Rancho de la Osa: A Guest Ranch Extraordinaire!
About half way through 2018, I asked Ms. Karen what she wanted to do for her August birthday. She said she wanted to go to Rancho de la Osa, the “Ranch of the She-Bear”. She also suggested we invite Ms. Rosemary who is a horse woman and would enjoy the trail rides.
So in July I made reservations for the last week in August. La Osa is a couple of miles from the Mexican border at Sasabe. It is also bordered by the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge (BANWR) and the Tohono O’Odham Reservation. It is roughly an hour and a half drive from our Tucson home taking highway 286 south from Three-Points.
Along the way we had clear vistas of Baboquivari, the mountain peak sacred to the Tohono O’odham; and the telescopes atop Kitt Peak. It was monsoon season and this part of the desert had been blessed with an abundance of rain, so the grasslands were verdant. A beautiful drive.
Arriving before lunch, we decided to take in the town of Sasabe. There was a General Store with a gas pump, a few houses, a nice looking Post Office Building and the border crossing, which is open from 8am-6pm. Headed back into town from the border, Rosemary and Karen decided to go check out the Sasabe Store.
Here is what Ms. Karen said:
Of course Ms. Rosemary just had to go into the Sasabe Store. We had heard a lot about the store, being one of the only things left of the towns on this side of the Sasabe border. Inside we were immediately greeted by two women at the cash register. Rosemary, ever the itinerant shopper, quickly found a bandana with flamingos, and proceeded to start a conversation with who was clearly the proprietor. She introduced herself as Deborah. Turns out she is 4th generation to this town of Sasabe. Never wants to live anywhere else. Sounds like fodder for another adventure. There is sure to be plenty of stories there.
Deborah proceeded to tell us about Rancho de la Osa and what nice people had taken over the ranch last year. We should go there. We explained we were staying the night. Deborah invited us back for cocktails in the local bar which happened to be in the rear of the store.
After exploring Sasabe, we found 1 Rancho de la Osa Road and drove up to the hacienda to register. It is a large adobe building brightly colored in the quintessential pink and blue tones. The interior is heavily influenced by Mexican architecture and paintings. There we met Lynne (pronounced Lynny) who greeted us warmly and informed us that lunch would be served at 12:30pm, give or take a few. She would let us know. She then showed us to our rooms. Rosemary’s room was on one side of the compound in a group of buildings by the pool and ours at the other end in a group near the old front gate.
Our room was old, 100+ years, but comfortable with a soothing king size bed, one bathroom and a sitting room in which we had Internet access. The air conditioners were new.
Around 12:30 we heard a clanging sound, the bell signaling lunch was served. A crisp green salad and fish tacos. The table was huge. Some 30 feet long and made from the wood of a single pine tree from Mt. Lemmon. We, along with other guests, dined together.
An Adventure by Jeep
After lunch we were invited to take a jeep ride to Presumido, an abandoned town in the mountains. We gladly accepted. It was a rough ride up and down hills, but well worth it. The adobe ruins are all that is left of this once way station on the route from Yuma to Tucson.
A hundred yards of so beyond the ruins are some petroglyphs on a cliff that runs along a stream bed.
Back at the Ranch & the Sasabe Bar
A couple of hours later we were back at the Ranch to relax before dinner. There would be plenty of time tomorrow morning for horseback riding. We would have gone for a swim, but had forgotten our bathing suits.
Lynne suggested that the Sasabe Bar was open until 6 and we might like to go for a little local color. So we did.
The bar was busy. It was a smallish room at the back of the building and an outdoor patio on the grass for larger events.Interesting gadgets crowded the walls, along with the typical busty female poster and a larger one of a shirtless male above. It was evident that a woman owned this place. We had a drink, talked to Deborah, our bartender, and headed back for dinner.
Soon, the dinner bell rang announcing that supper was served. Again, a crisp green salad, plus barbequed beef ribs, mashed potatoes, and veggies … delicious. Karen couldn’t believe “she ate the whole thing”. After dinner, Ross, Lynne’s husband and co-host, offered to recite some cowboy poetry.
While Ms. Rosemary went for a full moon swim we accepted Ross’s gracious offer. This was particularly endearing as elaborate poetry tumbled from his mouth recalled from memory. I mention that Ross is a staple at many a Cowboy Poetry events, including the National Cowboy Gathering in Elko, Nevada. There is a smaller one in Sierra Vista each year that, I gather Ross has participated in from time to time.
