DESERT STORM; Searing Heat, Sheeting Rain, Heaving Cattle Ranches. JOHN KAMPFNER Saddles Up for the Ride of His Life in Wild Arizona
Byline: JOHN KAMPFNER
THINK Arizona and you will surely think of the Grand Canyon, undoubtedly one of the greatest natural wonders of the world.
We were visiting a different part of the state, but were still mesmerised by what we found.
Tucson feels like a frontier town -- hardly surprising, as it's just an hour from Mexico -- and as Arizona was incorporated into the U.S. only in the mid-19th century, it still retains a Spanish vibe.
To the north are the imposing Santa Catalina mountains, the foothills of which form the start of a scenic drive to the top of Mount Lemmon. This has its own microclimate, and in the winter it's a ski resort -- hard for us to imagine in the searing heat of summer.
That heat produces storms, and as we flew in, we could see lightning below us. By the time we landed, the town was in the midst of a monsoon-like downpour.
By morning, the storm had subsided and we found ourselves in a natural oasis. Set in 14 acres of gardens, the Arizona Inn was demure and quiet, despite being in the middle of the city.
Our family suite was a stone's throw from the charming swimming pool, which became our base. We had enormous breakfasts on the terrace, preferring it to the formal hotel restaurant.
We were in Tucson because my nephew was marrying a local girl, so there were dinners to host, bridesmaid dresses to fit and the church ceremony.
And what a church it was.
Behind the altar of St Philip's In The Hills was a clear glass window, through which you could see the cacti, desert and the mountains.
Once the newly-weds had departed on honeymoon, we drove into the desert.
Tanque Verde is what they call a working dude ranch, and though the rooms look out on to the mountains, it's not a place to get away from it all.
Despite the heat, we did have to get active and found that knowing how to ride a horse English-style was useless. We had to re-learn riding with one hand -- the other free to use a lasso -- leaning back and shouting: 'Yee-haa!' We were divided into groups (shades of the gameshow Jeux Sans Frontiers) and, on horseback, had to steer a motley herd of cattle up tracks, round hoops and into pens. …