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Travel & Holidays in later life

Riding Holiday, Tanque Verde Ranch, Tucson, Arizona, USA


You’re never too old to be a cowboy. At least that’s what award-winning travel writer Mike Gerrard hopes as he and his wife, Donna Dailey, learn to ride tall in the saddle at the largest guest ranch resort in the United States.


 Mike Gerrard and Donna Dailey Horse riding


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Getting There

By Air

British Airways has direct flights from London Heathrow to Phoenix, two hours north of Tucson, six days a week.

The Arizona Shuttle runs a regular service from Phoenix airport to Tucson.


Tourist Information

Tanque Verde Ranch

Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau

Arizona Travel.

The Author

Mike Gerrard has won several awards for his travel writing, which has appeared in newspapers and magazines worldwide.

He has written or contributed to over 40 guidebooks, as well as publishing several travel websites of his own, including Pacific Coast Highway travel.

He is married to the travel writer Donna Dailey, and they divide their time between Cambridgeshire and Arizona.





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Many of the cowboy westerns I grew up with on TV and at the movies were filmed around here. The Gunfight at the OK Corral took place at nearby Tombstone, and if you drove there you’d pass through the landscape where they filmed The Lone Ranger, and other classic TV series. Bonanza and The High Chaparral were both filmed at Old Tucson Studios, west of Arizona’s second city, but we’re going east from Tucson, not west, to the very end of the road where the highway stops and the Tanque Verde Ranch sits surrounded by 60,000 acres of ruggedly beautiful Arizona landscape. The distinctive Saguaro cactus rises to the sky, some of them as high as houses, while beyond them the Rincon Mountains rise to over 8,600 feet.

Saguaro cactus Tucson Arizona

We step out of the car and immediately learn that the west was fact here, not fiction. The land was bought and the first ranch built in 1868 by Emilio Carrillo from Santa Cruz in Mexico. The Mexican border is about 60 miles due south of here, and Arizona only became a US state in 1912. In 1904 the ranch was attacked by a gang of bandits, and Carrillo was repeatedly hung from a beam in what is now the Card Room, as the bandits tried to get him to tell them where his gold was hidden. Neighbours chased them off, but Carrillo died a few years later from the injuries he sustained.

Beyond the Card Room we pass the Old Doghouse Saloon, which used to be the Bunk House, and enjoy a prickly pear margarita. The juice for the margaritas is harvested from the prickly pear cacti that grow all over the ranch, and the barmaid, Lisa, claims to make the best margaritas at Tanque Verde. We don’t argue, even though we’re sure the gun in the holster round her waist isn’t loaded. A tall guy next to me is wearing a cowboy hat and suede jacket, so it’s a surprise to hear his English accent. He turns out to be Nicholas Gold, the General Manager, an Englishman who has lived in Tucson for nine years. He tells us they have 643 head of cattle and 162 horses, making them the biggest riding stable in Arizona.

Chuck Waggon The dining at the ranch is no cowboy operation, though. The Southwestern/Mexican menu tempts us with Chayote Squash Salad, Jamon Serrano Wrapped Seared Scallops and Stuffed Chicken Tinga Poblano. There are fine wines from California, Washington and Oregon, but we try an Arizona Dry Rosé from the Stronghold Vineyards in Cottonwood - yes, they do make good wine in Arizona, and ours is every bit as tasty as rosés we’ve drunk in Provençe.

All meals and activities are included in the Tanque Verde rates, and we’ve already signed up for two riding lessons, a ride in the desert, and an early evening hike the next day. If we’d had the time and the energy we could have fitted in mountain biking, tennis lessons, spa treatments, water aerobics, lounging by the swimming pool, bird watching, a watercolor workshop and learned all about snake venom in a talk at the Nature Center.


At 8.30am we’re having our first Basic Lesson, neither of us being proficient on horses, but by 11am we’re setting off with one of the Wranglers and a couple from Atlanta for a 90-minute ride in the desert. Out here you learn about riding western-style, where one hand holds the reins and the other is kept free, to make the cowboy’s job as easy as possible. Arizona Cowboy Tanque Verde Ranch Whether the free hand holds a lariat or a Winchester depends on the task of the day. The horses are taught to respond to the lightest touch of the reins, especially if travelling at speed, while the saddles are bulkier with a horn at the front to hold your lasso.


Arizona Desert near Tucson

The sky is deep blue, and the temperature up into the 70s. It’s a rocky and rugged landscape, but far from barren. Cactus flourish here, of course, but so too do other plants, and we look down to see bright yellows and oranges and blues and pinks, as the horses pick their way along the trail, through the bushes and trees, slowly climbing up till we can look down and see the ranch buildings clad in their Southwestern pink coloring standing out against the background of cactus and mountain.

Horses Tanque Verde RanchWe know that somewhere over there to the west must be Tucson, but we’ve left the 21st-century well behind us now. Apart from the ranch there are no buildings in sight, only us, the mountains and the desert. It takes no effort at all to imagine bandits galloping through the saguaros to string up poor Emilio Carrillo and find out where his gold is. And I’m sure I’d only have to say “It’s quiet, too damn quiet”, to conjure up the sound of a war whoop and an arrow flying through the air. So I say nothing. A man cain’t be too careful in these here parts. Besides, we’ve an appointment with a buffet lunch to keep.





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