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.
Held annually on Jackpot Ranch, the Verde Valley Fall Festival celebrates the advent of autumn with three days of family-friendly activities and seasonal treats. Thousands of pumpkins and gourds await plucking from the patch's vines, hayrides whisk passengers across the private ranch's grounds, and live musicians keep toes tapping on the dance floor more effectively than automated tap-shoes. As kids of all ages gambol about carnival rides, a youngster zone offers up age-appropriate attractions, and adults pluck favorite brews from the beer garden and wash palates with tastings from local wineries. More local merchants hawk wares such as handmade crafts, jewelry, and art, while tasty snacks from restaurants such as Johnny Rockets, Babe's Round Up, and Zainey's Yogurt reenergize guests throughout the fest.
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.
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.
Sedona Red Rock Adventures' founder, Jim Reich, credits his father with nurturing a love of nature in their home outside New York City. As an adult, Jim transplanted his passion for the outdoors to the crimson boulders of Sedona after encouragement from a friend and fellow outdoorsman. A Western backdrop for movies during the 1940s and '60s, Sedona covers 19 square miles in the middle of scarlet bluffs, canyons, and Native American ruins and petroglyphs. Jim and his canine sidekick, Summit, share their affinity for fresh air through diverse tours that range from daylong jaunts into the Grand Canyon to the exploration of nocturnal wildlife during full-moon adventures. He adheres to Leave No Trace protocols, leaving nearby national parks free from litter or speakers blaring the theme from Chariots of Fire.
Jim powers all of his tours, including voyages through wine country and microbreweries, with drinks and snacks, and invites pooches along for the ride. He also snaps photos so that patrons can always remember the time they dropped their digital camera into the Grand Canyon.