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Many Happy Returns

HOLIDAY ON HORSEBACK

WHO The Behrens Family
WHERE Tanque Verde Ranch, Tucson, Arizona
YEARS GOING 16

As the Behrens family of San Diego drives to Tanque Verde Ranch, their excitement mounts just outside Tucson, where the highway turns into a two-lane road that dips and rises. "Our stomachs do acrobatics," Adrienne Behrens says. "And we know we're almost there. Then we breathe in the fabulous mesquite smoke."

The Behrenses take their weeklong December trip in part to escape the Christmas hoopla. It's also a good time for Sanford Behrens, a physician, to steal away from his practice, and for the kids, Rochelle, 21, and Michael, 23, to take breaks—this year, from college and a new job, respectively.

Spread over 640 acres, Tanque Verde sits high in the Sonoran Desertamid the foothills of two mountain ranges. It's a lush area where Pima Indians once lived and pioneer farmers ran their cattle. Founded in 1868, Tanque Verde has been taking in guests since the mid-1920's, but it remains a working cattle ranch. Stucco casitasare sprinkled across a hillside, close to pools, tennis courts,riding arenas (there are 150 horses), a lake, a spa, and an adobe main ranch house with huge eucalyptus trees on its lawn.

The dining room has floor-to-ceiling windows and a latillo ceiling—pine beams alternating with tight rows of dried cactus ribs, all of it dribbled with adobe mud. Since some of the tables seat 10 or 12, the Behrenses often join other families at mealtimes. The ranch's hearty standards, such as roast prime rib and baked orange roughy, are served up alongside gamier items—buffalo kebabs or ostrich piccata. And if this isn't Western enough, there are cowboy barbecues in a grove of cottonwoods, with Tom Chambers, a local rancher, strumming and singing "Happy Trails," "Home on the Range," and other tender Old West songs.

All the Behrenses learned to ride at the ranch. When the children were small, they participated in the kids' program (swimming, hiking, and horsemanship), but nowadays the family saddles up together. Soon after sunrise, they arrive at a corral straight out of High Noon. Wranglers in tall hats, chaps, and fancy belt buckles lead the way. The horses clop along 300 miles of trails on ranch property and in the Coronado National Forest and Saguaro National Park —a desert landscape with outlandishly tall, lanky saguaro cacti.

On breakfast rides, they stop at an abandoned stone homestead on a hilltop. Ranch owner Bob Cote flips blueberry pancakes and serves upchile, eggs, and bacon fried in the open air. "It's breathtaking," says Sanford. "Tucson is visible in the distance, but for the most part it looks like nothing has changed since the beginning of time."

14301 E. Speedway, Tucson; 800/234-3833; www.tvgr.com; doubles from $415, including meals and all ranch activities; children from $105 each.

MIMI READ writes for House Beautiful and Martha Stewart Living.

SAME TIME NEXT YEAR

12 More Favorite Winter Resorts and the Families Who Are Faithful to Them
By Emily Holt

CALIFORNIA
Wilderness Lodge at Royal Gorge
The Swiss-style lodge near Lake Tahoe holds teen cross-country ski races; on the kids' trail, snow bunnies glide past four-foot cutouts of Sesame Street characters. WHO GOES The Wongs, from San Francisco YEARS RETURNING 10 THE DRAW "This is an eating tour in disguise," says Carleen, mother of 14-year-old Natalie. But consider braised lamb shanks and saffron risotto fuel for your moonlit ski around Kilborn Lake.
Soda Springs; 800/500-3871; www.royalgorge.com; cabins for three from $249 per person, including meals.*

FLORIDA
Boca Raton Resort & Beach Club
On December 26, 15 tons of snow are dumped under the palms at this pink Art Deco resort, then fashioned into snowmen. WHO GOES The Goldfarbs of New York City YEARS RETURNING 7 WHERE THE KIDS ARE The three younger girls join the resort's kids' clubs, but the Goldfarbs' 15-year-old prefers the unofficial teen club in the lobby. "They've colonized the sitting areas for hanging out," says Cori, her mother.
Boca Raton; 888/491-2622 or 561/447-3000; www.bocaresort.com; doubles from $215.

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