The Tack Room: a Photoessay

Circle Z Tack Room 9

There is something special about a well-maintained tack room. The saddles, blankets and bridles look so natural tucked away and in their places. The glow of the leather in the late afternoon sun speaks of trails well-ridden, horses happily nibbling on hay after a day out, all ready and waiting to go again tomorrow.

Circle Z Tack Room -Saddles

Circle Z Tack Room 6


Circle Z Tack Room 2

Circle Z Tack Room 8


Silhouette of George at Corrales


By |April 25th, 2015|Community|Comments Off on The Tack Room: a Photoessay

Nature at the ranch: April Report

Post by Vincent Pinto

April is a unique time for nature at Circle Z Ranch. While the conventional notion is that Arizona is too hot to visit in late spring, this is certainly not the case at here! An elevation of 4,000 feet combined with lush and shady forests strewn along Sonoita Creek afford ample cooler retreats for guests.

The Varied Bunting brightens up the Arizona landscape; Zak Pohlen, Flickr

The Varied Bunting brightens up the Arizona landscape; Zak Pohlen, Flickr

The entire month of April is punctuated by a spike in the numbers of migrating birds, particularly those that travel later from their wintering grounds. Look for Varied Buntings, Yellow-billed Cuckoos, and Blue Grosbeaks making their first appearances. The Varied Bunting is a “Mexican Specialty” species, much sought after by birders flocking themselves to the ranch. Yellow-billed Cuckoos are riparian specialists, so keep an eye out for them amidst the towering Fremont Cottonwoods and other broadleafed trees lining Sonoita Creek. They often dine upon hairy caterpillars and require intact riparian zones. As such, they are rather rare and are now federally threatened.

The lushness of Circle Zʼs forests are in evidence this May given our ample rains last monsoon season and this Winter. Their cover affords quality foraging and sleeping areas for White-nosed Coatis – tropical members of the Raccoon family that barely enter the U.S. Many guests have been these seeing these special mammals of late, particularly on the old New Mexico and Arizona Railroad bed. Other mammals to look for in May include Coues Whitetail Deer, Mule Deer, Collared Peccary, Arizona Gray Squirrel, and Mountain Lion. Yes, Mountain Lion! Some guests recently spied and photographed an adult Cougar while out on a ride. This is great evidence of a healthy, functioning ecosystem at Circle Z. The ongoing conservation work here has truly paid off with over 5,000 protected acres providing vital habitat for a broad spectrum of flora and fauna.

Gila Monster: look but don't touch! By Dave Govoni, Flickr

Gila Monster: look but don’t touch! By Dave Govoni, Flickr

Plenty of other wildlife abounds at the ranch in April. Many species of lizards can be seen, including Sonoran Spotted Whiptail, Ornate Tree Lizard, Clarkʼs Spiny Lizard, and the threatened Gila Monster. This venomous lizard is the largest in the U.S., but only poses a threat if you pick one up, which is never a good idea! Leave all of the plants and animals at Circle Z to their own devices, taking only photographs and leaving only tracks.

Cane Cholla, by Gem66 on Flickr

Cane Cholla, by Gem66 on Flickr

Despite the dryer weather in April, certain plants literally come into full bloom. Cacti and members of the Asparagus Family in particular have evolved to blossom now. Cane Cholla, several Prickly Pear species, Palmerʼs Agave, and Sotol fall into this warm season flower category, adding color to the landscape.

Truly with one of the highest levels of biodiversity in all of the U.S. the Sky Islands of southeast Arizona and Circle Z Ranch are perfect destinations to enjoy the beauty of Nature – including in April!

By |April 25th, 2015|Nature, Observations|Comments Off on Nature at the ranch: April Report

Circle Z History-Sanford Butte and Sheep Ranching

Visitors to the ranch often use the Circle Z Mountain, looming up behind the corrales, as a landmark while riding the trails. But older maps and topographical surveys refer to it as “Sanford Butte,” a name it was given when Arizona was still a Territory.

DA Sanford 1878 portrait by WL Sbedden Wash DC

A portrait of Don Alonso Sanford from 1878

The butte was originally named for the Sanford brothers, Don Alonzo and Denton, who first homesteaded in the area along the Sonoita Creek in the late 1870s. The brothers had come the Arizona territory from their native New York to make their fortune in cattle ranching. They established what would come to be known as The Stock Valley Ranch, 45 miles east of Tucson.

