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Cowboy for a Day

March 31, 2014 Destination North America No Comments Email Email

Have you ever wanted to be a cowboy (or cowgirl) for a day? From training to western wear to dude ranches in Arizona, a cowboy experience is never far away. We’ve put together some essential information for your smooth transformation.

Cowboy Training

Your first step is to learn the ropes at Arizona Cowboy College. Established more than 40 years ago, this is not your typical college. Here students learn how to be a “real” cowboy through hands-on experience at a working cattle ranch in Scottsdale.  Private and group lessons range from riding basics and equine safety to roping, branding, penning and ranch operations. You will learn all there is to know in horsemanship skills and ranching techniques. Classes are available for one or three days as well as week- long stints with bunkhouse accommodations. Courses are offered year-round except for July and August.

Cowboy Gear

Now that you can ride a horse and rope a cow, it’s time to gear up. First item for any self-respecting cowboy is a pair of cowboy boots. For the ultimate fit and comfort a pair of custom, handmade boots is in order. Most come in a dizzying array of leather options, 153511_num690984_168x168stitching and heel designs. Some artisans in Arizona that have been perfecting their craft include Paul Bond Boot Companyin Nogales, who has outfitted the likes of John Wayne and Johnny Cash. In Prescott, a local leather artist, Paul Krause, can set you straight with a custom pair. Stop by his studio, PK Bootmaker, to peruse styles and get fitted. If you’re in Phoenix, David Espinoza has been handcrafting traditional cowboy boots for more than 40 years. You can choose from an assortment of high quality leathers he keeps on the premises.

Cowboy hats are not optional. For something special that fits like a glove, nothing beats a handmade hat. Eric Watson’s Hat Shop in Cave Creek carries on the tradition of hat making using old fashioned equipment and quality materials. The hats can take from 30 to 45 days to make, but ask any Eric Watson hat owner and they will tell you it is well worth the wait. He can even customize your hat band with a ranch logo or special cowboy design.  Hally’s Custom Hatsin Scottsdale can make you a one of a kind hat or even clean your old, worn one to make it look brand new.  Hally has been making hats for more than 25 years and knows how to make a modern cowboy hat with the know-how and time tested techniques of the past.

One of the largest western clothing retailers in the state is family-owned Saba’s. This is Arizona’s original western wear store and has been in business since 1927. With nine stores in and around Phoenix,Saba’s carries a wide selection of ready to wear hats, boots and clothing for men, women and children. Also family-owned and operated is Circle Q Western Wear.  Located on the old Route 66 in Flagstaff, it’s been a fixture for western wear in northern Arizona for more than 30 years. 

Where Do Cowboys Roam?

These days cowboys, and those in the making, can be found at what is commonly referred to as a guest or dude ranch: a cattle ranch converted to a vacation destination. They key difference is that a guest ranch typically incorporates activities that may have nothing to do with ranching such as spa, tennis or pools while a dude ranch is about life on a ranch.

The history of these ranches can be traced back to the beginning of the 20th century. At that time, the railroad was expanding which allowed for easier accessibility to the west. Cash-strapped ranchers embraced the dude ranch as a way to generate revenue as cattle ranching was in decline.

Today’s ranch experience typically charges an all inclusive rate which covers lodging, meals and activities. It is a family friendly vacation packed with as much activity or solitude as you desire. Vacations on a dude ranch usually last for a minimum of one week whereas guest ranches allow even a one-night stay.

The Flying E Ranch in Wickenburg is still a working ranch so you can participate or sit back and watch the real cowboys in action. The Circle Z Ranch in Patagonia in southern Arizona has bird watching, campfires, horseback riding and solitude with no TV, telephones or Wi-Fi (available in the lodge, if you really have to get connected). Also in southern Arizona, Hideout Ranch is ideally located between the Chiricahua Mountains to the west and the Peloncillos to the east. Only two miles from Tombstone, Apache Spirit Ranch  is designed like an Old Western Town. Near TucsonThe Tanque Verde Ranch has a spa where you can get your sore muscles massaged after a day of nonstop activity. They were voted “Best Dude Ranch in Arizona” by The Arizona Republic in 2012. Rancho De La Osa Guest Ranch in Sasabe, also near Tucson, is a 300 year old hacienda packed with history that has been well preserved in the buildings that nestle among the rolling grasslands of the high Sonoran Desert. In eastern Arizona’s Alpine is Sprucedale Guest Ranch. Get up early to milk the cows, followed by rodeo practice and an evening with western dance and cowboy poetry. Also in Alpine is Beaver Creek Guest Ranch, where four generations have been carrying on traditions and little has changed over the years. In western ArizonaStagecoach Trails Guest Ranch offers family–owned hospitality and comfort. This dude ranch that is 100 percent handicapped accessible with no barriers anywhere on the ranch.

Cowgirl-Themed Escapes

Cowgirl-themed dude ranch escapes are gaining popularity. Grab your mother, sisters and girlfriends and head out for some good old cowgirl fun. In Wickenburg, Rancho de los Caballeros’ “Giddy Up Gals” package allows bonding time on horseback, by the campfire, or even in the Spa. At “Cowgirl Camp” in Sasabe’s Rancho de la Osa ranching activities including barrel racing and cattle moving. The “Cactus Cowgirls” package at the White Stallion Ranch in Tucson includes a welcoming margarita party, daily riding lessons, country western dance lessons and a wine tasting ride. At the Flying E Ranchin Wickenburg, cowgirls can enjoy special packages such as the “Annual Cowgirl Hideout Weekend.”

The Arizona Dude Ranch Association has a list of member ranches in the state and a more complete list of dude ranches can be found at:

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