It is nice to know that the rugged “old west” still exists, marked by wide, open spaces backed by lofty mountain ranges and populated with ancient saguaro forests, blooming cacti and marauding deer and coyote. These vast desert expanses conjure days of the grand ranchos, dust-filled cattle round-ups and campfire dinners under the stars. On the far edge of Tucson lies Tanque Verde Ranch, a working horse ranch spanning 60,000 scenic acres secreted at the wilderness borders of the Saguaro National Park and the Coronado National Forest. As the nation’s largest dude ranch, Tanque Verde is a total submersion into ranching’s grandest days mixed with modern-day concepts and amenities.
Getting into cowboy mode
Falling into the rugged west ranching experience at Tanque Verde is easier than you might think. While some vacations require days for shaking off the pressures of everyday life, at Tanque Verde the transition is nearly effortless within a few hours—and very possibly within just a few minutes of scouring the saguaro-etched horizon view from your patio. In this all-inclusive stay there is little need to leave; everything is there for the taking or not, but you are going to want to take in as much as possible during your stay.
“Unplugging” from reality and becoming fully consumed in the enchanting world of stunning sunrises and sunsets and a plethora of unique outdoor adventures becomes your day’s most daunting task. There are no televisions in the otherwise gracious rooms, and the day can start very early with a sunrise horseback ride—a refreshing alternative to the morning news. What you will soon discover is that the ranch stay, about a 40-minute ride from the airport, is seven decades away from the hustle and bustle of today—with the exception of a few modern luxuries like soaking tubs, the Internet and gourmet-style “cowboy” cuisine.
Tanque Verde Ranch, at a 2,600-foot elevation, is nestled at the base of two mountain ranges that promise to produce a rainbow of purples and golds at dusk and dawn. The ranch has a colorful history itself. Established in 1868, its original owner was “hanged” on three separate occasions. The present owner, who often cooks the blueberry flapjacks on early-morning breakfast rides, is from the family that took over the ranch in the 1950s, establishing and expanding the dude ranch for those who wanted to get the true ranching experience.
Horse whispering to prickly pear margaritas
You may find yourself totally relaxed and on “old west” time, but not because you have nothing to do. Mornings at Tanque Verde begin with either horseback rides or mountain biking. Horseback riding lessons and special “horse channeling” classes, called Harmony, teach even the most novice rider the art of riding and understanding the horse.
Breakfast trail rides are punctuated by a hearty chuck wagon meal in the desert. Afternoons might include a nature walk beginning at the nature center on the ranch, hiking, fishing (catch and release), bird watching, tennis or hanging out at the pool. Evening marks unset trail rides, cook-outs with live music and dancing in the grove; end the day with prickly pear margaritas in the Dog House Saloon.
Select from several stay and play packages at Tanque Verde, from wellness to adventure. This spring one offering stands out: Desert in Bloom. Available from April 21 to May 25, the all-inclusive stay includes lodging with three “cowboy-hearty” meals, supervised kids’ program, horseback trail riding and lessons, breakfast rides, cowboy cook-outs, fishing, biking, yoga and more. However, the package’s desert nature hikes might be your favorite part of the offerings; the stay also includes flora and fauna hikes, wine and painting and sunset cactus walks.
Photos courtesy Tanque Verde