What in the heck is a dude ranch? We’ve all heard the term at some point in our lives, but what exactly is it? More than a hundred years ago, it was often considered common courtesy for ranchers in the Wild West to offer food and lodging to travelers and cowboys who happened to pass by on their journeys across vast deserts and empty tracts of land. As time passed, it became more and more acceptable for the ranchers to accept some sort of payment from their guests. By the 1920’s visiting a ranch had become somewhat of a full-fledged vacation for some Americans. To this day, there are all sorts of dude ranches and guest ranches to suite every budget and taste out there.
A dude ranch typically is a place where one goes to learn all about life on a ranch. Some folks enjoy finding ranches where they can get their hands dirty, and guests are taught how to ride and care for horses, brought on fishing trips, view rodeos, and enjoy family-style meals with other guests. A lot of dude ranches have cleaned themselves up a bit further and created a place where guests can enjoy several activities, regardless of whether they have anything to do with ranching or not. These ranches might have swimming pools, tennis courts, and other non-ranch-like activities.
We visited one of American’s oldest dude ranches in Tucson, Arizona to see how they’ve transformed since being founded in 1868, over 150 years ago. Located at the base of the Rincon Mountains and overlooking the sprawling foothills of Saguaro National State Park, Tanque Verde Ranch offers southwestern lodging to its guests and is among one of Tucson’s top destinations for its horseback riding and other outdoor activities. And meeting the demands of today’s world, the ranch is also a premier location for meetings, weddings, and events, which was recently made easier with the opening of its all-new meeting and event venue, The Barn.
What to Expect
Tanque Verde Ranch is family-friendly and offers an abundance of activities. Whether you are seeking to explore the desert and mountains on horseback, or relax and reconnect with yourself, there are enough options to overwhelm you. Choose from horseback riding, guided hiking and biking, swimming, dancing, and fishing. In addition, the ranch also has several tennis and basketball courts. There are also workshops, lessons, and presentations one can attend.
But if you are coming to ride horses, your options for activities have just increased because the ranch offers several activities with its horses, including a hands-on basic horse work skills course for beginners, where you can learn everything the novice horse rider needs. The instructor is there to teach the fundamentals, including proper mounting and dismounting, correct posture while in the saddle, turning and stopping, and walking in a safe manner.
The highest level of horsemanship offered at Tanque Verde Ranch is the lope check, which is used to assess the rider’s skill for safety. Once guests have reached an advanced level of horsemanship or have completed the required courses at the ranch, they will be asked to pass this check in order to participate in a long lope ride.
Thankfully the dining experience at most modern-day dude ranches has changed exponentially. Gone are the days of pork and beans and beef jerky. Today, at Tanque Verde Ranch, guests can expect three gourmet meals per day as well as several indoor and outdoor specialty dining events that are held each week. Executive Chef Janet Jones offers a Southwestern cuisine menu for the ranch, in keeping with the authenticity of its location and history.
Getting a Good Night’s Rest
Back in the day, those who chose to vacation at a dude ranch might have been greeted with shared rooms with uncomfortable bunks or minimalistic rooms with just the necessities to get you through a night. Today, dude ranches have evolved to offer superior hotel-like services. At Tanque Verde Ranch, the lodging options vary, but maintain a standard of luxury that sets them apart. Expect to find traditional adobe walls and Santa Fe architecture which perfectly complements the beauty of the natural surroundings. Rooms and suites are located throughout the property, depending on the view you’d like to wake up to in the morning.
But for those looking for a luxury camping experience, Under Canvas Tucson provides a one-of-a-kind glamping experience on the acclaimed Tanque Verde Ranch. Many tent styles are available, including those that feature a private bathroom inside the tent or others that are just steps away from one of the luxury bathrooms.
Dude ranches have expanded from their humble origins to fully integrate the hospitality and tourism business of today, which only means that guests can expect to get what they paid for while having lots of options over how to spend their time while on the ranch. Whether that’s dedicating their time to their horsemanship or daily spa appointments (yes, they have a spa, too), that part is up to the guest to decide.