Hundreds of animals from around the world roam the spacious, natural habitats on Out of Africa Wildlife Park?s 104 acres. Tours of the Wildlife Preserve jaunt past gray wolves and spotted hyenas, while a 30-minute African Bush Safari travels through a 22-acre high-desert-plains habitat where lions and tigers roam the hillside. Caretakers, colorful toys, and brain-tickling games of chess entertain Bengal and Siberian tigers in the Tiger Splash?s 35'x50' pool. Guests eager to interact with the park?s critters can hold anacondas and boas at the Giant Snake Show or tag along with caretakers feeding lions and tigers with 800 pounds of raw food. Check out Out of Africa Wildlife Park's YouTube or Twitter page for more information.
Arizona Equestrian Connection at Jackpot Ranch's most dazzling amenity: 72 acres of land in the Verde Valley with endless blue sky above. Tranquil ponds reflect the scenery around them as the light mist from fountains floats out over the pastures, gazebo, and previously un-misted surfaces. Guests can climb to a three-story treehouse for a spectacular view of the Verde River, rocket down a water slide that also doubles as part of the ranch's irrigation system, or wander a petting zoo populated by deer, goats, pigs, rabbits, and other feathered and fuzzy creatures. After swaying in a hammock in the shade, playing horseshoes, or doing a little catch-and-release fishing, travelers can cozy up in one of six teepees large enough to sleep six people or one dozen mini horses who are using up their Jackpot Ranch vacation days before the end of the year.
Rather than the yachts and sailing vessels often associated with boat clubs, the BlackShell Boat Club's fleet features vehicles that get you a little closer to the water. The club's boats are designed for fun on the waves in the form of waterskiing, wakeboarding, and wakesurfing, inviting passengers to leave churning wakes in the otherwise calm surface of Bartlett Lake. All parties have an instructor hop aboard to help novices master the basics of balancing on the water and more expert sailors learn tricks, swinging skiers side-to-side in the boat's wake so they can practice leaping into the air or diving into the lake headfirst to catch fish with their teeth. Those in a more relaxed mood can simply lounge on deck and enjoy the views of the Tonto National Forest.
In 1966, Chuck Mabery bought a cattle ranch that dated back to the late 19th century, planting the seeds of the Blazin' M Ranch. After stints herding and growing vegetables, the flood of 1993 forced the Mabery family to start over, inspiring them to show off their musical talents at a traditional chuck-wagon dinner staged on the property. Fully renovated in 2010, the ranch now hosts an authentic Arizona frontier town where visitors can experience the cowboy life through such activities as lassoing mechanical steers, shooting wax bullets out of a real Colt .45, and learning how to easily covert ten-gallon hats into metric. A selection of shops fits customers out in Western-themed apparel, the copper Spur Saloon serves local wines and microbrews, and a museum delves into the history of the ranch, pioneer-era Arizona, and the Yavapai-Apache Nation. An old-time photo studio, "Pistols and Petticoats", allows groups to have their likeness captured while wearing Victorian costumes. At the museum, the unique Wood'n West Gallery enthralls visitors with moving dioramas of Western life, hand carved over 30 years by a master whittler.
There are a lot of words one can use to describe barbecue sauce. Some are sweet, some spicy, and some tangy. But at the AZ Rhythm & Ribs festival, only one adjective matters: best. The KCBS Competition takes all comers, restaurant and solo operation alike, to vie for the best barbecue title in the categories of chicken, pork ribs, pork, and beef brisket. Other awards include best dry beans, best sauce, best dessert, and the Anything Goes award, given to a chef who makes the best side dish. Guests vote for their choice with samples—some included with entry—and cleanse their palate between bites with micro-brewed beers from all over the country. Meanwhile, country and southern rock stars make tunes as zesty as the savory stars of the show.
Sourcing grapes from their own vineyard?as well as four other vineyards across the state?the winemakers at Page Spring Cellars are able to craft an eclectic variety of wines at a sunny, picturesque estate. Imagined and brought to fruition by owner and winemaker Eric Glomski, vintages and blends range in style from a delicate and nuanced sangiovese to the understated chenin blanc. At the stately tasting room, curious visitors sip samples from the collection of wines or, every third Thursday, work their way through a tapas-style winemaker dinner with pairings. Perhaps more spectacular are the outdoor spaces, which host summer stargazing with astrophysicists or picnics enjoyed on a deck that runs alongside a gurgling creek with splendid oral hygiene.