Imagine waking up to the gentle caresses of the Salt River, watching rays of sun stream over the cliffs, listening as birds welcome the day and catching a glimpse of wild horses frolicking in the distance. At Saguaro Lake Guest Ranch, that imagined scene becomes reality, and it plays out every day.
The property, located just southwest of its namesake reservoir and a short drive from the Phoenix area, dates to the 1920s, when it was a mess hall and sleeping quarters for Stewart Mountain Dam’s construction camp. A Kansas couple then turned the buildings into a fishing lodge. In 1948, the Durand family purchased the property and made it a guest ranch. The Durands still own the ranch, which today is managed by John and Sean A’lee Bevell.
A day at the ranch starts around 8 a.m., when guests gather for breakfast in the lodge. There, beneath a grand saguaro skeleton, you can awaken your taste buds with coffee, orange juice or tea. The breakfast menu changes daily, but a recent morning featured fruit, eggs, blueberry pancakes, hash browns, sausage and bacon. While your breakfast settles, take a seat in the common area. The walls are dressed in paintings and photographs of the Sonoran Desert, which complement vintage furniture, Southwestern antiques and a fireplace made of native river rock.
Come early afternoon, meander around the grassy meadows, grab your fishing pole or lounge in a hammock to watch birds flutter from tree to cactus. If you’re feeling adventurous, explore the surrounding Tonto National Forest via horseback or hike, or try tubing or kayaking the Salt River.
Wind down by watching the sunset and taking an evening swim — the ranch’s pool is heated in winter. Then, drift off to sleep in one of the ranch’s 20 cabins, which are filled with vintage furniture and Native American-inspired décor. Out here, the noise pollution of the city can’t be heard.
Over the years, Saguaro Lake Guest Ranch’s noteworthy visitors have included Senators Carl Hayden and Barry Goldwater, along with musician Tanya Tucker. Weddings, workshops, corporate retreats and other events are hosted there, too. And John Bevell says the ranch’s visitors, who come from around the world, give him a regular reminder of the magic of this place.
“The longer I work here at the ranch,” he says, “with the fresh eyes of our guests … they help me stop, look up and say, ‘You’re right. This is special.’ ”
13020 N. Bush Highway
Near Mesa, AZ