Raising Arizona; Roger Windsor Saddles Up in Tucson and Indulges Everyone's Cowboy Dreams
Byline: ROGER WINDSOR
Roy Rogers had no problem with Trigger, the Lone Ranger didn't need a leg-up from Tonto and John Wayne found it as easy as leading a bunch of marines into battle.
But when you haven't been on a horse for 50 years, climbing into the saddle can seem as daunting as scaling a mountain. Bobby, one of the cowboys at the Lazy K Bar Guest Ranch in Tucson, Arizona, was full of good advice. 'Just put your left foot in the stirrup, push up and swing your right leg over.' Easier said than done. I did manage to get into the saddle but it was more of an undignified scramble than an elegant manoeuvre.
Novice riders are nothing new to the cowboys - or wranglers to give them their official name - on the Lazy K. After quizzing you about your equine experience, they choose the horse that suits you best. This time they had a bunch of old-timers from Saga Holidays to cater for. Only one of our party had spent any time in the saddle, but they still managed to roundup just the right mount for every guest. My partner was Cinco, a docile creature who seemed to sense he had a nervous passenger. Perhaps it was the way I clung to the saddle horn that gave the game away.
Once mounted, I joined the other guests at this dude ranch at the foot of the Tucson Mountains as, Indian file, we made our way between the giant cactuses and up the rocky trails. The fact that one was called Suicide Pass didn't fill me with confidence, but Cinco seemed to know what he was doing and picked his way carefully between boulders and crumbling rock.
An hour later, we were back at the ranch and I felt a rare sense of achievement. For one moment, the possibility of a Frankie Dettori-style leap from my horse flashed through my mind, but reality kicked in when Bobby ordered: 'Put your arms round my neck', and then lifted me, rather humiliatingly, to the ground.
The ranch organises two rides a day and, for the really nervous - wasn't that me? - will lay on a gentle low-level trek. Life on the ranch centres around riding but, after 69 years in the business, they know their guests will demand a little more.
Skeet shooting (clay pigeons to us Brits) is popular and there are golf courses only a short ride away.
Evening entertainment is mostly do-it-yourself, but Saga guests know how to have fun and were soon joining in games of Trivial Pursuit and charades with the ranch's American visitors in the comfortable lounge after visits to the well-stocked bar. A bull-riding competition (not for the guests!), in which cowboys had to stay on the bucking bulls for eight seconds to collect the winners' purse, was a fun night. Nobody won the prize and no one was hurt, despite some close calls with the horns.
Another night, a hayride under the stars was accompanied by a guitar-playing Hank Williams lookalike, the guests joining in and coyotes baying in the background, and finally a cookout with roaring fires - the only time we had steaks and baked beans.
Only an hour or so away from the Lazy K, down Arizona's arrow-straight roads (watch out for traffic cops hiding, like Indians, in the bushes), is Tombstone, 'The Town Too Tough To Die' as it likes to bill itself, where real cowboys hung out in the late 1800s.
Tombstone did almost die in the 1920s when mining became too difficult and the population shrank to 150.
Now it's a thriving tourist centre, dominated by gift shops and eateries, but there is still enough of the old Wild West surviving to make it well worth a visit. Actors in period costume roam the dusty streets, and there is even a re-enactment of the shootout at the OK Corral.
In fact, the 22-second gunfight that shot Wyatt Earp to fame didn't take place in the corral but nearer to the adjoining Fly's Boarding House and Photo Shop, which doesn't have the same ring to it. …