Remember Dirty Dancing? Remember how they have the time of their life at Kellerman’s Resort in the Catskill Mountains of New York? That’s what Tucson’s Tanque Verde Ranch is like, minus Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Grey and 1963, and with horseback riding instead of dancing, though more than a few people take to the dance floor during the cowboy cookout…
But I digress.
Tanque Verde Ranch is a 69-room resort located on 640 acres surrounded by 66,000 acres of Coronado National Forest and Saguaro National Park. Situated at 2,700 feet in elevation, the area is bordered by the Rincon, Santa Catalina, Tucson and Santa Rita mountains. Tanque Verde’s next-door neighbor? Paul McCartney, who owns 1,000 acres of adjacent land. Good enough for a Beatle: good enough for Sedona Monthly.
The ranch was built by the Carrillo family in the 1800s; it changed hands in the early 1900s and was converted into a guest ranch, says LeighAnn Kindberg, director of revenue management/reservations. In 1956, Brownie and Judy Cote, who owned a golf resort in Minnesota that is still in the family, purchased the ranch. Today, Browning and Judy’s son, Bob Cote, and his wife, Rita, live on-site at Tanque Verde (Spanish for “green pool”). More on Bob – and his extraordinary blueberry pancakes – later.
The ranch is home to 800 head of cattle and, during busy season (October through April), more than 200 horses. It was also recently home to Sedona Monthly. Every year, we venture out of Sedona to bring you stories from beyond the Red Rocks. Often those stories involve backpacking, sweating, freak snowstorms… You get the picture. Not all of our readers are interested in those types of adventures, and frankly, we felt like putting our feet up this year. So this time around, we decided to bring you a more luxurious experience. Tanque Verde might be a dude ranch (the biggest in North America, according to management), but City Slickers it’s not. For one thing, there’s a spa. And a beautiful swimming pool. And 874-square-foot haciendas. And spicy Hell Fire margaritas.
The majority of TVR’s guests book all-inclusive packages, which encompass everything the resort offers with the exception of spa treatments, alcohol, private lessons and rides, gift shop purchases and sunset rides. The resort’s activity schedule changes weekly but always includes horseback riding, guided hiking and mountain biking, catch-and-release fishing, cookouts, basketball and tennis, swimming in two pools, yoga, birding, kids’ programs, a nature center and horsemanship classes (all part of the inclusive packages). Meals at the ranch aren’t all hot dogs and burgers, either. One night, we feasted on Executive Chef Sergio Rocha’s prime rib and his orzo pasta with oyster mushrooms, roasted tomato, asparagus, manchego cheese and truffle oil. Breakfast and lunch are buffets. You will never go hungry at this place.
And you’ll never be bored.
We saddled up for our team-penning contest about two hours after arriving at Tanque Verde and having not been on a horse for several years. No worries, though. The wranglers happily show you the ropes and divide you into teams of three to six riders. The goal is to herd eight calves into pens by way of various obstacles. The teams are timed, and ribbons are awarded at the end of the activity. (Sedona Monthly placed second – don’t ask out of how many teams.) It’s all about communicating with your teammates and your horse, and it’s much more difficult than it looks. Team penning is one of the ranch’s most popular activities and one you don’t want to miss if you’re hankering to feel like a real cowboy.
Wrangler Mike Stacy is a horse whisperer if there ever was one. Against the backdrop of a brilliant desert sunset and wearing a humongous belt buckle, Mike led an hour-long class on practical horsemanship that was nothing short of mesmerizing. As we watched, he got into the corral with a horse that was still in training. Within minutes the beautiful animal went from agitated to doing whatever Mike asked through subtle body movements. By the end of the class, and at our urging, Mike was able to climb onto the horse bareback without any qualms, though he said it would still be weeks before the horse was guest-ready. “Horses are God’s gift to us,” says Mike, who has been a horse trainer for 22 years.
Mountain Adventure Ride
Depending on the time of year, you might have to rise with the sun to catch the Mountain Adventure Ride, but it’s worth it, especially if your ride is led by Joe Valdez, who is known as The Legend at TVR. Joe has been working at the ranch since 1977. He’s a third-generation Tucsonian – part Spanish and part Cahuilla Indian – brimming with stories about his family’s history and his other passion: saddle making.
The Mountain Adventure Ride is not your average nose-to-tail trail ride. It’s a three-hour excursion into the Rincon Mountains with stunning views of the surrounding desert. The trail is narrow, and you are surrounded by cactus on both sides (it’s quickly apparent why TVR does not allow you to ride if you aren’t wearing long pants). On our journey, we heard birds call out to one another and observed lizards racing from rock to rock. Though we were in a group, it was incredibly peaceful. For the most part, the only sound we heard was horseshoes on granite boulders and the creak of leather saddles. Thousands of Saguaro cactuses stand like sentinels while smaller cactuses and blooming flowers seek refuge in the Saguaro’s shade. The sun is relentless out here – don’t even think about going out without a hat, no matter what time of year. You’ll lead your horse up and down mountains and across narrow ridges, which give the ride its “adventure” moniker. There’s even a shallow water crossing at the end of the trip. Just remember that if you don’t ride horses often, you’re going to be sore after this one, which is why…
La Sonora Spa
…we booked massages! Tanque Verde boasts a small, three-room spa that offers body treatments (wraps and scrubs), massages, a fitness room and an indoor swimming pool. The spa utilizes Eminence Organic Skin Care, an exclusive product line from Hungary (you can also find Eminence at Mii Amo spa at Enchantment Resort in Sedona). La Sonora Spa proves you don’t need to be large in size to be effective. Because the spa is open by appointment only, it does require a few hours’ notice for treatments. LeighAnn says it might be the resort’s most under-utilized activity, which is surprising because trust us, you’re going to be sore after all the horseback riding.
We experienced two 80-minute treatments: the Rincon Mountain Rock Massage and the Wrangler Deep Tissue Sports Massage. Both massages could also be booked for 50 minutes. The former was a traditional, relaxing hot-stone massage while the latter utilized essential oils to sooth aching muscles and improve circulation. Our therapists, Jo DeWitt and Pascale Giraud, have been with the ranch for several years. The spa provided a much-needed respite from the sun, and the treatments made it easier to climb back on a horse the following morning. After the massages, we spent time by the pool with its charming waterfall and views of Saguaro National Park.
There’s no rest for the wicked, so after relaxing for a few hours at the spa, we put on our hiking boots and headed out into the national park for a one-hour guided sunset hike. This nice little jaunt through the park began on the Douglas Spring Trail. One of the park’s most popular routes, it’s conveniently located across the street from Tanque Verde. Our guide connected Douglas Spring with various trails inside ranch property, leading us on a loop hike through the Saguaros. After only a few steps into the hike, all signs of civilization disappear and it’s just you, the birds and a jackrabbit or two.