Guests at the Rancho de los Caballeros Resort know they're in cowboy country when Dick Fredrickson, the head wrangler, sporting a black hat, faded jeans and boots with spurs, strolls from table to table at dinner hour taking horse ride orders.
Fredrickson looks like he stepped out of a Zane Grey novel and a fast draw encounter on the streets of a dusty cow town.
He's not wearing six-shooters, but if you move your hand too quickly to your napkin his trigger finger twitches. Visitors from large eastern cities who have never seen a wrangler know he's not the rhinestone version.
He talks of eagles, coyotes and skitish jack rabbits and then entices guests to book the two hour morning ride, a ride to Vulture Peak for a tasty luncheon cookout, the afternoon outing or the five hour sandwich ride.
Los Caballeros, awarded the Triple A, Four Diamond Award, is a splendid 20,000 acre spread with more riding trails than cactus, and home to 75 geldings with personalities to match that of the guests.
They have sure-footed animals for fast rides, gentle stock for the slower trail excursions, and grumpy folks are matched to horses that bite and kick.
Once a horse is assigned, guests can keep it for the duration of their stay. You become pals, and more than one apple has been snitched from the table so Idaho, Guppy or Blackfoot could have a morning tasty.
Los Caballeros, a working cattle ranch with more than 200 head, became a cross-over, full-fledged resort in 1980 when they put in an 18-hole Championship golf course and putting green. It was recently named by GOLF DIGEST one of Arizona's top 10 resort courses.
A par 72, it plays 7,025 challenging yards on rolling terrain, strategically placed bunkers and around a three-acre lake. A sea of green in the desert somehow fits nicely in the lush landscape. A P.G.A. professional is also available for those who need a tune-up.
Avid golfers who fly in from all parts of the country and are worrying about their swing, the fourth hole and their lousy putting, blink twice when Fredrickson makes his dinner rounds.
They wouldn't be caught dead on a horse and know deep down that green pants, white cleated shoes and blazing red hats don't quite make it on the trail.
But, the resort hits the spot for diversification. One mate can golf while the other rides into the wilderness in search of wild flowers, a great horned owl or ancient Indian trails -- proof that golfers and cowboys can co-exist under the same roof.
Fredrickson's wranglers, all experienced cowpokes who lead trail rides and even shoe the horses, are also trying to teach the animals not to whinny when they pass by a green and someone is teeing off. They don't want to get a golf ball in the ear.
The rides, which are spectacular, wind into the mighty Sonoran Desert, one of our country's most beautiful and varied nature areas. At 2,100 feet, near the foot of the Bradshaw Mountains, the high desert is noted for its bird life and fascinating plants.
Giant Saguaro cactus, some 150 years old, stand like friends waving hello, their trunks riddled with woodpecker holes and conveniently air conditioned for nests. Staghorn Chollas, Yuccas, sturdy Mesquite bushes and the dependable Barrel Cactus, always leaning to the south and a faithful compass for a wandering prospector, are seen along the way.
The resort, which opened for business in 1949, has 70 percent repeat business. Guests who came with their parents now book in with their grandchildren.
A family affair, the 72-room property has always been owned by the Gants. Friendly, Dallas "Rusty" Gant, Jr., who grew up here, overlooks one of the best run organizations in the West. The Swiss would be proud.
The housekeeper loves her job which is reflected in the attractive and well maintained rooms. You feel so secure, there seems to be no need to lock your room or worry about valuables. Telephones and television were finally installed in the rooms, much to the chagrin of the old timers. "Why watch television," they say, "when nature is waiting?"
The dining room, homey and warm, is decorated in a Mexican/ south-western motif with brightly painted, carved-wood wall decorations, beams, Spanish floor tile and elaborate tin-framed lights and mirrors, a trademark throughout.
For those with children, the Caballeros Kids Program offers activities at no extra charge such as counselor-led rides, swimming, hiking, arts and crafts and planned evening activities as well.
Four tennis courts are kept busy throughout the day. Skeet and trap shooting are available, as is an informative morning nature walk, afternoon tea, hayrides, cookouts and daily scheduled events.
Activities are wide ranging but the ambience is laid back and over-easy. You can sit in the living room by the fireplace and read a book. Lots of people do.
The room, which is right out of the Hearst Castle mold, has a flagstone floor, rough-hewed adobe style walls, beamed ceilings, tile topped tables, and a small grand piano. Adjoining, are a game room, library and billiard table.
Whether you are a golfer, rider or both, allow time for the fine Desert Caballeros Western Museum in Wickenburg. The museum, which has been partly funded by guest ranch clientele, keeps the memory of the Old West alive.
Frederic Remington, George Catlin, Charles Russell, Oscar Berninghaus and Pat Haptonstull are on display in the Western Art Gallery. Closed Monday.
If the museum ignites your imagination, it is a short drive to ghost towns such as Octave and Congress and a look at Old Arizona, broken dreams and desert rats in search of gold.
The resort is 55 miles from Phoenix and 334 miles from Los Angeles via Highways Interstate 10 and U.S. 60, minutes from the center of the old mining town of Wickenburg.
If driving from Los Angeles turn right (south) at the Safeway Shopping Center on Vulture Mine Road in Wickenburg two miles to the resort.
Small aircraft can fly into the Wickenburg airport. The resort season is from October 1st to mid-May.
For information see your travel agent or Rancho de los Caballeros, 1551 S. Vulture Mine Road, Wickenburg, AZ 85390. Telephone (800) 684-5031; (602) 684-5484.
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