Muleshoe Ranch is located 30 miles northeast of Willcox. For specific directions and more information, call 520-212-4295 or visit www.nature.org/arizona
© Randy Prentice
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Hot SpotAnyplace associated with The Nature Conservancy is going to be a scenic wonder, but throw in some natural hot springs and it gets even better. Exhibit No. 1: Muleshoe Ranch.
By Robert Stieve
Willcox In the movie Tombstone — the 1993 version starring Val Kilmer — Charlton Heston plays Henry Hooker, a wealthy rancher who gives refuge to Doc Holliday while Wyatt Earp rides off for an epic showdown with Johnny Ringo. In real life, Henry Hooker was a wealthy rancher who bought a chunk of land originally homesteaded by Glendy King. King was a pioneer, and also an entrepreneur of sorts. His most notorious vision was to open a spa on his land in the early 1880s, which he did. As unlikely as a spa in the middle of nowhere in the days of Geronimo might sound, the property included a natural hot spring, which was enough to draw people in. However, as in all good Westerns, King was eventually gunned down and his homestead fell into the hands of Henry Hooker.
Today, the Hooker Hot Springs are still enjoyed by guests who make their way to Muleshoe Ranch, which is a cooperative management area owned by The Nature Conservancy, the Bureau of Land Management, Coronado National Forest and some private landowners. Although each of them work together to conserve and enhance this unique ecosystem, it's The Nature Conservancy that serves as host of the property, which sits on 50,000 acres of magnificent Mother Nature that ranges from riparian desert at the lower elevations to pine forests in the Galiuro Mountains.
Any of the rustic rooms will work, but the best option is the Stone Cabin, which stands alone on the north end of the visitors center. It looks like something you'd see in Little House on the Prairie, but that's not the reason to book it. Book it because it offers more privacy and closer access to the hiking trails. Plus, coatimundis have been known to stroll past the front door. Inside, things are basic: a double bed in an alcove off of the living room, a double futon in the living room, a full bath and a kitchen. It's not much, but it's enough. You'll see.
The other four casitas surround a grassy courtyard on the opposite end of the visitors center — it's a great place to mingle with fellow explorers. The smallest of the courtyard casitas is the Chulo Casita, which is set up like a studio apartment; the bed, kitchenette and dining area are all in the same room. Like all of the casitas, the Chulo has a full, private bath. At the other end of the size spectrum is the King Casita. As the name implies, it's the largest casita, and it includes a bedroom with a queen bed, a double futon in the living room, and a kitchen. The Cypress and Forrestine rooms are somewhere in between. If you have a choice, opt for the Forrestine — it comes with a small fireplace.
Whichever room you end up in, it'll be secondary to the surrounding scenery, the 22 miles of hiking/equestrian trails and the Hooker Hot Springs. Although the ranch is open to day hikers and other adventurers, the springs are for overnight guests only. Like everything else at the ranch, the setup is a little rustic — hot water is piped directly into two tubs made of corrugated metal — but it's pretty impressive for the middle of nowhere, and you can bet Glendy King and Henry Hooker would approve.