Cattle Ranch in Pleasant Valley, Arizona
Story by Robert Stieve
Luxury accommodations, gourmet food, spectacular scenery, a stable full of horses … that’s just the beginning. The lodge also offers a unique dose of history – one that’s riddled with gunfights, lynchings and cattle rustling.
Waylon Jennings never sang about the Grahams and the Tewksburys. When it comes to feuding families in this country, the Hatfields and the McCoys get most of the attention, as they did in Luckenbach, Texas, Waylon’s hit from 1977. Here in Arizona, however, bragging rights – if there is such a thing – got to the Grahams and the Tewksburys. No one knows for sure what started what is now known as the Pleasant Valley War, but accusations of rustling, bloody gunfights, lynchings and multiple courtroom dramas were certainly part of the equation, and in the end, anywhere from 17 to 28 people were killed, depending on which account you read.
Today the war is over and the Tewksbury land is part of the Tilting Ranch, which is home to a beautiful guest lodge. Not only can you visit the property without fear of being lynched, you’ll drive away with a good understanding of why somebody might risk his or her life for this piece of land. The setting is spectacular, and the accommodations at the lodge are equally impressive. In fact, whatever preconceived notions you might have about the word “lodge” should be left in Phoenix, Las Vegas, Los Angeles or wherever else you might be coming from.
Owners Sharon and Michael Lechter operate the lodge more like a B&B, which means some meals – the most delicious food you’ll ever eat – are included and guests are invited to make themselves at home. Come to think of it, you should probably set aside your thoughts about B&B’s, too. This place is unlike any bed and breakfast you’ve ever experienced. As you’ll see, this B&B/lodge/ranch/historical site will forever change your impression of “roughing it.” And it all begins in the main lodge, known as “the commons.”
Inside there are five rooms that sleep up to 16 people – the adjacent bunkhouse can accommodate even more. The Owner’s Hideaway is the most spacious room in the big house, and you’ll want to reserve it if you can. It features a king-size bed, French double doors that lead to a private redwood deck, a stone fireplace, a plasma-screen TV and free Wi-Fi. Not that you’re going to feel like surfing the Net or watching television while you’re on the ranch. There’s too much to see and do.
Although the Grahams and the Tewksburys were likely fighting over cattle or sheep or maybe even a woman, they could have easily been clashing over the landscape. The area is one of the most beautiful and least-visited places in Arizona. The closest town is Young, and that’s barely a town – certainly nothing that’ll ruin the effect of getting away. The ranch is a few miles down the road, and it’s surrounded by rolling grasslands, ponderosa pines, rocky valleys and endless open sky. There’s a gorgeous creek, too. Naturally, this kind of environment attracts a wide variety of wildlife: elk, mule deer, mountain lions, black bears, turkeys and javelinas. There are a couple ways to experience the Mother Nature, including hiking and horseback riding.
Hitting the trail with your own two feet is always a good option in Arizona, but in this neck of the woods, considering the history of the ranch and the open sky, you really should saddle up. The ranch is home to several horses, including a few suited to beginners, a few more for intermediate riders and a couple of feisty horses for experts. Whichever group you’re in, the ranch hands will make sure you’re on the right horse. These folks have been around horses all their lives, and they know what they’re doing. Rest assured, you’ll be in good hands. Or, if you have your own horse, take it along: there’s plenty of room inside the stable.
Either way, you’ll want to pack some warm clothes. This time of year, the daytime highs barely hit the mid-60s, and nighttime temperatures can dip below freezing. Not only that, it’s not unusual to get a dusting of snow in January and February. If it happens, consider yourself lucky. The snow only makes an already gorgeous landscape that much more impressive. It won’t be as blustery as a scene from Currier & Ives, but it will make you appreciate the warmth of the fire in the great room of the main lodge.
It’s hard to adequately describe the cozy grandeur of the great room, but imagine Ralph Lauren meets Ben Cartwright with Julia Child whipping something up in the background. The lure of Mother Nature and the luxurious guestrooms will be strong, but the great room, with its plush leather furniture and knotty-pine décor, will put up a pretty good fight of its won. Once you’re settled in with a good book or a good conversation, it’s hard to leave, which is exactly what the Lechters are striving for. The minute you walk in the door, their home becomes your home. It’s a neighborly approach that hasn’t always existed in these parts.
Details on horseback riding vacations at this ranch -- inclusive accommodations, all meals and daily riding -- can be found on the Hidden Trails website at: