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Taking the Kids: Calling all cowboys and cowgirls

Eileen Ogintz, Tribune Content Agency on

The Mattsons were supposed to be in Alaska. Instead, the Kansas family were exploring the Southwest for the first time, riding horses, rock climbing and, honing their archery skills at White Stallion Ranch outside Tucson, and despite temperatures in the 90s, they couldn’t be happier.

“We love horses,” explained Arabella Mattson, 10. Both she and her younger sister, Becca, 8, were sporting T-shirts with sparkly horses, cowboy hats and boots.

Their parents, Richelle and Aaron Mattson, both Wichita, Kansas, first-responders, were just glad for the respite after a year that had them juggling constantly changing schedules and home-schooling. “There were weeks we didn’t see each other,” said Aaron Mattson.

As soon as they got a full refund for their canceled Alaska cruise and saw the pictures their travel agent had posted of the fun she was having with her granddaughter at the ranch, Richelle Mattson told her, “Get us there!”

Russell True, who runs the ranch and two others with his wife Laura, brother Steven and his wife Alice, and his son Michael and his wife Kristin, jokes that his mom Cynthia thought her husband was crazy when he announced in 1965 that he was done with his job and Denver and wanted to buy a ranch in Arizona, moving his wife, 5-year-old Russell and soon-to-arrive baby to a place where they knew no one. The saving grace: The surrounding views of the Sonoran Desert and the mountains.

So, he built a house with huge windows,True said—the house where he now lives with his wife Laura and three-year-old daughter. Over the years, the historic ranch — the first building was built in the early years of the 20th century – has expanded to 43 casitas (a maximum of 120 guests) and one five-bedroom house on 3,000 acres adjoining Saguaro National Park where guests can ride. There are so many kinds of beautifully landscaped cactus right around the main lodge that one day, we were treated to an Edible Desert Tour by Diego Dunn whose company makes products like prickly pear cactus syrup, great in margaritas and lemonade, he tells us. “As long as you know it is cactus, you can eat the flowers, fruits and seeds,” he said.


True is relieved that though White Stallion was “hit hard,” like all travel businesses this past year, the ranch never closed. “The drive market was all we had,” he said, adding international guests have yet to return. “The American flag is lonely,” he said at the weekly rodeo.

The good news: Families like the Mattsons who might never have come discovering dude ranching.

The Wu family, who live in Tucson, found White Stallion while searching for outdoor-oriented getaways this past year and have been back a half-dozen times with their two boys, who are seven and nine, and make sure to give new, young, and older arrivals the lay of the land. “The food is the best at the breakfast ride,” said Jonathan Wu, 6.

“My kids come alive here,” said Essie Knight. Besides all the outdoor fun, she added, is the chance for her boys to make friends with other kids from around the country. There were families from North Carolina, Montana, Pennsylvania and Ohio the week we visited.


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