The Farmers Almanac predicts this winter will be “especially harsh” in the Northern climes. That forecast, along with expectations of a continuing economic recovery make it advisable to firm up travel plans now. Reserve a spot to escape the coming freeze, somewhere perhaps like the sun drenched deserts of Arizona or the warm, enchanting lands of New Mexico.

The American Southwest is one of the sunniest spots in the country. It’s also the locale of numerous Western dude ranches, 12 of them proud members of The Dude Ranchers’ Association. The organization has kept the standards for the industry high since its inception in 1926. A reservation at a ”DRA” member ranch comes with the guarantee of an authentic, quality, experience. Keeping travelers’ budget, preferred activities, and desired level of service in mind, DRA staffers steer vacationers to ranches best suited for them.

Plenty of Southwest dude ranches offer the same resort-like amenities and services of other popular “snowbird” destinations. What guests won’t find are added charges or daily resort fees. Instead, dude Ranches operate on the American plan. Lodging, activities and delicious, hearty meals are included in one “no-hassle” rate, a guarantee touted by Arizona’s Grapevine Canyon Ranch for their 2010 rates. It’s an upfront, straightforward policy, packaging accommodations, riding, all meals, even taxes and gratuities in one rate. Rates vary by season, with some of the lowest rates in January and February. The no-hassle rate starts at just $178 per person per day. Once the land of Dragoons and Apaches, there are still remnants of primitive Indian villages on ranch property and wild grapevines still flourish in the canyon. Located between Tucson and Tombstone, the working ranch provides ultimate immersion into the Cowboy life of the Old West with the exception of lodging and meals. No bunkhouses and beans for “Grapevine guests. Instead, guests retreat to cool, private casitas and feast on homemade meals made from “scratch.

In Southwest New Mexico’s pristine Gila National Forest, guests of Geronimo Trail Guest Ranch escape the cold and the frantic pace of modern society. Eighty-five miles from the nearest stoplight, solitude is the ranch mantra. The ranch accommodates only 15 guests at a time. Riding the trails, visitors may glimpse elk, wild turkey, even a mountain lion but rarely other people. Not a resort type guest ranch, visitors may add a spa experience at the Sierra Grande Lodge and Spa in nearby Truth or Consequences. Here, ranch guests are offered a 10% discount off all services. And many do choose to soak for a day or two in the spa’s geothermal, natural springs.

Ranches more like resorts are found near Tucson. Both the White Stallion Ranch and Tanque Verde Ranch, come with luxurious pools, spas, and tennis courts. The White Stallion offers a full calendar of special events -horse and riding seminars, cowgirl camps, and packages co-sponsored by Elderhostel. At the Tanque Verde there are special pack trips through December and a mountain bike adventure for serious pedalers.

Can’t get much further south in Arizona than DRA dude ranch resort, The Circle Z Ranch, straddling the border, minutes from Mexico. The ranch is recognized worldwide as a prime destination for “birders.” In the nearby Patagonia-Sonoita Nature Reserve, riders often glimpse vermillion fly catchers and other rare birds. First class amenities include an all-weather tennis court and heated pool. Colorful adobe cottages and meals served on the lodge patio entertain guests with panoramic views of the mountains and desert.