By Annette McGivney | Photo by Steven Meckler
There’s something about El Rancho Robles that promotes laziness. Maybe it’s the location — on the edge of sleepy Oracle, where the 4,500-foot elevation keeps temperatures comfortable year-round. Or maybe it’s the guest ranch’s Spanish Colonial architecture and hacienda-style design, which exude the relaxed aura of old Mexico. And then there are the 200-year-old oak trees, which invite a siesta beneath their shady canopies.
While life has become exponentially more maddening since the ranch was built, El Rancho Robles has survived as a timeless escape from the rat race — except that today’s guests have access to free Wi-Fi.
Charles and Helen Gilliland built the ranch in the 1920s, during the heyday of dude ranches. The design resembles an 18th century Mexican villa, with a large arched entrance and a central plaza. Thick-walled stucco guesthouses with Saltillo tile floors and red tile roofs surround the plaza. Although the ranch offered trail rides and chuck wagon breakfasts, the main draw was relaxation. Guests lounged on the manicured grounds, played horseshoes and cooled off in a spring-fed wading pool.
But after the popularity of dude ranches faded, El Rancho Robles was parceled into condos and managed as long-term rentals from 1962 to 2012. It then got a second life when New York businessman R. Blake Campbell bought the historic property and restored it to its original splendor.
“It looks like a movie set now,” says General Manager Zach Nichols, who has managed the ranch’s business side over the past several years. On a recent afternoon, it seems the only person on the property who isn’t relaxed is Nichols: He zips around in a golf cart, checking on gardeners tending the landscaping and a caterer preparing for a wedding reception in the main hacienda building.
The 18-acre property includes 27 guest rooms, seven of which are casitas with full kitchens. All of the rooms are appointed with Southwestern furnishings and open onto shaded stone patios. In addition to the natural springs on the property, the pastoral grounds include a fire pit, stone walking paths, a swimming pool and a hot tub.
There’s also plenty to do nearby, with Biosphere 2 just 8 miles away and the Acadia Ranch Museum in Oracle. A scenic drive up rugged Forest Road 38 will take you to the top of Mount Lemmon, with access to countless hiking trails. But, on second thought, maybe an afternoon nap under the giant oaks is in order. It’s the El Rancho Robles tradition, after all.
El Rancho Robles is located at 1170 N. Rancho Robles Road in Oracle. For more information, call 520-896-7651 or visit www.elranchorobles.com.