BrooksLooks @ Running a Remote Western Guest Ranch

cropped-chiricahuas-in-snow-2-21-13.jpgRunning a Remote Guest Ranch in Arizona

“There is a tarantula in my room!”

Thus began a three year adventure and a unique hospitality repositioning assignment in the Chihuahuan Desert of the American southwest. More specifically, my wife Susan and I went to live in the remote southeast corner of Arizona an hour’s drive from the historic town of Tombstone. There in Cochise County, a single county the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined, the west remains as wild as the cowboy TV images of our childhood.

The Arizona border with New Mexico was a just a few miles to the east beyond the 9,800 foot peak of the Chiricahua Mountains. The more active border with old Mexico was just 25 miles to the south. Sunglow Ranch lies at an elevation of 5,340 feet, well above the worst of Arizona’s summer’s heat and just below the winter snows that come to the peaks above.

Adventurous American and European visitors still arrive here in search of the iconic Wild West. Germans in particular visit in large numbers to explore the land once made famous by beloved author Karl Friedrich May and the legendary characters of his novels such as Winnetou and Old Shatterhand.

This is a geographical location that rarely elicits a knowing response from world travelers. Old street signs there still reflect its remote location: signs like High Lonesome Road, Far Away Ranch and Double Buzzard Gulch. Cochise County is a corner of the United States few ever venture into except for avid birders and naturalists in search of the vast diversity of species there. Hikers, herpetologists and geologists also wander here for obvious reasons.

More recently, the area is emerging as an exceptional viticultural area. Perhaps one day you will recognize “Chiricahua Bench” as a new growing area on an Arizona wine label. It has been one of my life’s joys to get to know local winemaker friends there at the vineyards of Lawrence Dunham, Keeling-Schaefer, Pillsbury, Sand Reckoner, Aridus, Zarpara, Flying Leap, Kief Joshua and others. A remarkable development of Tasting Rooms is occurring today in Willcox, Arizona especially around Railroad Street. If you have yet to taste wine from southern Arizona, I am certain you will enjoy this distinct pleasure one day soon.

A dusty old airport that once welcomed Amelia Earhart to the area was just to our south toward the border towns of Douglas and Agua Prieta. We enjoyed visiting the old Hotel Gadsden in Douglas where Pancho Villa himself once charged in on his horse and rode right up the hotel’s main staircase. Bisbee to the west of Douglas is another fascinating Arizona border town in its own right with a rich copper mining history. We love exploring Bisbee’s picturesque streets and discovering its very special local shops.

As I arrived at the ranch a few months prior to Susan, there were moments when I felt exactly like Lieutenant Dunbar (Kevin Costner) must have felt in his assignment to that remote wilderness outpost in ‘Dances with Wolves’. In spite of feeling marooned, we both came to love the Chiricahua Mountains as a rough and untamed home for a while. (That’s “cheer-ih-cow’-a.”) We learned a whole lot about cowboy poetry and music, barbed wire fences and water rights, cattle brands and ourselves in the process.

We left our picture perfect Blue Ridge cabin atop the ridge itself in southern Virginia after opening the luxury Lodge and Spa at Primland in Meadows of Dan, Virginia for the late Didier Primat of Geneva, Switzerland. Mr. Primat sadly died before the project was completed and all too soon at the age of 64. After Primland opened and was well on its way to being named to Condé Nast Traveler’s “World’s Top 100 Hotels,” Susan exclaimed, “I’m ready for an adventure!” No sooner than the words been spoken than it seemed we were on a plane to Tucson.

From there we picked up our rental car and drove two hours into the high desert, deep into the Chiricahua Mountains. Turning off I-10 eastbound we took a few back roads that eventually turned onto long dirt roads as we ventured further into unknown territory. We continued for about 6 miles beyond the pavement on primitive dirt roads when Susan was famously quoted as saying, “There better be a miracle at the end of this road.”

It was the end of July in 2011 and in the next morning’s soft light we beheld the beautiful 400 acre ranch for the first time. We were pretty sure the ranch had never encountered the likes of us before. It wasn’t exactly a miracle. It was more of a very special new adventure.

The Horseshoe II forest fire that had raged for months in the mountains above the ranch was just about contained by then having burned over 200,000 acres of mountain ridge above us from the Chiricahua National Monument (a not-to-be-missed national park to our north) all the way south to Rucker Canyon. The fire destroyed houses on our nearby Turkey Creek road as flames advanced to within one-half mile of the ranch. Thanks to amazing firefighters and Mother Nature the ranch narrowly averted a complete evacuation.

As is our nature, we set out to bring service excellence and quality to a place that had some pretty well-worn ruts of mediocrity. We also commenced an all out effort to polish the so called “Jewel of the Chiricahuas.”

The oil in the old ranch truck had been unchanged for years and the landscape was thoroughly neglected. We faced failed septic fields overflowing with raw sewage, a grease trap long ago rusted through and a general malaise that had been oozing through the ranch for at least a decade. While still in business, the kitchen’s walk-in coolers were filled with more garbage than fresh produce.

