Westward the Women

Popularly known as a "dude ranch," Merv Griffin's Wickenburg Inn will cater more to the "dude-ettes" on the weekend of Friday, June 26, through Sunday, June 28, when the inn hosts its first-ever summer "Cowgirl Camp," a wild-West weekend for women of all ages. Just how wild does the West get at Merv's?

Adventurous types can let their hair down and get their fingernails dirty with such activities as horseback riding, a genuine cattle drive, nature hikes with the resident naturalist, roping and riding lessons, hay rides and cookouts.

If it all sounds like work best left to a professional, don't worry--it is. Resident wrangler and instructor Shelley Bird brings more than 30 years of experience to the camp. Bird is no weekend wanna-be; her cowgirl credentials are genuine: Raised on a ranch in Montana, she began riding at age 2, broke her first horse by age 8 and began competing as a barrel-racer at age 9. She turned pro in 1991, shortly before moving to Arizona. She's done movie stunt work and has several world-class rodeo titles to her credit.

But for those whose wrangling and driving experience tends more toward kids and carpools, the weekend offers plenty of time to unwind, including swimming, water aerobics, yoga, tennis and even cowboy poetry--by a working cowgirl, of course. Cowgirls who spend too much of their time at home at the range can enjoy someone else's cooking while they're home on the range. Chef Gabriel Lujan rustles up the grub on this drive.

Ranch accommodations include comfy lodge rooms equipped with remote-controlled TVs, two-line phones, hair dryers, coffee-makers, irons and ironing boards, refrigerators and in-room safes (ideal for storing those jewel-encrusted boots and bolas). And, if you prefer not to rough it, hillside casitas have sitting or living room areas with wood-burning fireplaces and wet bars. Ben, Hoss and Little Joe never had it like this.

Prices for the weekend start at $199. The bad news is that space is waiting-list-only for the June 26 camp; the good news is that the inn plans additional camps later in the year. An arts and crafts weekend is also being considered. For the tenderfoots.

--Regina McLeod

Merv Griffin's Wickenburg Inn and Dude Ranch is located at 34801 North Highway 89, one hour northwest of Phoenix and eight miles north of Wickenburg. For information and reservations, call 1-800-942-5362.

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Regina McLeod