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“Unplugged Vacations” are Trending, But That’s How Our Guests Have Always Relaxed
January 18, 2019

“There’s a new yearning for disconnecting, including a desire for trips that offer a real connection to the land.” - Forbes

A December 2018 article in the blog Trips to Discover lists “Top 16 Off-the-Grid Destinations to Unplug and Disconnect”. The author states “Those places are few and far between, but by doing a little searching they can still be found”. She then lists remote vacation spots in Tanzania, Bhutan, Mongolia, and Costa Rica where you can disconnect and recharge.

If you'd prefer to go somewhere closer to home, come unwind with us at Kay El Bar Guest Ranch. We've been unplugged for 101 years!

Things haven’t changed much since we opened our doors to guests in 1918.When you stay at Kay El Bar, you step into a time gone by.

9 Ways to Have Fun at Kay El Bar Guest Ranch

What we don’t offer are spa treatments, golf, tennis, TV, and movies.

Here are some things we do offer at Kay El Bar:

1. Horseback riding. Of course, we are a dude ranch. We welcome riders of all levels, from first-timers to advanced. But there’s a lot more to do here, even if you never get on a horse.

2. Dining. The home-cooked food is great, and the company is even better. Communal dining is a cowboy tradition, and a lot of memories are made as we share stories while dining family style.


3. Cowboy poetry. Head wrangler Norm loves to share cowboy poetry on the trail and in the evening as guests gather in the lodge. Never heard any cowboy poetry? You will at Kay El Bar.


4. Hiking. Explore the gorgeous Sonoran Desert. Nothing quite soothes the soul like a peaceful walk among the Saguaro cactus and seeing the occasional rabbit hopping toward the sunset.


5. Bird Watching. The desert is alive, if you look close enough. Cactus wren and roadrunners are just a few of the birds you will see. Head cook and avian enthusiast Keith will point out the rest.


6. Evenings in the lodge. Rediscover the pleasures of board games, puzzles, reading, music and just shootin' the breeze. The timbers and décor are original, so it’s easy to get in a down-home Western mood. Cowboys enjoyed a drink from time to time, and so can our guests.


7. Outdoor activities. There are lots of ways to just hang out, including group games, horseshoes, lounge chairs on the lawn, and a pool and whirlpool spa.


8. Town of Wickenburg. This historic town makes a great day trip, with a museum full of western artifacts, ice cream parlor, western attire shops.


9. Doing nothing

illustrated graphic of cowboy boots with cowboy hat perched on top

Food on the ranch is not what you'd expect
December 7, 2018

Guests come to a dude ranch to enjoy a Western vacation, but let's face it, authentic cowboy food probably wasn't all that great. (“Beans and salt pork again?!?”)

While we try to make the Kay El Bar Guest Ranch experience as authentic as possible, food is where we draw the line. And according to our online reviews, our guests sure don’t mind. Who wouldn’t love to sit down to some delicious food like homemade bread with jam and smoked tri tip with all the fixin’s after a ride on the trail?

Kay El Bar head cook Keith Larson, who has fed guests at national parks, ski resorts, and fishing lodges, says his goal is to provide the best in home cooking but with a wow factor added.

photo of Keith Larson and a brown and white horse

Keith, originally from Oshkosh, Wisconsin, thinks he was born to be a cook. He said as an infant his parents would soothe him by putting him next to a stove. His favorite thing is baking, and at the ranch he cooks fresh breads and cookies every day for the guests. He also loves making desserts, especially his signature Frangelico chocolate mousse. Yeehaw!

And for good measure, Keith is also a certified Master BBQ Chef. No overcooked meat at this ranch.

Typical breakfast at the ranch is family-style with eggs, bacon, sausage, and potato along with pancakes, French toast or quiche. And of course toast with homemade bread and jams, fruit, oatmeal, and a homemade pastry.

Lunches include a variety of tasty entrees, Reuben sandwiches, or tacos. Tasty lunches are also offered out on the trail for you cowboys and cowgirls who like to ride all day.

At dinner, Keith ramps it up a notch with fresh seafood, beef tenderloin, prime rib, tri-tip, or whatever else he thinks you’ll love. All that followed by some scrumptious dessert.

Keith's Frangelico chocolate mousse is a recipe that he created himself, which many guests say is superior to the chocolate mousse served at the most elegant restaurants. He's happy to share his recipe, or better yet, reserve a stay at the ranch and he’ll make it for you!

illustrated graphic of cowboy boots with cowboy hat perched on top
photo of frangelico dessert

Frangelico Chocolate Mousse

  • 6 ounces semisweet chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 2 ounces milk chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 2/3 cup white chocolate chips
  • 4 Tablespoons Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons Frangelico
  • 1cup sugar
  • 6 large egg whites
  • ½ teaspoon cream of tartar

1. Melt semisweet chocolate, white chocolate, cocoa powder, 3/4 cup water, and Frangelico in medium bowl set over pot of barely simmering water until smooth. Set aside to cool slightly.

2. With electric mixer on medium-low speed, beat egg whites in large bowl until frothy, about 1 minute. Add cream of tartar and beat, gradually increasing speed to medium-high, until whites hold soft peaks, about 2 minutes. With mixer running, slowly pour in sugar. Increase speed to high and beat until meringue becomes very thick and shiny, 2 to 3 minutes.

3. Whisk 1/3 meringue into chocolate mixture until combined, then whisk in remaining meringue. Spoon mousse into six 6-ounce ramekins or pudding cups, or large serving bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap. Chill overnight. (Mousse can be refrigerated for up to 4 days.)

Makes about 8 servings.

More information about our home-made cooking.

cowboy boots and hat illustration

Ridin' with Norm, Kay El Bar's Head Wrangler
November 2, 2018

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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'.

button to click for more cowboy poetry

illustration of cowboy boots with cowboy hat on top

Birth of a dude ranch, the story of Kay El Bar
October 19, 2018

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.

button to click to read more kay el bar historyclick to see more historic kay el bar photos

Meet Walter, the Ranch Greeter
September 11, 2018

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?

graphic illustration of cowboy boots and hat

More Great Western Movies - Readers' Picks
September 11, 2018

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!
graphic of cowboy hat and boots

Five Must-Watch Western Movies
August 3, 2018

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

(1952)

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

(1966)

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.