The Quiet Places of Osa

The Quiet Places of Osa

by Diana Madaras

Rancho De La Osa sign  Rancho De La Osa outside   

Road to ranch

Dirt road on the ranch with the Baboquivari in the background

After my husband Miro and I turned left at the corner of Three Points and Ajo, we barely saw another car for an hour as we drove through miles of green desert to Rancho de al Osa in Sasabe, Arizona. The ranch has been in existence since the 1800s when the King of Spain gave the Oritz brothers a land grant of 1.3 million acres that stretched from Mexico all the way to the base of Picacho Peak.

We were the first guests to arrive for the Labor Day weekend, and the small staff had lunch ready for us in the main house—ham roll-ups, deviled eggs and a green salad, with chocolate butterscotch cookies for dessert. The walls of the dining room were 3 feet thick and held the secrets of the five families who had lived here during the past two centuries.

Since we were the only guests at the moment, we could choose what we wanted to do and set the schedule. At 4 pm, we headed out for a private horseback ride with the wrangler through the hills and canyons of the pristine desert. My horse Sierra was petite and sure-footed and disliked other horses, so she and I took up the rear. Miro rode Max, who ambled along in an easy-going way, and Ross, the wrangler, caretaker, farrier, head honcho and whatever-else-was needed-guy, rode a beautiful buckskin mule named Bobby Jo Gentry whose legs were striped like a zebra.

Horseback riding

Ross and Miro

After 20 minutes into the ride, I felt a sense of calm and lightness—an all-is-well-with-the-world kind of feeling that was most welcomed after a very stressful week in Tucson. I was back in the saddle after not riding much since my horse Cyndi died two years ago. I loved being out in the desert again. At 3600 feet, the vegetation at Osa was lush and viridian green.

We rode back to the barn just in time for happy hour in the Cantina where we had a glass of wine and met the other guests who had just arrived—a family of seven from Phoenix. At 6:30 pm, when the dinner bell reverberated through the walls of the old adobe buildings, we ambled over to the main house for dinner. The staff had set a beautiful table with a lace-overlay tablecloth and the finest ranch silver. We dined on pork roast, mashed potatoes and a broccoli/cauliflower dish, then finished with a square of pumpkin cake topped with exquisite white sauce.

The Cantina

The Cantina is the oldest building in continuous use in Arizona

Ross invited everyone back to the Cantina after dinner where he charmed us with his cowboy poetry. He recited 5 or 6 poems of considerable length without missing a beat—all original compositions. He has competed in Cowboy Poetry contests across the southwest and won many honors. The poem about a faithful dog named Root Beer brought a tear to my eye. He would have recited more than 100 poems by heart if we could have stayed awake.

We slept soundly in the Eleanor Roosevelt suite, a two-room casita with a wood-burning fireplace, concrete floors and thick pink walls. At 7 am, we were up and dressed and our horses were saddled. Today’s ride was even more scenic than yesterday. We rode through high reeds where grasses brushed the tips of our stirrups, and a forest of ocotillo towered above us. We then dropped down into Bobcat Canyon as our horses picked their way through rocky downhill slopes and we ended in deep sand in the wash. Feathers from the fairy duster plants blew through past us as the gentle breeze picked up.

After breakfast in the main house, I met a fellow named Bear with a white Santa beard and a jolly smile who was writing the history of Rancho de la Osa. What began as a short history for ranch guests has turned into a 3-book odyssey—so many stories to tell, so much lore unearthed along the way.

He told me the ranch was sold several times and eventually became a major cattle concern that herded thousands of cows through the valleys from Mexico to Picacho Peak. But by the early 1900s, the huge cattle business failed due to overgrazing followed by a severe draught.

The ranch was soon sold off in parcels on the west side of the Sasabe Highway. The rest of the land on the right side remained grazing acreage and eventually became the Buenos Aires Wildlife Refuge that now provides safe haven for deer, antelope and many species of birds.

Cattle grazing on ranch

Some cattle still graze on the ranch


In the 1940’s, Secretary of State William Clayton lived in one of the houses on the ranch. This ranch hide-out provided seclusion for high level politicians from Washington who met with Clayton to formulate strategies for the Democratic Party.  Clayton later drafted the famous Marshall Plan at the ranch which was signed by President Truman in 1948.

Author Zane Grey loved the ranch, too, and would spend months on end in Room #1, writing such well-known novels as Light of the Western Stars which was later made into a movie that was filmed at Osa.

John Wayne spent so much time at Rancho de la Osa that the room where he always stayed still bears his name. He filmed several movies on the ranch including Hondo, and whenever he worked in Tucson, he would travel to Osa when he had a break in filming.

After breakfast, Miro and I spent the rest of the morning taking photos of the ranch, and, as we came upon one quaint scene after another, it occurred to me that I could paint a whole series entitled “The Quiet Places of Osa.” I longed to get back to easel to begin right away—the inspiration fresh.

The rest of the day was spent writing and napping and enjoying the peace and quiet. Miro went to the shooting range with Adam, a ranch hand who had done two tours of Afghanistan and knew his way around a gun.

At happy hour that evening, we met a jolly ‘ole Scotsman named Ralph who shared his bottle of Jim Beam Red Label with all the guests. It was the first bourbon I have ever liked! The staff made tasty appetizers and we were introduced to two guests from Germany who had just arrived.

At dinner that night, the 20’ dining room table made from one tree on Mt. Lemmon accommodated all the guests as well as Ross and his wife Lynne, the ranch manager. We were engrossed in stories about cowboy lore, life in Sasabe, and the mule-packing contest that Ross had won several years back. We had taken a step back in time and it felt magical.

After dinner, we headed back to the Cantina and danced and played the domino game Mexican Train until we dropped. The night felt short and the sun rose early as we headed out on the trail at 6:30 am to take photos of Ross and his mule Bobby Jo Gentry. While we were riding on the ridge the day before, I noticed that it would be a perfect spot to shoot photos for a painting. Ross was kind enough to take us on a private ride back to the ridge. We all dismounted and Miro and I took photos. We shot several hundred pictures of Ross and the mule, hoping to get that one perfect scene that would later become a painting.

Horse on ranch

Ross with Bobby Jo Gentry

On the leisurely ride back to the ranch for breakfast, Ross told us he was very sad we were leaving. We were the “fun guests,” he said. We were sad, too, and hoped that we’d return soon. We packed, Miro took another trip to the shooting range, and I wrote in my journal in the pink chair on the porch.

Adirondack chair

Adirondack chairs outside each room

As we were checking out, Lynne told us that on September 28th the ranch will be staging a steak fry and the P.D. Ronstadt band will perform. Guests can enjoy the festivities, and reserve a room for the night. This could be the makings of another fun adventure in the authentic west!

Some of the quiet places…

Prickly pear at the Ranch  

Side of the Main House

Southwest door at the Ranch  Rustic southwest window

Blue ranch door  Ranch in Arizona

Main house at the Ranch

Inside the main house

Diana Madaras and horse Sierra

Diana and Sierra