For our cowboy weekend, Ken and I traveled to Ranchos de los Caballeros, a 20,000 acre guest ranch on the edge of Wickenburg, Arizona less than an hour’s drive west from the Phoenix airport.
People who know us, know that we are not the typical in-the-saddle-before-breakfast types. We managed to spend from Friday noon until Sunday noon and never get within touching range of a horse! Yep, pardner, this is not your grandpa’s dude ranch. The first clue would be the aroma of freshly cut grass that greets you along the entrance road–the 18-hole golf course. And except for the time when some dude left the gate to the horse run open and the horses galloped all over the fairways–the beautifully maintained greens are for people only.
In all honesty, as non-riders, we were in the minority. Most of the guests were there because they love horseback riding vacations. And many have been coming back every year for decades to ride one of the 100 horses available. Trail rides, lessons, and even team roping keep the equine crowd busy. Special attention is paid to little cowpokes and families love to gather around the scrapbooks that go back to the early 1950′s and see how their family has grown up since they first came to Los Caballeros. So for the horseless dudes like us–what’s to do? Well eat, for one thing. Breakfast and lunch are extensive buffets. We picked up our plates and headed poolside in the picture-perfect October sunshine. Surprisingly, the code of the West at this here dude ranch insists on jackets (or Western vests) for men at dinner. A bit of the fifties remains. Fortunately, women are not required to wear skirts and white gloves.
The rambling one-story main building includes a living room with a huge copper clad fireplace, the formal dining room for dinner, the less formal buffet area and a lounge area in the back.The public area decor is 1940′s Mexican with walls painted in brilliant primary yellows and reds, carved and hand painted beams and window and door frames. More recent Western paintings displayed throughout are for sale, but what I covet is the priceless collection of tinware that creates murals, mirror frames and room dividers. I have always liked the little tinware pieces made into lamps and wall sconces that you can buy in any Mexican crafts store. But the tinware decorating the walls at Los Caballeros is like the difference between high Renaissance and fingerpainting.
The hand-crafted Mexican and Western feel continues in the rooms which open onto winding paths through immaculately groomed desert landscape. A set of seven smaller rooms with hand painted furniture date back to 1947 when workmen scooped up mud from the ranch and molded handmade adobe bricks for the walls. Newer and larger rooms envelop the visitor in deeply cushioned pillow top mattresses, cow-hand sized sofas and chairs with leather, iron and wood prevailing. Forget bunk beds and scratchy wool blankets, cowboy.
This is luxury. The suites include a kitchen (without pans and with very few dishes), fireplaces, free Wifi, flat screen TVs, bathrooms big enough to bring in your horse (although I doubt they’d appreciate it.) Rooms open on to patios where you can sit and watch the javelinas and coyotes stroll by in the evening.
We took a walk in the nearby Nature Conservancy Hassayampa Preserve with Los Caballeros own Naturalist; and a B C Jeep Tour with Mike, a knowledgeable guide who spent a lifetime riding the range before turning tour guide. Between the two of them, we felt pretty sure we could survive for longer than fifteen minutes in the desert, and developed a new appreciation for plants that we have lived around for a long time.
The jeep ride jounces over old mine roads out toward Vulture Peak, a volcanic plug that dominates the landscape, and the site of mining operations that gave birth to Wickenburg in the first place. And ahhhh, the Spa.
I opted for the Hohokam Massage, figuring I should take advantage of the essential oils of some of those desert plants. The Spa is the newest addition to the ranch and they have gone all out to make it a first class operation. Natural desert landscaping–a surrounding of cholla cactus, saguaros and lacy mesquite trees– gives you a strong sense of place. To cap off the experience, Caballeros Spa has created a labyrinth behind the spa. As you thread your way around the desert-stone-marked sprial path with a view of the mountains in the distance, you feel at one with the Southwest.
That mellow feeling expanded to the entire universe when we walked a dirt road out to the site for the cowboy cookout. With a blazing fire of mesquite logs, a cowboy playing the guitar (wait–don’t I recognize our naturalist from the Nature Walk singing as he strums?) and a black bowl of stars overhead, you couldn’t ask for anything more. Except maybe another cold beer and another helping of those luscious ribs. Do you think cowboys ever had barbecued portobello mushrooms? Frankly, I don’t care. It seems fitting that a cowhand like me, who refuses to saddle up, should have portobello mushrooms for a dinner cookout, and baked Alaska for brunch the next day. Doesn’t it?
Rancho de los Caballeros hosted our visit, including two nights and 7 meals, my jeep ride and spa treatment. We were in a Maricopa suite, the priciest of the rooms at the ranch, with large separate living room and a small kitchen. We were impressed with the immaculate upkeep inside and out and the enthusiastic young staff . The food was well above average. Guests pay for the luxury. Room rates (including 3 meals) range from $400 to $650 per day for two people depending on room and season. Activities, including riding, are extra. The ranch is open October through May. You can follow them on Facebook and find them on Twitter, where they are @RanchodelosCab.
Do you ride horses? Have you ever vacationed at a dude ranch? What do you expect?
You might also like to read the blog Writing Horseback, where, among other things, you can see my review of Tanque Verde Guest Ranch, and an article on what to pack for a ranch vacation. And here’s a PDF of an article I wrote about luxury guest ranches.