Whether you’re visiting Phoenix or just looking for a new weekend activity in the Valley, Ponderosa Stables has an adventure to offer.

Situated less than 20 minutes from downtown Phoenix, the riding stables have been tucked away in the foothills of South Mountain Park and Preserve for 80 years. Current owner Rex Walker has run the place since 1976.

On my recent trip to the Old West-themed stables, I was paired with Blondie the horse and Tallulah, a wrangler. At first, Blondie seemed a bit more interested in snacking on the flowers (can’t blame her; they’re quite beautiful right now) than in showing me around the park, but soon, we were off.

Many of the trails at South Mountain Park are shared by hikers and horses. Even though it was a Saturday morning, the route Tallulah chose wasn’t crowded, allowing us to take in the sights. Those included petroglyphs, which are scattered throughout the park, and the downtown Phoenix skyline.

Despite being known as a bit of a diva, Blondie had no issues adjusting to the terrain or keeping up with Tallulah. And she allowed me to photograph the scenery while on the move.

With more than 40 miles of trails, the options for rides are many. Tallulah said she has many repeat riders and plans ahead to take them on new routes. The stables also offer different specialty rides, such as the Sunset Ride, the T-Bone Steakhouse ride and the petroglyph ride (which I got to try).

The stables also offer cookouts for dinner or for breakfast. When I arrived, breakfast was being prepared for riders on their way back to the stables.  Miriam Hall, whose mother, Bev, has worked at the stables for 50 years, said rides can start at 6 a.m., In the summer, they start a little earlier, but not much. “We try to respect the animals that live in the park,” Hall said.

Hall said the business partners with Phoenix Parks and Recreation to keep the area protected. “I want my kids and grandkids to have the experiences I had [out here],” she said. “It really is great. It gets you outside.”

And outside I was. During the hour trail ride, I was able to see petroglyphs, blooming flowers, saguaros and quail. While commonplace in the desert, there was something great about seeing them atop a horse like Blondie.

— Kirsten Kraklio

Ponderosa Stables offers rides that range from one hour to a full day. For more information, visit www.arizona-horses.com or call 602-268-1261.

Photos by Kirsten Kraklio.