"The 4 Amigos!"
Having made numerous people jealous with my stories of the ranch, this trip was with 3 friends from Maelor Riding Club. We followed a similar route to the one I did in 2005 setting off from Tucson travelling east along I10 then north along the Coronado Trail to Springerville. Day 2 via Holbrook, The Petrified Forest, The Painted Desert, Hubbel Trading Post, to Chinle and the Canyon de Chelly. Day 3 to Monumnet Valley. Day 4 West to the Grand Canyon. Day 5 South via Sedona to Payson. Day 6 skirting Phoenix, visiting the Sonora Desert Museum outside Tucson then on to Green Valley for the night. Day 7 visiting Tubac, touching on Nogales then East again to Tombstone and then Grapevine Canyon Ranch near Pearce where we stayed for a week (not long enough!). Our last 24 hours took us to see the Chiricahua NM then on to Benson for the night before an early start to visit Kartchner Caverns on our way back to the airport at Tucson. Our only detour from our planned itinerary gave us 24 hours in Atlanta due to problems with our flight.
"How it started - 2005"
For many years I have thought of visiting the Grand Canyon but had imagined it most likely to happen tagged on to a family holiday starting out in LA and including Universal & Disney. That was until I watched a holiday programme that featured a ranch holiday somewhere in the mid States. Having ridden most of my life and having been raised on John Wayne movies I set my mind on being a cowboy before I reached 50!
With time running out I mentioned it to my friend Maureen who to my delight agreed she would be keen to join me.
Autumn 2004 - whilst visiting the annual Equine Event at Stoneleigh in Warwickshire we had the opportunity to speak to representatives from a couple of specialist holiday companies and the idea overnight became a plan. The company who most impressed us with their honest advice and openness were Ranch Rider - http://www.ranchrider.com/ . We had hoped to fit in a visit to the Grand Canyon perhaps on the way or on the way back and because of this we were encouraged to consider Arizona. This – they pointed out – was not ideal from the perspective of us wanting a real cowboy experience working cattle daily but away we came with brochures and the basic knowledge of what we should be looking for. We then hammered the internet over the coming weeks and settled on a couple of ranches featured in one of the brochures. Back we went to Ranch Rider who then pointed out some obvious things that we had missed and came up with their own suggestion of the Grapevine Canyon Ranch close to the Mexican Border, South East of Tucson. I’ve no idea how we had missed it as it had all the criteria we had set – fairly small (max 30 guests), no small children (min of 12 years old), the offer of advanced riding, and it being a working/guest ranch rather than a dude ranch.
It would be a long flight so to make it worthwhile we decided we would spend a week touring the sights of Arizona before spending the second week on the ranch. Another lady we had spoken to at the Equine Event who had been on several ranch holidays had advised we would not want to leave the ranch and therefore we should make sure we completed any touring in our first week. Ranch Rider were happy to arrange Flights, Car Hire and accommodation on our tour and they helped us enormously in identifying places not to be missed but we eventually decided to do it ourselves as part of the fun. By this time the target date had been brought forward to 2005 there was no way we could wait another 12 months having already got so excited about the whole thing. Checking on average temperatures identified late April/early May as the time that might not be too extreme particularly for riding – we struggle in this country riding when it gets warm (and warm here is only 70 - 80’s!) usually trying to ride in the early hours but were worried that all day rides in the midday sun across the desert would be unbearably hot and not the experience we were hoping for!
Knowing that the flight would be a long one and having suffered badly on my last trip to Florida on a charter with little/no leg room we carefully chose the airline that would offer a decent seat pitch flying in to Tucson – American Airlines. Wanting to depart from Manchester it meant 2 changes on the way at Chicago and Dallas and just Chicago on the return trip but the benefit was that we got to stretch our legs a little. Researching the various on line booking agents we found the Thomas Cook site allowed us to select seat preferences and to mix and match out and return flight times to suit and also (most importantly) were very competitive on price. We almost followed through with the online car hire option but wanting some advice on the packages offered I rang the number quoted and they were able to better the price.
