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Mickey on the Move
Check your guns and stress at the door
By Mickey Charles, Roz Charles / Travel Editor, Photojournalist

Ranch
The same Arizona that the pioneers settled, seen in the atmosphere and climate of today.
Phoenix, AZ - Next stop, Phoenix, where dude ranches are plentiful, the weather is fantastic, people are so laid back they make Californians look frenetic, and the emphasis is clearly not on physical exertion, mental strain or tenseness.

For Roz and myself, the airline of choice was, as is usually the case, Continental. That was long before September 11th of this year when flying took on a new emotional tone and way of thinking...and traveling. However, it was, is and will be the "old friend" theory of going with the folks that make you most comfortable, with whom you enjoy the benefits of loyalty, frequent flyer perks and people who greet you by name to find out how they can help to make the trip more enjoyable. You may have your own favorites to whom you are faithful, allegiant and unswerving with a little push from the fare and upgrade department coupled with ease of getting from destination "A" to "B." Not a problem. Understood.

When you land in Phoenix be prepared for a greeting from the surrounding countryside on touch down that is almost serene. Mountains, clear skies, the "feel" and knowledge that there is an absence of humidity and near perfect weather are all too obvious. You can almost feel the promise in the air, "This is going to be a great week!"

As you leave the airport, the imaginative segment of your brain, as it receives a message from your eyes, will "see" the "sleeping Indian" rock formation in the distance. It is really much closer than the visual deception being wrought upon you. And, if you miss it on the way out you won't on the way in. Legend has it that a local tribal chief went out hunting one day and, after bringing in the kill that would clothe and feed his tribe for a long time to come, he lay down for a well-deserved rest. But, one of the gods watching over him decided that he was worthy of a bit more than just a few moments respite before he tended to his tribe's needs so he arranged for a much lengthier rest than was anticipated and, in the process, saw to it that the tribe would never want for food or clothing again. It is whispered that when the Indian chief rises to finally attend to other things - fishing, hunting, a search of water or fire wood or just going off to do battle with another tribe - it will mean that the watchful god has deserted the tribe and the landscape will change, clouds will darken the skies and cold winds will come out of the north bringing snow and rain with them. So, when you see the "sleeping Indian" you will realize that if this rock formation moves we are probably on the verge of seeing "Terminator Two" in living color.

Horses
Six a.m. and the horses are run down to the corral to meet the day's arrival of city slickers.
Maybe Billy Crystal and his buddies had the right idea when that array of city slickers headed out west for a change of pace. How much difference could there be between dodging cabs in mid-town and driving a herd of cows a couple of miles to the corral? Hey, piece of cake. If you could survive the Bronx, you could outlast a horse for a few days, right? Every one of us has jeans, a desire to purchase boots with pointed toes intended to dig wells (which were not part of the eventual wardrobe or really necessary) and a denim shirt or two in the closet. As much as it may seem in vogue, no native New Yorker with any degree of respectability would board a plane on the East Coast wearing a cowboy hat regardless of his or her final destination. Be cool. One suitcase will do it for this trip. Be casual, real casual. No one, not the horses, cows or guests dress for meals...or anything else.

The trips to Arizona took us to the Rancho de los Caballeros and then, a second time, to Merv Griffin's Wickenburg Inn and Dude Ranch. That, by the way, has since been donated by Merv to Childhelp USA (as of January 1, 2001) where the folks that now run it shelter children from abused and neglected backgrounds. Very charitable and a wonderful use of the property.

We gathered our chaps, vests, lasso, dreams of riding into the hills and out to the cookout, as well as all that other Tom Mix, Hopalong Cassidy, Lash Larue, "Duke" Wayne stuff and off we went.

Greeting us at the Phoenix airport were Donna and Rich of Wee Drive. They were so salt of the earth Americana that their second name should have been Epsom. Look up the word "nice" in the dictionary and you will see their photographs. They greeted us at arrivals and, no matter how long it took for our luggage to find its way to the carrousel, they made the time pass by filling out adoption papers on the spot. They had an insight on everything imaginable to make our upcoming adventure a cakewalk. Brand new van, music of your choice, conversation that you tune in, not out, and the best price for getting to and from the airport. The problem is that I do not know if they are still around. Consistent attempts to reach them only led to non-working telephone numbers. Too bad, and a loss. You will have to find your own Donna and Rich.

Phoenix had welcomed us and it was then about an hour to an hour and half out to either of the ranches, depending upon how many stops you make to take photos of the sunset.

