You’ll wind up in Mexico if you miss the turnoff on Arizona 286 to Rancho de la Osa. That’s what almost happened to my husband, Paul, and me when we drove 90 minutes south from Tucson to this historic Arizona guest ranch. We visited because new owners have refurbished the 590-acre Sonoran Desert property, adding archery, sport shooting and utility-task-vehicle excursions to its horseback riding and other activities. Like guests who have visited since 1926, including Franklin Roosevelt, Joan Crawford and John Wayne, we found the eucalyptus-shaded oasis an enchanting spot for aficionados of horses, impossibly blue sky and an Old West experience. The tab for two: $540.50 per night for a deluxe room, meals, horseback riding and other activities in low season (through Dec. 15 and Jan. 2-Feb. 16). High season, $655.50 for two per night (Christmas holiday and Feb. 17-April 20). Does not include 15% service fee and taxes.
The ranch’s 19 guest rooms, all with fireplaces, updated bathrooms and air conditioning, are painted in vibrant pastels and decorated with framed vintage cowboy bandannas and other authentic artifacts. We stayed in a spacious corner room named for President Lyndon Johnson. The story goes that LBJ visited the ranch when he was a Texas senator — and brought his own horses.
A clanging bell announces mealtime in the hacienda, its rooms decorated with photos of ranch life over the last 100 years. Guests eat family-style at a long, wood table. The food has a Mexican flair: fresh, handmade corn tortillas, salsa, and rice and beans were served with scrambled eggs and pancakes for breakfast, and tacos for lunch. Dinner featured succulent breast of chicken with sautéed peppers and an irresistible coconut flan. Fresh green salads and fruit were served at lunch and dinner.
Ross Knox, head wrangler at Rancho de la Osa, ran away from home at 16 to become a cowboy. He also became a cowboy poet and has been a star for 34 years at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nev. After dinner, Knox entertained guests with his colorful verses. “Memories,” one of his bittersweet poems, ends: “When the memories come callin’, you can’t help but pray, Lord, please make me a cowboy again for a day!”
THE LESSON LEARNED
I’m a 13-year-old kid with a grin on my face when I lope on horseback across the desert. At Rancho de la Osa, I discovered I get as big a kick out of herding cattle. Knox gave a lesson to guests in the dusty arena. When he yelled, “Go get a cow,” we all made the mistake of nudging our horses into a trot. He taught us to sneak up on the heifer instead to avoid spooking her and then guide her slowly in the right direction. Knox’s advice is good for life too: “The slower” — and smarter — “you go, the faster you’ll get done!”