After handshakes and hugs, it was off to bed. We made plans for horseback riding follow breakfast. The walk back to our room was memorable for the full moon that lit our way.
In the morning, Ms. Karen and I busied ourselves with checking our emails until the bell rang at 8:30 am. We and the other guests gathered at the big table for a buffet of biscuits and gravy, bacon, and omelets with orange juice.
Following breakfast it was time to ride. Ms. Rosemary and Ms. Karen saddled up. Ms. Karen writes about her riding experience.
Rosemary and I headed out to the corral as instructed after donning our attire. Ross, who was saddling up the horses, greeted us warmly. Ross, is a World Record holder for time spent as a Mule Packer. I dunno, 20 years or so. In Arizona, most notably, he has worked the Grand Canyon and Saguaro National Park East. Rancho de la Osa is his “Retirement” job.
I had explained to Lynne and Ross, that I although I had only been on a horse 4 or 5 times, I had only fallen off once. They agreed that they should give me their prized mule that they save for special guests. Lynne rode a new horse she was breaking in on the trails. Coming soon to the stables is a cross between a Quarter horse and a Percheron. Should be an interesting horse. Not that I know much about horses, I do know that the Percheron is a beautiful beast.
Our ride was uneventful, I didn’t fall off once, my mule being a surefooted beast to say the least. There was the ubiquitous helicopter in the area, a regretful fact of life these days on the border. Not at any moment did I not feel safe.
While Ms. Rosemary and Karen were gone, I took some photographs of the grounds.
Rancho de la Osa is imbued with history. Originally, the ranch headquarters were a Tohono O’odham village and potshards and metates continue to be found on the grounds.
The first building started as a mission outpost and way station established by Jesuit priests in the early 1700’s. That building is today used as a cantina for guest entertainment and is the oldest continuously used structure in Arizona.
In 1812, La Osa became part of the Mexican Ortiz Brothers’ land grant from the King of Spain which consisted of 1.5 million acres stretching from Altar Sonora to Florence Arizona. The Gadsden Purchase of 1854 settled the border dispute between Mexico and the U. S. and the Ranch became a part of the United States.
Around 1891, William Sturges of Chicago purchased about 200 acres and built the hacienda or main house. He lived on the ranch full time and married Spanish Dona Leonora who operated a trading post east of Baboquivari Mountains. Sturges, in 1894, sold the ranch to James Finley who increased the spread to 320 acres. After his death in 1899, the ranch was sold to Lyman Wakefield and Edward Vail who owned the huge Empire Ranch in Sonoita.
In 1916, Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa and his small army attempted to take La Osa. A cannonball from that attack was found embedded in an adobe wall of the Hacienda and is on display on a fireplace mantle today.
La Osa transitioned to a guest ranch in the early 1920’s under the ownership of Louisa and John Wetherill. The east and west wings were then built for guest lodging. In 1933, Richard Jenkins purchased La Osa and expanded its guest quarters by building the southwest guest cottage. This cottage was built for William Clayton, who in 1947 was Under-Secretary of State for Economic Affairs. It was here that he drafted the Marshall Plan for Secretary of State George Marshall and President Harry Truman. This cottage is now called the “Clayton House”.
Mr. Jenkins was big in Democratic politics and attracted party big wigs to La Osa, including President Lyndon Johnson and his wife Lady Bird, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, and Supreme Court Justice William Douglas. Two time presidential candidate and senator Adlai Stevenson had a home on the Ranch.
Hollywood was also attracted to the Ranch. Tom Mix was a regular guest. As were Caesar Romero, Joan Crawford, Margaret Mitchell and Zane Grey. John Wayne had a favorite room that is still in use today. Each room is named for an historic guest. We were in the Margaret Mitchell Room.
A small gated cemetery dating from the 1700’s can be reached by taking a short walk up a hill from the corral. It overlooks the ranch and its rolling countryside. Many former owners and folks who worked the ranch are laid to rest here. The cemetery’s unmarked graves are said to be victims of the 1918 Spanish influenza.
In short (or not), visitors to Rancho de la Osa are surrounded by history and enjoy the meticulously preserved buildings, the wide-open spaces, and endless sky. You won’t be disappointed.
Rancho de la Osa
1 La Osa Ranch Road
Sasabe, AZ 85633