Many changes were still ahead. In spite of plenty of issues, the property presented extremely well (and still does) as a peaceful destination nestled in the hollow of an ancient caldera, the ancestral home of the Chiricahua Apaches. It was the first time in our lives here that we experienced a place of truly profound silence. I mean there were nights when ALL we could hear was our own quiet breathing. The area’s dark skies provided a remarkable nighttime panorama of stars and constellations, most of which are completely invisible elsewhere. Meteor showers were uniquely spectacular, each like a scene from Star Wars.

An incredible diversity of wildlife exists in the mountains of southeast Arizona in what are known as ‘Sky Islands’—high mountain peaks separated by broad open ranges that contribute to isolated individual species. Even Jaguars still roam the ancient mountains of Cochise County, the northern extent of this large cat’s habitat. The Elegant Trogon and the Olive Warbler are two of the avian prizes to be glimpsed in the Chiricahuas especially if one is adventurous enough to drive over the mountain to the even more remote towns of Portal and Paradise, and the remote scenic beauty of Cave Creek along the New Mexico border.

The best we can really say about the ranch staff that we inherited was that they meant well. They hadn’t a clue about service levels or hospitality standards and we gathered there wasn’t much interest in learning. It was to their disadvantage that the new management team had previously learned from and trained some of the world’s finest hospitality employees. We had little tolerance for chronic whining and we insisted everyone move a whole lot faster and follow our lead on elements of precise guest service or prepare to get out of the way. Training commenced even though most of this original staff moved on within the first year when they realized we were still there and that we had no intention of running the ranch the old way.

There were plenty of perplexed looks as to why there were copies of “Who Moved My Cheese” in the kitchen and a new carved wooden sign placed over the employee entrance door that read, “Nils Satis Nisi Optimum.” It was quite a moment too when undermining (now former) key staff reacted to another sign: “We’ll take 50% efficiency for 100% loyalty” on the back door. We drove excellence and quality always insisting that every guest was properly welcomed, greeted and well served.

There in that lovely arid high desert we also encountered dangerous mojave and diamondback rattlesnakes, javelinas, mountain lions, scorpions and beautiful (yet huge and terrifying) cinnamon colored black bears. Free range longhorn cattle from the open range grazed on into our guest areas making for some interesting moments. We faced drought conditions there and a few hungry and thirsty illegal aliens passing through occasionally from Mexico. Toward the end of our tenure, the drought grew worse, forcing the ranch to purchase truck loads of potable water—we hoped just a temporary condition until summer Monsoon Rains arrived.

Occasionally circling overhead were official helicopters, an indication of the intense battle between Border Patrol and syndicated Mexican “coyote” drug smugglers in the area. Southern Arizona’s omnipresent U.S. Border Patrol provided us with real comfort and peace of mind knowing they would be at the ranch in seconds if we needed help.

Taking over a ranch or even a country against its will has some parallels. Machiavelli (and Dr. Judith Best my college political theory professor) would agree that some of the tactics are by necessity similar. There were times we needed to be very heavy handed and times to be gentle and nurturing. We bit our tongues way more often than we were comfortable with and we chose to take on additional workload ourselves rather than put up with the indolent “I only do it my way or I quit so I can collect unemployment” type of employee. We strove to maintain a balance somewhere between these well-worn hospitality gems: “never cut off the branch when you’re sitting on it” and “never give in to terrorism.”

Running any kind of luxury business in a rural setting means that only a few people in the local community can or will afford your goods and services. In spite of this, it was always a pleasure to welcome our local guests especially those from Pearce and Sunsites and Willcox who came for dinner often and supported the ranch in so many ways. We will always be grateful for their friendship and encouragement. When the chips were down it was our regular guests who made us feel that our efforts were well appreciated.

To be honest, there were among our ranch team several diamond-in-the-rough heroes who stayed true to us and the ranch, working incredibly hard long days from beginning to end and making a real difference. Thank you to Mike, and Xiaoyan and Dan and others who helped Sunglow Ranch to achieve so much against all odds during our tenure. We will always be grateful to each of you.

There were long days and long nights to be sure in the running of the ranch and we were determined to prevent a lack of training and bad attitudes from undermining our guest service goals and our reputation. In the end we take a sense of accomplishment that we had actually led our team to reposition the ranch in anticipation of the real estate sale while achieving 6 TripAdvisor awards including two of the more coveted Traveler’s Choice awards in the process. We owe our thanks to amazingly loyal guests and the core of rock-solid employees who were as committed as we were.

We inherited a ranch that had undervalued itself for years—presenting itself in the marketplace as a deeply discounted venue to guests who really wanted to pay even less. For instance we heard a lot of, “What if we opt out of meals and housekeeping, can we get the room at half price?” Or, “We’d like to use the ranch for our wedding but we have our own catering.” Then there was the horde of discounted stays from the likes of misguided marketing initiatives like “Groupon.” There were those who tried to bring their own alcohol into the dining room in spite of the ranch’s liquor license. It felt good to move away from all of this.

We were as pleasant as we could be to this discount strata there when we arrived, and we worked to steadily increase the quality of our guest experience while pushing the average daily rate higher. Happily, the ranch came to provide needed sanctuary and real civility to discerning travelers who helped us to achieve new standards at the ranch. This in turn helped us to attract a new clientele better able and willing to support the emerging new Sunglow Ranch.

