By Rosemary Prawdzik
If you ever feel like work is closing in and life is becoming too frantic, you might find yourself wanting to unplug and re-energize in natural surroundings.
In dreaming about your escape, your criteria may read something like this: Must be within a few hours’ drive, affordable, and surrounded by a natural landscape that wipes away any thoughts even resembling work or day-to-day responsibilities. If you have children, your criteria may also include a place where they are welcomed and where they can run and play without being considered a nuisance. And you might even want to take the family dog along.
One getaway that meets all these specifications is nestled on the eastern slope of the rugged and dramatic Chiricahua Mountains in southeastern Arizona. This is Apache country, where Cochise and Geronimo fought to protect their ancestral lands. And at the DD Gamble Guest Lodge & Ranch, you’ll begin to understand why.
Turning off the highway, you may be surprised how quickly civilization recedes. As you travel the mile to the ranch, you’ll feel yourself slipping back in time. It becomes rather clear why the Apaches loved this landscape.
Even more amazing to our contemporary sensibilities: not much has changed. Modern development hasn’t really touched this region, and it looks much the same as it did 150 years ago. Clear skies, stunning sunrises, fiery sunsets, and the moon rising in a sky painted white by the Milky Way.
One recent guest, Carol Schlim, a resident of North Carolina, commented, “What I liked best was the peaceful isolation. The silence and the stars were worth the trip.”
Accommodations at the lodge are rustic, but the rooms are clean and comfortable. There’s a gathering place for reading, working on puzzles, playing cards or board games, or just relaxing and chatting with the ranch’s hosts, Tom and Alicia Davidson. The duo share cooking and clean-up duties, and all meals are included in the overnight accommodation fees.
Historic hiking trails, Old West forts, the Chiricahua Desert Museum and some of the best birdwatching in the state are located nearby. A highlight for many is the chance to hitch a cart to the miniature horses and take them out for a spin. Good-natured ranch hands actually do the hitching and then provide driving and safety instruction. The “mini experience” can provide quite an adrenaline rush, depending on your need for speed, as the horses are capable of moving up to 35 miles per hour!
Children are encouraged to give driving the horse-drawn cart a try as long as they are enthusiastic, willing to follow instructions, and their parents ride along. For those who prefer horseback riding, well-trained livery horses can be saddled up to hit the trail.
An aspect of the ranch that makes it more unique is that it is home to DMD Hearts & Hooves equine therapy program, a non-profit 501c3 that harnesses the healing power of animal assisted therapy. One of the only programs of its kind in the nation, the minis provide therapeutic healing to those affected by traumatic injury.
“The therapy program is really an outgrowth of a visit in 2009 by Alicia’s mother,” relates Tom. Confined to a wheelchair, she would spend the day grooming and talking with the horses. This prompted Alicia to take classes on training and care of therapy horses. The minis now make “house calls” to VA hospitals, nursing homes, hospices and classrooms as far away as Tucson and El Paso.
“About three or four times a year, the Arizona branches of the Association of the United States Army sponsor wounded soldiers and their families to visit the ranch to ride and relax,” continued Tom. “In addition, a number of agencies bring at-risk children as well as mentally and physically disabled children and adults to the ranch to experience the horses.” Research has shown that these warm little creatures aid in physical and emotional healing through lowering blood pressure, heart rates, and stress levels.
Donations and volunteers are welcome. For more information, contact alicia@minidreamsLLC.com. For guest ranch reservations, call 520-558- 1088 or visit ddgambleguestlodge.com.
Rosemary Jane Prawdzik is a marketing and public relations consultant and freelance writer and editor living in Tucson. She has a degree in Communications from Miami University and has been published in several regional publications. She is currently working on her first book.
Find more travel destinations at greenlivingaz.com/travel