This experience absolutely changed the way I used to think of a dude ranch. There are no crotchety old wranglers with Marlboros hanging out of their mouth shaking their head at the ineptitude of the “city slickers” rudely tapping away on their Blackberries instead of enjoying the scenery.
Our three-night stay at Rancho de los Caballeros, a member of the Arizona Dude Ranch Association & Historic Hotels of America, ended much too quickly. I will preface this with telling you that if your idea of vacation is to lounge by the pool with a book for three days, this is not for you. However, if you’re adventurous & ready to embrace new experiences, then this is definitely the place! My husband, I & our 7-year old daughter had an amazing time.
The ranch is family-owned & has been in operation since 1941. It has every imaginable amenity, including a spa, and is well-maintained & modern while keeping the ranch feel. They are located one mile south of Highway 60 in Wickenburg, AZ, nestled among a residential neighborhood full of nice, upscale homes.
There is no fast food around, but there is a CVS Pharmacy, Safeway Grocery Store (with a Starbucks) & a couple of banks all on the corner of Highway 60 & Vulture Mine Road, one mile north of the resort. However, you really don’t need to leave the resort for anything.
I was surprised when we drove up & saw that there is not a main hotel building. Rather, the rooms are situated in individual casitas arranged throughout the property around shared courtyard areas. It lends a very homey & welcoming feeling to the property. The landscape is typical desert – rocks, sand, mountains & cacti – but they have planted lots of beautiful perennials around for splashes of color & the well-maintained lawns are the most amazing shade of emerald green.
The lobby is small and located in the main building. Adjacent to the check-in desk is a large “living room” with lots of comfy seating, a huge fireplace & shelves stocked with board games, puzzles & books for your to enjoy there or in your room. There is also a pool table that we never had a problem getting on to when we wanted to play a quick game.
There are 4 categories of rooms. We were put in a Maricopa Suite. At 750 square feet, it was as large as my first apartment! Our room had an entry; large living room with a queen size murphy bed, fireplace, leather couch, chairs, game table, flat screen TV & desk area; a kitchenette with a microwave, mini fridge & cupboards stocked with dishes; a large bathroom with double sinks, a jetted spa tub & large separate shower; master bedroom with a king size bed, walk-in closet & flat screen TV; and a large private patio with chairs, a table & a lounger. There is limited TV in the rooms, because they want you to be out enjoying the activities rather than sitting in your room (which was hard to leave because it was so awesome!). There is free WiFi service in the rooms. Our room was clean & decorated very nicely in the ranch style. The toiletries are by Deserving Thyme & include eucalyptus soaps, a shoe polisher, makeup removing moist towlettes, lip balm, green tea lotion, shower gel & of course shampoo & conditioner. The bathrooms also contain a blow dryer & plenty of towels. An additional rollaway bed can be brought in if needed. The room was expensive at $720 a night for the three of us ($625 double-occupancy plus $95 each additional person over age 4) but there are other lower priced options.
Same day laundry service is offered. However, save yourself some money & used the on grounds washers & dryers. I checked into getting a pair of jeans washed through the ranch - $5.92 plus tax. For under $5 I was able to buy laundry soap, fabric softener & wash and dry a full load. The machines are never busy & they do a fine job. There are also soda machines, but we brought our own.
At the dude ranch, all meals are included. Your dining options are to eat at the on-site restaurant or at the restaurant located at the golf club. Breakfast & lunch at the restaurant are served buffet style & dinner is a sit-down three-course meal. You are expected to dress for dinner with men in either a sports jacket or western vest & ladies “dressed appropriately.” I wore skirts but slacks would have been acceptable. There are no cell phones, laptops or bathing suits allowed in the restaurant or saloon. When dining at the golf club, golf attire (Bermuda shorts, collared shirts) is required. The only thing not included is drinks. I recommend the house margarita on the rocks – delicious! I can absolutely understand not including alcohol, but I was a little disappointed at being charged $2 for a lemonade, iced tea or soda. For the price, they should have been included in the meal. Tipping is added onto your final bill at check out so that you don’t have to worry about carrying around a purse or wallet.