In spite of the forbearance required of us and some of the challenges outlined above, we were proud of the ranch we left behind. All along, we were well supported by the ranch’s owners and we enjoyed seeing a part of the country few others ever do. With grateful appreciation, we had the privilege of working for these two very special people who were always committed to making the ranch even better. Thank you Mitch and Chrissy for the opportunity to be a part of your team–for believing in us and for your patience and support. We will always be honored to know you and hope that our paths cross again one day. We wish you much success.

In the face of ownership’s renewed efforts to sell the ranch it was time at last for us to begin giving serious consideration to new opportunities. Early in 2014, an agreement was reached with a Chicago area real estate firm that was given the task of orchestrating the dispossession process. In the end, an auction was planned. This resulted in plenty of rumors by the uninformed who rumored that the ranch’s demise was caused by foreclosure and bankruptcy.

In fact, the time had been long overdue time for the owners to sell their ranch and a public auction was their last step in trying to move on. To their amazing credit, generous bonuses were paid to the loyal employees who stayed true to the end. No checks bounced, and no ranch debts were left unpaid.

After turning down four written offers to run unique hotel properties around the country, I accepted a position at a very special luxury inn in western North Carolina. I packed up a rental truck and left Sunglow Ranch behind for good at the end of February 2014. Susan decided the best thing for her was to manage the ranch a few more months on her own knowing my days would be immersed in a new post. She always knows better!

For me, it was disconcerting to imagine that Susan might have to face the wild west on her own. I took some measure of relief knowing she kept her .38 caliber, laser-sighted Ruger handy. She had already demonstrated that her aim was quite good. Out there, you quickly learn who is working for you and who is working against you and it’s always better to be prepared.

This time apart proved to be a great opportunity for Susan to shine on her own. On her first day as the ranch general manager she fired her first employee for performance reasons thereby setting the tone for the rest of her tenure. Thanks to Susan and the team’s continued efforts even more positive TripAdvisor reviews were posted.

Actually there may have been no person better suited than Susan to help the ranch through this period. She presented the ranch in the most professional manner as she met with the real estate company agents, prospective buyers and eventually surveyors and appraisers. A new buyer had indeed come forward, and a contract was signed by the end of Susan’s term. We’ve kept our fingers crossed hoping the new buyer would come along and build on our efforts, keep a vital presence in the Sunglow community for our neighbors and help the ranch’s owners to move on.

Post Script

Special thanks to Baxter Black, famous cowboy poet and Western personality extraordinaire–and our wrangler the one and only Miles “Bucky” Buckley for teaching us the true ways of the west. Thank you too to our very own cowboy singer Joel Eliot for his great performances and for helping us to know what cowboy music really means. We have a great new appreciation for the lives and work of Ian Tyson, Dave Stamey, Rex Allen, Stan Jones and poet Charles Badger Clark among so many others. “Navajo Rug”, “Ghost Riders in The Sky” and “I Love You Arizona” will resonate in our hearts forever.

© Copyright 2014 Brooks Bradbury ׀ Brooks Looks

BrooksLooks @ Rising Above

RISE ABOVE
Brooks Bradbury

we sucked the marrow out of life back then
took crooked roads that brought us back again
found our way into strange new lands
said goodbye to our best laid plans

and it ain ‘t easy but we rise above
remember all we have’s our own sweet love
try to hide it on our faces–life’s true toll
we all know the times that try one’s soul

ain’t no telling what’s to become
ain’t no telling now where we’re from
ain’t no telling down from up above
all we know we’ve got’s our own sweet love

dancin’ to the beat of our distant drum
still, life keeps pushin’ us all around some
and it ain ‘t easy but we rise above
we keep believin’ and we rise above

i miss sweet desert mornings
on the chaparral with you
Chiricahua cowgirl what will you do
you’re my only home, my sanity
Chiricahua cowgirl come set me free

and it ain ‘t easy but we rise above
remember all we have is our own sweet love
try to hide it on our faces life’s true toll
we surely know the times that try one’s soul

will we ever finish this human race
are we going forward or stuck in place
will there ever be a fine new age
or more and more rage until we turn the page

and it ain ‘t easy but we rise above
remember all we have is our own sweet love
and it ain ‘t easy but we rise above
remember all we really have is our sweet love

© Copyright 2014 Brooks Bradbury ǀ Brooks Looks

BrooksLooks @ Turkey Creek Caldera

TURKEY CREEK CALDERA

Brooks Bradbury

CORONADO RODE RIGHT BY HERE

THOUGH HE DIDN’T HAVE A CLUE

THERE WAS GOLD IN CHIRICAHUA

AND QUITE A LOVELY VIEW

A SWEET, SECRET CHAPARRAL

FORGED LONG AGO IN A FIERY HELL

VIOLENT FORCES AND SEISMIC SHOCK

LEFT A BUCOLIC BOWL OF MOLTEN ROCK

NOW A TRANQUIL, REMOTE CALDERA

SACRED HOME OF APACHE AND VAQUERO

WHERE BLOOD WAS SPILLED ON RHYOLITE

CHOKONEN WAYS LOST IN EVERY FIGHT

DOWN THROUGH THE AGES

DESPITE THE WISDOM OF SAGES

HUMAN TURMOIL RAGES

ON NATURE’S SWEET STAGES

MAY THE PEACE WE FIND HERE REMAIN IN OUR SOULS

ITS GOLDEN SILENCE EVER CONSOLES

AND MAY THIS RARE BEAUTY ENDEAVOR

TO GO ON LIKE THIS

BEYOND FOREVER

© 2014 Brooks Bradbury | BROOKS LOOKS (Written at Sunglow Ranch, Pearce, Arizona)

