When we packed the car and headed to Mesa, we assumed we’d be visiting an ordinary ranch. We had no idea that once we walked through the cave to enter Rockin’ R Ranch we’d be stepping into an Old West town.
That’s the point, said Mary Robson (known as Sweet Mary ‘round these parts), who owns the ranch with husband Big Jim.
“As you walk into the cave, hopefully you walk into another world,” she said.
The town opens at 5:30 p.m. where guests can pick up their tickets – Sweet Mary strongly recommends reserving them in advance. While you wait in line, take some time to eyeball the town or grab a prop gun and take a photo guarding your hideout. Depending on what time you arrive, you may smell the hot country biscuits – be sure to grab one (or more) to nibble on as you check out the rest of the town. If you’re with kids, it may be nearly impossible to pass on the opportunity to pan for gold.
If not, head over to the old saloon where Chelsea (the Robsons’ youngest daughter, actually) is likely singing downstairs.
Chelsea is just one of the Robson’s six children, all of whom have grown up on stage, said Sweet Mary. The Robsons’ daughter, Marisa, also helps out at the ranch and participates in the show.
“We try to keep it real, and it’s great family entertainment,” Sweet Mary said.
Even so, those wanting something a little stronger than lemonade to drink can head upstairs.
My kids love running outdoors, so showing up early gave us a chance to explore before things got too busy. We wandered past what looked like an old Western church, past a few farm animals, including a pony offering rides for $5. We also popped into Sweet Mary’s shop, where they served fudge and other confections before we gathered with the rest of the guests to watch their rendition of an old timey traveling medicine show.
After the show, which was hilarious, we headed inside for dinner at 6:30 p.m. Then it became Big Jim’s show.
He delved into the history of Rockin’ R, a working ranch the family has owned and operated for 35 years. He also gave us the rules of partaking in a real-life Cowboy Dinner.
“We’re not going to treat you like strangers,” he said. “We’re not going to treat you like family, either. We’re going to treat you like ranch hands.”
That meant we headed into the chow line and grabbed our utensils (putting them in our pockets as instructed) and got a metal tray (holding it with two hands, also per Big Jim’s instructions). Our trays were then loaded with hearty helpings of cowboy beans, chicken or beef (or both for about $2 more), baked potato, biscuits and cinnamon crumb cake.
After dinner, Big Jim took the stage again, introducing us to the Rockin’ R Wranglers, who sang, dance, plucked and fiddled for the next hour or so. I won’t go into too much detail so as not to spoil it, but there were also a few surprises. After dinner, we all headed outside to get ready to watch the gunfight. We left the ranch at around 9 p.m., which makes the Rockin’ R Ranch more of a destination than a quick drive-by activity. In other words, keep the afternoon light and show up hungry – it’s an all-you-can-eat affair.