The beauty of Arizona and the West have long attracted visitors from around the world – its mountain vistas, stunning sunsets and lingering images of a time when man and horse dominated the landscape.
Searching for a second home offering that life, Chris & Alicia Kemmerly discovered Price Canyon Ranch, a 1,200-acre spread situated in the Chiricahua Mountains between Douglas and the New Mexico border. A working cattle ranch, Price Canyon offered the Kemmerlys their slice of heaven, and an opportunity to share with guests a breathtaking escape from everyday life, an authentic Western experience in a pristine setting.
The drive to the ranch along Highway 80 from Tucson takes travelers through some of Southern Arizona’s richest and most interesting history – Benson, Tombstone, Bisbee and Douglas. Swept up by the surrounding scenery, it’s easy to become impatient to reach your destination in those last 20 miles. The wait is worth it.
Price Canyon ranch was homesteaded in 1879 and named for a U.S. Army lieutenant. It is surrounded by the Coronado National Forest and bordered by three canyons – Brushy, Jackwood and Price – which offer a gateway to more than 500,000 acres just waiting to be discovered on horseback.
This is not your typical dude ranch experience as the ranch doesn’t offer activities every hour, and there’s no spa or other distraction. Here, it’s all about the horses and ranching. Two rides a day put guests to work helping out with cattle operations, which provide about 25 percent of the ranch’s annual revenue. Moving cattle, branding, mending fences and even castrating are just some of the tasks in which guests will participate during their stay.
“Alicia personally is the real muscle behind the guest ranch operation,” said Chris. “She takes every call and will encourage people to go elsewhere if she feels this isn’t the right fit for what they’re looking for.”
Price Canyon was the Kemmerlys second cattle ranch when they bought it nearly six years ago. The former owner, Scott Anderson, ran the cattle operation as a small guest ranch, but time and age had taken its toll over the years. According to Chris, the property was “in need of some work.” It became clear that efforts would best be spent on Price Canyon, so they sold their New Mexico ranch.
Chris, a Tucson home builder, and Alicia, who had a background in merchandising and design, managed all of the renovations themselves, right down to the selection of the many Western artifacts that adorn the rooms and lodge.
“It was such a money pit when we found it and everything needed fixing,” said Alicia. “Thanks to Chris’ vision and the crews from Tucson, we were able to bring it back to life.”
It took more than $1.5 million to restore the ranch. After they remodeled the original five rooms, they decided to add on five more, bringing total room accommodations to 10 – the “perfect number,” according to Alicia. “The experience is still quite personal and yet helps to keep us exclusive.”
About 75 to 80 percent of the ranch’s guests come from all over Europe, including the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Denmark and Sweden. North American guests come from New York, New Jersey, Maine, Massachusetts, the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, the Midwest and California.
“Other than Highway 80, this place hasn’t changed much in 150 years,” Chris said. “People come here looking for open space and a different kind of experience. Our goal is to provide as close to that 1800s ranching experience as we can.”
The ranch has caught the eye of film and television producers from all over the world. An Italian reality show was filmed at the ranch two years ago, and a Swedish television production company will film its second season of a reality show this fall. Film productions were responsible for 30 percent of the ranch’s revenue last year.
“I remember when the Italian company first arrived,” Chris said. “The head of the production company got here very late at night, and his first morning he came out of his room and looked around and just started crying. He just fell in love with the scenery out here.”
Rates start at $220 per night and include riding and three squares a day prepared by Amy Langley, resident chef. Riding experiences are available for the first-timer and the most experienced horseperson, with territory ranging from open grassland to dense forests in the higher elevations. Boots are required, and can be provided by the ranch if you forgot to pack them.
For those looking to soothe the saddle seat, there’s a pool and a hot tub on site. The atmosphere is rustic and authentic, with simple touches of luxury to enhance your stay found in each uniquely decorated room.
Although cattle ranching is year-round work for the wranglers, the ranch’s hospitality business is open only from mid-August through December 1 and mid-February through June 1. The high-season months of October and April require three-night minimum stays, with two-night minimums at other times. There is a minimum age of 12 years for all guests, as the ranch does not offer supervised children’s activities.
“There are not many ranches that are open to the public and do what we do anymore, so this is our way of preserving what is left of the working ranch,” Alicia said. “We feel incredibly blessed with this little slice of heaven and it is a privilege to be able to share it with warm and wonderful people from all over the world.”