BrooksLooks @ Tears in Chiricahua

TEARS IN CHIRICAHUA

Brooks Bradbury

November 2013

ANCIENT CHIRICAHUA

SACRED LONG AGO

NOW CALLED ARIZONA

THEIR ANCESTRAL HOME

THEIR MOUNTAINS AND

THEIR GRASSLANDS

THE PLACES

THEY ROAMED THEN

NOW ONLY TRACES,

OF ‘NDE CHOKONEN

GENERATIONS CAME BEFORE THEM

UNKNOWN APACHE HEIRS

NATIVE BLOOD SPILLED TOO OFTEN

DEFENDING WHAT WAS THEIRS

WHO THEN ONE DAY WILL ATONE

FOR THEIR BROKEN HEARTS

EACH APACHE BROKEN BONE

THEIR BODIES DIED YET SANCTIFY

THEIR CHIRICAHUAS STILL

UNBROKEN NATIVE SPIRITS

UNBROKEN NATIVE WILL

THEIR VOICES WHISPER IN THE SILENCE

SPIRITS ROAM NOW WITHOUT FEARS

WHEN IT RAINS IN CHIRICAHUA

IT RAINS APACHE TEARS

© Brooks Bradbury | Innspired Hospitality

BrooksLooks @ Chiricahua Cowboy

CHIRICAHUA COWBOY
Brooks Bradbury
September 2013

THE COOK REPORTED LONGHORNS
WERE COMING IN THE GATE
BUCKAROOS AT BREAKFAST
SOME WERE IN THE BUNK HOUSE
SOME WERE SLEEPING LATE

PRIT’ NEAR EIGHT MEAN CORRIENTE
AMBLED RIGHT UP THE OLD DIRT ROAD
POINTY HORNS A GLINTING
THEY LUMBERED TO AND FRO

THEY WERE FREE RANGE BEEF WITH ATTITUDE
AND IN ONE BY ONE THEY FILED
DANGED IF THEY DIDN’T GIT PAST THE CATTLE GRATES
LIKE A FARSIDE CARTOON GONE WILD

CHIRICAHUA COWBOY
HE’S ON HIS HORSE AGAIN
WE NEVER KNOW WHY
WE NEVER KNOW WHEN
BUT HE’S THE HOPE OF ARIZONA
LEAST FROM GLEESON TO PORTAL
THE CHIRICAHUA COWBOY
HE’S THE ONE THAT GETS THE CALL
ANY TIME ‘R OYSTER’S ARE UP AGAINST THE WALL
THE CHIRICAHUA COWBOY, HE WILL SAVE US ALL!

ONE WAS UDDERLY FEMALE
IT WAS PLAINLY CLEAR TO SEE
QUEEN OF THE RODEO HEIFERS
ANOTHER RATHER BULLISH ONE
HE KEPT EYEING ME

THE CHIRICAHUA COWBOY
HE SAUNTERED INTO VIEW
HE WORE HIS LEATHER JACKET WITH FRINGE
SMELLED LIKE BEER AND LAST NIGHT’S STEW
BOXER SHORTS AND COWBOY BOOTS
HIS PANTS STILL IN HIS ROOM

HE HAD SPURS, A WHIP, TWO FORTY-FIVES
AND HE WAS ITCHING FOR A FEUD
THE CHIRICAHUA COWBOY
LOST BIG AT POKER AND LOVE LAST NIGHT
HE WAS ONE BIG ANGRY DUDE

HE WAS READY TO SETTLE THE SCORE
AND PUT THOSE BEEVES BACK IN THE PEN
A BEEFLY DUEL WAS COMING ON, IT SEEMED
WHILE IN THE SAGE, FRESH COWPIES STEAMED
THE HEIFER HUDDLED THE OTHERS THEN
WEIGHT WAS SHIFTED
HORNS WERE POINTED
THE BEEVES THEN THUNDERED IN

ALL OF A SUDDEN THE BRAWL COMMENCED
BULL WHIP CRACKED AND BULLETS FLYING
EIGHT CORRIENTE TURNED TAIL TO RUN
IN THE END THEY MET THEIR BOVINE MATCH
CHIRICAHUA COWBOY WAS SMILIN’
AS HE BLEW SMOKE FROM THE END OF HIS GUN

CHIRICAHUA COWBOY ROUNDED ‘EM UP RIGHT THEN
THEY WERE BEATEN LIKE HAMBURGER AND LOCKED IN THE PEN
“NEXT TIME YOU COME ROUND HERE
THE BUTCHER’LL MAKE IT CUT AND DRIED
AND MAKE LITTLE PARTS OUT OF THOSE CARCASSES
AND WALLETS FROM YER HIDE!

CHIRICAHUA COWBOY
HE’S ON HIS HORSE AGAIN
WE NEVER KNOW WHY
WE NEVER KNOW WHEN
BUT HE’S THE HOPE OF ARIZONA
LEAST FROM WILLCOX TO PORTAL
THE CHIRICAHUA COWBOY
HE’S THE ONE THAT GETS THE CALL
ANY TIME ‘R OYSTER’S ARE UP AGAINST THE WALL
THE CHIRICAHUA COWBOY, HE DONE SAVED US ALL!
CHIRICAHUA COWBOY–NO ONE RIDES AS TALL!

