October 2012

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Alisal’s lady wranglers

Miss Haddie Stella Tal, a wrangler at Alisal. Photo by David Lansing.

This here is Haddie. Haddie Stella Tal, if you want to know the whole handle. Haddie was the lead wrangler on our ride to the Old Adobe at Alisal. She’s a spitfire. Just before the ride, someone asked Haddie what kind of a cowboy hat was it she was wearing. Haddie thought about it for a minute and said, “I guess it’s a Haddie hat. I don’t know what else you’d call it.”

You see what I mean.

Haddie has been working as a wrangler at Alisal for four years. Before that she was a wrangler with an operation in New Mexico and before that she  worked as a packer and back-country cook for an outfit in the Sierras.

As Haddie says, “I’ve been doing this kind of work my whole life.” Yet she is only 27.

Haddie is engaged to another wrangler at Alisal named Jesse. Jesse James Townsend. Jesse also works the rodeo circuit as a team roper. Right now he’s at some rodeo in Reno or someplace like that. Haddie and Jesse plan to get married in Alisal’s rodeo arena sometime next year. They don’t know when, exactly. Haddie isn’t big on details like that. She says, “I want one bridesmaid to be in charge of the food and another one to take care of the flowers and someone else to figure out the music and such. So I can just show up and have a good time and not have to worry about anything.”

Very practical advice for any woman thinking about wedding plans, I’d say.

I asked Haddie if it was unusual to be a female wrangler. “Not here,” she said. “During the high season (summer) when we have maybe 17 wranglers, 11 of them will be women.”

Like me, you might wonder why that is. Haddie has a theory: “Alisal is a very family-oriented place, with lots of kids, and women wranglers just seem better at interacting with the kids. And we’re softer with the horses.”

I asked her what that meant–being softer with the horses. “Our voices are softer, our manners gentler. I guess you could say we pay attention to the details more than the guys.” Not that she thinks there’s anything wrong with her male counterparts. “They’re the best in the industry,” she says. Still, she thinks the female wranglers might just be more suited to the job–at least here at Alisal.

I asked her what was the best part about being a wrangler and she said, “Seeing the kids develop.” She told me this one story about a little girl named Maddie who came to Alisal the first summer Hattie worked here. “She was eight and had never been on a horse before and we spent the week together, me teaching her how to ride, how to respect horses. She’s come back every summer since. Now she’s 12 and she’s got her own horse at home and sends me pictures of the two of them. I love that. There’s just something about little girls and horses. I don’t know what it is, but it’s there. And it’s magical.”

Having spent the morning riding with Haddie, I’d have to agree.

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A ride to the old adobe

It was cold last night, up here at the Alisal ranch. I woke up around 4 and just lay in bed listening to the wind rustle through the old oaks and what sounded like rain but was really just the sprinklers going off. Never did go back to sleep. The ride to the old adobe was scheduled for 7 so it was one of those deals where you just lie there and wonder how much more time you’ve got before you have to get up and you never really do go back to sleep and then it 5 and then 6 and then you might just as well get up. Which is what I did.

I was the first one to arrive at the barn. Excepting the wranglers who were all standing around a camp fire drinking coffee and stomping their feet to keep warm. Soon enough a small group of women showed up and they were assigned to their horses, saddled up and headed out.

Haddie, the head wrangler, who is cuter than a bug, came over and chatted with me for awhile. She said I’d be riding Wyatt. At first I thought she said I’d be riding White and I told her I thought that was a strange name for a horse. She said, “Not Whi-te…Wy-itt.” Course, with her little Western twang it sounded like the same thing. We walked into the corral together and she went and found Wyatt, who was a good size horse (and also white), and I climbed aboard, and with the sun just peaking over the dry hills, we headed off down the trail, neither Wyatt or I quite sure about the whole thing but trying to be good sports about it anyway.

“Listen,” I said to Wyatt as he did a little sideways dance, “I’m no happier about this than you are, but let’s just try and get along for an hour or so and then we can both be on our way.”

I guess that was good enough for him because he didn’t give me any trouble the rest of the way, though he had reason to.

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Driving Sideways

This afternoon I was driving through Buelton on my way to Alisal and passed the Hitching Post. Remember the Hitching Post…from the movie Sideways? Just had to stop. It’s where Miles Paul Giamatti) gets blattoed while pining for Maya (Virginia Madsen). Truth be known, I would have pined after her too. Where has she been in the ensuing 8 years (was it that long ago?)…I miss her.


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It’s Always Home

I’m on my way to Alisal, the upscale dude ranch (and resort) half an hour north of Santa Barbara in the Santa Ynez Valley. I get there Tuesday afternoon, just in time for cocktails at the Waggin’ Tongue Lounge . My host has advised me that the suggested attire for dinner that night is “casual Western.”

