Exploring an Off-the-Grid Horse Camp

Located in a remote section of the Sonoran Desert near Florence, Arizona, is a new totally off-the-grid horse camping experience called Ride Out Ranch. 

It’s not often when a new horse camp lopes into existence. And, even more rare, is to find one totally off the grid—not hooked up to conventional sources of electricity and water. But this off-the-beaten-path camp offers some of the best views of the desert you can enjoy from the back of a horse. 

Some of our riding friends had spoken enthusiastically about Ride Out Ranch. After hearing about their adventures, we wanted to see what it was like in person and hear the story behind it. So, we loaded up our horses, Cody and Jake, and headed to Florence, Arizona.

For being in such an isolated location, it was relatively easy to get to from the highway. No one wants to beat up their living-quarters trailer on a rutted, dirt road. And we had no problems with our living quarters.  However, if you have a longer trailer, you may want to drive in first without your trailer and check out the last turns and dip in the road.

Florence is located south of Phoenix. On Arizona Highway 79, travel one mile south of Florence and head east on the Florence–Kelvin Highway for 15 miles. Don’t be fooled by the flat, monotonous desert on either side of the highway: the best is yet to come. Turn left on Cochran Road and look for the Ride Out Ranch sign on the left about two miles after leaving the pavement.

Ride Out Ranch sits in a wind-protected bowl in the scenic Sonoran Desert east of Florence, Arizona. Photos by Kent and Charlene Krone

A Unique Experience

Ride Out Ranch has been plopped in the middle of a Sonoran Desert scenery calendar—no uninspired, pancake desert here! It’s the scenery that Louis L’Amour wrote about, and Charlie Russell strove to paint. 

The main body of the camp sits in a large, recessed bowl, which provides much-appreciated wind protection. Currently, there are 14 full-service RV spots, partially covered corrals for horses, manure bin, and wheel barrels. For folks without a living-quarters trailer, there are also several small rental cabins available.

Additionally, there’s the ranch house. This uniquely constructed building was created by recycling three large shipping containers into building materials. This house is an artistic statement of what can be accomplished through recycling and innovative building techniques. It’s warm, cozy ambience made us feel welcome; dusty cowboy boots and all. The cheery, freestanding wood burning stove was surrounded by sturdy chairs, couches, coffee tables, and mismatched odds and ends. There’s also a kitchen area, restrooms, showers, and laundry room. Overall, the ranch house is exactly the kind of place folks like to kick back, exchange trail tales, or just get to know one another.

Gather Round the Fire

Outside the ranch house there is another important visiting area: the campfire circle. We noted there was a good supply of wood as well as the obligatory comfortable chairs.

Another nicety of the ranch is a trailer available for guests who might want to haul their horses for a day ride at other locations. The Pickett Post, Catalina State Park, and the Arizona Trail are just some spectacular rides not too far from Ride Out Ranch.   

We were warmly greeted by Sam and Laurie Durbin, the managers of Ride Out Ranch. They explained how the camp managed its own electric system. Electricity is supplied by solar energy that charges a bank of lithium batteries. In case of need, there’s also a diesel generator for back up. A well was dug, and a solar powered pump will pump water into a 5,000-gallon storage tank. This supplies an ample amount of water for the guests and their horses.  

Be Prepared

The camp was full when we were there, so we stayed up above on the ridge overflow camp. There are no services at the overflow camp except for covered stalls, water for horses, and a manure bin. However, the views here are outstanding. Faded-blue mountains underlined with shades of green mascara gazed silently from miles away. Below, more layers of mottled brown and red rock. These are backdrops for the stately saguaros that reach proudly for the sky. Every day nature provided us with a priceless sunrise and sunset from this overflow camp. Other than no services, the only drawback may be occasional strong winds.  

1. Charlene Krone takes Cody and Jake to the trailer to be tacked up for the day’s ride. The Krone’s trailer is at the overflow camp situated on a hill with beautiful desert views all around, and sunrises and sunsets. 2. Dennis and Linda McLelland in front of the ranch house preparing for a ride. 3. Casa Grand National Monument is located only 10 miles west of Florence. This is an excellent place to see a rare example of a multistory freestanding pueblo and learn about the early peoples’ lives in this area. 4. Dennis McLelland on his Tennessee Walking Horse, Mister, rides out of camp. Photos by Kent and Charlene Krone

A Father’s Dream

We met the owner of Ride Out Ranch, Max Dewitt. Max explained to us that the ranch was his father, Brent Dewitt’s, dream. Tragically, Brent died prematurely from a heart attack after having COVID-19 and pneumonia. He had his dream well underway, but it was left up to his son to carry on and complete it.  

Ride Out Ranch is located out in the middle of nowhere because that’s where the heart of Brent’s dream was located. He didn’t want “stuff” to detract from the natural beauty of the desert wilderness. He loved the raw essence of nature and the good camaraderie of friends. Ride Out Ranch was his dream of combining the two. This is not a place to come to be pampered. This is a rare place where you can come for solitude, exploration, and bond with your horse and meet new friends. Ride Out Ranch is Brent DeWitt’s legacy to those who share his love of nature and people.  

