If you’re looking for a truly unique vacation experience…enjoy history and the outdoors, do yourself a favor and check out a dude ranch. I recently visited the Flying~E~Ranch in Wickenburg, Arizona…this ranch dates back to the mid-40s and still offers guests a way of the west cowboy experience. You’re not going to find five star resort-like accommodations, but what you will discover is an experience that will not soon be forgotten. The connection you’ll have with guests, the staff, the horses and even the land will make you want to come back again and again. I met guests who’ve been to the Flying E Ranch 9,10, 15…even 36 times. That says a lot about the enjoyment and memories created.
I’ve only been to a handful of guest ranches, but I’ve found a common theme… the camaraderie and connection that guests have with one another is like none other. Guests quickly make friends with other guests and end up planning their next visits together. There are a number of reasons why the dude ranch experience connects folks as it does…for starters, many of the ranch activities are conducted as a group. Whether it’s horseback riding, a communal meal or square dancing in the barn, you end up seeing the same friendly faces over and over, which provides that opportunity to bond with folks. You just don’t experience this connective occurrence at a typical resort or other vacation venues.
When you first check in to the Flying E, you’re greeted with some old fashioned western warmth and a tour of the property. The ranch encompasses 20,000 acres and provides amazing mountain and desert views. The southwestern sunrises and sunsets are some of the best in the world—and, with little light pollution in Wickenburg, the stargazing is also spectacular. There is a heated pool and spa, a game room, horseshoe pit, tennis courts, ping-pong table, stables, pasture and a storage room full of western garb in case you forgot your own boots or cowboy hat. Once you’ve gotten a lay of the ranch, you’ll be shown to your accommodations. There are a number of room variations depending on your needs. The rooms are a bit dated, but very clean and comfortable nonetheless. While the ranch is quite old, it has been extremely well maintained. I was impressed by how well-groomed the grounds are…from the common areas, to the stables.
The focal point inside the lodge is a stone fireplace, which greets and warms guests on those cold desert days during breakfast, lunch and dinner service. There are always freshly baked goods and refreshments available throughout the day. Prior to the dinner service you won’t want to miss happy hour (note: BYOB – appetizers supplied) in the saloon—this is a great time to mingle and get acquainted with fellow guests to talk about the day’s activities and to further bond with family and new friends. There is a wonderful deck attached to the saloon, which is the perfect spot to enjoy one of those amazing Arizona sunsets.
You can do as much, or as little as you’d like during your stay at the Flying E. There are two rides per day, one in the morning and one in the evening. Many guests will not miss a ride, while others might enjoy a nearby hike, a game of tennis, a soak in the spa, or a sweat in the sauna. Everything is provided for you at the ranch, but you can also mosey outside the grounds for a round of golf or an off-road excursion. Each day of the week provides a different schedule of events in which you are welcome to participate. You can visit the Flying E website for a list of annual activities to see what time might best suit your needs.
The chuck wagon breakfast cookout is a treat that I got to experience (I believe this takes place on holidays and special events). Everyone at the ranch gets together for an early morning ride out to the desert where wranglers and staff have a full breakfast meal waiting. This activity really makes you feel like you’ve gone back in time. You can even get your butt or your boots branded (as seen in the video). I also enjoyed watching guests trying to steer three reluctant calves into a boxed pen during a team-penning contest at the corral. Evening entertainment includes square dancing in the barn, western music, or simply some fun and competitive games in the ranch house. Of course depending on how long you stay, there’s enough free time to relax, swim, read, or just soak up the Arizona sunshine in a quiet, restful atmosphere.
You’re also bound to see some wildlife roaming the hills while on a ride or wandering the ranch…from whitetail deer, javelina, coyotes, quail to bobcats and mountain lions.
The Flying~E~Ranch is certainly a peaceful, relaxing place and the entire staff will go out of their way to make sure you feel comfortable and welcome. It amazed me at how the staff made a concerted effort to know everyone’s name and to make sure they introduced new guests to ones who’ve been there for a few days.
If you are looking for a real dude ranch experience, look no further than the Flying~E~Ranch for a realistic flavor of the Arizona frontier.
Click the following link to see pictures from the Flying E Ranch. If you’ve been to the Flying E before, please leave a comment and let my readers and me know what you like best…or share a fond memory. If you enjoyed this post and video, please click the “like” button and share with friends and family, it really helps when you spread the word.