After landing in Tucson, I moseyed on out of the airport terminal to see a driver holding a sign with my name on it. Here I was flying out to the Wild West, trying to harken back to those gritty old Western movies of my youth, and the dude ranch I was traveling to was sending me a chauffeur.
Okay, I thought, I'll let this sensible bit of luxury slide because I was in no mood to rent a car. Why would I want to? The ranch I was heading to would be a welcome diversion from the hustle and bustle of my city slicker ways.
The driver grabbed my bag like a bail of hay and we were off. He was happy to answer any questions I had but was just as fine letting me soak in the western scenery in silence. It was only about a 40 minute drive from the airport before we pulled into the Tanque Verde Ranch gate. The property is set way back from the main road and filled with cabins of various sizes set around a large central ranch house. After you get figured out at main ranch, the driver takes you and your bags to your cabin.
The cabins are well-appointed with all the modern amenities. Each one has a fireplace and air conditioning! Even though you didn't come to Tanque Verde Ranch for the A/C, I was going to let that slide as well (it can get hot in the desert). You go to Tanque Verde for the horseback riding. All the activities are included in the price of your lodging, so its not one of those shifty resorts where you have to pay extra for the privilege of leaving your room. If you would just take a moment and think about how amazing that is. With room rates starting around $200/person/night you can go horseback riding twice a day, eat 3 square meals, light up a fire back at your cabin and fall asleep to a sky full of stars.
There are plenty of other activities beside horseback riding (even though that is the main attraction). There is a large pool, tennis courts, hiking, mountain biking, fishing, and dozens of activities for kids that are scheduled every day and all included in the rate. And I know what you're thinking, a lot of dude ranches say they have those amenities as well, but Tanque Verde's pool is beautiful and its other facilities dare I say it...posh.
The horseback riding is something special, however. I've been to a few dude ranches over the years and I've always been a little disappointed. Not because the staff was inhospitable, or the view wasn't beautiful, but because they would never let me actually ride my horse. Every trail ride would be hours of walking behind the other horse's butt with periodic trotting interspersed. Pretty boring if you ask me. The main reason I have for patronizing a dude ranch is for the chance to unleash the wild mustang within my horse and gallop across the open prairie.
Tanque Verde Ranch lets you gallop across the open prairie. Of course, you must prove that you can handle a horse before you go out on the trail, but if you can, you can walk, trot, or gallop to your heart's content. Riding my appropriately-named horse, Thunder, through the unforgiving landscape, galloping over the treacherous terrain, and leaping across the mountain-fed streams was beyond exhilarating.
The wranglers have special trail rides every day that showcase the Sonoran Desert. And they have over 180 trained horses in their stables so they'll find one that agrees with you. If you want to push it or ease up a little, they'll keep swapping horses until you are comfortable.
After the last ride of the day, you wash up (or spend some time soaking in the jacuzzi) and head down to supper. They often have music and entertainment to go with special barbeque events. And unless you're getting something really extra, you can leave your wallet in your cabin, because almost everything is included.
Truly a great experience for anyone who loves the Southwest, loves the ranch life, or just loves riding horses.
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