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A Week in the Life -- Rancho de los Caballeros

Day 1- Wednesday 27 March 2013

This winter/spring season, I am working at Rancho de los Caballeros in Wickenburg, Arizona.  Those of you that have read my blog in previous years know that this is not my first time in the town.  I had worked at a small dude ranch on the other side of town, the Kay El Bar, for a few seasons.  Our work week runs from Wednesday to Tuesday and you will find many variations of the week throughout seasonal resort life.  I think this is my first Wednesday start, but I have had work weeks starting on Thursday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.

Today I slept in until 7:30 am.  I am scheduled to work the evening pastry shift, so work doesn't start until 2 pm.  Employee breakfast ends at 8 and I'm in no big hurry.  I go online and check a couple of websites.  One of them is Postcrossing and I see that two of the postcards I have sent have been registered and I pick up two new addresses, one to Finland and the other to Hong Kong.  I write a quick note on the postcards and bring them along on my walk.

I walk frequently, this time it's just down Vulture Mine Road.  I take a left at the strip mall on Wickenburg Way and mail my postcards at the post office.  It's about 2 miles from employee housing.  I then turnaround and go back across Vulture Mine Road to Safeway.  It's a chain grocery store, but this one has a Starbucks located inside and that's where I'm stopping.  I pick up a mocha and a scone and I head back to home.  Usually when I walk I listen to audio books on CD.  Today it's a history book about James Madison.

I get back to employee housing...called the Beach and have time to catch an episode of Adam-12 on Netflix.  I'm on the last season (7) and this is the one where Malloy is charged with excessive force.  It's then time for employee lunch so I wander over to the edr.  Today I'm having fried chicken and mashed potatoes.  I sit around and chat with some fellow employees, Right now the major topic is where is everyone going after this season.  I'm heading back to Cooper Landing, Alaska with Alaska Wildland Adventures at the Kenai Riverside Lodge.  I'm talking with a couple of people that are heading to Lost Creek, one to Denali, and another to a place near Ketchican.

I go back towards my room and get a coke out of the machine and sit outside enjoying the sun.  It is the Sonoran desert.  Temps have been in the mid-70s, and average right now is 80 so typical for this season with temperatures about 5-10 degrees cooler than average...with a few blips above.  It even snowed a couple of times this year, a rarity, but not as much as in the Phoenix Scottsdale metro which is just about an hour southeast of Wickenburg.  There I saw pictures of ground cover, here it came down for a little while and melted as soon as it hit ground.

I go in and shower and get dressed for work and head over to the kitchen.  Tonight we have about 160 guests expected.  Night pastry duties mainly consist of making/baking rolls for dinner service and then put together and plate desserts to order.  there is sometimes a few extras thrown in...tonight I'm catching up on some cookie doughs which I'll make, scoop and freeze and baking some rolls for the 100 guests over at the golf club.  We usually use the standard 1.5 rolls/person with sometimes going a bit extra.  Tonight I'm making two types of Pan de Sal, a whole wheat roll, and some parmesan knots.  We pre-scoop ice cream, about as many scoops as the count, sometimes a little less of vanilla bean, then about a dozen chocolate and strawberry.  Believe me it saves time.

After I roll the dough and scoop the ice cream it's about time for employee dinner.  But my part is easy today...we're using some leftover pies from the lunch buffet and some cookie bars.  Some places have their own edr staff, here it's small enough that the main kitchen handles it.  Tonight is burgers and hot dogs.  When I finish my dinner break I come back into the kitchen. make sure the roll warmer is plugged in and turned on and start baking the rolls.  The club is picking up theirs soon, so I do their pans first.  But I do have room for 8 sheet pans in the oven at one time.  So it goes quickly.  As I wait on the baking, I do a good sweep of the bakery area.  Then finish some cookie dough making.

Orders start coming in.  I fill and refill the roll warmers.  Since the count is more than 75ish we have a line cook on the back line mainly dealing with seafood orders.  I help run the plates for her up to the main line after she completes them until dessert orders start rolling in.  After service, I clean all the surfaces again, check and record cooler/freezer temps and leave any notes that I might need to communicate with the morning pastry chef.  Finished at 9:45 after another thorough sweep and mop.

