Founded in 1888 near the White Tank Mountains by an Ohio native, Buckeye is 30 miles west of Phoenix. It was actually the fastest growing town in America two years ago. But most ropers only know it by what they see from the fairgrounds on Miller Road during its two big World Series events. Now, they’re figuring out what the gals at Buckeye’s big barrel futurities already know: two exits up I-10 to the east is Culver’s—and fresh frozen yogurt hits the spot after a long day in the saddle.
That exit is called North Verrado Way and it also leads to the tree-lined neighborhood of Verrado and its golf club, urban bistros and pizzerias. The closest suburb to the other roping hot spots northwest of Phoenix is Surprise—home to several South Dakota roping snowbirds.
Surprise was once pure farmland, and is now a great place to catch spring training baseball by the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals. It also has seven gorgeous golf courses and was recently named one of the Top Ten Safest Cities in the U.S. by Parenting Magazine. An outing to White Tank Regional Park offers 30,000 acres of outdoor recreation.
Where to camp, practice & jackpot
• Dunn’s Arena
This top-of-the-line equine facility in tiny Litchfield Park, near Surprise, had a long heritage with the Dunn family and is now owned by the extended Tanner family. The expansive covered arena (in addition to two outdoor arenas and an outdoor cutting pen) also has indoor dining with its concessions, making it a great place to rope on a rainy day.
Full hookups aren’t available except a few by reservation. However, dry camping abounds, and the facility has showers, three arenas, the Rusty Spur Grill, and lots of 20 x 20 outdoor stalls and 16 x16 indoor stalls. Litchfield Park is handy to just about anywhere via Highway 303, and the facility hosts weekly barrel races and team ropings.
The bonus to being so close to America’s first retirement planned community—Sun City—is that you can find any one of hundreds of chain restaurants after the roping—from the Outback Steakhouse to Texas Roadhouse.
7653 North Sarival Ave., Litchfield Park (623) 535-4846, dunnsarena.com
• Western Trails Ranch (Soon to be Dillon’s BBQ)
Exactly halfway between Surprise and Wickenburg along Highway 60 sits this 15-acre “Old West” town complete with two saloons and a steakhouse adjacent to a roping arena. Opened in 2006 on the site of a former ghost town, Western Trails has a laid-back vibe and is the only place to rope where you can tie your horse up and walk a few steps to the firepits on the patio facing the arena or step into the air conditioning inside to enjoy one of the famous Bloody Marys or mouth-watering steaks from the Hungry Bull Bar & Grill. The place has hosted goat ropings and bull ridings, and features live music with two bandstands and dance floors.
Ropings there are usually produced by High Call Productions, launched seven years ago by Jim Nichols, Ty Smith and Nick Nichols, and Crowned T Productions. At press time, in early September, property owner Joann Kramer was in the process of closing a sale to the Dillon’s Restaurant chain, which has locations at the Wildlife Zoo, Lake Pleaseant and more.
Despite the change in ownership, jackpots are expected. Nichols said the venue will likely host ropings four days a week and offer a #9.5 Over-50 along with an all-ages higher-numbered roping certain days. The arena is open noon to five for riding ($5 fee for the entire family) and the saloons often have karaoke night between Sunday Night Football parties.
37838 NW Grand Ave., Morristown (623) 421-0367, westerntrailsranch.com
• Horns and Hooves Arena
Just about two miles down Highway 60 from Western Trails Ranch is the relatively new Horns and Hooves, featuring two arenas along with RV spots and 16 x 16 covered stalls.
Bob Haymes will again offer weekly jackpots there with an expected opening day of December 1. Last year, this venue hosted ropings on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, plus Saturdays. Like most of the 12 weekly ropings held west of Phoenix any given week, you’ll likely find some low-numbered jackpots along with some over-50 formats and maybe a #13 slide.
39410 North U.S. Hwy 60, Morristown (602) 725-4576
• South Buckeye Equestrian & Events Center
The largest west-Phoenix venue boasting multiple arenas, this property has four arenas (indoor and outdoor), five round pens and boasts The Tack Room Bar & Grill, a tiny enclave below the crow’s nest with barstools and a full bar for bored spectators or disgruntled ropers.
[Related: Arizona Legends: Top Ropers Out of Arizona]
In addition to hosting two huge World Series ropings, “Buckeye” is the home of several large barrel races each winter, including the Classic Equine Futurity and Derby each January. Management produces weekly barrel races and team ropings, along with occasional rodeos and other events.
The venue offers a full RV Park with 100 hookups and wifi, nightly or monthly, plus 16 x16 stalls with full service available, automatic waters, rubber mats and tack lockers.
10300 South Miller Road, Buckeye
(623) 691-6900, southbuckeye.com
Countdown: Top 5 Family Fun Tickets
1 Check out Glendale’s Sahuaro Ranch Park—one of the state’s oldest ranches with a main house built in 1891. The property offers guided tours and lunch, plus playgrounds for the kids.
2 If roping becomes too boring, look into the Desert Skydiving Center at the Buckeye Municipal Airport. You can take lessons and get your license or tandem skydive with an instructor.
3 Got guns? Take them to the Joe Foss Public Shooting Range a few miles south of Buckeye for some target practice.
4 Throw your bicycles in the truck and go just a few miles north of Buckeye to Skyline Regional Park to hike or cruise along one of 16 different trails. Or, load your horse and go there for a little evening trail ride in the desert.
5 Across the street from Dunn’s Arena is the Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium and Safari Park, where you can take a gander at zebras and lions or join the kids on a zip line, flying scooter or safari tam ride.