© Brooks Bradbury / Innspired Hospitality

BrooksLooks @ Back of Beyond

BACK OF BEYOND
Brooks Bradbury

BEATEN DOWN BY POLITICS
MY OFFICE RAN AGROUND
IT’S TIME TO GET A COWBOY FIX
GET OUT OF THIS DAMNED TOWN

LEAVE THE RACE TO MY FELLOW RATS
CLEAR MY HEAD AND RECONNECT
THE CHAPARRAL IS CALLING
LEAVING NOW TO GET THERE FAST
TO FIND MYSELF AND REDIRECT
HEAR MY THOUGHTS
AND RESURRECT
I FEEL LIKE I’M FALLING
AS I DRIVE ON AND ON AND ON
WAY OUT THERE
TO THE BACK OF BEYOND

I’LL FIRE UP THE FARMALL
LEAVE ALL MY TROUBLES BEHIND
RIDE OUT INTO PURPLE SAGE
IN AN ARIZONA STATE OF MIND
OVER DIAMONDBACKS
THROUGH COYOTE PACKS
OCOTILLO AND PRICKLY PEAR
SOUNDS LIKE MY OFFICE I SWEAR
THERE I’LL SAVOR STILLNESS
EVERY BRILLIANT SUNRISE
THE COTTONWOODS ARE BEAUTIFUL
TIME TO RESET, REGROUP AND REPRISE

ONLY DIRT ROADS TAKE YOU OUT THERE
BRING YOUR SIDEARM AND SOME GUTS
GO LEFT ON DOUBLE BUZZARD
TAKE HIGH LONESOME IF YOU MUST
A THOUSAND MILES LATER WHERE
YOU’RE FAR FROM ALL THE CHAOS
YOUR FIRST BREATHS OF RARE FRESH AIR
TELL ‘EM ANYTHING YOU WANT TO
TELL ‘EM I ABSCONDED
TO THE WIDE OPEN COUNTRY
TELL ‘EM I DROVE ON AND ON AND ON
TO THE PLACES FAR BEYOND IT

I’LL FIRE UP THE FARMALL
LEAVE MY TROUBLES BEHIND
RIDE OUT INTO PURPLE SAGE
IN AN ARIZONA STATE OF MIND
OVER DIAMONDBACKS
THROUGH COYOTE PACKS
OCOTILLO AND PRICKLY PEAR
I’LL SAVOR STILLNESS AND BRILLIANT SUNRISE
WHERE THE COTTONWOODS ARE BEAUTIFUL
I’M NEVER LEAVING THERE I SWEAR

APACHE VOICES AND NATIVE SPIRITS
TEMPERED BY THE YEARS
IN THE STILLNESS STILL I FEEL THEM
AND HEAR THEM LOUD AND CLEAR
THEIR BRAVE STRUGGLE AND THEIR FEAR
I’VE HUNGERED FOR THEIR FREEDOM
KNOWN A SOUL’S GREAT WILD THIRST
FOR THESE GREAT WIDE OPEN SPACES
WHERE LIFE’S TRIALS ARE REVERSED

I CAN’T SEE IT FROM THE CITY
BUT I KNOW IT’S WAY OUT THERE
I CAN’T SMELL IT’S WILD FRAGRANCE
IN THIS CITY’S ACRID AIR
THOSE DAYS I SPEND OUT THERE
ARE REALLY NO LONGER DREAMS
THEY ARE MY SANITY THESE DAYS IT SEEMS
THE BALANCE MY LIFE NEEDS

AS I STARE OUT MY OFFICE WINDOW NOW
DREAMING OF THOSE DAYS
I LOOK FOR IT ON THE HORIZON
AND LONG FOR WESTERN WAYS
MY HEART’S OUT IN THE SAGE GRASS
AND IN THE WILD PLACES
THIS HELPS ME CARRY ON AND ON
HELPS ME CARRY ON
ALWAYS TAKES ME BACK THERE
TO THE BACK OF BEYOND

I’LL FIRE UP THE FARMALL
LEAVE MY TROUBLES BEHIND
RIDE OUT INTO PURPLE SAGE
IN AN ARIZONA STATE OF MIND
IN SPITE OF DIAMONDBACKS
COYOTE PACKS
OCOTILLO PRICKLY PEAR
I SAVORED STILLNESS AND BRILLIANT SUNRISE
COTTONWOODS SO BEAUTIFUL
MY HEART’S NEVER LEAVING THERE I SWEAR

© BROOKS BRADBURY | INNSPIRED HOSPITALITY

BrooksLooks @ Chiricahua Cowgirl

CHIRICAHUA COWGIRL
Brooks Bradbury

UNDER POWDER BLUE SKIES
A YOUNG ARIZONA GIRL RIDES
ON HER PRIDE AND JOY PONY
THEIR RARE LOVE ABIDES

HER MOTHER’S FINAL DYING HOPE
A GIFT TO HER A LARIAT ROPE
AND A LEOPARD APPALOOSA COLT
HER DAUGHTER NAMED HIM LIGHTENING BOLT