The breakfast buffet had a wide variety of cereals, fruits, yogurt, pastries, sausage, bacon, potatoes, eggs, coffee, juices & an omelet bar. Dishes that changed daily included pancakes, French toast, & quiche. I had their homemade muesli & it was awesome. The omelets were big & had every imaginable topping. The lunch buffet included an array of salads, sandwich fixings (cold cuts, breads, cheese, etc.), and a hot dish station which changes daily. Some of the things included soups, fried chicken, roasted turkey with gravy, ravioli, mashed potatoes & sautéed vegetables. There is also a dessert bar with cakes, cookies, pies & ice cream. The golf club menu had a variety of salads & sandwiches (both cold & hot). Their kids menu included grilled cheese, chicken fingers & sliders.
Dinner changes nightly. You always have your choice of four soups or salads, five entrees & four or five desserts. The dessert menu also offers a selection of coffee & teas. Specialty coffees, such as espresso or cappuccino, are offered at an additional cost. There is always a vegetarian option on the menu, as well. While they encourage children to try new things & order from the adult menu, they do offer a kid’s menu with a choice of soup or salad, eight entrees (pasta, grilled chicken breast & veggies, chicken fingers, pizza, corn dogs, grilled cheese, hamburger or mac & cheese) and a dessert.
Reservations are not required, but they do ask that you let the front desk know about what time you would like to eat so the dining room can prepare for you. When we arrived, we were seated and given bread & water immediately without having to ask. I had the soup of the day (chipotle potato) and blackened catfish. Both were amazing! My husband had a salad & Kansas City Strip Steak. He had to send his steak back because it was undercooked and there was a lot of gristle on it. The salads looked to be pre-made with just the dressing cup placed on it when you order it. For dessert, I had the Crème Brule & my husband had the fruit parfait. Again, both appeared to be pre-made & reminded me a little of wedding banquet food. On the second night, my husband had grilled Bass with blue cheese mashed potatoes & a tarragon mushroom sauce. I had the Rib Eye, which was a little fatty & overcooked. We came to the conclusion that the fish was always amazingly delicious, but the steaks are not. The wait staff is attentive & pleasant & the dining experience is very nice & relaxed. During dinner, the riding staff comes by your table to see if you are interested in scheduling a ride for the next day. Although dinner is included, there is a 15% gratuity added to your bill at checkout based upon $13 per person for breakfast, $16 per person for lunch ($18 on Sundays) & $41 per person for dinner.
For dinner on our last night, we went on the hay ride cookout, which is also included in your stay. This was by far our favorite meal. You take a hay ride to the ranch’s own cookout spot where a chuck wagon & bonfire awaits you. They have an adult bonfire & a kid’s bonfire with chairs all set up. There are also picnic tables. A cook grills hot dogs, burgers, chicken, ribs & baked beans over a mesquite fire & a cowboy strumming his guitar strolls around serenading you. They have a full bar set up as well as salads, rolls, iced tea & water. The meal was delicious! For dessert, the kids do s’mores & the adults are offered coffee & fruit cobbler. The kid’s club staff is there to entertain the kids. There are shuttles on site to take you back to the resort at your request. You just let them know when you’re ready & they take you right back to your room. It’s a really fun experience & the food was excellent. Be sure you arrive at the hay wagon about 15 minutes early to get a good seat & bring a jacket. It gets chilly when the sun goes down.
There are several activities at the ranch, both free & for a fee. Free activities include swimming, hiking, star gazing, guided nature hikes at the Hassayampa Nature Preserve, tennis & free shuttles to downtown Wickenburg. They will even loan you a tennis racket or clubs for the driving range at the front desk. Paid activities include the spa, horseback riding, golf, trap & skeet, Jeep tours, hot air balloon rides, ATV tours, tennis lessons, & team penning.
