As the Bradshaw Mountain range stretches into the Sonoran Dessert, its landscapes change quickly. Shrub-strewn hills dip into valleys dotted with cacti. Clear streams run through dense copses, and then open to bare, clay-red plateaus. The guides at Desert Wolf Tours unveil these unforgiving yet magical landscapes, chiefly by leading caravans of Tomcars. These all-terrain vehicles let guests power over rocks, up hillsides, and through card towers to visit destinations such as old turquoise and gold mines and a ghost town.
Desert Wolf's team also takes visitors into the desert for recreational target shooting, supplying them with firearms, such as M16 rifles and Glock 17 handguns, to shoot under the supervision of NRA-certified instructors. Desert Wolf, a family-owned business, adheres to eco-friendly practices, participating in programs such as the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. These efforts have not only earned the respect of guests, but also a certificate of excellence from TripAdvisor.
MTM Ranch is located on the Willow Springs Preserve, a mountainous stretch of wilderness south of the Tonto National Forest. There are no streets to cross or cars to dodge here, which has helped ensure the abundance of coyote, javelina, and mule deer. Stationed at the center of the preserve, MTM Ranch’s herd of well-trained horses makes it easy for visitors to explore the region’s natural beauty.
Before embarking on trail rides, wranglers pair each rider with a horse that suits his or her age, size, and level of experience. Then, they train new riders with the skills and tools needed to control their horse as they hit the hills. In addition to their equestrian expertise, guides also bring a keen knowledge of the surrounding region. They’re happy to identify local flora and fauna for riders, and they'll answer any questions about horsemanship or the likelihood that one of the riders is actually a centaur.
Spur Cross Stables lives above an old 19th-century gold mine right on the edge of Tonto National Forest and its 3 million acres of rocky mesas, Saguaro cactus, and abundant desert wildlife. The stables' array of trail rides intertwine across some 30% of this vast landscape, leading up to seven riders at a time through Native American ruins, packs of coyotes, and vintage UFOs. Rides range from one hour to a full day, and match each city slicker up with one of the 50 gentle horses available for riding––many of which have been rescued from unhealthy situations. After the desert traipse is over, guides give each member of their group a carrot to feed their hoofed transport as a token of friendship and appreciation.
In the shadow of the mountains of Tonto National Forest, Bartlett Lake watercrafts skid across 2,815 acres of the lake's pristine waters. The marina abounds with recreational facilities—its fleet of professional jet skis, pontoons, and ski boats sit parked along docks of grills, a general store, and a covered, floating patio. A 45-foot yacht towers over the rest of the rental boats, furnishing lively parties of up to 25 people with a slide, bar, and restroom, while a large houseboat floats along the lake peacefully—an impressive vessel complete with private rooms, a deck, and kitchen. As visitors navigate the lake or forage the surrounding area's desert terrain trails, they have the opportunity to admire indigenous plants and abundant wildlife.
The two-day Taste of Cave Creek event gathers more than 25 local restaurants and the region's most renowned chili chefs and salsa makers at Stagecoach Village. Two stages host live music performances, while samples of barbecue, Mexican, Italian, and other unique types of food are served. Judges and guests taste the contestants' chili and salsas during a cook off before their eyes feast on sculptures, paintings, and artisan jewelry at the art exhibits. Throughout the evening, guests can enjoy tastings of tequila and sip on drinks at a wine and craft-beer garden.
The equine enthusiasts at Twin L Performance Horses conduct lessons to impart the fundamentals of horseback riding, including ground handling and mounting. Every activity is done, as their site says, "for the love of the horse." The woman behind this mantra, Linda Leslie, cultivated her passion for horses by beginning her professional training in 1985. Today, she brings her expertise to Twin L Performance Horses, an Arabian horse facility focused on using compassion and gentle discipline to turn out well-behaved show steeds.