By now our tour route was pretty much set and we pre-booked accommodation for the first 5 nights leaving just the last 2 before we arrived at the ranch to be found along the way.
"The Adventure Begins"
21st April 2005 5.30am - finally after all of the planning and anticipation and we were on our way…
As we expected it was a very long day – almost 24 hours from leaving home to our heads hitting the pillow in our first motel. To be fair the flights were all on time, in fact the last connection was running earlier than was on our e-ticket (good job we checked as soon as we arrived at Dallas!) but having to arrive at Manchester 3 hours before the initial flight and then having nearly 2 hours at Chicago (most of this time needed as we had to clear customs and immigration before rechecking our luggage) plus another break at Dallas made for a lot of the time. We picked up our Alamo hire car at Tucson Airport easily – no queues at all – and having missed one turn as we skirted Tucson didn’t lose much time as thanks to the wonderful grid system of US road were able to wing it back on track almost immediately.
After a much needed nights sleep in a Super 8 motel at Catalina, we started our first full day in Arizona with a decent buffet breakfast before setting out at 7.30am aiming towards Holbrook via Salt River Canyon. With giant cacti on either side of the road and the air conditioning needing to be on full, we chuckled as we passed road signs warning of “ice on road” being too naïve to realise that in the early morning the temperature would dip to freezing or below. We saw very few vehicles on the road and were glad we had a full tank of fuel and had lots of water in the coolbag – just in case! We had hoped to spend some time in Globe but failed to find anywhere there worth visiting – maybe we didn’t persist enough – there must have been something more than a few motels and fast food outlets there somewhere? We wound our way down into Salt River Canyon and pulled off at the bottom for a stretch. Parked at the side was a trailer with 2 ponies tied to the outside being groomed by their owner. Needing a horsey “fix” we stopped to chat and during the conversation were advised to detour off of original path to visit Springerville where there was a western wear store as we absolutely had to buy a cowboy hat (purely for practical purposes of course) and some Wrangler riding jeans. We ate a hearty lunch in Show Low before moving on. Springerville turned out to be the first town that that fulfilled our image of small town America. A post office, a gas station, a small supermarket/general store and of course the western wear shop. Suitably equipped with the hats, jeans and a couple of other purchases we headed back along 191 then 180 towards Holbrook. Finding we still had loads of time we called in at the Petrified Forest gift store. It was like a treasure trove, so many beautiful items along with the usual tourist gifts. We hadn’t really understood what the Petrified Forest was and the guy on duty was happy this to explain to us in simple terms. We arrived in Holbrook and found our motel easily – well we could hardly have missed it as we drove along old Route 66 there on the side was the Wigwam Motel.
"On Route 66"
The “rooms” are concrete wigwams decorated in 50’s style with old motors outside to complete the picture. Small, cosy and clean (a slight musty smell greeted us as we opened the door but was probably due to the AC unit) it is a shame that the railroad runs behind and the regular blasts of the horns as the trains approach a nearby road crossing could disturb light sleepers however we’d had another full day and therefore didn’t find it much of a problem. Before retiring at what was to become our standard pre 9pm bedtime we walked along Route 66 to Joe & Aggies for a cheese omelette for supper.
(Continued under Travelogue...)
Cowboy Dream - part 2
"White Knuckle Ride?"
Next morning we topped up the gas and called in at Safeways to restock on water plus some cereal bars and fresh fruit. We also treated ourselves to some of their blueberry muffins and I can honestly say they were the nicest I have ever had. We back tracked to the Petrified Forest this time calling in at the visitor centre and checking out their exhibits before walking one of their trails then continued our drive on to the Rainbow Desert road. The colours and the scale of the terrain on the North side of I40 provided an amazing sight. Once again we passed very little traffic and had most of the viewing points to ourselves. We made a stop at the Hubbell Trading Post and were able to watch Navajo weavers at work and In no time at all we were in Chinle so stopped for a snack lunch at the Best Western – just junk food for me, chicken strips and fries, and soup and a salad for Maureen. We laughed when we saw enormous bowls of salad being delivered to a neighbouring table. It was the size we would have expected to be placed in the centre of a table for 4 but to our amazement turned out to be an individual serving. Maureen was somewhat relieved to receive a scaled down version presumably as she had ordered the soup as well.