Ranch
The corral at the Wickenburg Inn and Dude Ranch befitted John Wayne, Clint Eastwood and early Americana.
Did I hear you ask, "Is it rustic?" You gotta be kidding? Do whales sound, eagles perch, Republicans lean right or Yankees win another World Series? If it were any more rustic you'd see the OK Corral shootout all over again. The only real contact with the outside world is knowing that you share the same sun and moon with the folks back home and you might be able to plug in your laptop. However, that is rather gauche and people start pointing at you in the dining room, whispering all sorts of things if they find out. Bag the cellular phone on the morning cattle drive. Cows don't take calls, not even from Gary Larson.

The "Howdy" from any of the other girls tending the front desk at the ranch house is as genuine as it gets. At Rancho de los Caballeros you will find everything from a desert trail ride to a round of golf at the Los Caballeros Golf Club, rated in the top 75 resort courses in the country by Golf Digest. Hey, it's not all spurs, saddles and hay rides. There are 20,000 acres of spectacular Sonoran Desert around a dude ranch where you can lounge at the pool, play tennis, go to the trap and skeet range or just hike wherever the trails take you...walking, on horseback, mountain bike or in a jeep. How about bass fishing, hot air balloon rides which, if you have not done one yet, are a must.

With 54 years behind them, the 79-room ranch and golf club has a Southwestern tradition of hospitality complemented by a recently remodeled clubhouse at the golf course.

Worried about the possible food shortages, not enough water? One trip to the dining room and you realize that these folks could feed some Third World countries on a weekend and never miss a beat or hamburger. Don't be planning on chuck wagons and old John Wayne movies here with Gabby Hayes serving beans and biscuits three times a day. Raspberry duck, Madeira chicken, Chilean sea bass, Catalan pancakes, Painted Desert Salmon, Steak au Poivre, Pasta de pampas, vegetables, soups, desserts. The cookouts feature steak, cowboy potatoes, cornbread topped with beans and salsa.

Ranch
Saddle up! The Cadillac, Mercedes, Jaguar and BMWs of Phoenix wait for their "drivers."
Need a helping hand? Rub a saddle and someone is sure to appear on horseback like the proverbial knight but this one is clad in Levis. Afraid of creepy crawly things? Don't be. Someone on staff will quickly quiet your fears so fast you'll be watching the nature channel with regularity and planning safaris to the Serengeti when you get home. Would you believe that we did the Arts and Crafts thing and made our own Plaster of Paris (is that where plaster originated?) cowboy? We were set up and, before you knew it, I had immortalized the wild, Wild West while Roz concentrated on painting her apple. Both now adorn our kitchen with everyone who sees them wondering where we bought them. The Louvre is the usual response...in the Early Americana section at considerable expense.

Hey, she even bagged a skeet! Not bad for a girl from the Bronx.

Plan to go horseback riding with seasoned wranglers over trails that cross rolling hills and flowering desert, the Sonoran. Head down to the corral and jump on (okay, be helped on) to a scenic, intermediate or advanced ride. These are the guys that were probably the inspiration for "The Horse Whisperer."

Make a note to attend the cookout one evening and head off to South Yucca Flats where the ranch's cookout cowboy, Ray Callaway, will be strumming his guitar and singing some of your favorite songs by the fire. Steak or moist chicken over an open mesquite fire. Super! Check the weather and dress accordingly.

One day I decided to "head 'em up and move 'em out" with a few other wranglers. I felt like we covered every acre and it was great fun. Lots of "Yahas!" "Yippeeyiohs!" and other assorted phrases the herd understood but which overshadowed my own "Over here cow, this way!" No wonder I was the only guest who volunteered. The truth is that it was super. Just do it!

Okay, and don't tell them we told you - the Maricopa Suites have a fireplace, refrigerator, wet bar and spa tub (you do not have to go down to the river to wash and dry). The larger casitas even have a living room area. Chill, they all have a rustic look.

We did it all at Merv's place and at Rancho de los Caballeros, way up there in the Sonoran Desert while enjoying a breathtaking sunset vista of the Bradshaw Mountains and valley they guard. So there you have it...Billy, Jack, Roz and Mickey, City Slickers Three and we are planning to go back again!!! It was fantastic. Hi Ho Silver!


Rancho de los Caballeros
1551 S. Vulture Mine Road, Wickenburg, AZ 85390
Tel. 1520/684-5484 Fax: 1520/684-2267 (guest services)
Reservations: 1800/684-5030
e-mail: home@SunC.com Web site: www.sunc.com

The Greater Phoenix Visitors and Convention Bureau - 1-602/452-6252 for those with more time on their hands to see all of the sights...such as: Phoenix, the Grand Canyon, Sedona, Oak Creek Canyon, Montezuma's Castle National Monument, Scottsdale, Flagstaff or Tempe.