Also free is the Kid’s Club. The club accepts kids aged 5-12 & operates two sessions. The morning session is 8:00-1:30 and the evening session is 6:00-9:00. The time in between is family time. You can participate in one or both sessions daily. Children 8-12 years old can go on a morning trail ride (at an additional fee). Otherwise, the kids do outdoors activities, corral pony rides, arts & crafts & have meals. They eat breakfast & lunch at the buffets with the kid’s club staff in the morning session. During the evening session, they eat dinner at the kid’s club. While my daughter really enjoyed the kid’s club, I did have a few issues with the program. First, there is no one place where you drop them off or pick them up. For example, one morning session was a drop off at the corrals. There is no sign in or out procedure & we had to ask around as to who the staff was. It just seemed a little “loosy goosey” for us. My husband went to pick up our daughter in the afternoon at the kid’s club & I received a call that they were at the pool waiting for us to pick her up. For the evening session, we dropped off & picked up at the lobby. Again, having one consistent place for all drops offs & pick-ups, as well as a sign in/sign out procedure would have been great. My second issue is that the activities did not go as described in the schedule we received when we checked in. One day was supposed to be “outdoor game day” with a water balloon toss, limbo, wiffleball, tag, nature hike, sprinkler time & root beer floats. What actually went on was running through the sprinklers & spending time at the pool…none of the other activities on the schedule. I asked my daughter if she had fun & she did, so I guess that’s what counts. My last issue is minor. For “arts & crafts time”, they made paper airplanes. That’s it. I just expected more of an organized project. Overall, the kid’s club is great for letting your kids meet other kids & have a little independent time while you enjoy adult activities such as trap & skeet or the spa. I felt fine with a 7 ½ year old, but would have been a little more uncomfortable with the laxness if my daughter were younger. Do be sure to pack a water bottle, hat & lots of sunscreen for the kiddos. It is super hot & the desert sun can be a killer.
The family’s absolute favorite activity was horseback riding. The ranch offers rides for every level. We were complete novices. There are two rides daily – a morning ride for adults only & an afternoon family ride for anyone over age 8, except Sundays when there is only a morning ride. However, that is at the rancher’s discretion & he did let our 7 year old participate (she is a very tall 7 year old). This is not a hand-led pony ride – you will be trail riding on some rocky & narrow trails through the Sonoran desert. I made the mistake of wearing capri pants & ended up with bleeding scratches on my legs. We were warned, “everything in the desert will stick ‘ya, poke ‘ya or bite ‘ya!” Long pants are an absolute MUST, as is a hat, sunscreen & sunglasses. Brimmed hats must have a string attached to tie under your neck. If your hat doesn’t have one, they’ll put one on for you. Don’t bother trying to catch awesome action shots with your SLR camera – you can’t take it with you. Safety demands both hands on the reins. That means no water bottles, either. Drink up before the ride. The rides last approximately 90 minutes to 2 hours. The scenery is amazing & if you get on Chuck’s team, he’ll even run the horses a little in a trot (the kids LOVE that!). My daughter loved it so much that we planned to do another family ride the following afternoon. Unfortunately, when they came around at dinner the night before, they told us that the family ride was cancelled for their team penning activity. We were so disappointed. I really think the ranch would benefit from adding extra family rides & offering them twice a day. The rides are $45 per person for the morning & $40 per person in the afternoon. A 15% gratuity is added when you check out. They do offer private riding lessons as well.
**TRAP & SKEET**
My husband went Trap & Skeet shooting one day while I took our daughter to the pool. Children over 12 are also allowed to participate. He had a great time. The ranch takes you in a shuttle to the shooting site where you test your aim with a shotgun & 25 shells. There was a wide range of gauges to choose from for all sizes of people. My husband used a 12-gauge. You are given a full safety lesson by the range master & water is provided. The range master told everyone that for their first time, they would do well to hit 4 of the targets. I don’t mean to brag, but my husband hit 15! They asked if he wanted to stay out & shoot more rounds, but we had to get back for a Jeep tour. Trap & Skeet runs $35 per round with the 15% gratuity at checkout. We recommend mornings, because it does heat up quickly & you don’t want to be standing & staring into the sun.
The pool was nice & very kid-friendly. When we went at 9:00, there was nobody there. It did start to crowd up around 10:00, but not so bad that you couldn’t enjoy it. It is a shallow pool, 5-foot depth, so there is no diving. Towels are provided. There is covered & open seating at tables or loungers. The adjacent saloon will provide you with water if you ask for it. There are some “noodle floaties” in the pool for you to use.
