I have never been to a dude ranch and I have to admit, I am not the “outdoorsy” type, so I approached our trip to Tanque Verde Ranch (TVR) with trepidation. Prior to my visit, my idea of a rustic ranch can best be described as a Motel 6, but I had never been to Tucson and the idea of a working guest ranch seemed like a chance to get out of my comfort zone.
Driving into the Beauty of the Desert
Traveling a few miles east of Tucson, the beauty of the Sonoran Desert and the Rincon Mountains provide a dramatic and scenic drive as the road suddenly comes to an end. You can turn right into Saguaro National Park East, or left into the ranch with the Coronado National Forest just beyond.
This historic property began in the 1600s with the Pima Indians. "Tanque Verde" means "green pool," and is named after the seasonal river that the Indians used as a source of water.
A Dark History
Emilio Carrillo, a Mexican land owner from Santa Cruz, moved his family to Tucson in 1856 and purchased the land in 1868 for ranching. After Carrillo's death in 1908 (from complications of being hanged from a beam in the current card room by bandits in 1904), his son sold the property to Jim Converse.
Converse built the existing Ramada and in 1928, opened the ranch to guests from the East willing to pay to participate in everyday ranch activities. With this enthusiastic pool of labor and additional cash, the ranch continued to expand both in tourism and cattle production.
In 1945, Converse got drunk in a bar and accidentally shot a Mexican cowboy. Convicted of manslaughter, his enthusiasm for the ranch waned and he sold TVR to Brownie Cote in 1958, who continued to expand and develop the property as a resort and dude ranch. TVR continues to be run and maintained by the Cote family today.
The Expanse and Architecture of Tanque Verde Ranch
The ranch alone encompasses some 60,000 acres, making it the largest in North America. The Santa Fe-style architecture and the traditional adobe walls of the buildings blend nicely into the natural surroundings. There are 70 rooms scattered across the property, offering privacy and peaceful quiet. Several rooms are housed in the original ranch bunkhouse, but we were led up a gravel road to one of the free-standing casitas.
Walking inside, the décor is all ranch, but surprisingly luxurious with brick walls, wrought iron headboards and light fixtures, rough-hewn wood furniture and Mexican tiles. Some rooms have a fireplace and/or Jacuzzi tubs. There is free Wi-Fi, but no TVs. Wait? No TVs??? My feelings of angst started to return until we pulled back the curtains on the large picture windows to see one of the most amazing sunsets EVER!
We quickly learned we could be as busy as we wanted to be with something for everyone—even me! Activities for all ages are scheduled from 8 a.m.–9 p.m. daily. A kids’ camp for ages 4-12 is also an option for younger guests.
Trails and Recreation Galore
If you are adventurous, miles of trails can be explored on foot, bike or horseback, with different rides available for beginners and more advanced riders. Wranglers also offer riding lessons for any skill level. If you really want the dude experience, cattle herding might be fun. Yoga classes, as well as basketball, pickleball and tennis courts, are also on-site.
For those who want a more relaxing visit to just enjoy the beautiful surroundings, the rooms are quiet with private patios facing the desert. Both indoor and outdoor pools, Jacuzzis, fishing ponds, nature walks, workshop classes and a full-service spa offer more ways to spend time.
Other favorite activities include a morning horseback ride to a remote breakfast camp, where a hot meal is served. Or, an afternoon ride with picnic lunch. An evening barbecue cookout with bonfires and steak, beans, and all the fixings is also held weekly.
Three meals a day are included in the room rate and are served communally in the vast dining room. Live country music and dancing are part of the scene at The Dirty Dog Saloon in the evenings. You can even find a few TVs in some of the community rooms, but I must admit, I never looked at them even once.
The Gathering at The Barn
If you are planning a family reunion, company gathering or wedding, be sure to check out the latest addition to the property, the newly completed Barn. This event space makes TVR the ultimate destination wedding or meeting venue. The Barn can accommodate up to 350 guests, and its many features include a massive fireplace, rustic indoor-outdoor bar, and panoramic sliding doors. The beautiful desert and mountain views can’t be missed on the expansive exterior event lawn and outdoor stage area, which can accommodate another 350 guests.
If you are considering a family vacation or romantic getaway, Tanque Verde Ranch is the ultimate dude ranch offering the Old West experience with upscale accommodations, great service and all the modern-day conveniences—except TV, which I never missed even for a minute!