We were in time to book a half day tour of Canyon de Chelly in an open topped truck – known as Shake’n Bake tours we were glad of the cowboy hats to give us a little protection from the glorious afternoon sunshine. Our Navajo guide David gave a wonderfully commentary and explanation of the history and the dwellings and petroglyphs that we encountered along the bottom of the canyon. As we were to find out later, due to the amount of rain and snow melting in the mountains the canyon floor tours had been cancelled for a week. There was a lot more water running through the canyon than normal and the river bottom had become soft in patches. Shortly after setting out the truck tipped to one side and stopped. David, having used his radio to speak to the back up team, got out and had to wade up to his knees in water. We joked that this was probably part of the tour – something you might expect at Disney or Universal to add to the experience but it soon became clear we were genuinely stuck. The back up team – another truck - arrived within 5 minutes and using his winch we were soon back on the move again. At the furthest point of our tour we were able to get out and take a rest stop. It was so peaceful and beautiful down in the canyon, we had watched Navajo children playing along the banks and seen small flocks of goats and sheep and a few cattle grazing. At the stop point there was a small stall selling more jewellery with some of the nicest examples we had seen. As the sun dropped lower we set off to return, the jewellery seller having hitched a lift in the front with David. Half way back there was a more severe tilting and there we were stuck again. This time it took 2 more trucks to get us moving, first from the front and then from the rear but eventually they succeeded. Up to now we had laughed and joked with our fellow passengers suggesting we might have to get out and push or paddle the remaining mile or so back to base. However the laughs became gasps with a few shrieks included when on the last river bend the truck lurched seriously to our right and we were left hanging onto the rails or each other to stop sliding off the seats into the isle or against the ones sitting on the down side. I admit at this point I was all for getting out – however difficult a manoeuvre that might have been and however wet it meant we would get. I was not the only one as the jewellery seller decided discretion was the better part of valour and did in fact leave us at this point. My fear was that if as were towed forward the hole turned out to go deeper before it became shallower the truck would tip further and I doubted the centre of gravity would remain in a safe zone. Therefore it was with a lot of relief and cheering that for the 3rd and final time we were pulled out – and it took 2 trucks working together this time!
"Our John Wayne Moment"
We stayed at the Holiday Inn Garcia Trading Post at Chinle that night which was probably the nicest motel we encountered during our tour. The blueberry muffins and some fruit were all we needed for supper and once again we were asleep very early waking only once when a storm deposited sufficient hail stones to turn the ground white outside our window. After breakfast in the motel restaurant having also bought and collected a packed lunch box we were on the road by 7.30am again. Yet again the terrain was vast and mostly deserted as we headed into Utah and made it Monument Valley before midday. Part of my “dream” was to do the John Wayne bit in Monument Valley so as soon as we pulled into the visitor centre car park we booked a 3 hour horse tour with Black’s. After taking a self drive tour down to the valley floor we arrived at the point where the Black’s horses were standing hitched to a trailer. Our initial impressions were of disappointment. These were Navajo ponies, not in particularly good conditions by our standards. One was not a bad sort but only a 4 year old, another had a girth sore. The 2 we were allocated were saddled by our guide Nick, Maureens mount had a sore mouth but Nick adjusted the bridle to let the bit hang low however it was so low it was against his lower teeth. We were told that we should not take any contact through the reins and being experienced riders we were able to follow the guidance so not causing any further discomfort. Despite their appearance these ponies gave us super rides, they were willing and responsive and Nick was an excellent guide. We got to see parts of the valley that self drive and bus tours did not reach and at one point a wild stallion came galloping across the desert floor to investigate us. He was a beautiful creature and I was sorry not to have had my camera with me. We were lucky not to get a good soaking as the weather was overcast with heavy downpours sweeping across the valley. We backtracked about 20 miles along 163 to Mexican Hat Lodge to spend the night. It may not look much from the outside but the rooms were clean and homely and the staff very welcoming. The steaks are cooked outside on a unique swinging grill and were very good! Once again we retired early though we might have been tempted into staying up had the resident band been playing!
