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May 16, 2017
Rancho de la Osa (Ranch of the Bear) is tucked away at the end of the earth in Sasabe, Arizona—less than two hours southwest of Tucson. As we pulled in, the giant sycamores rustled their low hanging leaves like flouncy Flamenco skirts. The sky beyond was blue and broad and cloudless in the late afternoon. Four colorful ranch buildings surrounded a huge, open courtyard.
No one here got a room key. What a leap of faith when I’m used to locking my car to run into the store for two minutes. Only two other guests rambled about the recently reopened guest ranch, along with one of the proprietors, the cook, a gardener, and two women who manage the place.
Our room was old and charming in the long, blue building that housed 6 of the 18 guest rooms. We sat on the front porch that spanned the length of the building in Easter egg-colored Adirondack chairs and drank a special bottle of wine gifted to us for our anniversary. One could hear the quiet as our conversation drifted off.
Nancy, the front office manager, stopped by to chat and invited us for hors d’oeuvres in the cantina. Cheese, salami, and red pepper slices were neatly laid out on an antique silver platter. Folklore had it that the cantina, built in 1720, was the oldest continuously inhabited building in Arizona. And the Marshall Plan, which outlined the restoration of postwar Europe, was supposedly drafted in the back building called the Clayton House.
In the courtyard just east of the cantina was John Wayne’s room. He frequented the ranch while shooting movies in Tucson—a secret hideaway for him and his buddies. One could almost hear their laughter and boisterous carryings on. Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson also visited the guest ranch which first opened in the 1920s. Prior to that, it was the headquarters for a three million-acre Spanish land grant.
James, the activity director, popped his head into the cantina to tell us dinner was delayed until 7. He invited us for a UTV ride in the desert to pass the time. The “Utility Terrain Vehicle” that seated 6 people was a cross between a Jeep and an ATV, and we bumped along the hills and gullies with ease. We pulled up to an imposing iron fence that separated the United States from Mexico like a row of giant jail bars. Laughably, we could see the abrupt end of the fence half a mile down the ridge. As we headed back for dinner, the long shadows cast by the desert vegetation at sunset made for great photos.
At 7, we filed into the hacienda which was the main ranch house in the day. We dined with the other guests and the staff at the massive 20-person table constructed from a single pine tree felled atop Mt. Lemmon. Once the main course was served, the chef joined us at the head of the table. He prepared chicken in a green chili sauce served with asparagus and rice, and we all agreed it was terrific.
We talked about how that afternoon, Stewart, a first time rider, managed to stay on his horse Clementine when a cholla cactus lodged in her tail. She bolted at a gallop, but he reined her in with the help of the wrangler shouting directions to him. After dinner, the wrangler presented Stewart with an official “Certified Cowboy” certificate in honor of this rite of passage.
We walked back to our room named “House Wren” and stopped to marvel at the black sky and dramatic twinkling stars, so much more intense than the Tucson night sky. The king bed was comfortable, and we drifted off to sleep, lost in dreams of life in the 1800s.
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