Betty and Rusty’s Cowboy Camp

Our next adventure was horse riding in the middle of the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. The searing 106-degree heat ensured that I had plastered my face with sun cream. I dressed in a check shirt and a cowboy hat, so I really did think I looked like a cowboy and I was ready for the horse riding! The ranch was set in the middle of nowhere with a handful of shacks, caravans and a few dogs and horses so it really did look like a cowboy camp!  We were introduced to Betty and Rusty who were in their seventies and had to be the coolest people in existence. Rusty had millions of tales of his time living life as a cowboy in rural Arizona.

Before our horse-riding session, we had a brief safety talk and listened to some important information on how to ride the horse. We were helped on to our horses and I knew early on that my horse had a rebellious nature and wasn’t necessarily going to listen to or obey my commands – no matter how hard I pulled on the reins! My horse was called Romy and she was a great little horse, but she lived up to her name and was determined to roam in a different direction to everyone else.

Romy my cactus-loving horse

Out in the Sonoran Desert we were soon surrounded by some magnificent towering cacti. The saguaro cactus is one of the most notorious plants of the Sonoran Desert and define the desert landscape. They have a large tree-like structure and develop their branches as they age, and they must be old to have these branches. Saguaros are covered with protective spines and they bloom with white flowers in the late spring and produce red fruit in the summer. Saguaros are found exclusively in the Sonoran Desert and so I was privileged to see their towering beauty. In the right conditions the Saguaros can live as long as 200 years and it is the largest cactus in the United States.

Romy the horse seemed to really appreciate the beauty of these cacti. On more than one occasion she decided to trot towards them. She also decided it would be a good idea to squeeze between two saguaro cacti which resulted in some of those protective spines becoming wedged in my arm! Ouch! During our water break, our guide was able to take a photo of me waving my cowboy hat in the air yelling out a ‘Yeeha!’ Just like a proper cowboy of course! It is obvious from the photograph I am absolutely boiling hot! However, the view of the mighty saguaro cacti and the lake in the background were pretty stunning and were worth wilting in the 106-degree heat of the desert. Despite being a little wild and rebellious at first Romy had settled down so it really was a pleasure to ride this beautiful little horse.

Horse riding in the heat of the Sonoran Desert

After the horse riding in the desert heat everyone leapt at the chance to chill by Lake Pleasant which lives up to its name as an oasis in the desert setting. Lake Pleasant is only 20 miles away from Phoenix, Arizona and has an aura of remoteness with the majestic saguaro cacti very much in evidence. The lake was created after the Waddell dam was built in the mid 1920’s creating the upper portion of Lake Pleasant. Although there were several activities available to participate in on the lake including fishing and hiking, we just chilled by the lake and enjoyed an afternoon swim. The water was fantastic after cooking in the desert heat. I had to retreat to the shade of the trek van on a few occasions as it was so hot, but I enjoyed the views of the lake whilst listening to music.

View of Lake Pleasant

After an afternoon chilling by Lake Pleasant we headed back to Betty and Rusty’s Cowboy camp for some evening entertainment. First of all, they did not disappoint with the food. I had a huge steak which was absolutely delicious and yet another good meal during my trek tour of the American West. We all drank a toast to Betty and Rusty. Betty told us the tale of how she met Rusty and then Betty sang a few cowboy songs – it was the only time we literally sang around the campfire! It was a fantastic, chilled out evening. We also saw another amazing feat of nature – a tarantula. Although a few people made a fuss at first, when they calmed down, they could appreciate its amazing natural beauty.

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