Cir­cle Z is closed to guests, the herd is turned out on nearby pas­ture. The ranch also main­tains a sep­a­rate year-round pas­ture ex­clu­sively for its re­tired horses.

Sanc­tu­ary Set­ting

If you love wildlife and un­spoiled open places, your trip to the Cir­cle Z will be­daz­zle you from start to fin­ish.

The ranch is like a sanc­tu­ary, at­tract­ing an­i­mals and plants that rely on the peren­nial wa­ters of Sonoita Creek. The creek is stud­ded with tall, mas­sive trees that of­fer shade and sus­te­nance to a great va­ri­ety of birds, both lo­cal and mi­gra­tory, from flocks of wild tur­keys to the bright Ver­mil­lion fly­catcher.

Large an­i­mals thrive in this low-pop­u­lated area, which is sur­rounded by vast swaths of pub­lic land and cat­tle ranches punc­tu­ated by moun­tain habi­tat.

Watch for Coues deer and white-tailed deer run­ning up hill­sides, as well as javelina, the pre­his­toric-look­ing pec­cary na­tive to Ari­zona’s deserts.

Coy­otes roam about, on the look­out for rab­bit and ro­dent prey. Oc­ca­sion­ally, guests

spot a moun­tain lion drink­ing from the creek, while bob­cats are more com­mon.

Rid­ing the Cir­cle Z

At the Cir­cle Z, you’ll spend a week rid­ing with 25 to 45 other guests over beau­ti­ful ter­rain while soak­ing up the desert sun­shine.

Guests ar­rive on Sun­day, stay a min­i­mum of four days, and de­part the following Thurs­day or Sun­day. The rooms and guest cot­tages are ar­ranged along a cir­cu­lar drive sur­round­ing a lawn dot­ted by tow­er­ing trees that pro­vide wel­come shade on warm af­ter­noons.

You’ll meet up in the cantina (where you bring your own bev­er­age), the game room, at the pool, or on the ten­nis court. A screened room at the main lodge’s front en­trance will tempt you to re­lax and talk.

As you fin­ish your din­ner on Sun­day evening, you’ll be in­tro­duced to one or more of the Cir­cle Z Ranch wran­glers who’ll match you with the right horse and sad­dle for your rid­ing ad­ven­tures.

One wran­gler con­fided to me that those who are mod­est about their rid­ing ex­pe­ri­ence are likely to be matched with the ranch’s choicer mounts, as those who flaunt their knowl­edge have a ten­dency to over­es­ti­mate their skills.

Without ask­ing for each per­son’s height and weight, the wran­glers quickly glance down to size up each rider’s der­riere so ev­ery­one has a sad­dle seat that fits.

Af­ter break­fast on Mon­day, you’ll meet up at the horse cor­rals. A short walk down a trail from the ranch build­ings brings you to the creek val­ley below. There, you’ll see the large cor­ral hold­ing the horse herd, be­side the old tack barn. You’ll gather on the barn’s front porch to get ac- quainted, share rid­ing sto­ries, and gaze at the horse herd.

Af­ter mount­ing up, you’ll be as­signed to a clus­ter of about eight rid­ers, with your own wran­gler. That’s part of the spe­cial ap­peal of the Cir­cle Z Ranch: Each wran­gler takes rid­ers on a dif­fer­ent trail. With so much land avail­able to ride on, you’ll never come across other groups, and you’ll rarely ride on the same trail twice.

At the Cir­cle Z Ranch in south­ern Ari­zona, you’ll spend a week rid­ing over beau­ti­ful ter­rain while soak­ing up the desert sun­shine. Here, guests en­joy a spring ride at the ranch. In­set: The Cir­cle Z Ranch brand.

All of the Cir­cle Z Ranch’s horses have been bred or pur­chased to fit the de­mands of safely and com­fort­ably tak­ing peo­ple with a range of rid­ing ex­pe­ri­ence on rugged rides.

The Cir­cle Z Ranch, which has been host­ing guests for 91 years, be­gan as a sheep and cat­tle herd­ing out­fit in 1874. To­day, the ranch is op­er­ated by Rick and Diana Nash. Shown is the Cir­cle Z of­fice.

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