Howdy, partners! Looking for a family vacation that you’ll be talking about for years to come? Then saddle up for a dude ranch vacation-the perfect blend of hospitality, horses, and happiness. White Stallion Ranch in Tucson, Arizona won our hearts with its down home feel, friendly staff, and its stunning location. From Boot Scootin’ Boogie line dancing and a beer and cheetos ride to Panther Peak hiking and prickly pear margaritas, this family owned and operated ranch hits all the high notes.
Howdy. Horses. Hospitality. 3 words that may come to mind when picturing a dude ranch. But did you know there are several more H words that also go hand in hand with a dude ranch vacation? Try hats, heritage, honesty, and heart. Look up White Stallion Ranch and these words may pop up to describe this family-owned ranch in Tucson, Arizona. By the end of our stay at White Stallion, we had one more word to add to our list: Home.
Why a Dude Ranch?
Dude ranches have become synonymous with Western hospitality, horseback riding, the great outdoors, and lots of activities and amenities in a family-friendly setting. Whether a working ranch, dude ranch, or resort ranch, each one has unique qualities driven by its owners and its environment.
The Dude Ranchers’ Association (DRA) has a great list that sums up the essence of a dude ranch: “Horses, Hats, Hospitality, Heritage, Honesty and Heart. These are the foundations of every ranch.”
Boy, could they have been describing White Stallion Ranch to a T. This guest ranch has been a labor of love for the True family since 1965. That sense of family and love is imbued into the essence of the ranch, from the staff to the hospitality to the little details like photos in the ranch’s lobby dating back to its founding.
I’d love to share how White Stallion Ranch personifies these six dude ranch principles using our recent Spring Break stay at their amazing property in Tucson, Arizona.
White Stallion Ranch: Epitomizing the Dude Ranch Experience
According to the Dude Ranchers’ Association:
Horses are central to any dude ranch experience.
There must be adequate stock, tack, facilities, and trails for the riding program.
All will be well cared for.
Attention will be paid to horse and rider safety.
Not surprisingly, horses is the first H of a dude ranch vacation. They are typically the most plentiful activity and the most popular. White Stallion takes guests’ information on height, weight, and riding ability and matches them with a horse. The horses take it all from there.
With 120 horses and 3,000 acres, White Stallion offers slow and fast rides in both flat and mountain terrains. While I’m more city slicker than buckaroo, even I had enough riding experience to pass the fast ride test. However, after a day loping (aka cantering) in the saddle, I was good sticking with the slow rides. The one benefit to passing the fast ride test was being able to try team penning (more on that later).
Children must be 5 or older to ride, and age 8 to test for fast rides. After the first day, my son cleared the test for fast rides, and then they became his preference. But after my first fast ride, I was convinced that I should stick to only slow rides. I can assure you that kids will be fine in the hands of the wranglers if they do separate rides. In fact, I think they quite prefer it! Mine did the all day ride and LOVED it. Additionally, lessons are offered at an extra cost for those wanting some pointers and specific guidance.
Breakfast Ride: Our first day on the ranch started out right with a slow ride to a covered area overlooking the Tucson mountains and Panther Peak. This is one of my favorite memories from our vacation. Maybe it was eating outdoors or getting to ride horses to the breakfast site. But my guess our breakfast of champions of eggs, bacon, potatoes, and blueberry pancakes is the reason!
Interacting with the wranglers and servers, I sensed that these people love their ranch, this land, and each other. And it continued to show throughout the week.
Beer and Cheetos Ride: When I first saw the name of this ride, I thought, “Where do I sign up?” Horseback riding, beer, and cheetos. It’s totally worth it to ride for an hour knowing that beer, cheetos, popcorn, and cheese puffs were waiting for us at a picnic spot. There’s something quite social about a dude ranch and the shared experiences. We met families from all across the country and across the pond.
As it sounds, the beer and cheetos ride is a fun way to spend a lovely afternoon with friends old and new. I’m not a huge beer fan, but even I was able to find a brew that suited my tastes (the Orange Blossom Ale).
Wine and Cheese Ride: Of course, wine is more my speed, so we also had to check out the wine and cheese ride. Similar to the beer and cheetos ride, this is a slow ride to a secluded spot where 6 varieties of wines and assorted cheeses, crackers, and bread awaited us. Happy hour practically on horseback!