Denton established the “Sanford Ranch” on the Sonoita Creek in the 1870s. (Riders at the Circle Z can still see remnants of the original adobe ranch buildings on the hill above the corrales.) But his brother “Don” Sanford, as he was known, had other plans for the land near Patagonia. In 1881 he acquired 13,000 head of sheep a bargain price and set out to increase his growing fortune.

Sanford was drawn to sheep ranching for it’s economic potential: sheep were much scarcer than cattle, and had the potential to draw much higher prices. However, this endeavor was not popular with the nearby cattle ranchers. John Cady, who served as Sanford’s manager in the 1880’s, writes in his memoir: 

If There was one man whom cattlemen hated with a fierce, unreasoning hatred, it was the man who ran sheep over the open range—a proceeding perfectly legal, but one which threatened the grazing of the cattle inasmuch as where sheep had grazed it was impossible for cattle to feed for some weeks, or until the grass had had time to grow again. Sheep crop almost to the ground and feed in great herds, close together, and the range after a herd of sheep has passed over it looks as if somebody had gone over it with a lawnmower. 

Cady goes on to relate more than a few “annoyances” that ensued as a result of Don Sanford’s venture: “Sheep were found dead, stock was driven off, my ranch hands were shot at, and several times I myself narrowly escaped death at the hands of the enraged cattlemen.” Whew!

Cady's sheep camp on the Sonoita Creek, built 1884 (photo taken 1915)

Cady’s sheep camp on the Sonoita Creek, built 1884 (photo taken 1915)

Folks were made of stern stuff back then, and despite the hardships Cady stuck with it for the next three years. In 1884 Sanford was able to sell the herd at a $17,000 profit (which would be well over $400,000 in today’s dollars—not a bad profit, but perhaps not worth getting shot for!).

Sanford Butte on a topographical map, showing the Circle Z Ranch

Sanford Butte on a topographical map, showing the Circle Z Ranch

Shortly after that, Denton Sanford died and his brother Don moved his family back east and lived in Washington, DC for the remainder of his life, pursuing various business interests. Despite this, Don Alonso Sanford stayed connected to southern Arizona, returning often until his death in 1915. The ranch stayed in the Sanford family until 1925, when the 5,000-acre spread was sold to the Zinmeisters, who converted the property into the Circle Z (and Sanford Butte acquired the new name “Circle Z Mountain”!).

More information can be found at the Don Alonso Sanford Collection at the Special Collections of the University of Arizona Library in Tuscon. The collection, donated by descendents of Don Sanford in 2011, contains documents and photographs that offer a detailed look at daily life in the Territory of Arizona.


By |April 11th, 2015|History|Comments Off on Circle Z History-Sanford Butte and Sheep Ranching

Guest Profile: Sketching the Circle Z

Sketching the Circle Z-Red Mountain-2 by Jane Schwartz

Guests come to the Circle Z Ranch for many different reasons: some simply like to ride horses; others like the scenery, a few just want some peace and quiet. For Jane Schwartz, the Circle Z provides all these things, but the real reason she visits is for artistic inspiration.

Have sketchpad, will travel--Jane Schwartz on the trail.

Have sketchpad, will travel–Jane Schwartz on the trail with trusty artist materials in tow.

Fellow guests might recognize Jane as the woman who always brings artist materials in her saddlebags, and is sketching the Circle Z. An avid rider and amateur artist, she first came to the ranch in 1997 and has returned seven or eight times in the ensuing years. “Red Mountain is my touchstone,” says Jane. “I paint it every time I come to the ranch.”

Art has been Jane’s passion since she was a child growing up in New York City. Although she attended the city’s prestigious High School of Music and Art and later majored in art history at college, her career took her in other directions. Thus it has been while on vacation that Jane has been able to indulge in her love of drawing and painting. “During my travels is the only time I have an opportunity to focus and see a landscape,” says Jane. “I’m always sketching then.” Sketching the Circle Z fits right into Jane’s vacation strategy.

All-day rides are generally Jane’s preferred rides for drawing. “There’s plenty of time to rest during the picnic or cookout, and I can sketch then,” she confirmed. Occasionally on some of the shorter rides she’ll grab a few moments as well. “We’ll go loping for a while, then rest for a few minutes,” says Jane. “My fellow riders have been kind enough to wait and enjoy the scenery while I make a quick sketch for fifteen or twenty minutes.”

