“"Everything here either sticks, stings or bites.”"
she said, and it may sound strange but at that point in time there’s no where else we would have rather been than in Arizona amid the sweet smelling mesquite bushes and the giant saguaro cacti.
In the hot dry heat close to high noon I ambled up the main street and by the time I got to the other end of the boardwalk my thumbs were tucked into my belt and I had assumed the rolling cowboy gait of every other tourist in town. The West does something to the male ego.
The desert in Arizona is not endless acres of sand but mile upon mile of scrub and rough vegetation populated with curious animals and insects and dominated by the giant saguaro cactus.
It might smell sweet but it must have been tough going for the pioneers when they walking beside their covered wagons at 5 mph, however today’s travellers have plenty of good roads to zip along and many attractions to visit.
The folk I met had touched down at Tucson because of the choice of Guest Ranches.
It’s in these dude resorts that you can really tame the wild west. You can combine cook-outs in canyons with superb cuisine in the dining room and enjoy American size portions.
You can lie back and look at the buzzards making lazy circles in the sky or slip into the cooling waters of a blue swimming pool. Of course it is horse riding that’s the main draw. I stayed at the Tanque Verde Ranch where the wranglers are expert at eyeing up your inside leg measurements.
With over a hundred horses to choose from they are able to put you astride one that seems ‘tailor made’ for you. It was just after seven in the morning when we rode out of the corral and headed up into the foothills of the Rincon Mountains. We were on the breakfast trail ride and as a posse we’d have done Roy Rogers proud. Cowboy hats had been provided (It gets hot in that sun,) and the jeans that I’d just bought at the local supermarket were a great bargain, as was the a belt with a big shiny buckle. The new image didn’t fool the horse so we came to an arrangement, he and his friends could go where they wanted and I would sit back in the saddle and enjoy the ride.
They sure-footedly took us down the scree on the banks of dried up river beds and up through the tall saguaro cacti to some splendid views. The fresh air made us hungry and we were certainly ready for breakfast when the chuck wagon arrived. As we tucked into our bacon, sausage and beans we were joined by other folk from the ranch who were out for a stroll, or as they preferred to call it 'The Ironman Mountain Hike'. They left at 6.30 in the morning to do it, it takes all sorts!
Later in the day I had to make a choice between recovering in the jacuzzi or joining our cowboy friends for an introduction to some of the much misunderstood creepie crawlies of the desert.
Learning to love, or at least understand rattle-snakes, scorpions and spiders is just one of the activities on offer. The Tanque Verde Ranch also has a children’s program that includes all day rides, hobo hikes and a barbecue where they eat roast marshmallows and listen to ghost stories round the campfire.
Things to do.
• The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in the Tucson Mountain Park has a great collection of plants and desert animals and birds. Aspiring wildlife photographers can ‘con’ their friends back home with really impressive pictures.
• Nearby is The Old Tucson Studios, which has been dubbed ‘Hollywood in the Desert’ in it’s dusty streets you’ll recognise settings from many film classics, like El Dorado and Gun fight at OK Corral.
• Spend a day with Old Pueblo Tours from Tucson. You get an enthusiastic introducton to the area in an air conditioned mini bus.
• Flying in to Tucson, you see the worlds largest collection of aircraft, there are acres of surplus planes are parked in the desert, the dry atmosphere is ideal for storage. Visit the huge Pima Air and Space Museum www.pimaair.org/ where over 180 planes are on display and there’s enough indoor space to house aircraft like the famous ‘flying fortress’.
• Take an excursion into the desert in an open jeep. We picnicked below Waterman Peak while a cowboy with designer stubble, told us about silver mines, early pioneers and wildlife.
The other guide, dressed like a cowgirl but poised like a fashion model, added her touch of joy “Everything here either sticks, stings or bites.”
Report by Allan Rogers