Being a Cowboy in Wickenburg AZ

Travel Tuesday

Cowboy cookout

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.

The horse corral at Rancho de los Caballeros

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.

Los Cabelleros golf course

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.

Sun C brand of Los Caballeros

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.

Tin Work

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.

Pilllow-top bed with Western symbols

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.

Hassayampa Nature Preserve Trail with Dick, the Naturalist

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.

Sun peeking through near Vulture Peak

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.

Spa courtyard

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.

Labyrinth behind Spa

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.

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler’s Library, recreating her family’s past at Ancestors In Aprons. She writes frequently for Reel Life With Jane and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

Vera Marie Badertscher – who has written posts on A Traveler's Library.

About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons. She writes frequently for Reel Life With Jane and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

17 thoughts on “Being a Cowboy in Wickenburg AZ

  1. I have got to visit this ranch! The positive comments of Rancho de los Caballeros keep on coming.

    Come to think of it, my 50th birthday is in January. This might be just the place for this California cowgirl.

  2. We had a family reunion where part of the festivities included riding horses to a meadow where we had a “cowboy” bbq–steaks cooked to perfection (and usually I’m not a red meat eater), potatoes, rolls. Your experience sounds much different with the spa treatment and full buffet. What a great vacation!

  3. I have heard wonderful things about this little town for years! Despite living in AZ for 4 years during college, I’m sorry to say I never visited. I have got to plan a trip now. This looks like a terrific place to lodge.

  4. First went to Rancho de los Caballeros in the 90′s with my 9 year old daughter. We had an incredible time. A great father daughter adventure. Went back a few years letter with my then teenage daughter (and one of her friends), 6 year old daughter, 3 year old son and wife.

    Above and beyond the above mentioned, A few unique things about the place that we love…

    * Names of arriving guests are posted in the lobby and each night there is a social hour so you get to know your fellow guests. My daughter still keeps in contact with friends she has met there.

    * In the lobby there are scores of photo albums by year. Every year you can look back and re-live pictures of your trip.

    * Each night at dinner you are seated at the same table during your stay and get to know your servers.

    * Each night the “Stable Boss” comes by your table to arrange your plans for the next day. It’s not just about riding. There are Jeep tours, desert nature hikes, spa treatments, golf, tennis, shopping, a great pool that the lodge horseshoes around, biking, hot air ballons, etc.

    Yes the rates may sound high, but remember your rate is built based on activities and 3 great meals are always included. Really the place is no more expensive than if you were paying $150 a night for the room and paying for everything ala carte.

    The place is very special!!! We love it!!!

  5. Great to read this review… we’ve just booked a visit here for Feb., and are really looking forward to it, including the riding party ;) .

  6. For the record, the horses on the golf course thing has happened not once, but three times (in my memory) and every time it was a ranch hand who left the gate open, not a guest.

    In all honesty, however, it’s worth every penny–Ranch memories are some of the fondest from my childhood

    1. Thanks so much for the inside information, David, Shira and Isobel. It is great to hear from other people who have stayed there. I think David captured the friendly, family atmosphere of the ranch. Isobel–I am not surprised to hear the horses ran on the golf course more than once. I just was relating the story as told to me, but glad to have the additional information.

  7. I have always, always wanted to vacation at a dude ranch. I’m waiting for my youngest to get old enough that we can all go on a family vacation. This was a lot of fun to read!

  8. They can invite me there for free for 7 days anytime, and I’ll even ride the horses! :) I have done dude ranch vacations in Red Feather Colorado and had a great rustic vacation.

  9. That does sound a little pricey for this dog girl’s budget, but if you think of it more as the whole experience and NOT just the room, then maybe it’s not so much.

    I’m still giggling about the horses getting loose. Since I’m not a big fan of The Golf, it made me laugh.

  10. Whatever it is, and whoever it’s good (or not good for), this looks and sounds like a great vacation. Especially since it’s cold, windy and almost-winter here in Connecticut! I’d love to visit some time.

  11. Doesn’t sound like this place has much of anything to do with being a cowboy. Rooms at $400 to $600 per day? No real cowboy could afford that!
    Your description makes it sound like a place for a bunch of pampered city folk.
    Kudos to whoever left the gate open.

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