Louise Speaks: Believe it or not we only live about 50 miles from Wickenburg, but have never actually toured the town and seen the sites Patricia mentions in her book “1000 Places To See Before You Die”. Today, as we are heading back to Phoenix, we decided to take the back road and go through Wickenburg so we can complete one more page in Patricia’s book.
Wickenburg is a true Gold Town. Gold was discovered here in 1863 by Henry Wickenburg…hence the name of the town. There are over 80 mines throughout the hillsides of Wickenburg and was one of the richest territories during it’s time. Most of the mines no longer exist, but one that does is the Vulture Mine. This mine offers tours but only during the cooler months, as Wickenburg can get quite hot. We toured this mine a few months back when my grandson was visiting. The mine began in 1863 and became the most productive gold mine in Arizona history. From 1863 to 1942, the mine produced 340,000 ounces of gold and 260,000 ounces of silver. Historically, the mine attracted more than 5,000 people to the area, and is credited with founding the town of Wickenburg. In 1942, the Vulture Mine was shut down by a regulatory agency for processing gold. This was a violation at the time because all resources were to be focused on the war effort. The mine appealed the shut-down order and reopened, but with less vigor. A few years later, the mine closed permanently. Today the mine and ghost town are privately owned, but tours are offered. Two-hour, dirt path guided walking tours at the historic Vulture mine offers a glimpse of the olden days through a tour of some of the remaining buildings of Vulture City, a booming mining town. The guide is very informative and there is lots to see. The mine was actually on Ghost Adventures on the Travel Channel on October 29, 2010.
Wickenburg tries to keep the look of the town as it was back in the day. Along the town’s main historic district, early businesses built many structures that still form Wickenburg’s downtown area. The abundant clean air and wide-open spaces attracted new residents. Guest ranches offered a unique experience to tourists who fell in love with the West. Shortly after 1913, the Kay El Bar and Rancho de los Caballeros, opened as two of the top Guest Ranches in the area. Many others followed making Wickenburg the Dude Ranch Capital of the World. Wickenburg Dude Ranches is even a trip destination on many TV game shows like Wheel of Fortune. We were fortunate enough to visit both of these “Dude Ranches” today.
Our first stop was the Rancho de los Caballeros. The venerable story of The Ranch dates back to 1947, when Dallas Gant, Sr., had the dream to build a dude ranch resort that would not only make him proud but would also stand the test of time. That dream came true a year later in 1948, when Rancho de los Caballeros (Ranch of the Gentlemen on Horseback) gallantly opened its doors to guests. As the reputation of The Ranch’s outstanding service and accommodations grew through the years, so did its facilities. The Ranch currently features 79 guest rooms, a 200-seat dining room, a full-service saloon, a full-service spa, meeting spaces, 20,000 acres of land, tennis courts, trap & skeet range, a horse stable, and an 18-hole golf course consistently ranked in national lists as a top 75 resort course. This must be true because as we were leaving at about 11:30 a.m. we were greeted by no less than at least 10 Porche convertibles entering the golf course. It was either a club or some very rich guest with a 12:00 tee time. Besides the golf course there are some unique bits of history about the ranch. In 1947 he pearl-shaped teardrop swimming pool for The Ranch was dug by hand. It was the first non-rectangular pool in Arizona. Architects at the time were concerned that the shape was too daring, but the pool has remained to this day, undergoing its first resurfacing in 1990. Also in 1951, an airstrip was added to accommodate guests’ private planes. Today, private planes land at nearby Wickenburg Airport, but you can still see part of the runway and an old hanger between the 17th and 18th fairways. Yes, only in Arizona would you get rid of an airstrip to add a golf course. In 1987 telephones were added to the guest rooms and finally in 1991 the guest rooms were furnished with a TV set. Credit Cards were not accepted until 2004. Today this dude ranch is known as a desert home away from home. Rancho de los Caballeros offers modern comforts in a historic Arizona dude ranch setting. With whitewashed walls, wooden beams and colorful Mexican tiles, The Ranch has the elegant ease of a traditional hacienda. And with the wide open sky over head and the stunning desert vistas all around, The Ranch offers a welcoming oasis where you can trade in your cell phone for some reins, and make life-long memories.
We had tried to call the Kay El Bar Ranch many times to get directions, but although the phone rings, we are asked to leave a message and no one ever answers. We did have an address, so we trusted our handy GPS and went on an adventure. We did find the ranch but it appeared to be deserted. However, we had done our homework so knew a bit about the ranch. The charming adobe ranch was built in the late 1800s, and, like all the early dude ranches, began as a working cattle outfit. The building’s adobe walls built of sun-dried brick are 12 to 18 inches thick. Each brick was made by hand by the Maricopa Indians who lived on the nearby reservation. In 1925 Kay El Bar was renovated, and the ranch began welcoming guests in 1926. The ranch appears completely up to date in its comforts, including a new pool, and a whirlpool spa, However, as we walked around all the windows are covered in dark plastic and every door was locked. The ranch consist of 13 rooms and wonderful, well kept grounds. We finally found some ranch hands tending to the horses and asked what was going on. It turns out the lodging part of the ranch no longer exists although they are open for trail rides and a true western experience. We were told they are an authentic, historic dude ranch. They offer an affordable, all-inclusive vacation experience, with a peaceful setting and friendly, experienced staff. We were told many of their guests return every year to visit just because they can take a trail ride into the beautiful landscape with a wrangler-led horseback guide. Today they had the horse and buggies out as they were preparing for the Spring parades. Kay el Bar is a winter ranch, open October through May. This dude ranch is a hidden gem. I don’t understand why it isn’t open for a true dude ranch experience.
Our last stop of the day in Wickenburg was the Desert Caballeros Western Museum. Founded in 1960, it is Arizona’s most western museum. The museum was created for the purpose of preserving and exhibiting the art and history of the rural Southwest and the desert frontier. Here world renowned art collections complement historic displays. The museum offers self guided audio tours that tell the fascinating stories of the American West. At the core of the museum are prized works from artists that offer an enriching contemporary perspective.
Back in the day, the only way to get to Los Angeles or Las Vegas was to go through Kingman, but back then it was just to drive through. Today we actually took the time to drive through the town, see a few of the Dude Ranches and visit a part of the old West. The more time I spent here, the more I thought about taking a vacation to a Dude Ranch. They offer girls weekends so how fun could that be. Maybe even a Mother / Daughter weekend. The wheels are turning. I’d rate all of Wickenburg an A. It was a fine day and it gave me enough curiosity to want to come back.