The Tale of an Unlikely Cowboy

“How do I manage to get myself into these predicaments?”

TheDuaneWells.com-Duane on Horseback at Tanque Verde Ranch

On horseback at Tanque Verde Ranch

That was pretty much the totality of my thoughts for at least five full minutes on the afternoon I arrived at the Tanque Verde Ranch in Tucson, Arizona. I mean, I’m as up for an adventure as the next person—well, maybe not quite as much as the next person, but I am certainly not averse to adventure. But a dude ranch? For three days? Me? Seriously?

Let’s just say that as I waited to check in, I stood staring out the window of the Southwestern-themed lobby of the ranch in a state of something just short of panic. Surrounded by real cowboys in spurs and chaps—and dressed, as I was, in jeans, a turtleneck, down jacket and a pair of certified, city-fied lace-up JUMP boots—I began to seriously question the wisdom of my choices. Just a few hours later, when I turned up to saddle up for an early evening sunset trail ride, I was sincerely convinced that I had most assuredly lost the plot completely.

Not only had I not been on a horse in any setting for at least seven years, it is no secret that I am probably about as well-suited to the life of an authentic cowboy as Downton Abbey‘s fictional Dowager Countess of Grantham might be to planning the perfect birthday party for Flo Rida. And yet, after I mounted my horse (with relative ease I might add) and we set off on our evening ride in the shadows of the majestic mountains surrounding Tucson, my anxiety quickly began to dissipate with each rhythmic stride of my horse. The proverbial light bulb went off, and I came to understand that this feeling of social dissonance is part of what places like Tanque Verde are meant to do—which is to jar us out of the realities we know so well and transport us to simpler ones.

TheDuaneWells.com-Tanque Verde Ranch

Tanque Verde Ranch

At Tanque Verde, there are few distractions other than nature and her pleasures. Rooms are spacious, and some even have amenities like Jacuzzi tubs (which come in handy after an afternoon of riding, trust me), but there are no televisions in the rooms. Satellite radio will have to suffice. And that is just as it should be.

Tanque Verde is a respite from modern life, not an extension of it. Which is not to say that the property does not offer its fair share of mod cons. Unlike many dude ranches, Tanque Verde is also a real resort. There is a proper spa, tennis court and a pool on the property, and the main restaurant employs a stellar chef who turns out plate after plate of modern Southwestern cuisine that is anything but cowboy gruel.

There are also weekly special events, like the early morning Old Homestead Breakfast Ride, complete with made-to-order blueberry pancakes, Mexican Fiesta Night and the downhome-y Cottonwood Grove Ranch Barbeque, where furry little javelinas often drop in to add a little spice to the live entertainment. There is also fishing, hiking and mountain biking all on-site (and thankfully, at the end of the day there is WiFi, which made it possible for me to catch up on episodes of Revenge on one particularly early evening).

TheDuaneWells.com-A Horse at Tanque Verde Ranch

One of the horses at Tanque Verde

As unexpected as it seems, in less than 24 hours I had pretty much acclimated—or perhaps I should say ‘acquiesced’—to my new environment. I took to a team cow-penning competition with a level of commitment and focus that is generally reserved for marathons of my favorite BBC series. And when it came time to get in “Harmony with the Horses,” an exercise unique to Tanque Verde where guests learn to groom a horse before a ride, I was all in.

Pre- and post-dinner, I took to Tanque Verde’s Dog House Saloon for a copious number of margaritas (some with Prickly Pear and some without), a game or two of pool and occasionally a sing-along to a big country anthem. Oh yes, I did belt LeAnn Rimes’ “How Do I Live” with gospel fervor in public! And I loved it, which speaks to the overall vibe of Tanque Verde.

TheDuaneWells.com-Duane Riding off into the sunset

Literally riding off into the sunset

One of my friends suggested that my trip sounded like hell based upon my various social media references throughout the trip, but in truth the experience was exactly the opposite, a lot of which had to do with the folks behind the scenes at the ranch. “Friendly” is too simple a word to describe them. Every staff member I encountered during my stay at Tanque Verde greeted me with a big smile and a ‘hello.’ And not only that, they often asked if I needed anything or if I was enjoying myself. Better yet, they seemed to actually care that my answer was positive. Shocking! They encouraged me when I felt challenged, which is probably why I found that what could have been a daunting experience was actually a pleasurable one.

Most importantly, Tanque Verde is a welcoming place where people from all over the world descend upon the sprawl of the ranch for a taste of the best parts of what life was like in the West at the turn of the century. Listen, there probably has not been a cowboy as gay as me since Zorro: The Gay Blade, and I couldn’t have felt more at home on the ranch. Enough said.

Sometimes you have to shake things up and step outside of your comfort zone. Sure, it’s uncomfortable at first, but aren’t so many of the best things in life? Why not write a new chapter in the diary of your life with something unexpected—like a visit to a dude ranch, Tanque Verde in particular? If you’re anything like me, you’ll walk away with memories that are more fond and vivid than any you’ve made in a long time. Happy trails to you!

Until next time…be well…live Wells!