Monday morning started very badly as we dropped down from Mexican Hat to cross the San Juan river bridge. As we approached we found a large black dog lying in the road just having been hit by a vehicle. Another dog was running nearby – it seems that they had been playing on the road though I fail to understand how the driver of whatever vehicle had been involved could not have seen or avoided a collision and certainly cannot comprehend why he or she could have driven off and left the poor animal to die. My friend went to a nearby group of houses to find the owner but as I knelt to check him over he stopped breathing. Mercifully he had not suffered for too long. The owner came and was totally distraught but we left him in peace to mourn his loss. The weather was rather dull and overcast and our attempts to reproduce the scene from Forest Gump “where Forest finally stopped running” on the approach to Monument Valley were unsuccessful due to the light (or lack of it). Once again we found ourselves moving through yet different landscapes. Every day had varied the only common factor being how vast it all was!
We arrived in Tuba City by mid morning and having only had a snack of cereal bars we found a Quality Inn to have a late breakfast. The skies had now cleared bringing glorious sunshine again. Alongside the motel was the Tuba City Trading Post a Hogan shaped building in which we found some wonderful birthday and greetings cards. The designs were nice but the words inside were absolutely beautiful. I now have enough for my family and friends for at least the next 12 months!
"Grand? No much more than that!"
It turned out to be a potentially serious shopping day as we next stopped at the Trading Post at Cameron. At last we had arrived in tourist land. The place was heaving with visitors. With a couple of mementoes and gifts for home we set out for the Grand Canyon the primary target on our weeks tour.
Amazing, awesome, vast, spectacular, stunning, I just don’t have the words to do it justice. The photographs don’t do it justice. It just has to be seen to be believed and even now I sit here thinking it can’t have been that big can it? But it was – and probably more! And not only was there the scale of it there were the colours. Layers of greens, creams, greys, pinks, browns, and oranges. As the afternoon wore on and the evening descended so the colours changed and the shapes morphed with the lengthening shadows. We had arrived early enough to enjoy several of the lookout points on the 64 road. The Watchtower at Desert View is well worth a visit at this end of the park and there are refreshments to be found there if needed. We parked up by the Maswik Lodge before walking back to the rim to have lunch at the Bright Angel Restaurant. Note to all dessert lovers – you must have the New York Cheesecake with strawberry sauce!
We saw enough of the Bright Angel Trail to know we had been right in our earlier decision to skip the mule rides. Check out “warnings and dangers” on my tips pages. Check-in was quick and painless and our lodge backed onto open forest. The room was comfortable and clean and we snatched a quiet half hour to catch up on writing cards to post home before having a light meal in the Maswik Lodge restaurant and then heading back to the rim to catch a free shuttle and ride to the West end of the canyon. We didn’t hop off at every stop but timed our final one to be back at Hopi Point for sunset. The professionals were lined up along the edges with mega sized lenses and tripods set ready but that evening to everyone’s disappointment about 5 minutes before the sun was due to set along came a very large black cloud that parked itself in the most inconvenient place for all concerned. Oh well – even the best laid plans and all that.
As our shuttle arrived back at the drop off point we were delighted to see 5 deer grazing on the small patch of grass that we circled around. Unfortunately the flashing of cameras soon convinced them that they would be better off returning to the woods.