Day 2 -- Thursday,  28 March 2013

Alarm goes off at 5:15 am.  This morning I start work at 6 am.  So it's get up and get ready...have the next Adam-12 episode playing in the background.  I head over to work and my first job is to help finish setting up the breakfast buffet which runs from 7 to 9:30.  Today I'm also the action station guy...making eggs to order and omelettes.  We also make to order pancakes and waffles...plain, blueberry or chocolate chips.  We have about 100 adults and 50 kids come through.  This time of year is interesting for winter/spring seasons.  Most of the time kids are a smallish number because of school.  But beginning in early March and going until mid-April various spring breaks are happening around the country and it almost feels like summer seasonals.

I break down the breakfast line and set-up the lunch line.  Sometimes we have a carving action station at lunch, but this Thursday our action is pool-side and we're grilling chicken breasts, hot dogs, hamburgers, Italian sausages and British bangers.  I dislike Thursdays lately.  Cookouts are one thing...grilling over two very large mesquite filled flaming gates of hell when the temp is inching over 80 today and the sun is sucking you dry is a totally different experience.  But I still greet everyone with how great the day is and if I can get them anything about some cheese, or coney sauce or bacon...  Then gulp some powerade down...yep our edr has a powerade dispenser so we can battle the sun's dehydrating powers.  Finally clean up and get out of there.

I'm taking a longer walk this afternoon.  The local library is open Mon-Thursdays and I have some materials to return.  It starts the same way when I get to Safeway I just keep walking down Wickenburg Way.  In previous years that meant possibly getting close to traffic in some places, but this last summer the town completed a walking/biking path the entire length.  After the library, I walk over the bridge to McDonald's for dinner since I know I will not be back in time for employee mealtime.  The bridge crosses the Hassayampa River, which is almost always dry on the surface here.  It actually runs underground throughout most of Wickenburg.  I then head for's 5 miles one way from McDonald's.

I do stop in Safeway and pick up a couple of snacks on the way.  When I get back, I check a few websites and email.  I watch an episode of Foyle's War on Netflix.  Go to bed.

Day 3 --  Friday, 29 March 2013

My day off this week.  I've worked a lot of 6-day weeks this season.  Part of that is the flexibility and that I like variety.  On my days off I wake up when I wake up...but this day it was 7 am.  I go over to the edr but all I really want is a bowl of cereal.  I spend a good part of the morning on  I have been working off and on my family history since I was a teenager.  Part of me thinks it was more fun before the internet, but I realize how much easier it is today too.

I then take a walk into town.  First stopping for a mocha.  Then I grab a couple of hot dogs at the Circle K convenience store and sit on the bench near the Jail Tree.  Old Time Wickenburg, when it was a booming mining town didn't have a jail built for many years.  They chained prisoners up to an old mesquite tree.  That tree still stands downtown.

I walk across the street to the museum.  The Desert Caballeros Western Museum is actually pretty impressive for a town this size.  It has won some awards.  Right now the annual Cowgirl Up! exhibit is open with female western artists.  Wickenburg's other chain grocery store.  But this time it's to stop at the Wells Fargo bank branch inside.  Most places I work seasonally offer direct deposit, but not this one.  I walk by the Saguaro Theatre, the one-screen movie theatre in Wickenburg to see what's playing.  Oz...hmm...not sure if I want to see this on the big screen or not.  I went over to Subway (near McDonald's) and had a sandwich and thought about it.  I decided to pass and walked back home.

Day 4 -- Saturday, 30 March 2013

I'm tired, didn't really sleep that well, stay in bed until 9.  I'm working the night pastry shift again.  Maybe.  Probably.  Saturday nights usually mean an open house cookout out in the desert.  Guests sign-up if they want to go.  There have been a couple of times that 100% of the guests sign up, which means the main kitchen staff has the night off.  But most likely that will not happen.  My allergies have really been bothering me lately.  Many people do not realize all of the plants that bloom in the Sonoran desert if they received enough rain during Dec-Feb.  My sinuses want to scream.

I watch an episode of Rosemary & Thyme and go over for lunch.  Flank steak and a rice pilaf and a salad.  I grab a pear for dessert.  I go in to work and only have to deal with a 30-guest count...the rest chose to go out to the cookout.  Easy night....well, easier than Wednesday night.  The schedule for next week is posted...I have Thursday off.

Day 5 -- Sunday, 31 March 2013 -- Easter

If you work seasonally during holiday are most likely going to work the holiday.  Today is no exception.  I start at 7 am.  Right away when I arrive I become the action station chef.  I watch out the window when it's slow...first at the kid's staff 'hiding' eggs, a few hundred.  Then I see the Easter Bunny arrive being led on horseback.  Then watch the kids rush to grab those eggs.  We break down the breakfast line and have a quick turn-around for lunch.

