Those eager to escape this winter’s especially icy grip, head for the deserts of the Southwest, where several fine dude ranches provide just the antidote for the wintertime blues. Not only do many ranches offer the same amenities and services found at typical “snowbird” destinations, a ranch getaway is generally more affordable than a resort stay as ranches operate on the American plan, with several offering special winter deals and programming as well.
While there are several ranches to choose from, be sure to select a member of The Dude Ranchers' Association. Since 1926 the DRA has steered folks to quality ranch vacations by establishing and enforcing high standards for its members.

DRA member ranch, The Circle Z Ranch straddles the Southern Arizona border, just minutes from Mexico. The ranch is surrounded by the rugged Santa Rita Mountains and shaded by grand cottonwood and sycamore trees. There are plenty of riding trails on 6,500 surrounding acres, including the old “saloon ride” leading to the town of Patagonia, so guests can get a slice of the real old West. (Close to the Patagonia-Sonoita Nature Reserve, it’s likely for riders to encounter uncommon bird species like the vermillion fly catcher or rare varieties of hummingbirds.) Resort like amenities includes an all-weather tennis court and heated pool. Cool and colorful adobe cottages substitute for cookie-cutter hotel rooms, and excellent food served on the patio of the main lodge treat diners to a panoramic view of the mountains and desert.

Located 65 miles Southwest of Tucson surrounded by the sacred Baboquivari mountain range is The Rancho De La Osa Guest Ranch. One of the last true haciendas in America, here guests develop an appreciation for Spanish culture and the seventeenth century missions found across the American Southwest. Each building of the Spanish-style estate has a rich history, lovingly restored for the utmost comfort and furnished with fine antiques and international art. The exquisite surroundings are an ideal setting for gourmet dining and fine wine and tequila tastings throughout the season. The natural beauty of the mountains invites exploration via hiking, mountain biking, birding, and riding. Many guests end the day with a dip in the pool, soak in the hot tub, or with a relaxing massage. The Rancho de la Osa is a very romantic ranch, and offers an internet special through February 15 with reduced rates as well as a very special Valentines Day package.

The White Stallion Ranch in Tucson has all the services and amenities of a fine resort. At the foot of the saguaro studded Tucson Mountains, one can’t imagine a more scenic, sun-splashed locale. With 3,000 wild acres adjacent to Saguaro National park, the riding selections are endless. It may even be difficult to fit every activity offered here during one stay. Guests spend time on the trails as well on the tennis courts, in the pool and working out in the fitness center. There’s a basketball and volleyball court and lots of evening entertainment too. The White Stallion offers special weeks and programming throughout the year with the exception of July and most of August when the ranch is closed. Coming up at the end of February is their popular Cactus Cowgirls-a five day holiday designed for girls who just want to have fun. Started in 1926, the DRA now boasts over 100-plus member ranches in 12 western states and two Canadian provinces. The association remains dedicated to preserving the beauty, natural resources, and authentic western ranch experience that first attracted visitors during every season of the year.

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