Jane likes to sketch during all-day rides. Here she is in the San Rafael Valley

Jane likes to sketch during all-day rides. Here she is in the San Rafael Valley

Late afternoon is also one of Jane’s favorite times of day for sketching the Circle Z. “Red Mountain is easily visible from the lawn, and I can frame out a general sketch, then fill in the colors later. The sun and shadows create changing color patterns every few minutes.”

Jane has worked with colored pencils and pastels, but lately she’s also been working with watercolor pencils. These special pencils, when dipped in water, create a watercolor effect on paper—and travel well in her saddlebags.

Take a look at some of Jane’s most recent drawings of Red Mountain. Most of us will probably never be able to paint it as well as she can. But her work sketching the Circle Z will certainly give us an appreciation for the wonderful play of colors that nature paints on the scenery surrounding the ranch every day.

Sketching the Circle Z-Red Mountain-1 by Jane Schwartz

By |April 10th, 2015|Community|Comments Off on Guest Profile: Sketching the Circle Z

Wrangler Kelly Training Our Young Horses

Following is the first of our monthly news updates on training our young horses for life at the Circle Z. We breed 2-5 mares each year, and with this comes many hours of teaching and loving each and every one or their babies. Our wranglers are all experienced to differing degrees in training horses, and I have asked them to share their thoughts on wrangling and training at the ranch. Enjoy!! . . . Diana

“Howdy, my name is Kelly and I am in my third season as a wrangler at the Circle Z Ranch. Our guests know me as Wrangler Kelly. It’s hard to describe what my actual “job” is, at it is certainly not the typical career path. Some of my daily duties include picking up horse poop, cleaning trails for our guests to ride on, cleaning the tack for the horses, picking up horse poop, picking up poop, pick up poop. It might sound like a “crappy” job, but everything else I do as a wrangler is pure fun: I get to play with horses six days a week! It’s not all roses, but my roses don’t have many thorns.

Kelly-early saddle work with Mima

Kelly doing some early saddle work with Mima

My first season working at the Circle Z, we had two fillies born; their names are Mima and Lavina. At first, they lived in the “mare pasture” with their moms, so I didn’t get to see too much of them. That was OK, because it’s important for the little ones to just be with Mom, and not fussed over too much by humans. Besides, I was busy learning trails and horse names. Not an easy thing at Circle Z–with over 100 miles of trails and over 100 horse names!

My second season at the Circle Z Ranch, I helped with halter training these fillies, first saddling and just basic gentling of these little ones. The fillies are both of the Quarter Horse breeds. Lavina is a reddish-brown color, called Sorrel. (If she were either a Thoroughbred or Arabian breed she would be called Chestnut.) Lavina is very active, and has not had a whole lot of interaction with people. I prefer to train babies with this disposition, as they tend to have fewer bad habits.

Kelly and Jennie discussing Mima's training. Notice, little miss Mima is the only one posing for the camera!

Kelly and Jennie discussing Mima’s training. Notice, little miss Mima is the only one posing for the camera!

Now little miss Mima, on the other hand, is very pretty. She is a Palomino in color, which is a golden colored body with white mane and tail. I have a saying, “pretty is as pretty does.” Mima is a spoiled little brat. Everybody sees and wants to touch and feed the pretty baby. So now, she treats humans like they are horses. She will nip or grab to see if you have a treat. She will bump into you to make you move out of her way. She is basically LAZY.

My professional background is the racetrack, so I prefer to train horses that are a little more lively. But as luck would have it, I ended up with the job of training the lazy baby. And I love her. I will talk more about progress with Mima in my blog post next month. In the meantime, take a look at this video, only my third time in saddle after doing ground work.

By |February 15th, 2015|Horse Talk|Comments Off on Wrangler Kelly Training Our Young Horses

Nature at the Ranch: February Report

Post by Vincent Pinto

February is a special month at Circle Z. As the ranch’s Naturalist and Astronomer, I am excited to share a plethora of exciting natural history and celestial events that world-weary guests can enjoy while seeking the solace of Nature.

