Western illusions come true in the Arizona sun and in Guanajuato’s Clint Eastwood-esque fashion.
Two very different experiences, from the saddle to the horse breed to lunch, one riding on the roads to Guanajuato in Mexico, with blue tortillas and prickly pears, and the other through the Arizona desert in the US, with BBQ baby pork ribs. The illusion of stepping into a Western, however, was the same.
Xotolar Hacienda lies about 11 miles from San Miguel de Allende and near the Allende Dam, the second largest in Guanajuato, following the roads leading to the state capital, immortalized in “ranchero” songs.
A little after the historical Fraile bridge, which used to be one lane only, the eye is greeted by the fields of local round, yellow, sunflower-like “xotol” wildflowers, a word originated in the indigenous Otomí language. ere, Félix and Tomás Morín run a working ranch which also offers tourist services such as local horseback tours and hikes, as well as camping, lodging and food.
The first order of the day after arriving was a lunch of blue corn, freshly made tortillas with beans and the local xoconostle sour prickly pears. Then we rode the horses, quaintly named Canguro, Rebozo, Palomo and Hércules. They took us on a two and a half hour ride through Cañada de la Virgen to look at Toltec ruins as well as to traverse hills through Guanajuato’s semi-arid climate.
Always with the Allende dam mirage close-by, we crossed a river at a gallop and reached and ghost-like town. Dismounting, we approached a small roadside store and bought cold beers, which we drank in one swig. After that, and looking into the horizon in Clint Eastwood-esque fashion, we rode again at a fast gallop through the Laja River pass, splashing the water as we crossed.
Back in Xotolar, I had a minute to talk with Félix and Tomás’ father. “I have worked this land for over 50 years,” he says. “My sons left for a while, but they came back with this idea of horseback rides. You have to come to our New Year’s Eve party. We have reworks, dance, everything.”
I will, I answered. At about $100 per person for the two-and-a-half-hour long ride, it makes sense as a way to reconnect with the past.
Before returning, however, I had to spend a few days in the US for work. After a couple of days in Scottsdale, Arizona, a friend who knew about my passion for horses and my cowboy dreams and invited me to Fort McDowell, some 22 miles off town. There I satisfied my need for a real Wild West horse ride through the Arizona desert. In Arizona, a tourist brochure reads, “you can experience in the same day the highest and the lowest temperature registered in the country.”
A few other details about the state. Lake Havasu City is the location of the original London Bridge, which was replaced across the ocean in 1960 and brought here stone by stone. And the oldest continually inhabited town in the country is located there, the village of Oraibi in the Hopi reservation, which studies said has been inhabited since at least 1200 B.C.
The next day, already at the saddle of a magnificent American quarter horse, I asked my guide how far to the town of Bonita, where legendary outlaw Billy the Kid killed his first victim, Windy Cahill. Squinting into the distance and with a puzzled look on his face, he pointed to the southwest toward the seemingly unending desert and said: “about 200 miles that way.” Then he warned me against snakes and said that with luck we might be able to see foxes or roadrunners like the one on the cartoons.
As we reached the Verde river, he pointed toward protected cactus species which could land you a year in jail for damaging them, and explained that the large saguaros, the classic tall, long-armed cacti of the movies, can grow to 22 feet tall and hold nine tons of water. He uttered no other word in the two hours’ ride through the desert. No beast crossed our path. I tried now and then looking to the southwest, but the afternoon sun got in my eyes.