By Kathy Montgomery | Photo by Jack Jordan
Riding across the desert at White Stallion Ranch felt like riding into my childhood. The craggy peaks of the saguaro-studded Tucson Mountains looked like cutouts against a still, perfect sky. A red-tailed hawk launched itself overhead. Longhorn cattle crossed my path.
It looked like the set of every Western I ever watched as a kid. And, in fact, some of them were filmed here, including TV shows like The High Chaparral and How the West Was Won. Several movies were filmed here, too, beginning with Arizona, the 1940 Academy Award-nominated film starring William Holden and Jean Arthur. Others include Apache Ambush, The Last Outpost and Winchester 73, which starred Gene Autry, Jimmy Stewart and Ronald Reagan.
In this setting, my husband and I played out our Western fantasies. We took daily rides, watched a rodeo and competed in team penning. At night, we retired to the bar (with saddle seats, naturally) to nosh on appetizers before a generous, ranch-style meal. Nightly entertainment included a “critter show” featuring snakes, spiders and scorpions, a cowboy magician, and a cowboy poet who performed by the light of a campfire.
The White Stallion has welcomed guests since 1940, and the True family has owned and operated it for nearly 50 of those years. They’ve worked hard to preserve the traditional dude-ranch experience, with lots of daily horseback-riding options from short, slow meanders through the surrounding desert to all-day rides into adjacent Saguaro National Park. Riders craving the drama of a Western can get their fix on a fast ride. In cooler months, those with a taste for something more contemporary can opt for a wine and cheese ride. The popular beer and Cheetos option is available most anytime. Private and group riding lessons are also available for an extra charge.
If the mere thought of that much time on horseback makes you saddle sore, you should know that a massage therapist gives new meaning to the term “ranch hands.” And there are plenty of nonequestrian activities, including a fitness center, sports courts, a heated pool and, of course, a movie theater. Videos and DVDs are available on the honor system, but the staff keeps a tighter rein on those filmed at the ranch.
Single-day rates are available, but to get the full experience of a dude-ranch vacation, take advantage of the weekly rates. The White Stallion operates year-round on the American plan, with lodging, meals and riding included. Lodging options range from single rooms to a private, four-bedroom house. Each comes with a patio, from which you can see a whole galaxy of Western stars.
The White Stallion Ranch is located at 9251 W. Twin Peaks Road in Tucson. For more information, call 520-292-0252 or visit www.whitestallion.com.