Vacation-goers who envision Arizona’s dude ranches as places where guests saddle up a bronc and gallop out on the range to bring in the herd before riding off into the sunset might have to make a few adjustments.
Today, the ranches themselves are still in operation, but they’re not quite the same as years ago. For one thing, they’re not really “dude ranches” anymore. They’re “guest ranches” or “resort ranches” where herding cows and branding steers might be on the activities list, but they share the agenda with playing golf and soaking in the spa. And the images of a grizzled old ranch hand fixing up a mess of cowboy beans in the chuck wagon also have faded. The majority of today’s meals are prepared by highly qualified chefs and served by well-trained kitchen staff.
One thing is the same, however. The ranches, regardless of what they’re called, primarily are in the business of western hospitality, and many reminders of the old days still are available to city slickers. Almost every guest ranch in Arizona offers guided trail rides, while several invite guests to participate in team penning, a group activity that involves novice horsemen herding semi-cooperative cows into their pens. Also, there are multiple opportunities to sit around the campfire and listen to cowboys playing their guitars and singing about broken hearts.
During the economic downturn, the number of Arizona guest ranches took a hit. To remain competitive, the ranches upgraded and expanded, adding swimming pools, tennis courts, air conditioning, massages, personal trainers, exercise rooms, golf courses, free Wi-Fi, and spas. Some have babysitters and programs for children. Others provide adults with all-terrain vehicles and helicopter rides.
Sorry, Roy. Sorry, Hoppy. Sorry, Gene. That’s just the way it is these days.
While the dude ranch experience might be a little more luxe today than it was years ago, many families, couples, and singles still will enjoy spending time in our state’s wide-open spaces. Here’s a sampling of some of the best dude ranches throughout Arizona and what they offer.