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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

400th Post! A visit to Tucson, Arizona and Tanque Verde Ranch

Guest Quarters at Tanque Verde Ranch
I had the opportunity to visit my best friend, Rachel, in her adopted home town of Tucson, Arizona.  She recently got married, here in the Philadelphia area.  Family and friends from all over the country came into Philadelphia for the wedding, but a lot of folks from Arizona were not able to come East.  So, Rachel and her husband, Jim, decided to throw a "Hoe-down Wedding Party" at Tanque Verde Ranch, way way, WAY in the foothills of Western Tucson.  They invited us to come out to the party and to stay the weekend, but traveling with Nate, and on a weekend, is nearly impossible for our lives at this point.  Liz graciously told me to head on out and to have a good time.  A flight was booked via Southwest Airlines and I was off on a long weekend to Tucson.
Dessert, Saguaros and Mountains.  Tucson has many vistas to offer, often within several miles of each scenic area.
The vibe and look of Tucson is quintessentially South West; sweeping dessert vistas; ubiquitous Cacti and Saguaro's; Mountains with pre-historic foundations and looks; red rocks, sandstones; Native American tribal lands and Mexican border crossings.  There are cowboys and rednecks, transplanted Philadelphians and New-Age Retirees.  It's a fun place where you can lose yourself for a while and eat yourself into oblivion.  The sheer volume of great fast food choices (I know, an oxymoron but it's true) is astounding.  Whataburger, In-N-Out, EEGEES, The Waffle House and Sonoran Hot Dog Carts abound.  There are also the many great local restaurants, low-down and high end.  I ate Ethiopian food (in one of 2 Ethiopian restaurants in the Tucson area); High-end, 4 Star-rated Mexican Cuisine; Southwest Honky-tonk Diner for Breakfast, complete with skillets piled high with eggs, potatoes, salsas and green chillies; I forced my friend to eat at In N Out so I could see what the fuss was all about; turns out the burgers and fries at In N Out are really fresh, really good and super cheap.  We even had a great and over-abundant Italian lunch at a Southwest and Mexican Inspired restaurant that should put all of the Chiles and Applebee's restaurants to shame.  Damn fine meatballs and a very spicy marinara sauce.  Who knew that the food in Tucson would be so varied and delightful?
Cowboy Jim Bob Billy Joe Thorton Wilder and his niece, Caity.
I got into Tucson on Friday afternoon.  We spent that night and Saturday tooling around Rachel's place, shopping, eating, having a nice and easy time.  On Sunday, Jim, headed down to Tanque Verde Ranch to meet his friends and family and to go horseback riding.  Rachel and I decided to go shopping for cowboy boots.  We were a couple of real City Slickers, ambling up to the Boot Barn Western and Work Gear shop. They SAW us coming!  Good thing my AMEX card didn't melt, after this shopping trip.

These boots were made for walking, dancing, and kicking up fun!
I bought boots and a total rock and roll cowboy blinged out shirt.  Rachel beat my purchases and bought 2 pairs of boots, a few shirts and other essentials for our night's stay at the Ranch.  Better living through retail therapy.Of course, I looked like some crazy Suzy Quatro crossed with Garth Brook's alter-ego Chris Gains.  People at the Dog House Saloon were laughing along with me at my total get-up.  I had fun, that's all that counts.
Hacienda number 18.  This room was larger than my old South Philly row house!
 The guest accommodations at Tanque Verde Ranch run the gamut of styles and sizes.  There are huge haciendas, small one room guest quarters and mini-suites and casitas, all sprawling over acres of prime horseback riding foothills of the Tucson Mountains.  They've done an elaborate job with the landscaping.  It's a microcosm of dessert blooms and life.  Walking through the various areas made me feel as  though I were in a Hollywood Spaghetti Western; in Georgia O'Keefe's paintings; in Ansel Adams landscapes and in places that I've visited in Taos, New Mexico.  It's vast here and gorgeous beyond words.
Prickly Pear Cactus.  I didn't notice at first that the sign reads, "Prick..."
The party at the Ranch was slated to start at 5 pm.  I had a few moments when we first got there and again before sunset to take some photos of the area before it got too dark.
True Mountains, Green lands and the National Tree of Arizona!

Saguaro Detail

A patch of prickly pears

Macro Detail of a Prickly Pear

Heading out to the chuck wagon dinner

Guest Rooms along the front of the main house

The Dog House Saloon.  Fine Beers on tap.  Too bad everything closes by 10 pm!

The horse coral.  Sunset and the horses have been brought inside for the night.

Bon fire and chuck wagon dinner party

Getting cosy by the fire.  It's cold in Tucson after sunset.  The bonfires kept us warm.
Rachel and Jim planned their party to be a barbecue dinner, with all the fixin's of a real hoe-down dinner; steaks, chicken, biscuits, cowboy beans and for dessert, fruit cobbler cooked in huge cast iron skillets over an open fire.   There were 4 or 5 areas set up with bonfires.  They hired a DJ who spun an elcectic mix of old country western music and great 80's dance hits.  Not many people danced, but I sure cut up the dance floor in my new boots.  I felt it in my old knees the next day but while I was drinking, eating and dancing, I didn't feel half of my 45 years.  Dancing can make me feel young, even if I'm heading cowboy feet first into middle age.
Mr. and Mrs.  
We hung out for a few hours down in the Cottonwood Grove before we headed back to Rachel and Jim's huge suite.  Little did we know that the hotel/ranch staff would decorate their room for what I'm sure they thought was a newlywed couple's honeymoon night! Colour me embarrassed and the 3rd wheel on a two-seater.  After a few photo opportunities, I skeedaled out of the room and headed to the Dog House Saloon for a night cap before finding my own room to call it a night.
Hot Tubbing!

Feeding Strawberries to her husband

Cowboy Boot Lovin'

Morning at the Ranch - The horses don't want to be awake just yet

A Casita - bigger than a traditional hotel room and a sweet suite!

Tucson "Street Art"

A Family of Handprints

Sleeping Beauty
When I woke up, it was going on 7 am.  I showered and took a wander outside to take a few early morning photos.  My room was along the main house guest quarters, across the lawn from the horse corrals.  I could see and hear the horses, but couldn't believe my eyes and ears; these stallions, nags and mares were not just sleeping, they were snoring!
Laying down, getting her beauty sleep

Barbed Wire Self-portrait
 Before we checked-out and left the ranch, Rachel and I took a further wander around the ranch, into the hills to do a little photo exploring.  It was the first time I wished I had taken the opportunity to have gone horse back riding with Jim and his family the day before.  There's a lot of beauty and land to explore.   Next visit, we'll have to bring Nate and have a family vacation here.  I'm sure Nate would love the wide open spaces and riding the horses.I know that I'd love to go back to the Ranch for another hoe down party!
Smiling Rock

Keep out of Bob's spot!

Morning Fog, sun glare and potted plants

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