"Cowboy Dream!" Arizona by kop-queen

Arizona Travel Guide: 10,760 reviews and 29,403 photos

How it started - 2005

For many years I have thought of visiting the Grand Canyon but had imagined it most likely to happen tagged on to a family holiday starting out in LA and including Universal & Disney. That was until I watched a holiday programme that featured a ranch holiday somewhere in the mid States. Having ridden most of my life and having been raised on John Wayne movies I set my mind on being a cowboy before I reached 50!

With time running out I mentioned it to my friend Maureen who to my delight agreed she would be keen to join me.

Autumn 2004 - whilst visiting the annual Equine Event at Stoneleigh in Warwickshire we had the opportunity to speak to representatives from a couple of specialist holiday companies and the idea overnight became a plan. The company who most impressed us with their honest advice and openness were Ranch Rider - http://www.ranchrider.com/ . We had hoped to fit in a visit to the Grand Canyon perhaps on the way or on the way back and because of this we were encouraged to consider Arizona. This – they pointed out – was not ideal from the perspective of us wanting a real cowboy experience working cattle daily but away we came with brochures and the basic knowledge of what we should be looking for. We then hammered the internet over the coming weeks and settled on a couple of ranches featured in one of the brochures. Back we went to Ranch Rider who then pointed out some obvious things that we had missed and came up with their own suggestion of the Grapevine Canyon Ranch close to the Mexican Border, South East of Tucson. I’ve no idea how we had missed it as it had all the criteria we had set – fairly small (max 30 guests), no small children (min of 12 years old), the offer of advanced riding, and it being a working/guest ranch rather than a dude ranch.

It would be a long flight so to make it worthwhile we decided we would spend a week touring the sights of Arizona before spending the second week on the ranch. Another lady we had spoken to at the Equine Event who had been on several ranch holidays had advised we would not want to leave the ranch and therefore we should make sure we completed any touring in our first week. Ranch Rider were happy to arrange Flights, Car Hire and accommodation on our tour and they helped us enormously in identifying places not to be missed but we eventually decided to do it ourselves as part of the fun. By this time the target date had been brought forward to 2005 there was no way we could wait another 12 months having already got so excited about the whole thing. Checking on average temperatures identified late April/early May as the time that might not be too extreme particularly for riding – we struggle in this country riding when it gets warm (and warm here is only 70 - 80’s!) usually trying to ride in the early hours but were worried that all day rides in the midday sun across the desert would be unbearably hot and not the experience we were hoping for!

Knowing that the flight would be a long one and having suffered badly on my last trip to Florida on a charter with little/no leg room we carefully chose the airline that would offer a decent seat pitch flying in to Tucson – American Airlines. Wanting to depart from Manchester it meant 2 changes on the way at Chicago and Dallas and just Chicago on the return trip but the benefit was that we got to stretch our legs a little. Researching the various on line booking agents we found the Thomas Cook site allowed us to select seat preferences and to mix and match out and return flight times to suit and also (most importantly) were very competitive on price. We almost followed through with the online car hire option but wanting some advice on the packages offered I rang the number quoted and they were able to better the price.

By now our tour route was pretty much set and we pre-booked accommodation for the first 5 nights leaving just the last 2 before we arrived at the ranch to be found along the way.

The Adventure Begins

21st April 2005 5.30am - finally after all of the planning and anticipation and we were on our way…

As we expected it was a very long day – almost 24 hours from leaving home to our heads hitting the pillow in our first motel. To be fair the flights were all on time, in fact the last connection was running earlier than was on our e-ticket (good job we checked as soon as we arrived at Dallas!) but having to arrive at Manchester 3 hours before the initial flight and then having nearly 2 hours at Chicago (most of this time needed as we had to clear customs and immigration before rechecking our luggage) plus another break at Dallas made for a lot of the time. We picked up our Alamo hire car at Tucson Airport easily – no queues at all – and having missed one turn as we skirted Tucson didn’t lose much time as thanks to the wonderful grid system of US road were able to wing it back on track almost immediately.