Sampling Canyon Road wines and chatting with fellow guests in a shady spot, I relished this communal and friendly feeling. It was one of the most leisurely and relaxing afternoons I’ve had in quite some time.
Team Penning: Hands down, this was one of the most fun activities I tried at the ranch. Picture this: teams of 4 riders ride into a herd of cattle in the rodeo arena and separate out three to move to a pen. The team with the best time wins! Team penning is all about teamwork (and a little bit of luck having cooperative cattle). FYI: Team Penning is classified as a fast ride and only available to children 8 years old and over.
For our rounds, there were serious bragging rights at stake. I was on a team with family members competing against another team from their family. So they were playfully ribbing each other about the times and who would emerge as the winner. We did a total of 4 rounds and came SO close to having the best time. In the end, we had 2 rounds at 20 seconds and 2 rounds at 18 seconds, but we lost by a mere second! Honestly, it didn’t matter who had the best time because team penning was an absolute thrill ride. It tested my ability to fast ride, work with others, and have confidence in my riding. Don’t take my word for it–watch this!
Hats are like a Western symbol. The DRA says:
Hats symbolize the special emphasis on Western atmosphere and appearance.”
FYI: a Western hat is a must when embarking on a dude ranch vacation. We transformed from city slickers to buckaroos simply by wearing our Western hats. Well, maybe the hat didn’t give us super riding powers, but we felt the part!
Western ambiance envelops guests at White Stallion Ranch. From the decorative touches in our accommodations to the cozy fireplace area of the lobby and the ranch photos dating back to the 60’s and 70’s, the Western vibe is alive. A perfect example is the bar area where saddles replace the traditional bar stools and the lobby, brimming with horse and riding accents. Look no further than the statue in the courtyard to get a sense of the western, horse-centric atmosphere on the ranch.
Hats are not just a symbol of the West, the phrase “wears many hats” also applies to a dude ranch experience. The beauty of wearing many hats is in diversity, and as much as horses is a key component to a dude ranch, it’s not the only one. Just as important is the other amenities and activities.
Hiking, guided nature tours, rock climbing, team penning, a rodeo, petting zoo, pool, hot tub, spa, fitness center, movie theater, game room, tennis courts, basketball court, and helicopter rides are just some of the activities available at White Stallion Ranch. Our family loves to play pool, and we had some competitive games together. Of course, there’s always the swimming pool and hot tub, which were quite popular spots after rides both with kids and adults. Hmm, could it be that our muscles weren’t used to riding and needed some hydrotherapy? (The answer is YES!)
Let me say that our family has little to no experience with rock climbing. And yet it sounded so fascinating that we HAD to try it. White Stallion can boast that it’s the ONLY property in Tucson to have rock climbing on site. Some ranches or resorts use leased land for climbing, but for this activity, we didn’t have to leave the ranch!
The benefits of this are as enormous as the boulders we got to climb. Instead of travel time taking up the better part of the day, we were to the climb location in a jiffy! We left the main lobby at 8:30 and were harnessed and in midair by 9:15!
Our certified guide Wade Purswell of Wild West Climbing showed us the ropes literally as we climbed boulders and faces on the East end of the ranch. He has designed beginner, intermediate and advanced climbs and already has many of the setups in place on the ranch.
Even though we’ve tried indoor climbs before, being outdoors and hiking in the Sonoran desert added to the drama and heightened the thrills. But I didn’t do much looking around, instead focusing on where I was putting my hands and feet. My son and I climbed about 35 feet, and it was a wicked cool experience.
Knowing that all the gear, ropes and the harness are designed to hold at least 3,000 pounds really put me at ease. Also Wade used a multi-knot system to back up the safety quotient. I’m all about safety when dangling 35 feet up in the air!
Here’s a key fact for rock climbing: make sure that your specific guide is certified. Ours was a AMGA and PCGI Certified Climbing Instructor. Also it helps enormously if the climbing guide provides special shoes that grip the rocks. They have a special rubber sole similar to the material used for race car driving tires. We wouldn’t have been able to make quite as many attempts or start at many of the spots that we did with our tennis shoes.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that White Stallion has an indulgent spa that can provide facials, massages, and body treatments. For research purposes, I simply had to try one and settled on the Herbal Detox Wrap.
