Family Travel: Saddle up for a mother-daughter cowgirl adventure in Arizona

Family Travel: Saddle up for a mother-daughter cowgirl adventure in Arizona

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As we amble through the rugged high-desert terrain, my horse keeps in perfect tempo with Ahdelle’s soothing drawl narrating the spectacular scenery surrounding us. Since saddling up, we’ve learned about gila monsters, packrats, rattlesnakes, musky-smelling creosote bushes, towering century-old saguaro, red-blossom ocotillo and deceivingly spiky teddy-bear cholla, all of which thrive in the Sonoran Desert’s unforgiving landscape.

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Listening to our wrangler’s vast flora and fauna knowledge and her riveting tales about Vulture Peak and ghost town, I was shocked to learn that the Iowa native had only begun working at Rancho de los Caballeros a month before. Equally taken with our encyclopedia-touting cowgirl was my 10-year-old daughter Brooklyn, who posed a barrage of questions, covering everything from cactus bones to the javelinas’ pungent aroma.

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With snowbird parents migrating south each winter for warmer weather and endless rounds of golf, I’ve enjoyed annual Arizona vacations for over a decade. However, somehow the charming town of Wickenburg, and its iconic guest ranch, slipped my radar.

Exploring the Sonoran high desert on a horseback adventure with Rancho de los Caballeros. Courtesy,Ahdelle George
Exploring the Sonoran high desert on a horseback adventure with Rancho de los Caballeros. Courtesy,Ahdelle George jpeg

Founded by the Gant family in 1948, Rancho de los Caballeros is now under new ownership, purchased by a trio of families who have vacationed at the property for generations. Returning guests account for 75 per cent of the ranch’s seasonal bookings, and after spending a weekend here, I quickly realized why. The vibe here is unpretentious, laid-back southwestern hospitality and an authentic community spirit. Most of the ranch staff are seasonal and return year after year – with many clocking decades of service. Brooklyn’s favourite team member, Martie MacDougall in Kids Club, is one such person. She was born and raised at the ranch more than 50 years ago when her parents worked for the Gant family. Martie eventually left Arizona, returning a few years ago to reclaim her roots.

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Under its new ownership, Rancho de los Caballeros has benefited from significant renovations, including the completely reimagined Maricopa Suites, where Brooklyn and I stayed. Our spacious family-friendly accommodation features a bedroom with a king-size bed, a separate living room with a fireplace and sofa bed, and a coffee area with a bar sink and fridge. Although having the extra space was handy, we were rarely in our room. The ranch’s all-inclusive, full-meal dining plan includes a daily buffet breakfast, lunch, and a la carte gourmet dinner in the elegant formal dining room. Executive chef Jacob Ellis’s upscale cuisine encompasses a selection of prime cuts as well as seasonal steakhouse favourites, like the fig bruschetta and heirloom beet salad. The luxury day spa, where I enjoyed a post-horseback ride deep tissue massage, has also been beautifully redesigned. In addition to extensive renovations, the ranch has introduced new programming, including an archery camp, which Brooklyn and I attended. One of us was a natural, and it wasn’t me. Brooklyn took to the sport effortlessly, under the patient tutelage of her archer-instructor Harry Uranga, who’s a genius with kids. My bowman, Mike Fritsch-Rudser, was equally patient and had me shooting safely and straight by the end of our lesson.

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Writer’s daughter slinging arrows in her archery lesson at Rancho de los Caballeros. Mhairri Woodhall photo
Writer’s daughter slinging arrows in her archery lesson at Rancho de los Caballeros. Mhairri Woodhall photo jpeg

Downtown Wickenburg is also a delight, with its family-run shops and eclectic historical and cultural offerings. Our first stop was a surprisingly entertaining and educational foray into the town’s heritage and vibrant arts scene. Brooklyn and I stumbled upon the Desert Caballeros Western Museum by happenstance, and it’s one of the coolest family-friendly museums we’ve visited in Arizona. We entered the attraction through a temporary gallery featuring Mexican Folk Art: Artesanía del Pueblo – a colourful exhibition showcasing diverse artwork from regions throughout Mexico. After touring the gallery, I was surprised to learn of the museum’s main building, which we accessed through a shared courtyard. The comprehensive collection encompasses more than 700 western works of art spanning 200 years. While my budding artist was mesmerized by the display, her favourite exhibit – where we spent most of our time – was the miniature western world on the lower floor.

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Henry Wickenburg came to the area in the 1800s searching for gold, which he discovered on Vulture Peak. The fertile floodplain of the Hassayampa River attracted ranchers and farmers to the region, who, in partnership with Henry, helped found the community of Wickenburg in 1863. The museum’s recreation of a pioneering western town, complete with a post office, gunsmith, stagecoach, chuckwagon, period furniture, saddles, guns, and clothing, is incredibly detailed.

After the museum, we wandered, checking out the town’s many galleries, antique shops and gift stores.

If You Go:

Accommodation packages can be tailored to suit a variety of interests and include all scheduled ranch activities – ranging from tennis and nature hikes to guided tours of the neighbouring Hassayampa River Preserve or Vulture Mine. With an array of western adventures, a full-service spa, a heated outdoor pool, an 18-hole championship golf course and an exceptional Brooklyn-approved Kids’ Club, families can easily curate their perfect ranch getaway.

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