There will be 2 carving stations one for ham the other has leg of lamb.  I'll be carving the ham.  Besides the guests in house, the town has booked an additional 200 seats for lunch.  Normally, the carver also covers the desert bar...but today that will not be possible, so there is an extra person covering that station.  It all went smoothly.

I did laundry after work.  Then went to employee dinner and had leftover lamb and mashed potatoes.  I really like lamb so no complaints from me about the leftovers.  Had a couple of cannoli for dessert.

Day 6 -- Monday, 1 April 2013

4:15 am, no April Fool Day...starting work at 5.  I get to set up the buffet line and today I get to work in the back.  Not one of my usual positions, but once every couple of weeks.  Make a soup of the day...a beef vegetable.  Start the pork loins for the carving station...first searing the pre-rubbed meats on the flat top, then slow cooking them in one of the back ovens.  Preparing some oven-roasted baby red potatoes and steaming some broccoli.  I help the action station chef physically set up the lunch buffet.  I run the buffet for awhile and at 12:45 deal with all the recycling/trash.  1 pm check-out.

I take a walk down to Alco...hmm, a small chain fitting somewhere between a dollar store and a Kmart.  It's next to the post office. I call my mother along the way.  I look around the store.  Need some new socks, but also just browse.  Realize it's late to get back for employee meal so grab a sandwich over at the deli department in Safeway.  Get back a few minutes late for the beginning of the scheduled chat time on My CoolWorks, but catch up.  Watched an episode of Foyle's War..on the last season now.  Went to bed.

Day 7 -- Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Another 5 am start.  This time after the breakfast buffet is set I remain out there for the morning action station.  I also start the lunch carving station, but it's kind of slow today.  The count was 100, but over half of that is one group and they have a special lunch being served over in the conference center.  I get relieved a little earlier than my 1 pm end time, since I've been in overtime most of the day.  The schedule was revised...I also have next Tuesday off too.

I walk downtown again, picking up a couple of items at the library, then some snacks and drinks at Basha's.  I really don't feel like carrying everything all the way back, so I call the local taxi service.









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Comment by Amber Schuetzman on October 6, 2013 at 6:27pm

i had the pleasure of working with Keith. And i have returned to Rancho de los Caballeros and have been thinking of him since my return 2 weeks ago. It is really unfortunate that you not here. you are a hard working person with a great personality and i wish you the best in your travels and hope our paths may cross again.

Comment by rose spicer on July 14, 2013 at 2:45pm

Hi Keith. Once again thanks for the info! Roses...

Comment by Keith Larson on July 10, 2013 at 9:42pm

I liked it there for the most part.  Just like in most places, there will be a day here and there that you wonder what you're doing there...and it's a longer season than average at 7.5 months.  I like to walk and the 2-5 miles into Wickenburg is an easy, enjoyable stroll.  There were many times when people stopped and offered a lift...I usually told them I was out for the exercise, but you wouldn't have to walk all the time.  Many employees have a car and will give you a ride too.  And there is a taxi service too.

I think their website still lists the bus system.  There once was one of Phoenix area bus that would run between the Arrowhead Mall and Wickenburg.  That got a budget cut and stopped running.  Several of us were getting in the same day and split a shuttle ride from Phoenix...some were at the airport and some were at the bus station...they are close.

Comment by rose spicer on July 10, 2013 at 6:51pm

Hello Keith. Thank you for your reply. I have a lot of experience serving and really enjoy it. What I was really aiming for was if it is a pleasant place to spend a winter. I do not require much and am self entertaining. I don't have a car right now and you made it sound easy to walk to the nearest town. How did you get to the ranch? Plane and then bus or do you have an automobile? Rose


Comment by Keith Larson on July 9, 2013 at 10:45pm

Hi Rose.  I couldn't tell from your profile how much serving experience you have.  Then realize it's all on the American plan...they pay one bill and it covers everything.  Then they tip on that and it's a pool with a formula for all those that would normally get tipped.  Several servers said there are many places where they could have done much better money-wise.

Comment by rose spicer on July 8, 2013 at 10:07pm

Really enjoyed you sharing your week. Thank You Keith! I am contemplating October-May at the place you wrote about. Any thoughts from you or anyone about being a server in the winter there? They would be much appreciated. Thanks!  

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