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Circle Z Ranch Horseback Adventure: Ranch Life

I pulled on my cowboy boots, put my hat and chinks on, then rode the range along the Arizona/Mexican border. I was an Indian, a cowboy, an outlaw, a Spanish explorer and a miner for 7 days on my trusty steed Shawnee. When you are riding that beautiful country full of history, how can not dream of these things? When I returned to the Circle Z Ranch, I took a bath in my bathtub, had a drink at the Cantina, ate great meals prepared by Chef Mango and went to sleep in my comfortable king sized bed. And then I did it all over again for 7 days in a row!

Where: Circle Z Ranch Ranch at Patagonia, Arizona
Distance: Horseback about 60 miles total for 7 days, but it will vary based on the rides that you choose
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Elevation: About 4,000’
Date: February 16 – 23, 2020

You know me. I love to go on a horseback adventure, riding some new and beautiful country and I just returned from a wonderful one with Circle Z Ranch in Patagonia, Arizona. It is on the Mexico/Arizona border just east of Nogales in the Sonoran desert. There is lots of interesting history in this area and they say that people have been living in this area at least 12,000 years. Father Kino was in the area as early as 1692 carrying out his missionary efforts and he documented some of his travels in this area. The people living on these lands at that time were the closely related Sobaipuri and Papago Indian tribes who were also closely related to the Pima Indians who lived in the Tucson area. The Apaches were also nearby and conducted periodic raids into the area. Mining started taking place by the 1850s, with the primary minerals being silver and lead. A railroad was built in the 1880s to help supply the mines and cattle operations in this area. Patagonia is a pretty town, with interesting artists and restaurants to explore.

But my travels took me a few miles south of town to the Circle Z Ranch, the oldest, continually operating guest ranch in Arizona. This ranch is truly a family operation, owned by the Nash family since 1976.

I arrived on a Sunday and got settled in. There are several options for lodging that include adjoining rooms, suites or cottages. I was very comfortable in my room with a really large closet, mini fridge and bathroom, even with a bathtub! The room was one of eight rooms in an adobe building surrounding a central courtyard with seating. I should have taken the picture of my room before I started throwing my stuff down but I am keeping it real.

Happy Hour was at 6 at the Cantina. They have all the fixings and nibbles but you bring your own alcoholic beverages if that is what you are wanting.

And I watched for the sunset every evening, each one unique.

Dinner was at 7 in the Dining Room and the meals were out of this world. We had the freshest vegetables and wonderful salads every night. I ate way too much and was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t gain any weight on the trip even though I tried to sample everything, including deserts every night.

Coffee was ready at 630 in the morning and I was usually there right on the dot, even though I was an hour ahead of California time. A few of us early risers would sit around the fireplace and chat, waking up and enjoying our coffee. Continental breakfast was ready at 7 and the hot breakfast buffet was ready at 730.

At 9:15, we were at Los Corrales ready to ride for the morning. They have about 100 horses and rotate them into the rides. They had our horses saddled, ready to go and I met my wonderful horse for the week. Shawnee is the Paint that you see in the foreground, about 11 years old with sure feet. Based on how I described my riding ability and type of horse I wanted, they had one picked out for me but if it didn’t work out for some reason, you could get a different one. No one changed horses to my knowledge.

We chose whether we wanted to take a loping or walking ride. I did some of both during the week. Each ride was entirely different and in small groups, several of my rides with only 2 of us guests. The wranglers guided us through rocky canyons and hills, others along grassy hills or through the washes. I spotted rainbow cactus, deer, and javelina. Spring was starting to show itself with green grass, mesquite leafing out, and a few cactus blooming. I even saw my first poppy of the year. Listening to the sounds of birds as we roamed was lovely. We even stopped to take a look at petroglyphs on one of the rides.

Shawnee and Me

First poppy of the Year

When we came in from the morning ride, there was time to wash up for a hot lunch at 1, one of them with the absolute best ribs that I have ever tasted. At 2:15 it was time to ride again if you wished and I did every single day and opportunity that I had. If you wanted to take half a day off and hang by the pool, play a game in the game room or go off for another adventure close by you could do that also. A couple of the days had special all day rides. One of those was a ride into town to the local Saloon for lunch and back. Another was a ride to the San Rafael Valley where we trailered the horses.

When we finished riding for the day, the wranglers unsaddled the horses and when all of the horses were unsaddled, they were turned out to enjoy their dinner and time off until the next day. It was an extremely well organized operation.

One of the fun things to watch was when those horses headed to their dinner and evening off. Try and picture about 100 horses heading out, some walking, some bucking. Well, here is a short video to help you with that visual. Circle Z horses head to dinner

And there were a few horses who took a good roll in the dirt. That is my Shawnee horse!

The week offered special things to do each day and I didn’t do them all. Honestly, I was pretty tired after dinner and wasn’t long for this world after that point. I did go out with a Naturalist one morning, learning a little more about the history of the area, plants and animals. Birding is a big draw to this area and the Paton Center for Hummingbirds is located in Patagonia. The website link will take you to more information, along with live webcams where you can watch the hummingbirds. I think the picture of the red bird is a Northern Cardinal and he was busy defending his territory. An astronomy class was held one night but I was snoozing by that time.

They had a movie night where they showed an old western movie called Broken Lance that was filmed in the area. Yes, I was unable to stay awake long enough for that one. One night there was a musical performance and bonfire after dinner, which I couldn’t stay up for. The last evening, there was a musical performance at Happy Hour and you can bet that I attended this one. Actually I attended every Happy Hour. A western singer by the name of Joe Barr was fantastic, singling some favorites then he shared a couple of songs that he had written, both wonderful. Here is a YouTube video of his Taco Bell song.

Some friends of mine had recommended Circle Z Ranch after their recent visit and I made my reservation right away. I went by myself but I always meet new friends, ready and willing to lend you a hand when you need it.

The size of our group was a small one, only 12 riders at the beginning of the week, adding and losing some throughout the week. The next two weeks had 30 riders coming each of those weeks. Circle Z Ranch offers riding and non riding options other than the 7 day adventure that I chose. You can check out their home page on the link below for more information. My plan is to write another blog on this adventure, one about of the rides that we took. So, stay tuned for more.


Circle Z Ranch Location (Map Courtesy of Circle Z Ranch)


Circle Z Ranch

Town of Patagonia

Paton Center for Hummingbirds

Joe Barr Facebook Page


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