Horse folks know that if they want to play year-round, they need to head south come November. And increasingly, ropers and riders are making their way to Wickenburg, Arizona, which bills itself as the “Team Roping Capital of the World.”
At any given roping event (and there are several that happen in the Wickenburg area daily), there will be a number of Wyoming riders who have made Arizona their winter home.
Folks like Ron and Kay Miller, who own several businesses in the Cowboy State but have taken up a semi-retirement in south-central Arizona.
“I’ve come down here since 1989,” said Ron, who first experienced the Arizona winter lifestyle from a friend’s house in Cave Creek, just north of the Phoenix area.
“We’d be here a month, or six weeks, and then every year right after Christmas we were coming here,” Miller said.
It Just Makes Sense
From the perspective of someone who grew up in the small town of Wickenburg (population 7,700), it makes sense that so many Wyomingites are finding their way to Arizona.
“I think the atmosphere here is a lot like what people in Wyoming are used to,” said Jeanie Hankins, publisher of the Wickenburg Sun newspaper.
Although born and raised in Wickenburg, she spent 20 years in the newspaper business in Douglas and Torrington before returning to the Grand Canyon State 10 years ago.
“When I left Wickenburg and went to Wyoming, I felt at home in Wyoming,” she told Cowboy State Daily. “They really were the same type of down-to-earth, Western-minded people. It’s one reason why I loved Wyoming and stayed for so long.”
Hankins said that many of the Wyoming people she’s met who spend winters in Wickenburg have agricultural backgrounds, “that love for animals, and wide-open spaces,” she said. “And Wickenburg provides that to them.”
Ted and Lisa Emmons of Sundance are those kinds of people.
Ted, a musician who plays summers at a popular chuckwagon dinner in the Black Hills of South Dakota, said that he and his wife, a retired teacher, first visited Wickenburg right before COVID hit in 2020. They enjoyed their time so much that they made it a point to return earlier this year after pandemic-related restrictions had eased.
“We went just for a month in January, and we just absolutely loved it,” said Ted. “Except that I broke two ribs, and that kind of slowed me down.”
‘We Can Rope Every Day’
But he and his wife – both ropers – are hoping to do better this year. Ted and Lisa will arrive at their winter camping spot at the Simpson Ranch Arena in Wickenburg this week.
“We can rope every day and ride that Hassayampa riverbed all we want,” said Ted. “So that’s what we’re planning on doing.”
And there are no shortages of opportunities to swing a rope in Wickenburg.
“I just counted, there’s 12 ropings today within 30 miles of here,” said Miller. “That’s just today.”
Miller said he didn’t plan to buy a home near Wickenburg, but he got a great deal on a house about 20 miles away. And although he is mostly retired and spends every day on horseback, he’s even moved part of his hearing clinic business to Arizona.
“Now we have a little office, and we work a couple days a week,” Miller said. “And business is really good.”
But mostly, he’s here to do what he loves, with people he’s known since his childhood near Powder River.
“These people are people I’ve roped with since I was 10 or 12 years old,” said Miller. “They’re all here because that’s what they want to do. And they play golf some days, and they rope some days.”
Hankins said when she first got back to Arizona and saw anyone who was driving a vehicle with a Wyoming license plate, she would strike up conversations, because Wyoming’s population is so small, “you always know someone that they know,” she said.
And even though she’s been back in Arizona for 10 years, that is still the case – and even more common now that so many Wyomingites have discovered Wickenburg.
“I was (at the grocery store) and turned around, and these people from Douglas that I had known for 20 years were just standing there,” said Hankins. “And I was like, ‘What are you doing here?’ And they said, ‘Jeanie, what are YOU doing here?’”
Turns out, they are just two of many Wyomingites who have recently bought homes in Wickenburg.
“They said, ‘Well, everybody’s doing it,’” said Hankins.
Emmons said Wickenburg and its roping arenas are like “a country club for ropers instead of golfers.”
He said that while not all residents of Wyoming are into the rodeo way of life, when he gets to Wickenburg, those he meets are all about the Western lifestyle.
“In Wickenburg they’re pretty much concentrated,” he said. “That’s all ropers down there.”
It’s the Weather
Emmons said the horse folks from the north he knows are here primarily to escape the cold winter weather.
“Everybody goes so they can rope all winter long,” said Emmons.
Miller said that because of Wyoming’s harsh winters, it’s hard to find a place to rope there between November and March. But that’s not the case in Wickenburg.
“There’s little indoor arenas here and there, but we don’t have the ropings up there because they’re all here,” he said. “Even the young kids are coming down here for months.”
And Miller said that because of the temperate winter climate, people are able to stay more active.
“Say, I was home (in the winter),” he said. “Well, what do you have to do? It’s too cold to ride horses, they might rope in Torrington on one or two nights a week, but the rest of the time you’re sitting around watching TV or go down to the bar and have a couple beers or go have coffee – and I get bored.”
But in Wickenburg, Miller said, he’s never bored.
“I never sit around, I’m just always doing something,” he said. “I think (people) just live longer down here. It’s more healthy.”
Hankins said despite record-high temperatures in the summer, some Wyoming folks are choosing to stay in Arizona year-round.
“It does get hot, but they’ve probably got a place in Wyoming and they go back for a couple of months,” she said. “But there are getting to be more and more year-round residents in Arizona.”