After a much needed nights sleep in a Super 8 motel at Catalina, we started our first full day in Arizona with a decent buffet breakfast before setting out at 7.30am aiming towards Holbrook via Salt River Canyon. With giant cacti on either side of the road and the air conditioning needing to be on full, we chuckled as we passed road signs warning of “ice on road” being too naïve to realise that in the early morning the temperature would dip to freezing or below. We saw very few vehicles on the road and were glad we had a full tank of fuel and had lots of water in the coolbag – just in case! We had hoped to spend some time in Globe but failed to find anywhere there worth visiting – maybe we didn’t persist enough – there must have been something more than a few motels and fast food outlets there somewhere? We wound our way down into Salt River Canyon and pulled off at the bottom for a stretch. Parked at the side was a trailer with 2 ponies tied to the outside being groomed by their owner. Needing a horsey “fix” we stopped to chat and during the conversation were advised to detour off of original path to visit Springerville where there was a western wear store as we absolutely had to buy a cowboy hat (purely for practical purposes of course) and some Wrangler riding jeans. We ate a hearty lunch in Show Low before moving on. Springerville turned out to be the first town that that fulfilled our image of small town America. A post office, a gas station, a small supermarket/general store and of course the western wear shop. Suitably equipped with the hats, jeans and a couple of other purchases we headed back along 191 then 180 towards Holbrook. Finding we still had loads of time we called in at the Petrified Forest gift store. It was like a treasure trove, so many beautiful items along with the usual tourist gifts. We hadn’t really understood what the Petrified Forest was and the guy on duty was happy this to explain to us in simple terms. We arrived in Holbrook and found our motel easily – well we could hardly have missed it as we drove along old Route 66 there on the side was the Wigwam Motel.

On Route 66

The “rooms” are concrete wigwams decorated in 50’s style with old motors outside to complete the picture. Small, cosy and clean (a slight musty smell greeted us as we opened the door but was probably due to the AC unit) it is a shame that the railroad runs behind and the regular blasts of the horns as the trains approach a nearby road crossing could disturb light sleepers however we’d had another full day and therefore didn’t find it much of a problem. Before retiring at what was to become our standard pre 9pm bedtime we walked along Route 66 to Joe & Aggies for a cheese omelette for supper.

(Continued under Travelogue...)

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:The sheer scale of the place
  • Cons:The sheer scale of the place!
  • In a nutshell:Living the dream
  • Last visit to Arizona: Apr 2008
  • Intro Updated Jan 15, 2009
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Reviews (2)

Comments (7)

  • Basaic's Profile Photo
    Dec 24, 2009 at 6:23 PM

    An insightful couple of tips! Phoenix is almost always crowded.

  • giampiero6's Profile Photo
    Dec 21, 2009 at 12:14 PM

    May I recommend that you put these hotel tips listed under the specific hotel at the specific city or town? Like this just under Arizona, they won't get seen ;(

  • Sininen's Profile Photo
    Mar 11, 2006 at 10:35 PM

    Hello Chris! Thank you for taking me to Arizona with you. What an interesting experience and well described here. Made me want to go there at once. Happy Birthday from Finland, Sini

  • Feb 26, 2006 at 4:44 AM

    Hi Chris, A part of the Globe that that I can only dream of visiting. Good info. and pic's. here. Thank you! You are most welcome down South!:~))

  • VeronicaG's Profile Photo
    Jan 4, 2006 at 2:39 PM

    A mule ride up the face of that cliff would be scary--but it sounds like you had a great time. The painted desert must have been something to see!

  • kymbanm's Profile Photo
    Jun 8, 2005 at 3:02 PM

    Wonderful story of your visit to Arizona :) Swing by New Mexico next time you make it out this way!

  • madamx's Profile Photo
    Mar 15, 2005 at 12:11 PM

    Hi Chris, next year you can come be a cowboy in Calgary :o) I think we are heading to Arizona at the same time, I'll be back to see your pages ~ Helen

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