Cowgirl Camp

By Sheila Gaspers

Tuscon AZ - Dude Ranches became trendy with the 90's comedy hit, City Slickers, starring Billy Crystal. Now, nearly ten years later, another "Western Experience" has gained notoriety ---"Cowgirl Camp". When I signed up for the 4 day adventure camp in early March, I really didn't know what to expect.

My goals were humble. I did not hope to be the next Annie Oakley or even a trained rider. I just wanted to experience the great outdoors and stay on a horse long enough to pose for a photo.

A self-proclaimed city gal, my only western experiences were barely surviving a ride on a mechanical bull in a theme bar and fighting off savage women when Nordstrom's had boot-cut jeans on sale. If that didn't prepare me for "roughing it" then nothing would. I was excited but a little nervous too. Could this city girl really handle life on the open range? I was about to find out.

I got my first clue when Sharon, the head wrangler for the Lazy K Bar Ranch in Tucson, sent me a detailed itinerary and a list of cowgirl necessities I needed for my stay. As I read the daily scheduled activities…I could only laugh. Barrel Racing and Team Cattle penning were not possibilities for someone like me. This could not be real! I was still struggling to get my boots on.

Since my Jimmy Choo shoes would not do me much good at the ranch I turned to EBay to bid on a pair of authentic (o.k., gently- used) broken-in cowboy boots. I even found some very cool suede chaps - a "must have" to avoid pain of a full day of riding. I may not be the best rider…but I would be the best dressed! Unfortunately, I had no luck in finding an authentic cowgirl hat that fit my oversized 7 ¼ head, so I packed my straw beach hat instead. The rest I left to fate.

I arrived on a Friday late evening. A plane delay got me into Tucson later than expected -- so I missed the formal cowgirl and horse introductions, Mexican-theme dinner, and the much-anticipated Margarita party.

When the ranch van finally entered the gates, my blood pressure inched upwards. What was I doing? Who was I kidding? The sky was dark and I could barely make out the desert landscape. As we approached the main building, my nerves calmed. The front entrance was illuminated and inviting. I was quickly greeted by Evelyn, the front desk hostess, a retired schoolteacher and native of Michigan. She loved the ranch and it showed in her enthusiasm.

Within moments, I was escorted to the dining area for a hearty hot meal. A huge plate of burritos and beans suddenly appeared. "Cowgirls need to eat" Evelyn pronounced. Unfortunately, there was no margarita to help wash down the eats. My fellow cowgirls had already finished every last drop. They were, indeed, a wild bunch! I gladly accepted a cold, refreshing glass of homemade lemonade.

Relaxed and content, I only contemplated on what the morning would bring as I headed to my casita. A much-needed restful sleep eased me into the morning. "Rise and Shine"…beckoned the sweet melodic verses of the desert birds. The sun was just coming up over the distant Tucson Mountains. What an inspiring picture postcard! Large Saguaro Cacti, cholloa, prickly pear and barrel cacti covered the land as far as my eyes could see.

My morning schedule began early -7:30am- with a hearty breakfast of eggs, sausage, oatmeal…and the best homemade pancakes in the West! The dining area was bustling with activity. Big smiles and big hats! The cowgirls, some sleepy-eyed, were exchanging hellos and sipping fresh morning coffee. We were 18 women in all -professionals, moms, and even grandmothers from all over the US.

At 8am, the group headed to the barn…to brush and saddle up the horses. I instantly became a ranch hand, groomer, rider and guest all rolled into one!

There was the expected learning curve, fear and stumbling. But, with a little encouragement and team work, each gal managed to get on her horse and begin the cowgirl adventure. We headed to the riding arena for our first lesson on the day -"understanding your horse". This would be a lesson that would linger with us over the next few days -as we walked, trotted, "loped" and competed with our horses. In the evenings, we enjoyed open air cookouts, starlight hayrides, cowboy sing-a-longs and line-dancing.

Only on "graduation day" at the Awards Rodeo Ceremony did the dust finally settle and I begin to see my life differently. I no longer just looked the part; I was now a real "Cowgirl" with the sore muscles and unforgettable memories to prove it.

The camp experience left no one untouched. We were all enchanted by the beauty and passion of the western way of life. I was awe-inspired by the challenges I not only met but mastered. My heart and mind were now as wide open as the open range to new possibilities and all that life could hand me. Emotions were high and the tears flowing, as we said our goodbyes and made promises to return next year.

I tipped my hat in gratitude to the Lazy K Bar Ranch staff for a wonderful visit. I had changed. We had all changed. I didn't just pose on my horse for a traditional souvenir picture. I had grabbed the reigns and held on tight, embracing the hidden cowgirl inside me…setting her free. I had become a stronger, more confident woman in every way, Anne Oakley would be proud!


photo: Sheila Gaspers

If You Go:

Located just 30-45 minutes from downtown Tucson, the Lazy K Bar Ranch offers a unique and beautiful setting consisting over 160 acres bordering the Saguaro National Park. The ranch is home to cattle, riding bulls and 72 horses. But unlike some ranches, it also has resort frills like a full size outdoor pool and hot tub -- much needed amenities after a long day of riding.

"Cowgirl Camp" is offered 4x times per year. Other guest & family programs available.

For more information: phone: 1-800-321-7018 - or contact:

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