Finding My Way Toward Luxury
You’ll find Rancho de los Caballeros at the intersection of a simple ranch life and a resort vacation experience
By Roger Naylor
There’s no mistaking the turn for Rancho de los Caballeros. The sign points past a lush green fairway and lake shimmering in sunlight, ringed by graceful trees.
As I drive toward ranch headquarters, I pass more of the renowned Los Caballeros Golf Club course, long swooping fairways lined with trees and cactus all framed by rising mountains. While I’m no golfer, I am a connoisseur of Western scenery and this is top flight stuff.
Leaving the links behind and crossing the impeccably landscaped grounds of the ranch, I pause to watch a string of riders leave the corral and amble through a mesquite grove before disappearing down a sandy arroyo. The sky is achingly blue and I listen to a calming quiet. I’ve already had a sweet sample of the Rancho de los Caballeros experience and I haven’t even checked in.
It’s an unexpected welcome to this family-owned and operated guest ranch resort in the high desert of Wickenburg, Arizona. Rancho de los Caballeros translates loosely to “Ranch of the Gentlemen on Horseback.” It specializes in Old West hospitality blended with casual luxury. This is a quiet place spread across 20,000 acres of lush Sonoran Desert crowded by mountains.
Established in 1948, Rancho de los Caballeros quickly won acclaim for charming accommodations and impeccable service. The ranch is open mid-October through mid-May, and features daily horseback rides, a full-service spa, trap and skeet range, tennis courts, swimming pool and an 18-hole golf course that’s been ranked as one of the top hundred in the United States by Golf Digest.
Aside from all the amenities, I come for the profound sense of place, the desert scenery, relaxed pace and connection to the authentic West. This is where I reclaim an extra few days of summer as the desert transitions into fall, and soon winter.
Home sweet casita
The rooms are among my favorite in the state and a soothing peacefulness pervades. Seventy-nine guest rooms and suites are scattered about in graceful casitas. While different styles are available, each comes with handcrafted furniture, warm Southwestern colors, plush beds with luxurious linens and private patios. There’s a contemporary feel blended with a hint of Old Mexico. Rooms have Wi-Fi, which seemed important when planning the trip but for the life of me, I can’t remember why.
After unpacking, I head for my patio. Life spills outdoors in this swath of Arizona from autumn through the spring, when wonderfully warm days and cool, comfortable nights are the norm. Around the holidays there’s just enough nip in the air to make a crackling fire seem inviting and to enhance the flavor of your cocoa.
Take a guided hike
As I follow Richard Fredrickson up a slope toward a rocky outcropping, he identifies animal burrows, distant landmarks and surprising plants like night blooming cereus. Fredrickson, who trained as a biologist, has been with Rancho de los Caballeros for 34 years, a remarkable testament to the familial atmosphere of the property.
At the top of the hill, the jumble of boulders form a shady cave-like room where the prehistoric Hohokam people could sit and grind their meal more than 1,000 years ago. Fredrickson points out a base rock mortar, a bowl-shaped indentation in a larger stone where pods of the mesquite and palo verde trees were ground. His alert eyes also pick out a couple of potsherds nearby.
The cowboy/biologist conducts nature walks mornings and some afternoons, tailoring each outing to the interest and physical fitness of participants. Fredrickson also leads tours to the Hassayampa River Preserve, a riparian oasis beneath a canopy of cottonwoods, willows and California fan palms. He takes birders around the golf course lakes, offers nature horseback rides, gives evening talks and sings in the saloon on Wednesday nights.
Eat like a ranch hand
I took a morning walk after enjoying the sumptuous breakfast. The ranch offers the American Plan, which includes three daily meals in the rate. Breakfast and lunch are lavish buffets, the kind of eye-popping, belt-loosening spread you find on a cruise ship. The chef manning the omelet station whips up a Thermos-sized concoction to my specifications and never bats an eye as I pile my plate with thick-cut smoky bacon. At lunch they have four different kinds of pie.
Dinner hearkens back to a more genteel time. Men are asked to wear either a jacket or Western vest and ladies should dress accordingly. Since this is ranch country, jeans are always acceptable. Cell phones are discouraged. You’ll want all your attention focused on the meal—contemporary sophisticated cuisine with a Southwestern spin. The Angus filet is fork-tender. The chile relleno comes cloaked in a beautiful blend of spices and the pan-seared Mexican sea bass tastes so fresh you’ll expect to catch a whiff of ocean breeze walking back to your casita.
Riding the range
The beating heart of Rancho de los Caballeros is the corral. Two rides are scheduled daily, one on Sunday, and all experience levels are accommodated.
Here’s an embarrassing admission: Even though I grew up watching cowboy movies and moved to Arizona because of my passion for the American West, I’m never completely comfortable on a horse. But that changed when I threw a leg over Will—a quarter horse and paint cross—and we moseyed through desert scrub behind wrangler Caroline Markham.
I’m not sure why I felt so at ease on Will. He seemed to know exactly what I wanted to do even when I didn’t know how to communicate it to him. I suddenly understood that whole horse-and-rider connection.
I didn’t need to explain it to Markham. Her family began making annual visits to the ranch when she was a little girl. She pursued a very successful career as a classically trained vocalist and has appeared on three Grammy winning albums. But she never forgot those wide-open spaces and for 24 years she’s worked at the ranch, including singing in the saloon on Friday nights.
Embrace your own pace
On my next visit, I’ll get one of the signature treatments at the spa. Maybe I’ll try my hand at trap shooting. I might hop on an ATV, take a jeep tour or hot air balloon ride. They’re all available at the ranch. It’s the kind of place where you can be as active as you want, but it also gives you permission to be lazy.
As for the championship-quality Los Caballeros Golf Club course that plays 7,014 yards from the black tees? Maybe I’ll hit a bucket of balls or sign up for a lesson from the club pro. For this go round, I’m happy to hike, eat, swim, eat some more and ride.
In a fast-paced, constantly connected world, it’s nice to disengage occasionally and move at a more deliberate pace. At Rancho de los Caballeros, you can swap your desk chair for a saddle and your computer screen for a panorama of mountains and sky. Turn off your phone because the only ringtone that matters is the dinner bell. Slow down. Breathe. Breathe some more.
Discover your pace at Rancho de los Caballeros...
Roger Naylor is a travel writer who hates to travel. At least anywhere beyond the Southwest. He specializes in lonely hiking trails, twisting back roads, diners with fresh burgers sizzling on the grill, small towns, ghost towns and pie.
His work appears weekly in the Arizona Republic. He has contributed to Arizona Highways, USA Today, Western Art & Architecture, Go Escape, Route 66 Magazine, SunRunner and dozens more. He is the author of Boots & Burgers: An Arizona Handbook for Hungry Hikers, Arizona Kicks on Route 66 and Death Valley: Hottest Place on Earth.
Visit his website for more stories and information.