Going solo: City girl turns rancher at Circle Z Ranch, Arizona

A horse at Circle Z RanchJackrabbits. Roadrunners. IBM executives who dropped out of the rat race to be trail guides. I found them all at horse ranches in Arizona. My first one was at Circle Z Ranch in Patagonia near the Mexican border. After reading about it in the New York Times Travel, I was sold. I booked a flight and rented a car.

At Circle Z, I had a cottage for myself with two beds, wicker chairs and a desk, and Western magazines for my reading pleasure. Not to mention a welcoming fruit plate. I found friendly people to talk with at meals, where there was no such thing as a table for one.  
And I mingled with them and others while saddling up and hitting the trails. A British couple I got to know over the week taught this city girl how to shoot pistols. They lined up some bottles on a fence and I managed to break a few. All in all, I would say a ranch is a pretty comfortable place for someone vacationing solo.
One morning before breakfast at Circle Z, I took a walk along a dry river bed on ranch property. At some point I sensed movement in the woods. Then two horses emerged and starting walking toward me. I was frightened at first, what with no fences between us. I had to remind myself that these were horses, not lions or tigers. But why were they coming at me so steadily?
Where should I go? What should I do? I waited. The mare and her little one came right up to me. I started stroking the mare’s nose. Then I moved away because I wanted to take a photo of the two of them. But she stepped forward as I stepped back, her foal sticking close to her side. Then she nuzzled her cheek against mine. It was quiet out there in the post-dawn light. Inside, I was screaming, “Someone, come here. Look at this. Take a photo.” 
But it was just me and the chestnut family. If I’d had someone with me, I might have had a photo. But I don’t think it would have been the same peaceful, once-in-a-lifetime moment. Head for a ranch and find your own moments.

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Ellen PerlmanEllen Perlman is a freelance travel writer published in The Washington Post, the Miami Herald and the Philadelphia Inquirer, among other metropolitan newspapers, and blogs on solo travel at

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