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.
Amid the saguaro cactus and abundant foliage, Michelle McVey operates the Desert Palms Equestrian Center facility with a deep passion for horseback riding, a hobby and career that began when she was five years old. Michelle and her team specialize in showing every level of rider proper saddle technique, as she’s coached students ranging from first-timers to Triple Crown winners. Inside two large outdoor arenas, private lessons focus on the student’s goals, whether that’s to have vigorous exercise or to simply learn the basics. Additionally, the center holds camps throughout the year, allowing kids to get a more in-depth experience with horse riding. During these camps, students ride twice daily, and receive education on horse care, tack components, and equine physiology.
Although tumbleweeds don't breeze down its street and there's no hitching post on which to secure your horse, Brix Wine Spot swaps the valley for the Old West while helping visitors earn their sommelier spurs. A 20-foot copper bar corrals patrons as they stampede through the door, surrounding them with country tunes and over 500 of the bar's vintages.
Weekly tastings introduce palates to new bouquets, and every day a minimum of 18 wines are available by the glass, each served at an optimal temperature and right after naptime to ensure cooperation. When stomachs begin to rumble, guests can snack on artisan cheeses, salami platters, and handcrafted cheesecakes, or even bring in their own food—a practice Brix encourages as long as a glass of one of their wines is incorporated.
Cellar 13's owner, Mike Hightower, is no triskaidekaphobian. That is, he's not afraid of the number 13. Rather, he embraces it. He even themed his whole business around the superstitious number: it's no coincidence that Cellar 13 offers 13 red wines, 13 white wines, and 13 menu items. Guests can choose to explore either of the two outdoor patios, dine along the wine bar, or descend—yes, 13 steps—down to the cellar, where a cozy lounge with leather armchairs and dark wood tables welcomes guests and anything served in a bottle or stemmed glassware. No matter where you sit, you will encounter a variety of fine wines, gourmet sandwiches, and a friendly staff.
Saddle Bronc Grill plunks its guests straight into the middle of a sci-fi western. A hitching post augments the restaurant's saloon-like exterior, where customers are more likely to see motorcycles than horses waiting out front. Napkins have been switched out for bandanas at each table, and the soft glow of 13 flat-screen televisions illuminates the wooden slats of the walls. This blend of genres is no accident—the grill strives to be a country-western bar with all the comforts of the modern era, allowing diners to snack on classic cowboy food even as they follow their favorite sports team. Live bands twang away on weekend evenings, and the Tavern Poker League takes place on Thursday, though players needn't abide by traditional frontier rules that force the loser to eat his own spurs.
The menu, meanwhile, remains faithful to an entirely rustic ambiance. Broasted chicken and flat-iron steaks follow appetizers such as fried onion rings. Side dishes pay homage to the snacks of hungry ranch hands, running the gamut from corn bread and sweet potato fries to a potato-stuffed poblano pepper. To conclude meals, Rock Springs Café populates the Into the Sunset dessert list with a rotating selection of homemade pies.
Though glimpsed by many people for the first time on an episode of The Amazing Race, the desert acres traversed by Fort McDowell Adventures are steeped in millennia of Yavapai Indian history. Guides lead visitors across the Arizonan foothills on a range of outdoorsy and sometimes anachronistic adventures, such as cattle drives and Segway tours through the Sonoran desert, kayaking adventures on the Verde River, and nature walks with Yavapai Indians. These excursions often end in nighttime wiener roasts, s'mores, and cocktails, a break from the frontier tradition of telling campfire sci-fi stories.
Activities at Fort McDowell Adventures’s four venues further immerse guests in the American Western experience. They gather for Dutch oven–style cowboy cookouts and depart for wilderness excursions from The Stables. At La Puesta del Sol, guests pass through a Spanish mission entrance into a dining hall, saloon, stage, and dance floor, and at Rosa's Ranch, they gather under the stars and around cookout fire pits nestled between rustic wooden ranch buildings. Groups dine at The Boulder House, named on the National Registry of Historic Places, whose rock walls bear evidence of petroglyphs, Native American occupation, and ancient spelunking expeditions.