Situated amid the ponderosa hills and Sonoran scrub valleys of Tonto National Forest, Cherry Creek Lodge tucks visitors into upscale accommodations that mirror the rustic environment. Although richly appointed guestrooms and gourmet meals may entice some to remain indoors, the postcard-worthy surroundings pull most sojourners into Pleasant Valley, which plays host to hunts for the 11 different game species—including elk, quail, and mule deer—that populate the region, as well as activities such as sporting clays, cattle drives, and fishing Lake Sharon’s largemouth bass.
Although today's lodge inhabitants can be found regaling one another with fishing stories or roasting pinecones over the hearth, the Pleasant Valley scene wasn’t always so tranquil. In the late 1800s, the valley provided the setting for an infamous dispute between the Graham and Tewksbury families that became known as the Pleasant Valley War. The conflict garnered national media attention at the time and generated numerous unresolved theories concerning its causes.
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.
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.
Riders who set out from M Diamond Ranch can thread the dusky red cliffs of a narrow canyon, trot across scrub-covered hills, or climb a ridge to gaze onto the sweeping panorama of the Verde Valley. These excursions are possible thanks to the 100-year-old ranch's uniquely qualified trail guides, the only ones in the area permitted to lead visitors through the scenic Red Rock District of Coconino National Forest. Each holds CPR and First Aid certifications, and can safely lead groups or private rides out on tours lasting up to three hours, either during the day or by moonlight. On each outing, they teach guests basic tenets of horsemanship, cowboy history, and cowboy culture, including the art of switching places with your horse to fool outlaws.
After trail rides, draft-horse-drawn wagons transport visitors to optional cowboy cookouts at an all-weather elevated site with panoramic views. Here, chefs serve traditional frontier fare such as 16-ounce rib-eye steaks, campfire chili, and dutch-oven cornbread, while visitors commune or listen to live country-western and rockabilly music. Though they entertain daily, the ranch's staffers also perform vital tasks behind the scenes; they conduct regular trail maintenance and put proceeds toward preservation—efforts that have earned them a Wildlife Habitat Stewardship Award.
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.