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.
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.
The guides at Arizona Trail Horse Adventures lead sightseers on horseback rides through Dead Horse Ranch State Park and the Verde Valley. Horse and rider traverse a variety of terrain, crossing barren riverbeds, trotting through high desert, or pondering the duality of cottonwood trees, all while absorbing the beautiful scenery of their surroundings. The trails pose numerous opportunities to spot the wild animals indigenous to the region, including great blue heron, black hawks, beavers, and mule deer. On the 180-minute Monument Loop Trail, peeled peepers can spot the Tuzigoot National Monument, which displays the remains of a Native American pueblo.
Horsin' Around Adventures gives visitors a chance to explore Arizona's canyons and scenic wildlife habitats the way the first settlers did—on horseback. But because today's riders likely aren't as experienced as those in the Old West and don't know how to bribe their mounts with a cool drink of sarsaparilla, Horsin' Around puts riders aboard gentle steeds that are between 9 and 12 years old. These horses know the trails so well that riders can relax and enjoy the scenery, which includes a babbling creek and vineyards at the Sedona/Oak Creek location and lush pines at the Williams location.