Whether you live in metro Phoenix or are just visiting our beautiful state, everyone should enjoy a trail ride in the real ‘Wild West’ at least once. You don’t find country much more wild than the scenic desert location of Saguaro Lake Ranch Stable. Our close to Phoenix horseback riding trails are truly unique; from the comfort of your saddle you’ll see the magnificent Saguaro Lake, the striking Bulldog Cliffs, and more. Maybe you’ll even ford the beautiful Salt River on horseback.
Enjoy your trail ride even more by reading up on some of the highlights and attractions unique to our Phoenix trail riding location before you come out to Saguaro Lake Ranch Stable.
On the Skyline Trail, you’ll ride through multiple arroyos (one of which could be the fabled Horse Thief Wash described below) gaining elevation as you go. The ride will take you past much of the Sonoran Desert flora and fauna that makes the Phoenix area famous. You will see Saguaro cacti, ocotillo and creosote bushes.
You will also have a view of the entire area, including Saguaro Lake, the Salt River, the Bulldogs, and Stewart Mountain among others.
No one is quite sure of the exact story behind the name ‘Horse Thief’ Wash, but rumor has it that back in the early 1900s a group of outlaws from Old Scottsdale broke into the Stewart Ranch and rustled twenty head of horses out of the stables in the black of night. When the wranglers awoke the next day, they found tracks leading into Horse Thief Wash, but lost them soon afterward. That’s the story we tell to our horseback riding guests anyhow!
Horse Thief Wash is typical of many large, dry sandy washes in the Sonoran Desert. It only runs when it’s raining extremely hard; that can sometimes lead to a flash flood (don’t worry, we don’t ride in those conditions). However, during very rainy winters, the wash sometimes runs from water trickling from underwater springs.
On the trail ride, you will see Saguaro cacti on the ridge and Ironwood and Mesquite trees on the edges of the wash. There is also Desert Christmas Cactus – which is a low growing shrub like cactus that is green with many small, red fruit. Occasionally, if your eyes are sharp enough from high on your horse you might even spot coyote or javelina scat (or maybe even the animals themselves).
Riding further into Horse Thief, you’ll come upon the Kissing Cactuses, two barrel cacti that seem to be ‘kissing’ each other. Soon after this landmark, your horse will start to climb up exposed granite to exit the wash.
Saguaro Lake is the final lake in the Salt River system. It’s twelve miles long and has been a favorite daytrip for many people from Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tempe and Mesa for the 70 years.
On many of our trails, you’ll have awesome views of the lake and the surrounding canyons.
One of Arizona’s major rivers and one of two primary water sources for Phoenix, Mesa, Tempe and Scottsdale, the Salt River has been a lifeline for countless generations of Arizonans.
1000 years ago, when the Hohokam inhabited the area around the Ranch, the Salt River was the only consistent source of water within hundreds of miles. The Salt River, which interestingly enough, is not especially salty is also a rather tame river (in comparison to other rivers of the West) because of the four large dams that create Phoenix’s reservoir system.
The Salt River flows within yards of our stables and on many horseback rides, you will have to cross it. You don’t have to worry though, because you won’t get wet, and our horses are experts at navigating the river floor. Plus, the horses like to get a little wet in the cool water!
The mesa is an elevated section of land with a very flat top (mesa means table in Spanish, hence the name). While riding across the mesa, you will see the Saguaro Forest which has an amazingly dense collection of Saguaros.
You will also probably look down Devil’s Slide, which is how all the old time cowpokes used to get down from the mesa in a heap of dust. Lucky for you, we won’t be sliding our horses down that trail. Instead, you will have awesome views of Saguaro Lake.
The Bulldogs are almost always in view on all the horseback rides at Saguaro Lake Ranch Stable. They rise hundreds of feet in the air from their base at the river.
Many people ask how they got the name “Bulldogs”. Legend has it that when you look at the cliffs for a long, long time, you start to see faces of Bulldogs staring back at you from all the crags and cracks in the rock. Or maybe it’s just that anyone who spends one too many summers in the Arizona sun can see anything if they stare long enough!
While wildlife sightings can’t be guaranteed on our Phoenix area trail rides (our neighbors are ‘wild’ and keep to their own schedules!), you are likely to see at least some of the Sonoran Desert’s natural residents during your horseback ride. It depends on the time of day, time of year, and the temperature, but you may catch a glimpse of the famous Wild Horses that roam this area, as well as bighorn sheep, deer, javelina, coyotes, foxes, bob cats, raccoons, skunks, and other mammals. Also look out for river otters along the riverbank or swimming in the Salt River.
Sharp-eyed bird watchers should look out for bald eagles, ospreys, peregrine falcons, Harris’s hawks, herons, egrets, waterfowl, and other riparian and upland birds. Mistletoe clumps in our mesquite and cottonwood trees draw in a range of wintering birds that feed on berries; look out for phainopepla, northern mockingbirds, western bluebirds, american robins, and cedar waxwings. If you visit in the Spring you may also spot a variety of migratory songbirds that nest around here at that time of year.
Of course you are in the desert, so don’t be surprised to see lizards, snakes, and toads too! The gopher snake, coachwhip, western diamond-backed rattlesnake, desert spiny and zebra-tailed lizards, and Woodhouse’s toad are most common around here.