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An authentic dude ranch experience

An authentic dude ranch is not a resort, nor is it a place for a typical “vacation”. An authentic dude ranch offers true life experiences, where guests not just take a break from reality, but leap into a reality of a different nature. So what makes a dude ranch authentic? Living the history of the ranching lifestyle is the key to the real experience a dude ranch offers.

In the early days of dude ranching, city folks were drawn to the idea of living on the frontier, but without the danger of trying to fend for themselves in the hostile environments. Ranchers would often team up with hunting guides who were looking for safe, cozy places for their charges to stay, and to experience what life on the frontier was like. Also, the unspoiled landscapes, and deep mystery of the wilderness, drew the wealthy to seek out places of leisure where they could experience the wilderness without the work. Taking on dudes was a great way for ranchers to help supplement their operations, while providing once in a life-time experiences for the city folks.

Ranches opened their homes and hearths, providing meals and beds, but most importantly, the opportunity to live vicariously the life of the cowboy. Branding cattle, riding horses, exploring untamed wilderness, all in the safety and careful hospitality of these frontier cowboys. These dudes, as they were called, would return year after year, and they felt a part of the family, of something bigger than themselves, experiencing a change of pace from the cities.

Ranchers still open their homes and hearths to guests who come from all walks of life, seeking the intangibles of a reality that is quite different from a resort. We as owners and managers share our meals, we educate our guests about the horses and the wilderness we call our homes, sharing stories around the fireplace as our fore-fathers did. And we cherish every morsel, each spoken word, and the intangibles that our lives bring to our guests. It is not just about providing the best vacation of a lifetime, but the opportunity to experience life on a ranch.

By |June 30th, 2017|Community|0 Comments

Rodeo fun at the Circle Z Ranch

Circle Z Ranch recently celebrated it’s 90th year as Arizona’s oldest continually operating guest ranch, and what a week it was! From a rodeo to a 1920’s party, with the week culminating with a grand afternoon party complete with food, bands and 300 guests; the week was magical.

The highlight of the week for our guests was definitely the rodeo, hosted along with a lunch ride cook out barbeque at our new Z Bar property. In the distant past, the Circle Z Ranch hosted a 4th of July picnic and rodeo, where thousands would be invited from the surrounding communities and ranches. So we thought it would be a fitting throw back event to host another rodeo, just minus the thousands of guests! Here are some photos from the afternoon.

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It takes teamwork to run a Team Roping event. Here, Rick Nash sits atop the chute, waiting for the cowboys to say go. Johnny and George are in the back ground making sure the steers are in their slot.

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Miko Lorta and his roping partner Bo Simpson breaking out of their barrier.

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When they caught up with the steer, the crowd went wild!    Well, maybe not wild, but you get the point.2016-04-26 13.49.33-1

 

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And then there was our own waitress, Kayla, who is a barrel racing champion, and boy did she ever deliver!

2016-04-26 14.22.07Kayla and her horse Fancy impressed everyone, including the Team Roping Cowboys, with her obvious skill. So fun to watch!

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Wrangler Kelly also showed off her amazing horsewoman skills.

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Others participating in this exciting afternoon were our wranglers Davien and Tavo.

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At the end of the day, our young guest Daven from New York told his mom that he wanted to be a cowboy, too, and learn how to rope. So he got his dream, roping the practice steer at Los Corales with Miko’s guidance. Perhaps one day he will be featured in a Circle Z Rodeo!

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Perfect ending to a magical day! Thanks to all who helped organize this rodeo, especially Miko and Tavo for building the arena, for George and Johnny who helped load up the equipment, and to Jennie and Diana, who had the idea for this fantastic day! And of course, our fabulous guests who were game for a new experience. With friends like these, anything is possible. Thanks to Vicki Nielson, Bradley Green, Vannesa Haughtlin, and Diana Nash for contributing the photos.

By |May 14th, 2016|Community|0 Comments

Visiting the Sonoita Wineries

Flying Leaf Vineyard

Photo courtesy of Flying Leaf Vineyard

 

Visitors to the Circle Z know what a delight it is to ascend from the arid desert surrounding Tuscon and into the refreshing mountains around Patagonia. In addition to the magnificent scenery and prime land for grazing livestock, this terrain is also proving ideal for vineyards.

Credit for this discovery goes to Gordon Dutt, a PhD with expertise in soil science from the University of Arizona. Dr. Dutt discovered that the red clay soil of the area (think Red Mountain) was very similar to that of Burgundy, France. In 1973 he purchased land near the tiny town of Elgin, just southeast of Sonoita and planted the region’s first vineyard.

