Nine Decades of History at the Circle Z Ranch

Horseback riding is the focus of the Circle Z Ranch near Patagonia. | Mark Lipczynski

A stay at the Circle Z Ranch, on State Route 82 southwest of Patagonia, lasts only a week but stays with you for a lifetime. Lucia Nash is proof.

In the 1930s, the Nash family traveled from Ohio to visit the dude ranch, and Lucia, then a child, rode horses there. Later, she returned with her own children, and in the 1970s, when she heard the property might be sold to a developer, she and her husband bought it.

The family has kept the Circle Z running ever since — it's the oldest continually operating dude ranch in Arizona, and last year, it marked its 90th anniversary. Lucia's son, Rick, and daughter-in-law, Diana, run the ranch now, and they spend most of the Circle Z's season, late October to early May, at the ranch.

"We've always been centered on riding," Diana says. And it's easy to see why: With access to hundreds of miles of trails, there's always something new to see. And the Circle Z has long been known for its horses, which are bred, raised and trained on the ranch. And in 2013, the Circle Z parterned with the Arizona Land and Water Trust to create a 3,265-acre conservation easement to permanently protect the ranch's open space.

The dude ranch is only the most recent part of the property's history. It began as a sheep ranch in the late 1800s, then was purchased by the Zinsmeister family of Louisville, Kentucky, in the 1920s. They built the ranch's cottages, and while some have burned down, the others are still in use today (the family's home is now the ranch lodge). The property then changed hands several times before the Nashes bought it.

Over its history, the Circle Z has hosted several Hollywood productions, including Spencer Tracy's Broken Lance and Lee Marvin's Monte Walsh. But the focus has always been on the guests. A weeklong stay (Sunday to Sunday) includes numerous opportunities to get on horseback and explore the landscape, along with hiking and birding. The ranch also hosts nature walks, astronomy nights and plenty of delicious food. Shorter stays (Sunday to Thursday) are available, but the ranch's managers note that most people who book those stays end up wishing they'd sprung for a longer one.

With 91 years of happy guests in the books, the ranch clearly has a winning formula — one that's brought the Circle Z a lot of repeat customers, including former guests visiting with their kids, as Lucia Nash did. When they arrive, they find not much has changed — and that's by design.

"We're going to keep doing what we're doing," Diana Nash says. "We have a traditional, laid-back feel to our place, and that's the way we're going to keep it."

— Noah Austin, Associate Editor

The Circle Z Ranch is located on State Route 82 southwest of Patagonia. For more information, call 520-394-2525 or visit


In the 30's my dad, John D. Brown, Jr., worked for the Zinsmeister Family and I have several pictures so him on the ranch. He became well liked by them and even when he went to war, they wrote him Christmas cards. I feel the ranch has always been part of my families memories and my husband and I visited there several years ago and were shown around, wonderful to actually see the place my father worked and loved.

Ranch Vacation with family is a real fun. Here we spent quality time with each other. Truly said, we eat a lot and on-time as well. Riding is also a fun in ranch vacation, Created a perfect picture.

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