Ridin' with Norm, Kay El Bar's Head Wrangler
November 2

Kay El Bar Head Wrangler Norm Lilley reports that the horses are ready to hit the trail with guests when it reopens for the winter season on November 11.

"We have horses for all riding levels and work with each guest to select the horse most suitable for them. Kay El Bar Guest Ranch has incredible trails and beautiful country to see.”

Norm, who was also head wrangler at Kay El Bar back in the 90s, said “The main job of the head wrangler is to ensure that guests have an enjoyable ranch experience."

Norm has worked the dude ranch circuit for 35 years, mainly alternating between Arizona and Wyoming.

Cowboy Poetry at Kay El Bar

In addition to his “horse-y” side, Norm has another passion that he shares with all Kay El Bar guest − cowboy poetry. He’s been learning cowboy poetry for years, and shares it with ranch guests at evening gatherings in the lodge and also along the trail.

RIDIN', by Charles Badger Clark, Jr. (1915)

There is some that like the city-
Grass that's curried smooth and green,
Theaytres and stranglin' collars,
Wagons run by gasoline-
But for me it's hawse and saddle
Every day without a change,
And a desert sun a-blazin'
On a hundred miles of range.

Just a-ridin', a-ridin'-
Desert ripplin' in the sun,
Mountains blue among the skyline-
I don't envy anyone
When I'm ridin'.

Birth of a dude ranch, the story of Kay El Bar
October 19

Romaine Lowdermilk, founder of Kay El Bar and Father of the Arizona Dude Ranch
Romaine Lowdermilk, founder of Kay El Bar
and Father of the Arizona Dude Ranch

“Go West, young man, and grow up with the country” was a phrase that captured the imagination of many young people in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Romaine Lowdermilk heard that call, and the opportunity to homestead. He moved from New Mexico, where he had been working on cattle ranches, and found choice acreage in what later became the state of Arizona.

The future Kay El Bar ranch had it all – water from the Hassayampa River, shady canyons, and the lush Sonoran Desert to feed the cattle.

$1.25 an acre

Romaine homesteaded the land until he was old enough to file, and in 1909, when he turned 18, he purchased his original 160 acres from the U.S. Land Office for $1.25 an acre. He registered the brand KL Bar in 1909.

The ranch expanded to 640 acres under the direction of Lowdermilk and his mother Katherine, and the present ranch includes that same land.

1918 – First paying guests

Kay El Bar started accepting paying guests in 1918, while it was still a working cattle ranch. Guests were few in number at that time, but visitors were eager to sample western ranch life. The experiment was a hit, and and in 1926, Kay El Bar converted to a full-time guest ranch.

Lowdermilk earned the title “Father of the Arizona dude ranch” for his role in introducing the great American west to generations of visitors.

100 years later

Fast forward to 2018 and the ranch is visited from people around the globe who want to unplug and visit the Wild West. The young cattle-rancher from New Mexico that started it all in 1909 would be proud.

Meet Walter, the Ranch Greeter
September 11

photo of walter, mini donkey resident of the dude ranch

Walter is our resident mini-donkey.  He thinks he is the official greeter over here at the Kay El Bar Guest Ranch. He is 5 or 6 years old and about the size of a large dog.  When folks are fixin’ to go for a ride here at the ranch, Walter meets them by the gate and tries to nudge his way into getting petted.

All Walter does is hang out and make people smile. Hey… maybe he’s onto something?

More Great Western Movies - Readers' Picks
September 11

Last month we shared a handful of our favorite Westerns. A bunch of you were kind enough to write back with some favorites of your own, which we thought we’d pass along.  The bold ones on the left were mentioned the most, so you might want to start with one of those if you plan on kickin’ back and watchin’ a movie sometime.

  • Tombstone
  • The Cowboys
  • Open Range
  • Shane
  • Dances with Wolves
  • High Plains Drifter
  • Once Upon a Time in the West
  • Silverado
  • The Outlaw Josie Wales
  • Tumbleweed
  • Hombre
  • The Outlaw
  • The Man from Laramie
  • 3:10 to Yuma
  • Ride Lonesome
  • Winchester 73
  • High Plains Drifter
  • Destry Rides Again
  • and Blazing Saddles!

Five Must-Watch Western Movies
August 3

There’s no better way to get in the mood for a Kay El Bar Guest Ranch vacation than by kickin’ off your boots and watching a western. There are countless great movies to choose from. Here are some of our favorites.

movie poster for John Wayne's The Searchers

#1 The Searchers

Greatest Western ever made

While “greatest” is a matter of opinion, The Searchers (1956) is Kay El Bar owner Joe Beattie’s top pick, and also scored the #1 spot for the American Film Institute list of Top 10 Western films. The Rotten Tomatoes Critics ranked The Searchers #4 of the 75 best western movies and wrote “If John Ford is the greatest Western director, The Searchers is arguable his greatest film. Shot in Arizona, The Searchers is an epic John Wayne Western that introduces dark ambivalence to the genre that remains fashionable today.”

movie poster for High Noon featuring Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly

#2 High Noon


You must have seen this classic with Gary Cooper in his Oscar-winning performance. Ranked #2 on both the American Film Institute Top Western list and the Rotten Tomatoes 75 Best Westerns, High Noon broke many of the traditions of prior westerns as a conflicted U.S. Marshal (Cooper) has one last showdown while his bride, played by Grace Kelly, gives him an ultimatum: She is leaving on the noon train, with or without him.

movie poster for True Grit featuring John Wayne

#3 True Grit

(Original in 1969 with John Wayne in an Oscar-winning performance as U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn. Remade in 2010 starring Jeff Bridges.)

“Feisty 14-year-old farm girl Mattie Ross hires Cogburn, a boozy, trigger-happy lawman after an outlaw murders her father. The bickering duo are accompanied on their quest by a Texas Ranger. As they embark on a dangerous adventure, each character has his or her grit tested in different ways.” (Wikipedia). Kay El Bar owner Joe Beattie prefers the original (of course) but some of us like the remake even better. Watch both and decide which version you prefer.

movie poster for The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

#4 The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly


Many consider this Clint Eastwood classic the greatest western ever made. Directed by spaghetti western maestro Sergio Leone, you’ll instantly recognize the memorable musical score.

poster for Lonesome Dove tv series

#5 – Lonesome Dove

(1989) 4-part television miniseries.

Ok, this is not a movie, but Lonesome Dove is a personal choice of Kay El Bar staff. At the time this series was filmed, the western genre was considered dead. However, by the show's end, it had a huge viewership and went on to earn many industry awards. If you haven’t seen it, you’re in for a treat. And for you readers, the 1985 book by Larry McMurtry on which the TV series was based won the 1986 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and is a terrific read.