Award Winning Sonoita Vineyard Wines

The success of Sonoita Vineyards started a trend, and soon other would-be winemakers began arriving in the area. Today the grasslands nestled between the Huachuca, Santa Rita and Whetstone mountains are a designated AVA (American Viticultural Area), a federally recognized wine-growing region.

Over forty years later, the Sonoita AVA is thriving. Today there are thirteen wineries in the region, many producing award-winning wines. Several have even been served at the White House. Varieties differ somewhat from one winery to the next, however most focus on grapes that like hot, dry days and cool nights, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo and Sauvignon Blanc.

 

 

Wilhelm Wineyards, Cab Sauv

Cabernet Sauvignon grapes bask in the Arizona sun at Wilhelm Vineyards, photo by Wilhelm Vineyards

 

Visitors are welcome. The Arizona Wine Growers Association has created a Sonoita Wine Growers Trail, with a map highlighting the wineries’ locations in and around Sonoita and Elgin. A tour of the wineries makes a nice half day trip from the Ranch; most are open between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. In addition to wine tastings, many wineries also offer light meals and snacks. Be sure to appoint a designated driver, or ask the ranch for help in arranging transportation—there are several local companies that specialize in wine country tours.

Upon returning from a day of Sonoita wine tasting, take a look at Red Mountain and see if there’s any resemblance to Burgundy, France.

Click for a printable map of the Sonoita Wine Trail, with wineries and opening hours.

Sonoita Winery Picnic

Enjoy a picnic at Sonoita Winery, photo by Sonoita Winery

 

By |August 15th, 2015|Community, Day Trips|0 Comments

Guest Profile: A family reunion and anniversary celebration

Dick and Bert Wolf-Circle Z 2014

A couple that’s been married for a long time must have a few things in common. But interestingly for Dick and Bert Wolf, horses weren’t always one of them. Bert grew up in the horse country near Louisville, Kentucky, but her husband was more of a city guy. According to Bert, “Dick’s only riding experience was on a pony at the Cincinnati Zoo for a nickel when he was a kid.”

But that was 24 years ago. In 1991 Dick, good husband that he is, thought it might be fun to take a ranch vacation, and selected the Circle Z. (He clearly knows a thing or two about a happy marriage!) That started a tradition: the Wolfs have come back to the Circle Z annually for the past 24 years.

Dick and Bert Wolf-60th Anniversary Circle Z

Bert and Dick Wolf: 60 (yes 60!) years of wedded bliss

So when it came time to celebrate their 60th (that’s not a typo, sixtieth!) wedding anniversary, Dick and Bert knew just where they wanted to spend it. But they also wanted to share this special event with family. Everyone in the Wolf family knew what the Circle Z meant to Dick and Bert, so they worked to join them for their special celebration.

After much calendar coordination, the Wolfs determined the best time to get the most family members to Patagonia was from December 19-26, 2014. In total, 20 family members of all ages made their way to the ranch to help Dick and Bert celebrate. “The ranch lends itself very well to this kind of an event,” says Bert. “We had riders of varying ability, and family members of all ages. There was always something for everyone to do.”

Dick and Bert 60th Anniversary, family trail ride

Dick & Bert Wolf 60th Anniversary, family by the fire

 

“Whether riding the trails or just hanging out by the fire, there was always something for the family to do together”

Dick and Bert were happy just having family around them at one of their favorite places, but the family had a few other plans. Working with Jennie, they arranged to have a surprise anniversary party for the Happy Couple. Saturday night the Game Room was transformed with music, decorations and a special cake. “We were surprised and thrilled,” said Bert. “Everyone had a great time–even two other family groups staying at the ranch that week got involved. The atmosphere was such that they were automatically brought into the fold.”

 Cathy shares family stories at Dick and Bert’s surprise anniversary party

Circle Z has always been about family; whether its aunts, uncles and cousins, the Nash family, the Lorta family, our family of horses . . . or simply the “family” of good friends getting together. We’re delighted that Dick and Bert chose to spend their special event (60 years! We’re still shaking our heads in amazement!) with the Circle Z family. And once you’ve visited the Circle Z, you’re part of our family too.

