Get Your Dude On!

Cacti-PhotowalkListen up, you urban cowboys—here’s your chance to walk the talk. To discover the Inner Wrangler residing in those leather chaps, two-stepping on the dance floor. Mosey on down to Tanque Verde Ranch, outside Tucson, Arizona, for a full-on immersion in the real deal. One note of caution, however: Once here, there’s no turning back. Like almost one hundred percent of its guests, you’ll sign up for a repeat visit.

Staked out as a cattle ranch in the 1860s, the 640-acre property anchors a sandy bowl in the surrounding mountain ranges of Saguaro National Park, off-limits to the strip malls and neon of urban living, yet sacrificing nothing when it comes to class-act comforts (except TVs, thank goodness). Jacuzzi? Check. Spa? Check. Heated pool? Check. Sophisticated dining? Check again. Prickly pear margarita? That, too.

This is a dude ranch born of genteel Western hospitality, rather than a cutesy theme park. Clusters of casitas (69 rooms total) climb the sandy landscape, each with a fireplace and patio to monitor the fireball sunset or chill under an ink-black sky with stars as bright as searchlights. Meals are part of the all-inclusive package—including cookouts around the campfire with cowboy tunes and dancing; the legendary breakfast trail rides, where the CEO, in denim, flips blueberry pancakes on the griddle; and menu-service dinners (think churrasco flank steak, prime rib, blackened fish tacos, chimichurri game hen, grilled Caesar salad). Also included are trail rides (extra for private lessons), hikes, fishing lessons, yoga, tennis, mountain bike excursions, photo walk, even watercolor painting. Well, if you can pry yourself from the chaise longue, that is.

Rides (seven daily) range from all-day in the mountains, to team-penning cattle competitions, to two-hour ambles across the desert: sometimes just three of us with our wrangler, sometimes eight or ten. From among 180 gorgeous horses, I got assigned the foodie contingent: Nacho, Stringbean, Shortcake, A-1 (“like the sauce,” explained a handsome wrangler—the one who made my day by cooing, “Put your arm around me, honey,” as incentive to dismount). Karen, a wrangler as suntanned as the desert landscape, provided easy driving instructions, “like a car: your heels are the gas pedal, your reins are the brakes.” After that, pure, sweet stillness—just the soft clop of hooves in the sand as we meandered endless skeins of trails. (There are kids-only rides, too, which is fortunate, or I’d be in the embarrassing position of being outclassed by a four-year-old.)

The hikes drew (by chance) fewer takers, several times, just moi and my guide. Marcia—ladylike in her perfect manicure but a demon of desert lore—shared the skinny on the omnipresent cacti: 150-year-old saguaros pointing skyward in phallic formation as far as the eye could see; tubby barrel cacti crowned with yellow blooms (“no, they’re fruit,” Marcia corrects); jumping cholla, green and purple, like lengths of rope; spearlike agave; and the prickly palms of the prickly pear. Plus mesquite, creosote bushes, and mistletoe hung with ruby berries. She points out the nests carved into the saguaro by gila woodpeckers and, as a roadrunner streaks by, discusses how it nails a rattlesnake (Don’t try this at home).

Another afternoon Janys helps me get up-close and personal with those cacti on a photo walk. In between times, after a lap in the pool, I’d head out solo to explore what looked from the plane like a moonscape of wall-to-wall beige. On closer inspection, myriads of subtle colors reveal themselves—pink tints, golden ones, pewter to charcoal, khaki to sage, all basking under a dome of unreal, promo-photo blue. Beats the Eskimos (and us Minnesotans) with those hundred words for snow.

Nonstop flights from MSP, too. For information, visit or call 800-234-3833.

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