We saw a remarkable amount of wildlife during our desert ride — everything from hawks

A ride on the wild side

We were just two minutes into our guided horseback ride when we spotted the first wild horse — a brown mare kicking up a cloud of dust as she ran across the parched Arizona desert.

We were just two minutes into our guided horseback ride when we spotted the first wild horse — a brown mare kicking up a cloud of dust as she ran across the parched Arizona desert.

Although there are some resorts whose name seems to have no bearing on what they have to offer, The Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort and Spa near Chandler is not one of them. There are more than 1,500 wild horses on the 372,000 acre resort, which is situated on land owned by the Gila River Indian Community.

The resort was built to reflect the history and culture of the Pima and Maricopa tribes that have survived and thrived in this area since 300 BC and a significant contingent of tribe members are employed at the resort, the golf course, the casino and the equestrian centre. We were fortunate to have Emmett Miguel, a 22-year-old Pima tribe member, as our guide during our afternoon horseback ride.

As we road our horses through the desert, he told us about the history of the people and the land and related some Pima legends about the wildlife. “If a roadrunner crosses your path, he’s giving you a message,” said Miguel. “You should turn your hat backwards if you want it to be a good message.”

We saw a remarkable amount of wildlife during our desert ride — everything from hawks, jack rabbits and coyotes to wild horses. And Miguel had a legend to go with every animal that crossed our path. He also identified some of the desert plants that his grandmother used to treat various ailments or to cook and preserve for food.

We rode past a hill that seemed to stand on its own and Miguel explained that the hill, known as Lone Butte, is a sacred place his people still use when performing rites of passage for young men and women. “Lone Butte” is also the name of one of the onsite casinos.

“These days it’s getting difficult to perform rites of passage,” he lamented. “A lot of the young people don’t connect with their past and aren’t sure who they really are. Having a vision of your life is part of the ritual of the rite of passage.”

Towards the end of the ride, something small and incredibly fast raced in front of our horses kicking up dust in its path. I quickly turned my hat around in the hope that the creature was a roadrunner delivering a message. Unfortunately, the roadrunner turned out to be a jack rabbit.

Perhaps he was delivering a message too, but I never quite got it.

If you go:

• The Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort and Spa was designed to celebrate the Gila River Indian Community’s heritage and culture and every detail of the resort reflects this theme. There is a 17,500 square foot spa with 17 treatment rooms, two 18-hole Troon-managed golf courses, an equestrian centre, tennis courts, and four pools with cascading waterfalls and one pool with a 34-metre waterslide. There are also some excellent restaurants including Kia, the only five-star Forbes rates restaurant in the state of Arizona. There is also a casino at the sister property, which is also owned by the Gila River Indian Community and is connected with a free shuttle.

• The Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort and Spa has a number of special package offers that will save you money on a visit. From now until April 2, they are offering a Spring Training special of $169 per night. For more information, visit wildhorsepass.com or call 866-716-8134 and ask for rate plan CACTUS12.

• You don’t have to stay at the resort to enjoy a ride at the Koli Equestrian Center. Riders are not expected to ride tail to nose in a single line, so it makes it easier for everyone to hear the guide as he describes the wildlife and relates Indian legends. Rates start at $65 for a 90-minute group ride. For reservations or information, visit: www.koliequestrian.com or call 602-796-3495.

Family fun in Sunny Arizona

Arizona has been a popular retirement spot for Canadians for many years, but did you know that the state is also an attractive vacation destination for families?

Just outside the state capital of Phoenix, the communities of Chandler, Mesa, Tempe and Apache Junction are together referred to as “Sunny Arizona,” an area that is marketed to travellers as one of the most family-friendly regions of the Grand Canyon State. Below are some top spots for families to explore in this area.

• What to see: Goldfield Ghost Town (goldfieldghosttown.com), Arizona Museum of Youth (arizonamuseumofyouth.com), Arizona Museum of Natural History (mesasouthwestmuseum.com), Phoenix Zoo (phoenixzoo.org), Sealife Arizona (sealifeus.com), Superstition Farms (superstitionfarmtours.com).

• What to do: Baseball spring training — in March (cactusleague.com), JumpStreet (gotjump.com), Tempe Town Lake boat rentals (tempe.gov/lake/), Salt River Tubing (saltrivertubing.com)

• Where to shop: Chandler Fashion Center (shopchandlerfashioncenter.com), Arizona Mills (arizonamills.com)

• Where to eat: GameWorks (gameworks.com), Monti’s La Casa Vieja (montis.com), Mining Camp Restaurant (miningcamprestaurant.com), Paletas Betty (paletasbetty.com), Old Spaghetti Factory (www.osf.com), Serrano’s Mexican Food (serranosaz.com)

• Where to stay: Hampton Inn and Suites Phoenix Chandler Fashion Center — free breakfast, free afternoon snack (cookies, popcorn etc), free shuttle (any destination in a five-mile radius), pool, fitness centre, fridge, microwave, laundry facilities. (hamptoninn.com)

Debbie Olsen is a Lacombe-based freelance writer. If you have a travel story you would like to share or know someone with an interesting travel story that we might interview, please email: DOGO@telusplanet.net or write to: Debbie Olsen, c/o Red Deer Advocate, 2950 Bremner Ave., Red Deer, Alta., T4R 1M9.

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