Category Archives: Arizona

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

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 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, 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 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 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 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.

Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain Resort & Spa

Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain Resort & Spa offers guests an oasis of relaxation  just minutes away from the shops and nightlife of Scottsdale. Located in aptly named Paradise Valley,  this AAA Four Diamond Luxury Resort is sculpted into the northern side of Camelback Mountain.

Casita at Sanctuary

The 105 casitas at Sanctuary feature scenic pedestrian-only walkways and discreet parking spaces, which contribute to the feeling of being the only guest at the resort. The colorful landscaping and  fragrant desert vegetation are a treat for the senses at Sanctuary.

Sanctuary’s Mountain casitas are located on Camelback Mountain and the Spa casitas surround the resort’s infinity pool and award-winning Sanctuary Spa.

Spa and Fitness Area at Sanctuary

The Coconut body scrub is Sanctuary’s signature spa treatment and Cheryl, the masseuse offered an additional balsamic oil hair treatment and had great skin care suggestions.

Oversized soaker tub at Sanctuary Resort & Spa

The smartly designed spa casitas have well – positioned privacy walls in their back patios so that guests can luxuriate in an oversized private tub under the stars.

The casitas contemporary interior design features polished concrete floors and a concrete sink vanity complemented by blond wood doors throughout. Walk through the sunken living room with a huge gas fireplace, out the floor to ceiling windows, to a front terrace, large enough to contain a dining table, a chaise lounge and a canopy daybed sofa.

Sunset over Infinity Pool at Sanctuary Resort & Spa

Swimmers will love the beautiful infinity pool (adults only on weekends) as well as the secluded 25-yard outdoor lap pool in the fitness area at Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain Resort & Spa.

The Lap Pool at Sanctuary Resort & Spa

One of the best sports for a total body workout with minimal impact on your joints is swimming. Olympic gold medalist Misty Hyman offers tips for stroke improvement. For those looking to up their tennis game, Sanctuary continues a legacy of championship courts and professional coaches, making it the ultimate Scottsdale tennis retreat.

Sanctuary’s terraced main lawn is a gathering point for groups to socialize and watch the Arizona sunsets. For sunset dinner and drinks, try elements (reservations recommended). Chef Beau MacMillan has a creative seasonal  menu that combines Asian influences with locally sourced ingredients.

For four days this spring, April 27-30, 2017, Scottsdale will be heaven for fine food aficionados with the debut of Nirvana, a culinary festival hosted by Sanctuary.  Sanctuary’s own star Executive Chef Beau MacMillan will share the spotlight with Robert Irvine, Todd English, Scott Conant and renowned chefs and mixologists from Scottsdale’s most exciting restaurants. Nirvana will come to a rousing finale with a N’Awlins-style jazz brunch complete with live music and a Bourbon twist, serving up everything from étouffée to feather-light beignets.

As well, a celebrity golf tournament played at Mountain Shadows, pairs each foursome with a renowned chef, star mixologist or notable sports figure. A portion of the proceeds will benefit HopeKids, an organization that provides ongoing activities and a powerful support community for families who have a child with cancer or other life-­threatening medical condition.