Exploring new trails in other parts of the country or world introduces you to aspects of the place that you might not otherwise experience. When I traveled to Phoenix for a conference in February of 2016, I also stayed in Mesa at the Saguaro Lake Guest Ranch for a few days, just outside Phoenix.
The ranch sits at the crossroads of adventure, with Saguaro Lake and Tonto National Forest both bordering the property. What interested me the most was High Mountain Trail Rides, based out of the ranch.
Several different cabin options are available, depending on the size of your group. There is a large main lodge, with an oversized dining area, living room, den, and bar. Books lined the walls of the living room and den. There is no Wi-Fi or clocks in the cabins, making it easier to unplug and enjoy a real vacation. Family style breakfasts, with all of the options you can imagine, are part of the room rate. Outside, a pool and other recreational activities await guests. Water activities on the Salt River and Saguaro Lake are also options, but need to be booked in advance. Shopping and restaurants are also a short drive from the ranch.
We reserved our trail ride with High Mountain Trail Rides prior to our arrival. After breakfast, we headed down to the paddocks to meet our guides and horses. I compete in endurance and competitive trail on my Morgan horses, and knew the horses and trail wouldn’t be what I had at home, but appropriate for my non-equestrian companions. It also afforded me the opportunity to focus on the scenery, and enjoy the views.
Our guides carefully paired each person riding that day with one of the horses. They didn’t have riding helmets available, only bike helmets. Although I am accustomed to wearing a helmet, the prospect of falling off and hitting a cactus worried me more than hitting my head. Non-riders were placed near the guide, and the comfort and security of all riders was taken care of in our small group of seven riders.
We rode through the Salt River and up into Tonto National Forest. Although the water level in the river was low, it was still up to our horses’ knees. Being on an unfamiliar mount, I wondered if any of these horses enjoyed rolling in water, but our river crossing was uneventful.
Tonto National Forest is located in the Sonoran desert and Mogollon Rim. With the Salt and Verde rivers, and varying elevation, there is a unique diversity of forest communities and habitat for plants and animals.
The land was sparse, dotted with cacti, sage and rocks. Our guide explained some of the geology of the area. Along the single-track trail, I could easily have reached out and touched one of the towering Saguaro cacti at many instances. We rode past the dam used to create Saguaro Lake, and enjoyed a beautiful vista, with other tourists out enjoying a quiet paddle on the lake. The views stretched for miles, framed by mountains and clear blue skies.
Although our ride was brief, the time spent viewing life between the ears put me in an equestrian state of mind for my conference. The hospitality and comfort provided by Saguaro Lake Guest Ranch was second to none, and I’m eager for another opportunity to visit the ranch and explore the area.