SHE FIGHTS THE PAIN EVERY NOW AND THEN
CHIRICAHUA COWGIRL RIDES AGAIN
TO RECONNECT WITH EARLY DAYS
AND HER MOTHER’S LOVE AND SIMPLE WAYS
IN APACHE LAND OF CHOKONEN
CHIRICAHUA COWGIRL RIDES AGAIN
GET UP, GET ON YOUR HORSE AND TELL ME WHEN
CHIRICAHUA COWGIRL RIDES AGAIN

THEY ROAMED THE DESERT RANGE FOREVER
TWO YOUNG HEARTS TOGETHER,
SMELLS OF PIÑON PINE AND LEATHER
DAYS GO BY AND THEY WOULD KNOW
LIFE’S SUPRISING SUDDEN BLOWS
SHATTERED BONES AND BROKEN HEARTS
PAINFUL FALLS AND LOVER’S WOES

SHE FIGHTS THE PAIN EVERY NOW AND THEN
CHIRICAHUA COWGIRL RIDES AGAIN
TO RECONNECT WITH EARLIER DAYS
AND HER MOTHER’S LOVE AND SIMPLE WAYS
IN APACHE LAND OF CHOKONEN
CHIRICAHUA COWGIRL RIDES AGAIN
GET UP, GET ON YOUR HORSE TELL ME WHEN
CHIRICAHUA COWGIRL RIDES AGAIN

A HANDSOME COWBOY RAW AND TALL
BROUGHT HER FLOWERS, CHANGED IT ALL
HER LOVE GREW STRONGER
THEN ALL FELL THROUGH
ENDING SOME MONTHS LATER
BECAUSE HE WAS UNTRUE

THE WILD WEST BECAME WILD THEN
UNBRIDLED ANGER AND WILD EYES,
SHE SET OFF TO OUTRUN HIS LIES
NOTHING COULD CONTAIN HER RAGE
SHE TRIED HARD TO TURN THE PAGE
RODE HER HORSE LIKE A LION FROM A CAGE

THE RIDE WAS FAST AND FAR AND HIGH,
TEARS FROM LOSS AND CRIES OF WHY
BEYOND THE LIMITS OF HORSE AND GIRL
A WILD CRAZY DERVISH WHIRL

A SCORPION SURPRISED THEM
HER HORSE REARED UP, SHE FELL DOWN
ONLY HOURS LATER CAME AROUND
HER HORSE STAYED BY HER
THEY STOOD THEIR GROUND

SHE DRAGGED HERSELF UP
FROM THE GROUND TO HER STIRRUPS
BROKEN BONES AND AN UNYIELDING SPIRIT
HER LAST RIDE? SHE’LL NEVER HEAR IT

CHIRICAHUA COWGIRL RIDES AGAIN
GET UP, GET ON YOUR HORSE
AND TELL ME WHEN
THE CHIRICAHUA COWGIRL RIDES AGAIN
CHIRICAHUA COWGIRL RIDES AGAIN