Dick and Bert, 60th Anniversary cake, Circle Z

By |July 3rd, 2015|Community|0 Comments

Day Trip: Kartchner Caverns

Kartchner Caverns by MRP, flickr

The eerily beautiful “Big Room” at Kartchner Caverns; photo by MRP, flickr

 

The southern Arizona scenery is beautiful, but there are some treasures that lie below ground as well. Visitors to the Circle Z might like to take an excursion to explore Kartchner Caverns, a truly stunning underground wonder.

Located at the eastern base of the Whetstone Mountains near the town of Benson, the caverns were discovered in 1974. Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts were exploring the limestone hills searching for a cave rumored to be in the area. What they found was a “live cave,” where stalagmites and stalactites are still evolving. Despite the fact that the cave was on private property, Tenen and Tufts continued to explore the cave in secret for four more years. In 1978 they shared their discovery with property owners James and Lois Kartchner with the intent of both preserving the unique caverns and making them available for others to see.

The existence of Kartchner Caverns was made public in 1988, when the caverns and surrounding land was purchased by the Arizona State Parks system. Extensive analysis of just how to admit visitors while still preserving the unique geological and eco systems, coupled with political red tape, delayed the opening of the park until 1999.

The entrance to Kartchner Caverns is tucked into the base of the Whetstone Mountains, photo by Lance & Erin, flickr

 

But the caverns were worth the wait! They are divided into several “rooms,” which can be toured separately or together. Highlights include:

  • One of the world’s longest soda straw stalactites: 21 feet 3 inches (Throne Room)
  • The tallest and most massive column in Arizona, Kubla Khan: 58 feet tall (Throne Room)
  • The world’s most extensive formation of brushite moonmilk (Big Room)
  • The first reported occurrence of “turnip” shields (Big Room)
  • The first cave occurrence of “birdsnest” needle quartz formations
  • Many other unusual formations such as shields, totems, helictites, and rimstone dams.

Even if spelunking is not your thing, Kartchner Caverns are magnificent and worth a detour. Tours are about 90 minutes each. There is a Discovery Center/museum, as well as picnic grounds on site. The caverns are about 50 miles northeast of Circle Z Ranch, which make them an excellent day trip destination. Bring a picnic lunch from the ranch, and enjoy a day exploring some of southern Arizona’s underground beauty!

NOTE: In order to preserve the caverns guest admission is limited and reservations are recommended. For more information go to Kartchner Caverns State Park.

For a video preview of the caverns, see below:

By |July 2nd, 2015|Community, Day Trips|0 Comments

Patagonia Lake: A Park and Preserve

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Guests riding the higher trails on the western side of the ranch often glimpse the shimmering blue waters of Patagonia Lake in the distance. Despite blending beautifully into the scenery today, the lake didn’t even exist when Lucia Nash first came to the Circle Z as a child.

Patagonia Lake near Circle Z ranch

Patagonia Lake was formed by damming up a portion of Sonoita Creek

In the late 1960s a group of local citizens formed the Lake Patagonia Recreation Association, Inc. (LPRA) with the intent of creating a lake and recreation area. In 1968 a dam was built on the Sonoita creek west of the Circle Z, creating 256-acre Patagonia Lake.

Over the next several years the state authorities worked to acquire land surrounding the lake, which at the time was owned by oil company Conoco. Eventually the State of Arizona also secured title to Patagonia Lake itself and in 1975 Patagonia Lake State Park was established. So when Lucia acquired the Circle Z in 1976 she knew the land immediately to the west of the ranch would always be protected!

Today the park consists of over 2,600 acres in addition to the lake and abuts the Sonoita Creek State Natural Area along with the Circle Z, all ensuring a stable environment for the unique ecosystem found along the Sonoita Creek and around the ranch. Tracks from the New Mexico/Arizona railroad like beneath the lake, the same railroad that forms some of the well-worn tracks at the Circle Z.

Fishing is popular at Patagonia Lake in southern Arizona

Channel your inner angler at Patagonia Lake

The lake is a habitat for bass, crappie, bluegill and catfish, and is stocked with rainbow trout during the winter months making it a popular spot for fishermen. Kayaks and canoes are available for rental. If your next visit to the Circle Z has you “angling” to do some fishing or paddling, Patagonia Lake would be a good choice. For the rest of us, the lake provides a beautiful reflection of that magnificent Arizona sky.

Patagonia Lake is a perfect spot for canoes and kayaks

Quiet waterways among the marsh grasses provide wonderful spots for kayaking.

By |June 5th, 2015|Community, Day Trips, History, Nature|0 Comments

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

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

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

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