This was a positively heavenly treatment that has many positive benefits to circulation and lymphatic draining that I learned from my therapist, Angela and conveniently ends with an aromatherapy massage. I was one happy camper and my skin glowed from purging all the toxins. Yet another benefit of a dude ranch vacation!
Without hospitality, a dude ranch would stumble right out of the stalls. This key component to a dude ranch is described as:
A genuine friendly Western welcome with staff, food, accommodations, facilities, and activities to authenticate it.
“Authentic” is an accurate word to describe White Stallion Ranch. Friendly is another. The staff was quick to notice when we needed something, and always congenial.
Part of that hospitality is also top notch entertainment. Our evening entertainment included a variety of programs from art to animals, line dancing and rope show, and a campfire/singalong. I could write an entire post about the entertainment alone…so I think I will. But let me mention a few of them.
Two words: Loop Rawlins. Gun slinger, rope twirler, and one man Wild West show. Oh yeah, and he’s been on America’s Got Talent and performed with Cirque de Soleil.
The critter show hosted by Phil Garcia and his sidekick Hector had to be my teen’s favorite. He held a Burmese python and a chinchilla. And I haven’t even mentioned the scorpions, tarantulas, and snakes! Check out our video to see some of the animal antics.
Switching gears, the watercolor art class led by Ute Vaughn had us making our own souvenirs as we drew feathers, painted them, and then nailed our art to wooden boards. What a wonderful memento from our ranch vacation!
Something about being in the desert and out West says country western. So what better pastime than dancing? We learned to line dance to “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” and I even got to dance with my handsome teen a bit. I’d call that a HUGE success.
This may be a more technical component to dude ranches. The DRA calls “heritage”:
Dude ranch vacations began as long stays where relationships developed and guests had an exclusive and complete ranch experience.
Dude ranch guests will be on an American plan.
This is evident with so many returning families. I was astounded at how many groups and families there were. We met a couple who was on their 21st visit and was introducing the ranch for the first time to their granddaughter; a multigenerational family who clearly have a soft spot fo the ranch since husband and wife met there when they were kids and even had their wedding at the ranch a few years ago. They keep coming back because it has become like another “h” word: HOME.
It’s easy to see how friendships form in the shared fun. Chatting on rides, poolside, or at dinnertime, we met so many people from all over the US and abroad. There were plenty of kids for our teenage son to meet too as it was Spring Break.
The full American plan includes 3 meals daily, all horseback riding (excluding lessons), and beverages (coffee, tea, iced tea, and lemonade.) Not included are alcoholic beverages and sodas, horseback riding lessons, spa treatments, and gift shop purchases. One cool feature is the honor bar where guests chits
Ever since our family became debt-free a few years ago, we looked for vacations that would enable us to continue on that successful path. So anytime we can plan a vacation that doesn’t follow us home financially like a souvenir, it’s our preference. White Stallion is about as close to all-inclusive as it gets.
Here’s how the Dude Ranchers’ Association defines honesty:
You are at least as good as you advertise, if not better.
You operate your business with integrity.
This is where the rubber meets the road. Or in this case, where the boots meet the stirrups. A dude ranch vacation is built on the people and the service, and that starts from the moment a family decides where they want to travel.
Hey, any property that is willing to trust its guests with an honor bar has to put a lot of stock in honesty, right? I kid you not! No bartenders, just refrigerated containers with beer, wine, sodas, mixers, and some pre-made beverages (like my beloved prickly pear margarita). We would fill out a form called a chit with our selections, and the totals were available at check-out.
The final H of a dude ranch makes total sense: Heart.
You have a heart for developing friendships with your guests and demonstrate it in your actions.
The True family wouldn’t still be in this business if they lacked the heart for it. And the love and dedication shows with every tack they make of the horses, every steak they turn on the grill for dinner, and every story they tell on a hayride. Believe me, they do it all!
There’s something so satisfying to see a legacy playing out before your eyes, and that’s the legacy of Allen and Cynthia True. Their family bought the ranch in 1965, and now their sons and grandchildren lovingly guide it into the next generation. Being the second oldest family ranch in operation in Arizona is no small feat. With the newest little True’s arrival on the ranch a few weeks ago, hopefully that means the FOURTH generation will carry the ranch torch in years to come.
Disclosure: Thank you to White Stallion Ranch for hosting my family to facilitate this review. All thoughts and opinions are my own and based on our personal experience.