Eco-adventure in Mexico with horseback riding, hiking and staying on a working ranch

Rancho Los Banos in Mexico: Hiking, Riding, and a Working Ranch

When you sit on the front porch in the warm morning sun the mesas off to the Southeast beckon you to come explore. At the eastern edge of a 30,000 acre working cattle ranch in the Sonoran desert just a few hours south of the U.S./ Mexican border the ranch house at Rancho Los Banos is surrounded by a wonderful 360 degree panorama.

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From that front porch you can also watch cattle graze close by the old Chicago Aero Motor windmill. The size of the jackrabbits will surprise you as they leap past and the songbirds will delight you with their morning serenade. Enjoy a cup of coffee as your host and guide prepares breakfast in the kitchen. You'll likely find homemade banana or zucchini bread, muffins, fresh fruit, a variety of your favorite cereals, and lots of other snacks that you can pick up anytime and munch on throughout the day.

And your day can be whatever you want it to be. I didn't get to the lake, but I understand that boating, canoeing, and kayaking are available. Maybe next time. My personal goal on this trip was to get in lots of hiking and a bit of riding. There were a couple of guests from Alberta during my visit who were there primarily for the horses. I already mentioned that this is a working cattle ranch. With 700 cattle spread out over the 30,000 acres that's a lot of riding for the cowboys to do so it requires real cowboys, not the drugstore variety.

Horseback Riding

If you decide that riding is your primary interest you won't be disappointed. There are plenty of horses and they are real cowboy horses. You won't find them saddled and standing around for hours in case some dude rancher wants to go for a one hour nose to tail trail ride. Indeed you may well be riding a horse that one of the cowboys had been riding on the open range the day before you arrived. The horses are well trained and responsive.

Your ride can be for hours, through beautiful canyons, along cattle trails, through the woods, across streams and in a different part of the ranch every day. You can ride at your own pace and, once your cowboy guide assesses your ability, may even let you run with your horse.

Of course, as I did, you may find yourself wanting to stop and take photos along the way. It really is beautiful country and your guide will keep an eye on you and make certain you're not left behind. That may sound like a small thing, but I have been on some of those nose-to-tail rides where if you stop for even a second there is someone yelling for you to keep up. After all, who wants to enjoy the beautiful scenery when they're on vacation? Or take photos for your memory book?

Even though the riding is really terrific at Rancho Los Banos - and I may ride a bit more the next time I go - I really wanted to hike as much as I could. Let me tell you that I was greatly rewarded for my efforts.


My hiking guide was Manuel Valenzuela, President and Founder of Tierra Chamahua Eco-Adventures who, along with his father, owns Rancho Los Banos. Manuel is the perfect guide for hikes on the ranch. He has been hiking there since boyhood and seems to know every step along the way. Often, as we hiked down obvious trails, he would make a sudden right turn and we'd be off in another direction that one might think is just a cow path only to discover that it opens into a beautiful slot canyon hidden by the trees.

  Eco-adventure in Mexico with horseback riding, hiking and staying on a working ranch
All of the canyons are great for hiking. Some require a bit more nerve than others. Climbing over and under huge boulders can give you second thoughts, but Manuel is patient and reassuring and everyone makes it through and past all the obstacles. But, you always have an option and there is no pressure to do anything that would make you uncomfortable.

The hiking rewards are many at Rancho Los Banos. There are wonderful ledges high on the cliffs that you may climb to and view ancient pictographs from 2,000 years in the past. Some retain the color of the dyes used in painting them. Others are weathered and harder to read. A couple of the large caves had metates still in place. For me, one of the biggest surprises was a large horno (a bee-hive shaped adobe outdoor oven) in outstanding condition.

As you might imagine, very few people have ever been to some of these areas. Even some guests of the ranch don't venture along a few of these trails as some are a bit strenuous for non-hikers.

So Much to See and Do

Much of the joy of hiking at the ranch lies in the constant surprises as you come upon slot canyons, huge boulders, small streams and smaller waterfalls along the way. There are springs on the property and even warm springs. I'm saving those for my next trip as well. After all, 30,000 acres is a huge ranch and you can't see it all in one visit.

Another wonderful opportunity that you might get to experience, but not guaranteed, is having lunch with some of the cowboys at the ranch house where they stay. Even without a lot of English you'll find them to be enjoyable company. These guys are hard workers and if you hike through any of the thornbrush as I did a bit of on my own, you'll know that some of their working conditions can be on the rugged side. This is where you'll go to saddle up and you may get to see them shoeing a horse or brushing them down after a ride.

And, you'll love the dogs and cats. The cats, naturally, are a bit on the independent side, but the dogs will enjoy any attention you give them and you'll want to take one home with you - especially the pit bull who just wants to nuzzle up to you whenever he can.

Lodging in the Guest Houses and Meals

Back at the guest house where you'll be staying, you'll first discover that there is no phone and no internet. I know that you get some phone reception on the hill above the cowboy's ranch house, but maybe not at the guest house.

There is a satellite TV which appears to get literally hundreds of channels, but the evenings are better spent in conversation and enjoying the desert environment. The night sky is fantastic. There are NO surrounding lights. In the week I was there I witnessed only one commercial airplane overhead and that was really off on the horizon. I never actually heard any planes at all. Nor is there any traffic. I guess that's because there is really no road going past the guest house. The road that leads to the house is used only to get there and, once you're there, you'll be seeing only yourself on the road as you go out for daily trips to the cowboy ranch house for rides or for hiking in different parts of the ranch.

The guest house is isolated, but doesn't feel desolate. If there are others than in your own party you'll get to know them quickly. One of the guest rooms has a private bath and the other two rooms share a bath with an entrance from the hall. The rooms are large, actually quite spacious. The living room has plenty of seating and the fireplace provides a nice focal point to the room. In the daytime you'll probably be on the front or side porch if you're not out for an activity.

In addition to breakfast, your lunch will likely be brought along on your hike or ride by your guide and it may be homemade tamales, burritos or some other delicious Mexican treat. And dinner will be hot and prepared by your host in the guest house kitchen.

If You Go

Yes, It's Safe

Naturally, security comes to mind when you speak of traveling to Mexico. Not for a minute did I have any concern for my safety. When you visit the ranch you are picked up in Tucson or Douglas, Arizona and are driven to the ranch in ranch vehicles. The border crossing is easy and the ranch is in a secured area, thanks much to a major mining operation that has guards and a checkpoint along the way that anyone entering the ranch would have to pass through. So, if you're flying you'll be picked up at your airport and if you're driving you can leave your vehicle at a secure location in Douglas or Tucson.
My rating:
Fancy: No
Fabulous: Yes

For more information be sure and look at the ranch website:

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A former college professor, Robert Painter is author of one of the highest ranked Southwestern Art and Travel books on He has traveled extensively throughout Indian country attending virtually every major American Indian art show in the Western U.S. and visiting Native American communities throughout the country. Robert has recently completed cruises on the Crown Odyssey, the Silver Cloud, the Silver Shadow, the Norwegian Dream, Seven Seas Navigator and the Windjammer S/V Mandalay. He has traveled to Italy, Greece, Barbados, Russia, Denmark and more countries than we have room to list. Email him: bp1938 at

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author

Updated: October 22, 2016

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