Agritourism in Arizona: Snippets on Dude Ranching in the Grand Canyon State

by Russell True, author of Images of America: Dude Ranching in Arizona

‚ÄčOne of first questions I received after the book came out was, “I know you are busy, did you write this book because you were afraid someone else would?”  My answer without thinking was, “No, I wrote this book because I was afraid no one else would.” 

Because today there are more dude ranches in Wyoming, Colorado and Montana, Arizona is often overlooked as a dude ranch state, despite having two locations that have boasted being “The Dude Ranch Capitol.” In the 1940s and 1950s Tucson inarguably was home to more dude ranches than anywhere, with over 100 active ranches. Now that the book is finished and I look back, more than anything else, I hope this book reveals Arizona’s larger than expected role in Dude Ranch history.

Though Arcadia Publishing sets authors up for success, I was still a first time writer and everything took me longer than it should have. Still, the biggest challenge was to get the very busy ranches to contribute photos and share their history. Ironically, this pushed me toward what became my favorite part of the entire experience—discovering sources of great photography. To make that even better, some of those photographs that were uncovered were of ranches I had never heard of before.

Though I knew that the original Dudes of the early days of dude ranching were of the wealthier class who could afford the time and had the money for the long expensive trips, I was still surprised at the Arizona ranches’ prestigious guest lists. Five US presidents, Supreme Court Justices, and a slew of celebrities like John Wayne, Dean Martin, Tom Hanks, George Clooney, Jimmy Stewart, Tom Mix, Zane Gray, Katharine Hepburn, Spenser Tracy, Gary Cooper, Margaret Mitchell, plus many others.

Beyond the illustrious guest lists of Arizona ranches are two stories of worldwide and historical significance. In the 1930s at Westward Look, the Coca-Cola Company went to work on their goal to reinvent Santa Claus from the stern, austere image from Europe to a friendlier, more approachable and bigger figure. It was here at one of Arizona’s Dude Ranches that Haddon Sundblom created paintings that depict today’s iconic Santa Claus we’re familiar with.

William Clayton, US Under Secretary of State, spent a great deal of time at Rancho de la Osa, situated in the secluded hills on the International border with Mexico. This is where, in a house that still stands, he drafted much of the Marshall Plan that became the roadmap for lasting peace in Europe.

Since childhood my reading choices have centered on history and I have always been most impressed by the authors who could write non-fiction that reads like fiction.  For me the best example is Once They Moved Like the Wind by David Roberts. Though Dude Ranching in Arizona is built around historic photos, I would be very happy if it read even half as well as Robert’s book.