Mild Mild West: A City Slicker at the White Stallion Ranch

I’m driving my rental car to the White Stallion Ranch, northwest of Tucson,  Arizona, trying to make a 3pm check-in.  After a long, confusing drive into the hot, flat desert, I mistakenly pull into the employee’s driveway and stop my car for a group of dusty horseback riders queuing to dismount.

White Stallion Ranch, Tucson Arizona photo credit: John Cameron
White Stallion Ranch, Tucson Arizona photo credit: John Cameron

Without warning, a young woman falls off her horse, flat on her back, right in front of my car. I already had my doubts about the dude ranch experience and now I just wanted to turn around and forget the whole thing, having had a few bad horseback riding incidents in my past atop runaways.

But as I soon discovered, there’s more to dude ranches than scary horse stories. At first glance, the whole scene looks like a cowboy equivalent of a re-enactors club, complete with lazy farm dogs sniffing around the outdoor patio tables despite the “Please don’t feed the dogs” signs. I feel out of place in a spaghetti-strap sundress and matching flat sandals when everyone is fully decked out in cowboy duds.

Red Tony Lamas at White Stallion Ranch
Red Tony Lamas at White Stallion Ranch photo credit: Sherel Purcell

But I’m in luck. The friendly staff rustles up a pair of long-abandoned cowboy boots, which fit almost perfectly. And they’re Tony Lama’s. The well-broken in boots feature pointy toes and red leather up to the ankle and a fetching black and brown design all the way to the top.

The boots really are proof that footwear makes the woman. Strutting about in my new old boots with the two-inch heel, I feel more confident in a swaggering sort of way that produces an unintended seductive hip sway. Plus, they go really well with my denim skirt and red and blue floral tights. Pretty soon I’m walking around like I own the place.

Horses at White Stallion Ranch, Tucson Arizona
Horses at White Stallion Ranch, photo credit: Sherel Purcell

Of the many choices of daily group rides at the White Stallion Ranch, the only one that really appeals to me is the Beer and Cheetos ride. It’s a 30-minute slow ride out to a picnic area in the desert with a makeshift bar. The bar break allows the crafty drinker-rider time to down three beers while swapping riding stories with the more horse-savvy group members.

I’m riding sweet-natured, 12-year old Laredo. Because the wranglers can see I’m easily spooked, I’m placed directly behind Devin, a young female wrangler, who unfortunately has been saddled with Margarita, a feisty stubborn mare, who keeps trying to nip Laredo, causing me some anxiety. “I’m going to need a few margaritas after dealing with this project horse all day,” says the talented Sioux wrangler.

Devin is an excellent instructor and assures me that I’m a “natural”. I carefully follow her instructions to keep Laredo in line and prevent him from chewing on the creosote bush flowers. Nothing apparently is good for the horse’s teeth when wearing a bit.

Team penning at White Stallion Ranch
Team penning at White Stallion Ranch photo credit: Sherel Purcell

But dude ranching is about more than riding. Cowbells ring to announce the excellent communal meals – which lean towards quality comfort food – awakening tired riders lulled by the soft sounds of New Country from their afternoon naps around the outdoor pool. The office keeps a stash of horse cookies on hand for those who want to practice their horse-whispering skills too.

Evening at White Stallion Ranch photo credit: John Cameron
Evening at White Stallion Ranch photo credit: John Cameron

Evening entertainment includes art classes and a campfire sing-along, with more drinks around the fire for sharing the days’ adventures with new and old friends. There’s an extensive DVD library in the mini theater where I was happy to discover the Billy Crystal movie, City Slickers, but alas, the box was empty.

White Stallion Ranch, Tucson Arizona
White Stallion Ranch, Tucson Arizona photo credit: Sherel Purcell

Guided and individual hikes are another way to enjoy the desert scenery. On my third day, after a long, hot, self-directed walk through the desert, I was so absorbed with taking photos I suddenly realized I had walked a long way without water and had an hour’s walk back.

Fortunately I arrived back just in time for happy hour which features a wet and dry bar where parched cowgirls and cowboys can purchase reasonably-priced beer and wine on the honor system. Some folks show up at the White Stallion Ranch the same time every year to hang out with friends they made in previous years.

Denver’s Top Luxury Hotels

Denver’s top luxury hotels showcase three different approaches in three different neighborhoods.

Four Seasons Hotel, Denver

Flagship luxury brand The Four Seasons has a great downtown address – The Colorado Convention Center, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, and the Ellie Caulkins Opera House are all within easy walking distance.

Four Seasons Hotel Denver-Lobby
Four Seasons Hotel Denver-Lobby photo credit: John Cameron

The  modern interior design subtly reflects the natural beauty of Colorado, and oversized windows offer both downtown and Rocky Mountain vistas.  At the EDGE Bar in the Four Seasons lobby, a tapas-style menu pairs well with local microbrews and over 50 wines by the glass.