Our alarm made sure we were up before 5am next morning as having missed our sunset we had no intention of missing a sunrise as well. The air was crisp and the car windscreens were covered in quite a film of ice. We waited patiently for a shuttle to arrive along with several other eager travellers. As the minutes passed we reassured one another over expected shuttle times but became increasingly nervous as the clock ticked on with no sight of any buses coming our way. The possibility of hiking to the first point was considered but dismissed as impossible in the time left – it became increasingly likely that we were to score a double miss of both sunset and sunrise and our mood darkened. With time almost out the shuttle arrived having been held up by frozen windscreen washers. With insufficient time to make it to Hopi Point we all disembarked at the first stop the Trailview Overlook and legged it to the edge. With only 1 or 2 minutes to spare we were just about able to get our breath back before witnessing the dawn break. It was well worth the effort – believe me! After that we were able to chill out and picked up the shuttle to Pima Point and then hiked from there to Hermits Rest. Our first choice of what appeared to be the trail quickly deteriorated into a very steep and narrow track. Not being serious hikers we turned around and gratefully picked up the intended path. Sadly nothing was open at Hermits Rest so we returned on the shuttle to enjoy breakfast at the Lodge before packing up and hitting the road again.
Tusayan may have been worth a stop but we chose to move on via 180 to Flagstaff. For the first and only time on our tour we passed snow on the sides of the road as well as on the mountains to each side but also passed through acres of fire damaged forest. It was so sad to see it and our assumption at the time was that the destruction was caused by careless individuals however later during our ranch stay we were told that many fires are started naturally by lightening strikes.
Opting not to stop in Flagstaff apart from refuelling at a gas station we drove on to Oak Creek Canyon. Pulling up at the scenic overlook at the north end we gazed down at the creek deep in the valley and held our breath when we saw how the road snaked down the side of the mountain. It was an “interesting” drive! Somewhere I think I saw signs advising that the road was not suitable for RV’s. I wouldn’t have wanted to drive anything larger than our intermediate hire car thank you very much! I’m not sure I could have enjoyed the wonderful scenery had I been a passenger either. There appeared to be several places along the road offering B&B and I would imagine they would have been well worth a stay. Eventually the road opened out and we arrived in Sedona.
Sedona is most certainly in a wonderful setting. Peaceful despite the numbers of tourists, with clean air and the bonus of blue skies and sunshine on the day we visited. After all the vast open expanses of land we had been seeing it was the change to this more enclosed setting surrounded by red rocks and the buzz of the visitors that gave us that sense of protection? Or perhaps it was the vortexes?
Anyone with time (and money) to spare could spend several days in this beautiful setting – it is certainly the place to be pampered and to rest up away from the outside world.
"Welcome to the Desert"
We had planned to drive via Jerome to Prescott but having had our share of scenic routes for one day we decided to cut back onto I17 and see how far we could get before stopping for the night. Neither of us fancied Phoenix and I have to say that the drive through was bad enough though we did hit it as people would have been leaving work. Memories of the M6 and Birmingham sprang to mind – a very large car park!
We pushed South onto I10 and eventually came off at Cortaro almost in Tucson where we found a Super 8. We had been delighted with the first Super 8 we stayed in at Catalina and having no reason to doubt this one we booked in for 2 nights glad to be able to unpack our cases and allowing ourselves a base from which we could travel from next day. Unfortunately this Super 8 was not very special – bedside light and hairdryer not working, grey worn towels, and noise from the railroad fairly constant through the night. However it served its purpose and next day we drove into Tucson to check out the Tucson Mall – real shops to us but basically nothing special and we might have been at home in Telford Shopping Centre on a bigger scale. We returned and broke off to spend a couple of hours in Famous Sam’s Sports Bar while I nervously twitched and muttered my way through the Chelsea v Liverpool Champions League Semi Final 1st leg. No one else in the bar seemed remotely interested in this very important “soccer” match and Maureen showed the patience of a saint to sit through it with me though was able to eat a very nice tuna salad lunch during the first half to help pass the time. I sadly was too uptight to enjoy my chicken teriyaki burger that much!