The Jeep tour was an absolutely amazing way to see the desert! The ranch contracts with BC Tours out of Wickenburg. The driver picks you up & drops you off right at the ranch. The open air Jeep seats 2 adults & 1 child, other than the driver, very comfortably. You could probably even fit in a second child. The tour runs on the back dirt roads around the east side of Vulture Peak. Our guide was awesome - he was so engaging and great with our daughter. She asked to sit in the front seat & he chatted with her & had her help him opening gates! Our tour lasted about 2 hours & 45 minutes, but I suspect he would have gone longer if we didn't have a tee time to return for. We learned so much about the desert & the local history. We were shown all about the many cacti & their use by the Indians. Our guide even demonstrated how to get water from a cactus for us! He also showed us lots of rocks & minerals & let our daughter pick out a piece of turquoise to take home. Be sure to wear a hat & lots of sunscreen. They bring chilled water for you. Be sure to ask lots of questions - they are more than willing to answer! The ride is $65 per adult & $35 per child 10 & under. Gratuities are not added on for this activity, but they are appreciated & well-deserved!
My husband took our daughter to the driving range while I went to the spa. The driving range is part of the 18-hole, par-72 championship course. We brought our own clubs, but the front desk will loan you a putter if you ask for it. The greens are very well maintained & the balls are stacked in nice pyramids – you aren’t just given a bucket of balls. The driving range is free. If you want to do 18 holes, greens fees range from $60-$75, depending on the time of year, & include a mandatory cart. For 9 holes, the fees are $36-$45. You do need to wear proper golf attire – Bermuda shorts or slacks, collared shirts, no metal cleats. When you check in, the staff will take your clubs to the pro shop & store them there for the duration of your stay – nice touch!
The spa is a fairly new addition to the ranch. They converted one of the old ranch houses & now offer everything from facials, massages & body treatments to manicures & pedicures. The spa is tranquil & welcoming. Debra greeted me & offered me some cold water. The inside of the building was a bit warm, but not unbearable. I had to fill out a short questionnaire before my treatment. Having been to several European-style spas in the past, I was hoping for a steam or shower room to utilize before my treatment, but there wasn’t one. Jordyn performed a lovely 90-minute Tranquility Facial on me. There was no exfoliation, just a series of things being applied & wiped off, so it seemed to go on a little long. There was a nice hand/arm & foot/leg massage included. The best past was the firming gel mask. It was refreshingly cold & my skin felt firm & hydrated. There five facials offering different things, so be sure to read all of the descriptions before booking. Mine was $160 plus 15% gratuity. After my facial, Lynelle treated me to a wonderful 60-minute Desert Oasis Massage. The massage was pure heaven. I almost fell asleep. I had my choice of lavender, orange or eucalyptus oils (I chose orange). She even treated the scratches on my legs from horseback riding with lavender oil to promote healing! This was a full-body massage & included hands, feet, head & face. Warm towels were used to wipe off the excess oil. My $120 massage was well worth the money! Reservations are a must.
On our last day, my daughter & I went on the Hassayampa River Preserve nature hike with the ranch’s nature guide, Dick. This hike is free & wonderful for nature lovers. Dick meets you in the lobby & drives you in a shuttle to the preserve. Don’t go on your own or you’ll pay. Dick told us that the ranch gives the preserve a donation every year so they can bring their guests at no charge, but you have to be with him. Definitely bring a camera! Dick brought his Swarovski scope & bird book & led us on an educational & beautiful hike. He answered all of our questions, stopping whenever we wanted. He pulled out his book & showed us what birds we were seeing. He even let us look at some of them through his scope. The trails are groomed & level – easy for any age to manage. There are a lot of ants in the preserve, so do wear closed toed shoes. Again, sunscreen & hats are a must.
Overall, the experience was beyond amazing. We had such a wonderful time that as we drove down the driveway, my daughter asked, “When can we come back?” I definitely see a return visit in our future!
(This review is based on a complimentary stay at Rancho de los Caballeros. I received no other compensation besides the hotel stay and activities and the hotel did not state any requirements that I express a particular point of view.)