I’m not sure what that is. Jeans and a clean shirt, perhaps? Since I don’t own any boots or cowboy hats it better not be any more complicated than that.

Wednesday morning, I’m getting up early to go on a breakfast ride to the Old Adobe. I wrote about this recently; how I was assigned an uncooperative nag who refused to budge so I ended up riding in an old pick-up with Jake Copass, Alisal’s in-house cowboy poet and long-time wrangler who passed away in 2006. Jake and I had a good chat that day. It was because of Jake, and our little talk, that I ended up going to Arizona Cowboy College. And it’s because of Jake that, for better or worse, I’ll be getting back on a horse to get myself out to the Western breakfast at the old adobe Wednesday morning.


Anyway, in honor of Jake, I thought I’d reprint a poem he wrote over 20 years ago, called It’s Always Home, that was published in his book of cowboy poetry, It Don’t Hurt to Laugh.


It’s Always Home

We all drove down the old dirt road,

My sisters, my brothers, and me.

It wasn’t too easy to figure it out,

Where the old home used to be.

Guess the old house had been torn down,

The windmill and the old corral.

The little tin chicken house is still standing there

In the brush, there is still a dim trail.

You could hear the Bobwhites in the distance,

Cows munching grass up to their knees,

I’d swear that’s the same old mockingbird

Perched high in that old apple tree.

No matter what else has happened,

There’s some things you cannot erase,

The joys we all had together,

On our folk’s little sandy-land place.


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Arizona Biltmore Tequila Sunrise

The Original Tequila Sunrise as served in the Wright Bar at the Arizona Biltmore.

After my somewhat disappointing visit to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West, I felt like I needed a drink, and what better place to get one than at the Arizona Biltmore’s Wright Bar, named after the famed architect. Their house cocktails seemed overly sweet and uninspired: something called a Wright Passion (pomegranate liqueur and Grand Marnier); Wright’s Root Beer Float (Appleton rum & root beer with whipped cream—yuck).

Then I came across a story in the cocktail menu on “The History of the Arizona Biltmore’s Original Tequila Sunrise.” According to the resort, the Tequila Sunrise was created in the “late 1930s or early 1940s when a gentleman by the name of Gene Sulit came to work for The Arizona Biltmore.”

As the legend goes, a loyal and longtime repeat guest had returned to the Arizona Biltmore and told Sulit that he loved tequila, “But was looking for a refreshing beverage to enjoy poolside, and asked Gene to surprise him.”

So right then and there Sulit created the “iconic cocktail made famous in songs, movies, and American pop culture.”

Great story. God only knows if it’s true. Everything I’ve ever read says the Tequila Sunrise was created by a San Francisco bartender named Bobby Lozoff at the Trident restaurant in Sausalito around 1970.

“The Tequila Sunrise was invented here,” Lozoff told a National Geographic writer last February. Lozoff says he and another bartender used to make traditional vodka or gin cocktails with tequila. Lozoff says that his drink was a tequila version of a Singapore Sling.

“We built it in a chimney glass; a shot of tequila with one hand, a shot of sweet and sour with the other hand, the soda gun, then orange juice, float crème de cassis on top, grenadine if you wanted, and that was it, the Tequila Sunrise.”

Two things might suggest the veracity of Lozoff’s story: There are no mentions of a Tequila Sunrise in any major cocktail guides from the 40s or 50s or even 60s; the first “Sunrise” cocktail I’ve come across is in The Bartender’s Standard Manual, published in 1971.

However, there are a couple of other things to consider here. One is that nobody published tequila cocktail recipes prior to 1970 (in my copy of the classic Esquire cocktail book, The Art of Mixing Drinks, published in 1956, there are exactly three tequila cocktails: Margarita, Tequila Sour, and something called a Prado Cocktail , from the Hotel Del Prado in Mexico City, which is just a Gin Sour made with tequila).

Also, the Tequila Sunrise created by Gene Sulit at the Arizona Biltmore had little to do with the Sunrise the Eagles were singing about in the early 70s. It was made with tequila, fresh lime juice, crème de cassis, and club soda. No orange juice, no grenadine.

The 1971 version in the Bartender’s Standard Manual is sort of a compromise between Sulit’s Sunrise and the version we think of now; it calls for grenadine, but no orange juice.

In any case, I ordered the Arizona Biltmore’s “Original Tequila Sunrise” and it was light, refreshing, and much less cloying than that nasty drink from the 70s. I’d highly recommend you give this version a try.

The Biltmore Original Tequila Sunrise

1 1/2 oz. blue agave tequila

3/4 oz. crème de cassis

Fresh lime

Soda water

Fill chimney glass with cracked ice. Add tequila, crème de cassis, and a squeeze of lime. Fill with soda and garnish with a lime wedge.

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