We decided to spend the afternoon at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum and I am eternally grateful to those on various travel sites who had recommended it to me. We were a little wary having seen it described as a zoo but from the first exhibit of a walled lizard enclosure just outside the entrance we were totally enthralled. Many of the creatures had to be “found” and clues were given along the trails of at what and where we should look. The sun was blazing down at this point of the afternoon and many animals were sleeping in the shade of trees, rocks and bridges. Perhaps the most enthralling of all were the birds. We enjoyed the large aviary containing dozens of colourful species but were completely captivated when we entered the Humming Bird Aviary. Just inches from our fingers we saw a hen sitting on her thimble sized nest containing 2 eggs. We watched as a newly fledged youngster was encouraged by its mother to find the right flowers from which to eat. The dogan on duty gladly imparted her knowledge to us helping us to spot these tiny birds and making the experience even more fulfilling.
Thursday 28th April and we were finally heading to the ranch. Once again being such early risers we had lots of time to spend on our way. We headed south on I19 to check out the San Xavier Mission. Undoubtedly a beautiful building but sadly for us half cloaked in scaffolding at this time. We pushed on and found Tubac a most enchanting little place – the sign reads “Tubac 1752 – where Art and History Meet”. It was almost deserted and I wonder how the traders can survive. Not having had a cup of tea all week we ordered one with a Danish pastry from a delightful coffee type shop. Along came enormous cups (more like bowls really) but sadly the water had only been shown the tea bag and although neither of us like “strong” tea this was weaker than dishwater! Never mind – the Danish pastry was scrumptious.
The target for this leg of our journey was the Mexican border town of Nogales. Having stopped at a visitor centre for advice we found a secure car park and with passports to hand walked into Mexico. The difference between the 2 sides of the border was striking. The streets heaved with visitors and Mexican traders. The checkpoint was solid with cars queuing and waiting to enter the States. Outside every stall/shop were pairs of men trying to encourage us to enter to see the wares but we found it very intimidating and sadly for them they had the opposite effect on us as we almost sprinted by. Had we had time to browse we may well have bought but we returned empty handed through the control point.
We routed on 82 then 90 and back onto I10 for a short while before hitting Benson. Still having plenty of time we decided on a Chinese meal for lunch. The food was ok but the service poor – having seated us (after quite a wait) we were then forgotten completely! It was tempting to get up and leave but being hungry and now looking forward to sweet and sour chicken we waited until eventually we were forced to go and find a waitress to serve us – and then we waited some more! This was probably the only occasion during our visit when we did not leave a tip.
In less than an hour we were pulling up at the gate to Grapevine Canyon Ranch. As Maureen held the gate open she pointed to a small wooden mailbox with the words “leave you problems here”. How perfect that was – our time at Grapevine was a wonderfully relaxing and healing period that would leave us wishing not to go home or at least to be able to return one day.
"Doing the tourist thing in Tombstone"
During our week long stay we had planned to fit in a few trips to local tourist spots but so settled were we that we only ventured out twice in all. Not wanting to miss the wonderful lunches at Grapevine we didn’t set out until about 1.30pm. Having been so careful and well organised during our tour week we now completely ignored the rules we had previously followed. Always carry lots of water – oops never gave it a thought – and never travel without plenty of fuel in your vehicle as the gas stations can be few and far between. Now I had considered fuel – at least I had considered it as we were on our way from Benson to the ranch and remember clearly thinking there would be enough to get back to Tucson and the airport. Well whether it was the heat and it had evaporated or whether the gauge was heavily weighted to fall more rapidly once it hit a quarter of a tank I do not know but once we had turned onto the Tombstone Road at McNeil the warning light came on and the dial pointed to empty. With hindsight we should have turned back as there had been a gas station on the 191 but thinking it wasn’t far to Tombstone on we went. And on we went, and on we went and even further on we went. It was the longest journey of my life. We hardly dared speak to each other, the dial was now completely bottomed off the gauge and we must have been driving on fumes alone. We limped into Tombstone onto the very first forecourt that presented itself – it was a lesson I will never forget. Now suffering from nervous exhaustion we possibly did not make the most of our visit to this quirky town. We had missed the “gunfight” due to leaving late and Texas Kate’s show would probably have been more enjoyable if there had been more than a dozen in the audience to provide some atmosphere. We did however enjoy the museum walk through at the Bird Cage Theatre and some very nice ice creams. The journey home seemed much shorter and as a bonus we arrived in plenty of time for supper!
