Category Archives: Tucson

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.

Golf Ventana Canyon Tucson

Both award-winning golf courses at The Lodge at Ventana Canyon are early Tom Fazio designs, offering a true desert golf experience in the Santa Catalina foothills.

As Ventana Canyon is a semi-private club, management reserves one course everyday to accommodate members. The superb Canyon course, best suited to players seeking to avoid hills, is available only on odd-numbered days.

For the best scenery and maximum variety and challenges, try to golf the Mountain course, available to the public and resort guests on even numbered days. Around every bend en route to these tee boxes, golfers encounter endless groves of saguaro cactus against mountain backdrops.

Almost every hole on the Mountain course is exceptional with a few real gems, notably, those with elevated tees. The course is trickier than it looks, but never discouraging. Good shots are easy to make from well – groomed fairways and fairly forgiving rough. Both courses feature excellent signage and generous markers that give three distance readings as per flag position.

Indigenous cacti used in the intricate and attractive landscaping highlight entrances to the tee boxes. Large, shiny stones lacquered in black, gold, silver, turquoise and copper designate a separate tee box (many elevated) for five skill levels.

At first glance, putting appears easy thanks to the generous greens. These are quite undulating however and like many desert courses, hard and fast. When reading these greens, remember everything slopes away from the mountain. When shooting toward the mountains, be aware that the elevation is higher and the hills are steeper than they first appear. Take an extra club.

Ventana Canyon is a natural delight. The outdoor café, adjacent a tee box, hosts a diabetic woodpecker that swoops down to grab brown sugar packets off the tables. Nearby, morning doves, cactus wrens and some 20 quail hover nearby awaiting food scraps. Finches and shimmering red cardinals with orange beaks watch from the safety of the trees. Timid cotton-tailed rabbits prefer the tee boxes while roadrunners and the occasional small, sleek bobcat dart across the fairways.

Signs posted in the golf carts warn of potentially hazardous snakes camouflaged in the surrounding desert rough. Best to let that lost ball lie.

January is a good time to visit, as the weather is warm enough for golf and sometimes even swimming. The acacia trees are in bloom giving off a subtle, sweet fragrance all around the property. February marks the beginning of high season.

Cons:

  • No GPS on carts

Pros:

  • Five sets of tee boxes
  • Laid back golf experience
  • Excellent facilities
  • High handicapper friendly
  • Abundant wildlife

Description:

  • Desert style target courses
  • Full swing practice areas with groomed Bermuda grass
  • Short game range complete with bunkers
  • Two large putting greens
  • Tennis, spa and pool on site
  • Roomy, loft-style rooms available

The Lodge at Ventana Canyon

  • 6200 North Clubhouse Lane,
  • Tucson, Arizona 85750
  • Toll Free: (800) 828-5701
  • Local: (520) 577-1400

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