BrooksLooks @ The Gift of Goodbye

January 2013

At that moment, it never quite sinks in. Perhaps only later are we able to understand the magnitude of the gifts we’ve received, as doors close and a chapter of our lives abruptly ends. Little do we know that our lives are only beginning anew as the next chapter is already being written. In time, one chapter morphs into another…and then one day, yet another, in the grand pattern of our unfolding lives.
“Ride the wave” is a common refrain among today’s wayfaring professionals. It is the case today of so many lives on the move. I’m think especially of those of us in hospitality leadership roles. Invariably, we must leave what we know to advance our careers, and accept a new position in a new community far away. In spite of seeking long-term commitments and a place we can call home for a while, employers change, owners die and the boss we loved decides to leave. We anticipate a long-term commitment and a new community we can call home for a time. Instead, recessions occur, employers change, owners die and the boss who’s hired us decides to move on. “Living forward” is important, we tell ourselves, knowing that with each new move there is always an inherent cost to our friendships, our families and even our psyches.
Occasionally we allow ourselves a furtive backward glance, before the current of life snaps our focus back to forward. Such is the case for me, when my time in the Berkshires came to a close, after calling this beautiful part of the world my home for over twenty years. “Twenty years!?” the recruiters would say incredulously, shocked that a tenure of such duration could actually happen in this day and age of shattered loyalty between employer and employee.
My career began and blossomed in New England. My family was raised here, I felt great pride, knew real pain and sorrow and at last, I truly fell in love here and felt great joy. I lived here! I came to love those Berkshire hills and peaks, ponds and people and the generally agreeable tapestry of life woven here. As I passed two decades of living in the Berkshires even local writer Milton Bass referred to me as a ‘local kid making good’ in one of his columns. He doesn’t know it, but it was as close as I’ve ever been to being thought of as a ‘local’.
The Berkshire Hills are far away now, so many memories receding in the rear-view mirror. It was magical time to be a part of the Berkshire scene, an honor to be included among its people for so long. It was an experience that has continued to age and mellow in my mind. Celebrations of hard work and accomplishment still resonate. So many friendly Berkshire faces still pop into my mind, moments I remember and the times our paths crossed. My time there was cocoon-like, as though a nurturing incubator prepared me for what was to come. When it was time to leave, it felt as though I were moving on, a graduation–bringing with it both excitement and some uncertainty along with the good wishes of so many.
Over the years, I had the rare privilege of earning my way up from an entry-level job to become The Red Lion Inn’s general manager, all in one very special place–Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Much was expected, much was given and much was gained there. I thank the Fitzpatricks for the wealth of opportunities they provided me, and for seeing some real potential in me. “Everything is Important” is the pearl of wisdom that has remained meaningful and relevent to me all these years. Thank you Jane Fitzpatrick for your nurturing and inspiration.
It was time to move on from Stockbridge. Real lessons of life were only just beginning, as I eventually accepted the gift of goodbye.
Then, a private club in New Haven, Connecticut needed rescuing. Years prior, legislation passed eliminating the deduction of membership and two-martini lunches from one’s taxes. Private Clubs began to founder, and in this denouement I entered the world of private luxury clubs for the first time–bringing a Fitzpatrick style of hospitality to a struggling city club.
Participation was paramount to my Berkshire experience, and I worked to introduce this private, largely male bastion to prospective new members and to a community generally unaware of the high-level, private conversations that transpired within its walls. There were difficult moments here including struggling to make the payroll each week, renovating unused guest rooms, even issuing bonds among members to replace the club’s ancient infrastructure.
I encountered genuine malfeasance among the club’s former managers, and worked to move them all along–building a new team in the process. I also discovered an employee shooting-up heroin in a rest room there; guests who’s vehicles were stolen from the street during club events; employee thefts; panhandlers and street crime. Oh my. I had truly been thrust from Norman Rockwell’s world into a new one. In spite of these occasional challenges, I enjoyed this urban experience, the amazing people I met and the real sense of community that flourished in New Haven.
New opportunity knocked, this time a call from Wisconsin. The Kohler Company needed a manager for their luxe private club known as Riverbend. It was time to say goodbye to the Connecticut shoreline. Susan and I found ourselves looking at a map to pinpoint exactly where Wisconsin was, then making our intrepid move to the city of Sheboygan along the shores of Lake Michigan. Club members here were very gracious captains of Midwest industry and they paid an initiation fee of at least $75,000 for the privilege being a member.
This was a big company experience, a very successful organization that remains independently owned by the descendents of the original founding family. At Kohler, many things came into focus as personalities and performances were probed and analyzed through psychometrics and the assessment of such tests as Caliper, Myers Briggs, Wonderlic and FIRO-B testing. This was also a wonderful introduction to the Midwest perspective. Go green and gold! I still think of your kind people, and artisanal cheeses. And Leinenkugel’s. I discovered an incredible work ethic here in Wisconsin and among my talented team of employees. It is unrivalled anywhere.
Opportunity then came knocking, this time from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. It was time to say goodbye to Kohler. A mysterious and reclusive billionaire was creating his first U.S. sanctuary in southern Appalachia. Meetings were held in Paris and Geneva and I was given the privilege and responsibility of opening a $40 million luxury Lodge and Spa atop a 12,000 acre Blue Ridge setting, in one of Virginia’s most rural and beautiful counties. It was my second such hotel opening, and a wonderful challenge.
Susan and I found genuinely interesting and sophisticated people in southern Virginia along the Blue Ridge Parkway. We also discovered a breadth of new experiences in this unspoiled setting. Locally made moonshine appeared one day on my desk as a unique welcome gift–the real deal. Wild ginseng still grows on the mountain sides there, and mountain lions prowl the ridges. Hunting and fishing are a life-style here–more necessity than sport. Music, sweet, joyful Blue Grass, was a gift passed on down to each new generation. No one ever played with sheet music either. We felt we were listening to the roots of American music in Floyd, Virginia.

Resilience, adaptability and ‘making-do’ all come to mind when I think of the great people of Patrick County, Virginia.

It took two years to build and open the lodge and spa as it opened in August of 2010 to a planned five diamond standard. Upon the death of the owner, his eight children were instantly thrust into key decision-making roles. Standards changed. Directions changed. My contract was over and it was time to say goodbye.
No sooner had the words left Susan’s mouth that she was “ready for adventure,” then the call came about a guest ranch in southeastern Arizona. The owner needed a manager and the ranch needed some attention to detail. Out came the atlas and off we went! We can now say we have lived the real southwest experience, there in the true wild west dreams of our childhood. Think Johnny Ringo, horses, barbed wire, water rights and silver mining. The very real town of Tombstone, Arizona was nearby and the old copper mining town of Bisbee well worth a visit.
Here, the Chiricahua Mountains in the extreme southern Rockies, was the ancestral land of the Chokonen Apache. Cochise and Geronimo walked these very trails, defending their ancestral homeland. The last Native American holdouts battled valiantly against America’s military until they were forcibly removed. We have found real strength of character here among the people of southern Arizona, along with profound quietness and a rare proximity to nature’s extraordinary diversity in what are known as ‘Sky Islands.’ Precious little remained of the Apache culture, except for shards of pottery found on our hikes. Here, I also removed my share of rattlesnakes and tarantulas from guest areas. Our guests were generally appreciative and we survived too.
Since living in the Berkshires, we’ve bought and sold six homes and lived in nine different states. We ‘let go of the proverbial rock at the bottom of the river’ allowing the current of life to take us higher and farther. We’ve had the privilege of living in very special pristine places beyond where the pavement ends, where the air is still sweet and clean and infinite stars sparkle in dark skies.
Addenda soon to be added:
Leaving Arizona, hello Great Smokies
Home at last, Colorado
Southern Utah

Next?