Arizona Cottonwoods, with fluffy flowers beginning to give way to leaves. Photo courtesy Verde Canyon RR-flickr

Arizona Cottonwoods, with fluffy flowers beginning to give way to leaves. Photo courtesy Verde Canyon RR-flickr

Just as you may flock to southeast Arizona for a well-deserved respite from Winter, so too do legions of birds. Our warm weather and nearly tropical latitudes add up to a veritable birder’s paradise! A short wander from Circle Z near the inlet of lovely Lake Patagonia is a well-known wintering haunt of rare Elegant Trogons. February holds the promise of many other birds as well. Bridled Titmice acrobatically frolic in towering Fremont Cottonwoods and winsome Sycamore trees, searching for a snack of insects. Lesser Goldfinches prefer seeds and are often spotted at the ranch’s feeders. Here today–then gone tomorrow–are sleek Cedar Waxwings questing for wild fruits such as Mistletoe and Netleaf Hackberry.

Hepatic Tanager, courtesy Melanie C. Underwood-flickr

Hepatic Tanager, photo courtesy Melanie C. Underwood-flickr

I’ve even sighted wintering male Hepatic Tanager – a species that breeds in local Pine forests in warmer seasons. Any visiting birder should well be able see 50+ species in a normal day of birding. Many of these species, such as Abert’s Towhee, Gila Woodpecker, and Rufous-winged Sparrow are local specialties, difficult or impossible to see outside of southeast Arizona! Finally, listen and look for Great Horned Owls, who may have eggs or even nestling during February.

Many mammals are also on the prowl during February at Circle Z. During my weekly Nature Walk guests often learn about fascinating tracks of Coyotes, Bobcats, Grey Fox, Mountain Lion, White-nosed Coati, and other mammalian delights.Less frequent, though worth the time spent outside of course, are direct sightings of these and other species. In fact, February is prime time for a glimpse of the otherwise reclusive Arizona Gray Squirrel. Nearly endemic to its namesake state, this species would rather quietly skulk away rather than chatter at you, a la other North American Tree Squirrels. Whether afoot or astride a horse, past guests have been lucky to glimpse Gray Fox, Coati, Virginia Opossum, Whitetail Deer, Mule Deer, and even a Mountain Lion on rare occasion!

White nosed coati, photo courtesy Harvey Barrison-flickr

White nosed coati, photo courtesy Harvey Barrison-flickr

The Dainty Sulphur butterfly is delicate indeed. Photo courtesy of Anne Reeves-flickr

The Dainty Sulphur butterfly is delicate indeed. Photo courtesy of Anne Reeves-flickr

Although technically still Winter, February is truly the start of Spring at Circle Z. Witness the beautiful flowering Senecio shrubs along and near Sonoita Creek. These fragrant, yellow blooms attract Butterflies, about 330 of which have been recorded in Arizona. Small, slow-flying, and rather tame Texan Crescents can be common on warmer days, along with Queens ( a Monarch relative), Pipevine Swallowtail, Dainty Sulphur, and Tailed Orange.



Other plants are all over the place in their response to February. As I write, many Spring annual wildflowers are peeking their young leaves above the soil – a prelude to the many colors to come! Hairy Bowlesia, Popcorn Flower, Evening Primrose, and Prickly Poppy are just a few of the dozens of species that will grace us in Spring. Meanwhile, Mexican Elderberry is putting out leaves and will soon flower. Mock Buckthorn has ripening fruit and many plants are waiting for the last frost to leaf out. February is indeed a special time in Nature at circle Z!

By |February 11th, 2015|Nature, Observations|Comments Off on Nature at the Ranch: February Report

Patagonia’s Most “Elegant” Resident

Photo of an Elegant Trogan taken near Patagonia Lake

Photo of an Elegant Trogan taken near Patagonia Lake, copyright Dominic Sherony (Flickr)

Visitors to the Circle Z might notice a lot of binoculars in and around Patagonia. Although the skies are great for stargazing, most of these binoculars are usually draped around the necks of birders, who have come to the region in search of our feathered friends.


Southern Arizona is considered prime viewing grounds for bird lovers. The Sonoita Creek flowing year round creates a rich ecosystem that makes it an attractive spot for wildlife, especially birds. The Nature Conservancy lists over 250 (yes, 250!) species that can be sighted at its Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, which lies just north of the Circle Z.

Of all the birds to be found in this habitat, the most sought-after is the Elegant Trogon. Usually found in the mountains of Mexico and Central America, the only spot for viewing it in the US is Southern Arizona, right around the ranch. Even then, they are rare; it’s estimated that there are only 50 pairs in the region!

If Elegant Trogons are in the vicinity, feathers that are iridescent green on top and bright red on the chest make them easy to spot. They love to nest and roost on the sycamores that line the Sonoita Creek and its surrounding trails.