Our only other venture out was to Pearce to the “Udder Delights” store. Recommended to us by Jen who worked at Grapevine this is a store run by the owner who milks her small flock of goats and produces all manner of lotions and potions using the rich creamy product. We stocked up with hand and body creams and soaps to take back as gifts (well we did buy a few for ourselves as well) in a variety of wonderful smells such as jasmine, lavender and amber. My mother who suffers terribly with cracked hands having now used them for almost a month and being so pleased with the results is about to place an order over the internet for more.
"What it was all about"
The sign at the gate says “Leave Problems Here” – how perfect! From the last of the metalled/surfaced road to the heart of Grapevine was about 5 miles. This was how we expected Arizona to be. Apache Desert to either side, and the Dragoon Mountains behind, the ranch nestled in the foothills in perfect solitude. The casitas and cabins were all individual and most of them secluded as was ours – the Sierra Bonita. After registering Jenny gave us a tour of the facilities; swimming pool, hot tub, cook shack, games room, tv lounge, sitting room, guest laundry, and numerous nooks to sit outside watching the humming birds visiting the bird feeders. Then we were taken to our casita a 2 room cabin with adjoining bathroom. After a week on the road it was wonderful to be able to unpack properly at last.
Our evening ritual was quickly established – arrive with about half an hour to spare, enjoy a glass of wine or a margherita or pina colada before dinner. Meet existing guests or welcome new guests, share experiences of the day and life stories. All of the meals were absolutely scrumptious. Excellent quality home cooked meals with mouth watering desserts. I am amazed that I came home the same weight as when I left as I have never in my life eaten so well. On our first evening we were entertained by the Ranch’s own band. Led by guitarist and singer – Ranch Cowboy – Danny and supported by father and daughter David and Danielle with bass guitarist Chuck. Danielle was an extremely talented fiddle player and many of the songs performed were original compositions from Danny. Never having had any real interest in and Country Music previously I was converted! This was fun foot tapping stuff and we made sure we both bought copies of their CD home with us. On another evening we watched a recording of Faking It USA which had been filmed mainly at the ranch a couple of years previous. Adam and Danny had been the main mentors, along with ranch owner Gerry Searle when a young man of extremely privileged background had been set the challenge of being a cowboy. If we had had sufficient stamina we would have made more of the other facilities but we were happy to stroll back to our casita by 8.30pm most evenings ready for our early start next morning.
Our first days riding was a 3 hour trail ride up into the Dragoons during which we took a lope check. To us Brits that means seeing if you can canter and stay in control! In the afternoon we did an hours ride on the flats. Having gotten our badge for the lope check we could then go on the advanced rides but on the Saturday we chose to do the all day ride to Middlemarch Canyon. About 7 hours saddle time in all but amazingly we were only a little stiff next day. On the remaining days we went on the advanced rides sometimes into the mountains but twice onto the flats. The riding was very different to what we are used to in the UK. The stony and difficult terrain of the foothills and mountains requires tough sure footed horses and we were amazed how they “looked after us” at whatever pace we went. The advanced rides on the flats we found to be more fun and we enjoyed checking on the cattle out there with Annie on our working cowboy day. A couple of afternoons in the hot tub and pool were all we managed to fit in but I could have made that a habit given a little longer than a week.
We were treated to amazing hospitality by all of those at Grapevine, never once did we sit down to eat without being joined by at least one member of the staff. All credit to Gerry and Eve that they have created such a family atmosphere with their employees and that the guests become a part of that family as soon as they drive through the gate. The animals, equine, bovine, canine and the rest were obviously spoiled silly – they were also part of the family. I’ve never gotten emotional about saying goodbye when departing from a holiday before but I could barely speak on our last morning without choking, maybe one day we may get to return, I do hope so.