My mother and I were pulling out of the grocery store parking lot when a radio advertisement announced that we were listening to “the station for cowboys and cowgirls.” The song that came on next twanged of ice-cold beers, driving trucks to the local watering hole and girls with stunning smiles.
“That’s not the image that comes to mind when I think of cowboys,” my mom said. “Remember our cowgirl experience in Wickenburg?”
My mom and I had hightailed it to Wickenburg, the historic, high-desert town on the Hassayampa River, founded in 1863 just outside Phoenix, for a Western-style weekend. Here, rodeos, ranches and trail rides are still part of daily life.
We checked into Rancho de los Caballeros, a legendary dude ranch that dates back to the 1940s. Our Southwest-chic room ... had a patio overlooking the desert garden.
We checked into Rancho de los Caballeros, a legendary dude ranch that dates back to the 1940s. Our Southwest-chic room (tile floors, hand-carved furniture and a cozy fireplace) had a patio overlooking the desert garden.
The sprawling ranch had plenty of other amenities that we were eager to take advantage of, so we didn’t tarry in the room. We headed for the corral, where we saddled up for an afternoon ride on trails that loop through 20,000 desert acres. Under the clear, blue winter sky, one of the wranglers told us stories of the ranch he grew up on nearby—he had helped his brother brand cattle at just 10 years old! He painted a picture for us, as we trotted along, of roping the cattle and pinning them down. “That sounds incredibly difficult!” I said with eyes wide. He chuckled, “Well, it certainly built character.”
After the ride, we took a refreshing dip in the pool to ease our newfound, and tender, riding muscles. Not long after drying off, our stomachs began to grumble. We headed to the dining room and completely indulged our palettes with smoked salmon crepes, rack of lamb and the final fling: a Cajeta sundae – we decided to deal with the calorie guilt mañana. We were living the ranch life, and we surmised that acquiring a ranch hand’s appetite was all a part of the experience.
Sweet slumber soon beckoned, and while dozing off in our comfy beds, we heard coyotes yipping in the desert. Could it be any more Arizona than this?
After a breakfast buffet at the ranch, we hurried a few miles down the road to catch the guided tour (offered only Saturday mornings) of the historic Vulture Mine, an abandoned gold mine and settlement discovered by prospector Henry Wickenburg, the town’s founder. The ghost town is filled with mining memorabilia, an old assay office and enough half-ruined buildings to inspire a million Instagram uploads. Desert washes, distant valleys and cactus also surrounded us, including saguaros with many arms – which confirmed that they were at least a century old. Incredible how much the town, and its people, had changed within that time period while the saguaros kept thriving
We remembered hearing back at the ranch that Wickenburg was a popular place for team roping, barrel racing and other rodeo events. So, we loped over to Rancho Rio, the town’s newest equine facility, to watch cowboys and cowgirls throw loops as horses and steers kicked up dust. Their talent was astounding – I remembered our wrangler from yesterday telling his tales of a similar process they used when branding cattle.
We remembered hearing back at the ranch that Wickenburg was a popular place for team roping, barrel racing and other rodeo events. So, we loped over to Rancho Rio, the town’s newest equine facility, to watch cowboys and cowgirls throw loops.
At lunchtime, we drove into Wickenburg’s historic downtown district, where we found hitching posts, both for horses and for cars (in the form of a Tesla Supercharger station). Wickenburg, it seems, knows just how to honor its past and stay current. We walked into Nana’s Sandwich Shoppe, where the menu features Wickenburg-esque sandwiches like the Roper (roast beef, Swiss cheese and grilled red onions). We opted for something a tad lighter, ordering the Chicken Scratch, a walnut-studded chicken salad on croissants.
After prowling through a few of downtown’s galleries and home accessories shops, we made our way to Double D Western World. At first glance, the cavernous store was filled with Western wear galore, like stylish cowboy boots and classic snap-buttoned Western shirts, which were just what we needed for the remainder of our trip (and any subsequent visits).
We lolled around our private sun patio at Rancho de los Caballeros in the morning, leisurely packing up our things and melancholy about leaving the ranch.
Not quite ready to saddle up and depart our Western haven, we stopped at the town’s Desert Caballeros Western Museum. The art and history facility is filled with works by artists such as Maynard Dixon, Albert Bierstadt and Allan Houser, plus gems and minerals, American Indian artifacts and more. We especially liked the display of bola ties, Arizona’s official neckwear for men, created by Wickenburg resident Vic Cedarstaff in 1949. The ties were perfect for making any cowboy dapper, so I ended up buying a hand-carved bola at the museum store as a special Christmas present for my cowboy waiting at home.
After a few hours of culture, it was time to say adios to Wickenburg and head home. As the town grew smaller in our rearview mirror, we still felt like a couple of cowgirls.
The art and history facility is filled with works by artists such as Maynard Dixon, Albert Bierstadt and Allan Houser, plus gems and minerals, American Indian artifacts and more.
The feeling returned to me at the grocery store as the song on “the station for cowboys and cowgirls” came to an end. “That cowboy seemed to focus a bit more on truck brands than cattle branding,” my mom said with a smile.
I grabbed a handful of grocery bags and looked at my mother as I said, “So, do you still have those cowboy boots we bought in Wickenburg?” Her smile got brighter. “In my closet, waiting for our return to the range.”