There are things and people we miss about each place we’ve lived, with plenty of pleasant memories all piled up. We are grateful for the gift of goodbye and the rich experiences that life has brought us since our time in the Berkshires out on the road to adventure in hospitality.

Thanks for reading this tome, for checking in from time to time and following along.

Brooks and Susan Bradbury

BrooksLooks @ Being Home on the Range


Here, the question, “You live here!?” is often followed up with, “I’m so jealous!”
You see, we happily called a small ranch in the southern Rockies our home, the place we welcomed guests to a beautiful hideaway. It is located in the mile high Chihuahuan Desert of southeast Arizona, in an ancient caldera. Bradford Angier, who with wife Vera wrote the inspiring, “We Like It Wild!” referred to locations like ours as the ‘back of beyond.’
When the pavement ends at Arizona Route 181, just as it bends north to the breathtaking Chiricahua National Monument, the six-mile drive on a primitive road to the ranch can build character–giving one pause to consider their travel decision. Once at the ranch a few miles later, guests breathe easier as they relax–easing into one of the most beautiful and tranquil settings surrounded by the Coronado National Forest.
It is a dramatic setting, a region of ‘Sky Islands’–mountains separated by high chaparral where an incredible multitude of species flourishes, both flora and fauna, segregated over eons by individual ranges.

The peacefulness of the area belies its violent history. This is the sacred land of the Chiricahua Apaches, final Native American holdout against the U.S. Military under the leadership of Cochise and Geronimo. There is an incredible sense of place here, wide open vistas where you can see forever down laser straight roads.

To the photographer, incredible light and colors of azure and cerulean blue make for very dramatic images both at dawn and at dusk when the shadows grow long and gentle. All manner of creatures become unique subjects.

As you might imagine, to live here requires some forbearance! The mailbox is 28 miles away through a Border Patrol check-point, “yes, I’m a citizen of this country.” The store is an hour’s drive away, and shopping excursions can be an all day affair. Rattlesnakes (especially the hair-trigger Mojave’s), tarantulas, cinnamon colored black bears and mountain lions require heightened awareness of one’s surroundings. Of course, the more mundane nuisance known as “goat heads” requires a bit of patience too. These severely sharp and pointy burrs attach themselves to everything, whether we like it or not!
For people leading complicated and stressful lives however, this setting provides a true antidote. Here one can find the balance needed to regain control of a complicated lifestyle. Savor unbelievable quietness, amazing fresh air and the long perspective of looking up to very old mountains.
Come. Ride a horse. Sit by the campfire. Swim. Walk along a very special nature trail–one that is full of nature. Remember what being still is like.

Come to the mountains. It will make all the difference.

BrooksLooks @ In the Company of Cowboys

A Picnic of Cowboys and Cowgirls

A year ago, a car was parked along the dirt road leading to the ranch and a man was on the other side of the barbed wire fence wandering in the field. This is quite a common sight here in southeastern Arizona, however I recognized neither the vehicle nor the occupants.

As soon as I heard the voice I recognized instantly that it was none other than cowboy poet Baxter Black standing there before me in all his cowboy glory, eyes twinkling out from under his wide-brimmed hat as he introduced himself and his wife the very delightful, CindyLou Baxter.

It seems Mr. Black was given the wrong date for the Southwest Pioneer Cowboy Association picnic to be held here in the Chiricahua Mountains, and he and CindyLou had arrived one week prematurely. Susan and I were just as happy to invite them for lunch, and while I welcomed our new friends and guests to Sunglow Ranch, Susan took to the kitchen making the finest lunch ever made under pressure. Baxter recited his poem, The West, phrases of which continue to this day to pop into my head such as, “the wind is the moan of the prairie” and “they don’t call it Death Valley for nuthin'”…

Today, over a year later was held this year’s SWPCA Cowboy Picnic. Over a hundred guests were in attendance just down the dirt road from the ranch, and a glorious steak dinner was cooked-out and beautifully served to all. More than one cowboy guest remarking to me that, “there are less and less of the real old-time cowboys left.”

Stackable plastic and metal folding chairs were ‘circled up’ after the meal, as raffle prizes and story-telling began. Cowboy poetry was recited. Stories were shared from the heart, and a celebration commenced for the real cowboys and cowgirls who were in attendance. Many sentences began with, “The Smith Ranch”, or “The Price Ranch”, or “The Riggs Ranch” and beautiful, time worn cowboy phrases like “prit’ near” and “howdy” were oft’ spoken.

A bit slowed by age, these were the originals–the ones who’s family tamed this very wild west from the 1870’s onward, and who continued in their parents’ footsteps ranching in this faraway land. Back then, this land had only recently been delivered up, wrested violently from the Chiricahua Apaches as their parents became the first white homesteaders here.

Now, a bit grizzled, thin and worn with age–it was clear that I was in the company of real cowboys and real cowgirls. Lord knows the hardships they faced. I couldn’t help but feel I was watching the passing of a way of life, and the end of an era. But I saw extraordinary character in these wrinkled faces, and simple lives.

Baxter and CindyLou never made it this year, but I’ll be looking down the road for them when next year’s cowboy picnic comes around. Heck, they prit’ near made it last year.