Four Seasons Hotel Denver-fireplace
Four Seasons Hotel Denver-Fireplace photo credit: John Cameron

Four Seasons Hotel Denver offers 239 ultra-spacious guest rooms and suites within a modern 45-storey building. Suites feature a lounge chair and ottoman in a separate living area. Generous bathrooms include a deep soaking tub and a shower in a separate glass-enclosed stall.

The fitness center on the third floor has views of the rooftop pool terrace. Guests can choose from cardio machines equipped with televisions, free weights and a yoga studio.  The spa ushers in new treatments each season, such as an Evergreen Massage for winter. All guests can use the spa facilities – a perfect ending to a session in the rooftop pool.

The Four Seasons is only one block away from trendy Larimer Square with some of Denver’s best dining options. Check out chef Troy Guard’s contemporary cuisine at TAG.

Hong Kong Sea Bass at TAG
Hong Kong Sea Bass at TAG photo credit: Sherel Purcell

The savvy waiters have excellent wine pairing suggestions and must tries include the taco sushi, Miso Black Cod and the Hong Kong steamed seabass in a ginger soy vinaigrette.

Kimpton Hotel Monaco Denver

Near the 16th Avenue Mall and the renovated historic Union Train station, pet-friendly boutique hotel brand Kimpton is renowned for its popular happy hour where guests mingle over drinks and snacks. Did I mention its free? No two Kimptons are the same, each property has its own personality.

Kimpton Hotel Monaco Denver Lobby
Kimpton Hotel Monaco Denver Lobby photo credit: Sherel Purcell

Walking into the Kimpton Hotel Monaco Denver, guests encounter a huge living room lobby complete with a grand ornate ceiling and an oversized fireplace – the perfect spot for the classy complimentary evening wine and beer tastings complete with hors d’oeuvres from the on-site Italian restaurant, Panzano. Tonight a free mini neck and shoulders massage and a singer/pianist complete the entertainment.

Kimpton Hotel Monaco Denver guest room
Kimpton Hotel Monaco Denver guest room photo credit: John Cameron

Interior designer Susan Caruso’s urban and western redesign of the guest rooms mixes animal hides, satiny drapes, quirky lamps, and oversized headboards in bold oranges and turquoises.

There are complimentary bicycles to use during your stay, an on-site 24-hour fitness center with cardio and resistance equipment, complimentary overnight shoeshine, complimentary morning Lavazza coffee and tea service, same-day laundry and dry cleaning service and luxury bath amenities. You can even request a goldfish companion for you (and your dog) for the duration of
your stay.

Halcyon Hotel Cherry Creek

Denver’s newest luxury hotel, the independent Halycon, is located in Cherry Creek , a mixture of urban development and tree lined residential streets, just south of downtown. Hermes and Tiffany are just some of the luxury retailers that inhabit the upscale suburb, Denver’s Rodeo Drive.

Halcyon replaces the traditional reception desk with a kitchen counter where friendly staff will fix your favorite coffee drink or pour you a glass of bubbly. Enjoy complimentary drinks including red and white wine, beer and mixed cocktails from 3 pm to 10 pm daily.

Just past the kitchen counter is an inviting living room complete with contemporary art pieces, two fireplaces, books, tv and board games set up amidst lounging chairs and sofas. From there you can proceed to the Rooftop Pool Deck where you may catch a session of sunset yoga led by yogis from neighboring Pura Vida Fitness & Spa.

Halcyon Hotel Cherry Creek Living room
Halcyon Hotel Cherry Creek Living room photo credit: John Cameron

Spread across 2 floors, the 1300 square foot Presidential Suite features an open concept living space on the main floor with a bedroom and ensuite bathroom upstairs. The outdoor terrace, designed by local Halcyon partner Restoration Hardware, offers views of the Denver skyline. Halcyon elevates the cool factor with retro-style turntables and vintage vinyl in every room.

Halcyon Hotel Cherry Creek Gear Garage
Halcyon Hotel Cherry Creek Gear Garage photo credit: John Cameron

Explore the Cherry Creek Trail bike path and surrounding city parks on complimentary Vespas, e-bikes, and Belgium cruisers.  The Gear Garage at Halcyon also offers a Hamboard which feels like surfing on wheels and made in Denver longboards. Outdoor adventure kits come in an Osprey Backpack that includes a Go Pro, binoculars, Swiss army knife, Bear Naked bars, and bottled water. Photographers will love the loaner Leica film cameras and Halcyon will even print and ship your prints home.

Your Guide to an Active Vacation