A Unique Area

Brent recognized the uniqueness of this area. It’s off the grid, and adjacent to thousands of acres of untouched Sonoran Desert. Literally, you can ride out the gates and ride all day long. That’s how the name Ride Out Ranch came to be. Brent wanted to open the desert up and share riding opportunities with more people.

Even though Brent never got to see the completion of his ranch, it lives on today through Max and all the guests who come to enjoy this unique place in the Sonoran Desert. Max finds guests’ reactions interesting. People are surprised at the variety of plant and animal life. Their experience here will be much richer if guests take a little time to familiarize themselves with Sonoran plant and animal life.

Sometimes Max feels a little crazy loving such an obscure, isolated, and essentially little-known part of the state so much. It’s reassuring to him that many others love it as much as he does.  

5. Linda and Dennis McLelland pause at a pair of saguaro cactus on their ride from Ride Out Ranch. 6. Kent and Charlene Krone aboard their horses, Cody and Jake, at the box canyon lunch spot. This is where a nest of killer bees (Africanized honeybees) were noticed in a cleft in the rocks. 7. Riders from Ride Out Ranch traveling up one of many trails in the area. Photos by Kent and Charlene Krone

Rides and Adventures

Our first ride was from the overflow camp going south into a large drainage. At times there’s water in the drainage. You can ride south or north from this point.   

This area was home to early Native American settlements around 800 to 1,200 years ago. They lived in small pit houses and in some cases made underground kivas—rooms for ceremonial purposes. It’s theorized that there was more water in the Southwest in those days. These early peoples were able to live by farming, and in certain areas, had even made canals to divert water.

For further information, travel into Florence and visit the Pinal County Historical Museum. Here you’ll find fascinating information about the early people in the area, examples of their pottery and baskets. For an even more amazing dip into the history of local early cultures, drive a mere 10 miles west of Florence to Casa Grande National Monument. Here you’ll find a rare multistory, freestanding pueblo dating to 1150 to 1450 AD. The people here were from the Hohokam culture and were heavily involved in canal building and farming. You may peer into the pueblo, visit the museum, and see early examples of canal building.

Making Friends

We visited with friends Dennis and Linda McLelland who were spending a month in camp with their living-quarters trailer and two horses. Dennis is a well-known singer/entertainer. He began his musical career singing on stage with the Jim Reeves show and shared the stage with Richie Valens. He formed his own surfer band and opened for the Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, plus others. Dennis and his band are in a book of the top surfer bands of the ’60s. He later played in country bands, including with the country legend Collin Raye.

Dennis’s wife, Linda, is equally enterprising and formed her own company, Max Internet, a wireless internet service.

We did a “ride out” with Dennis and Linda. Dennis was riding his Tennessee Walker, and Linda was riding her Rocky Mountain Horse. They matched well with our two gaited horses. The trail traveled through classic Sonoran Desert scenery. We rode through a variety of cactus, mesquite trees, and palo verde trees.   

Check out the palo verde trees. They appear to have no leaves, just green bark. They do their photosynthesis through the bark rather than leaves and are the Arizona state tree.   

Riders on the skyline trail from Ride Out Ranch. Photos by Kent and Charlene Krone

Neat Geography

We felt fortunate to ride here. The Sonoran Desert is totally unique. It’s home to a variety of endemic plants and animals. It’s the only place on Earth that several species of cactus grow, such as the saguaro and organ pipe cactus. There are more than 200 species of plants and more than 350 species of birds in this desert. Some cacti you’ll see while riding are the saguaro, hedgehog, barrel, beavertail, prickly pear, and staghorn. Cacti provides food and homes for many desert mammals and birds. Between March and June, the desert provides a visual delight of flowering cacti with shades of reds, pinks, yellows, and whites.

The terrain we rode over was made up of gentle, undulating hills covered with various shaped cacti, all with thorns and stickers. In the distance, we could see tan-colored boulders, seemingly dropped from the sky, and arranged in haphazard fashion.

Ride with Caution

Riders hoping to create new trails find their way through patches of cacti and leave markers for other riders who wish to follow. We noticed some colored twine tied to branches, marking new trails. You may also ride cross country and explore to your heart’s delight.

We stopped for lunch in a sandy, boulder-filled box canyon. While eating, we noticed a nest of killer bees (Africanized honeybees) in a rock crevice above us. Over the years, we have come across several hives of killer bees during our rides. Be sure to give them great respect and don’t agitate them. Unlike regular honeybees, killer bees can attack by the hundreds, even thousands. They kill not only with stings, but by entering nose and mouth, suffocating the victims. Killer bees frequently move their nests, swarming in a group about the size of a basketball. An acquaintance of ours pulled his garage door down. Unknown to him, a killer bee nest had moved in on top of the garage door. It fell on him, and the poor man never had a chance. He was killed. Just be aware and keep your wits and be calm.

The Last Night

The last night of our stay, we put on a program with Dennis and Linda for  the camp guests. We all met in the ranch house. The setting provided a perfect Western cowboy atmosphere. The wood stove smoked and glowed, and welcomed guests with warmth. Folks brought foods for potluck. Dennis and Linda performed Western songs and told jokes, and we followed with a slide show of some of our horseback traveling adventures. It was a wonderful conclusion to our time at the ranch. We left with good warm feelings of time well spent with old and new friends, soothing desert scenery, and equine partners.

[Read more from the Krones HERE]

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