Elegant Trogons are most frequently seen from April through November, when they come to Patagonia and its environs for breeding. This overlaps with our ranch season by four to six weeks at either end.

The next time you’re riding on a trail on or near the Sonoita Creek, take an occasional peek up underneath the sycamores. You just might spy an Elegant Trogon, one of the “bucket list sightings” of the birding world!

NOTE: There are a wealth of other birds to be found at the Circle Z. Take a look at what our guest Steve Mlodinow saw during a recent visit!  That’s a lot of birds!

Click here to access Steve Mlodinow’s Bird List



By |January 19th, 2015|Community|Comments Off on Patagonia’s Most “Elegant” Resident

Horse Training for a yearling colt the Circle Z Ranch way.



Kelly has been working with our group of yearling horses since spring of 2014, and she takes a patient and gentle approach for getting our ranch bred horses ready for guests to horseback ride out on our trails. It can take 7-10 years to train these horses to be gentle and responsive for our guests. Accommodating our guests on good mounts is our primary mission, and Kelly knows how to make the most of our excellent breeding.

Last year, a great deal of ground work was done with the colts. Touching them, lifting their feet, getting used to people moving around them, getting used to humans in general. Halters were introduced, and short periods of lunging in the arena was all they needed. Now that these horses are yearlings, they are out with our main herd of horses, learning the pecking order and figuring out how to be a horse at the Circle Z. These five horses are always together, probably feeling strength in numbers! They are learning the ranch routines of going out to the 700 acre night pasture in the evenings and coming back into the day corrals in the mornings. Most mornings they get this right, coming in with the herd,  but occasionally need to be reminded to follow along and not linger. Routine at a dude ranch with 100 horses is vital in keeping our herd happy.

Kelly visits the yearlings in the main corral daily. It is very simple, yet methodical training. The key is to get them to trust and to want her attention. Getting them to come to her, rather than her chasing them, is future training for being able to catch the horses to saddle for riding. The next step will be getting them used to the saddles, and very brief periods of riding once they are no longer afraid. As prey animals, with a strong flight response, teaching them to deal with stressors is paramount to a safe and happy horse.

We will continue in future blogs on the yearlings progress, and up for the next blog is Mimma, our 2 year old mare, who is going to be a wonderful palamino horse for our guests to ride.

By |November 14th, 2014|Horse Talk|Comments Off on Horse Training for a yearling colt the Circle Z Ranch way.

Circle Z Ranch hires new chef

New addition to the Circle Z Ranch

We are thrilled to welcome Raymond Rivera as our new chef this season! Raymond has 20 plus years of experience in the kitchen, serving up meals at guest ranches, private homes, and remote wilderness camps. He loves building his creations from scratch, and is well versed in Mexican dishes, Thai cooking, Indian curries, traditional ranch dishes, and fine dining. He truly has the complete package, and will be eager to accommodate your dietary needs and desires. His cooking quickly won over the taste buds of our very finicky Circle Z staff, and we know he will not disappoint our guests.  Get ready for loosening your belts once again at the Circle Z! Here is a sampling of an award winning chili recipe!

Raymond’s Chili


2 Lbs. ground beef or boneless top round*

2 c. chopped yellow onion

1 c. each- red and green bell pepper

2 jalapenos, seeded and diced

4 cloves of minced garlic (about 1 tablespoon)

2 c. diced canned tomatoes (un-drained)

1 C. Tomato sauce

1 8 oz. can tomato paste

2 C. cooked pinto beans

2 C. cooked kidney beans

¼ C. ketchup

¼ C. chili powder

½ tsp. dried basil

2 T. cumin

¼ C. red wine vinegar

3 T. brown sugar

2 oz. dark chocolate

*(if using top round, freeze partially and slice against the grain, thinly.)


  1. In a large heavy pot, brown beef. Until browned, add onion and cook until translucent, but not brown. Add bell peppers, garlic and jalapenos.
  2. Stir in tomatoes, paste and sauce. Add spices, bring to a boil, and then add beans, ketchup and vinegar. Turn down to simmer.
  3. Cook for 30-40 minutes; stirring to prevent scorching and sticking.
  4. Stir in brown sugar and chocolate. Adjust heat by adding a little cayenne or another jalapeno.

Serve with chopped green onion and shredded jack or cheddar cheese.

Dec. 15, 2013

Facebook: Recycle Recipe’s


By |September 10th, 2014|Community|Comments Off on Circle Z Ranch hires new chef