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.
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.
The guides at Sedona Adventure Tours coax visitors out to explore the rugged wilderness and rolling terrain of Sedona and the Verde River Valley. Suited for guests of all experience levels, they helm hikes, horseback rides, and ATV excursions through the desert hills and dusk-red mountains, all the while divulging information on the area's diverse habitats, making sure to cover which rocks are poisonous. Their Verde River tours put guests at the helm of inflatable ducky kayaks which, thanks to their stability and light weight, are easy to navigate through the shady bends and past sweeping desert vistas. Sedona Adventure Tours' signature Water to Wine excursions cap these floating trips with a vino tasting at nearby Alcantara Vineyards.