History - Circle Z Ranch

A young Miko Lorta studying the daily riding orders 

Saddle up for adventure: Dude ranch foreman shows you the ropes at Circle Z Ranch
What do people do on a dude ranch? Get a glimpse of life on the range
There are many good reasons that the Circle Z Ranch in Patagonia, Arizona, is ranked No. 5 on the USA TODAY 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards for Best Dude Ranch 2023, but perhaps the main reason is all about family. For while Circle Z has welcomed guests to the ranch for over 90 years, in the past 50 years, one family has owned the ranch and one family has always had the responsibility of running the ranch. This all-in-the-families dedication to making the ranch an ideal Wild West vacation getaway is reflected in everything they do at Circle Z, from creating a welcoming, comfortable place for vacationers right down to raising, breaking, and caring for the nearly 120 horses that also call the ranch home — and who are definitely part of the extended family.
A family-friendly dude ranch

Rick and Diana Nash are the Circle Z owners, continuing the legacy of Lucia Nash, who bought the 6,000 acres of southern Arizona land that comprise the ranch, which is abutted by the Coronado National Forest and other protected state lands.

Located 13 miles from the Mexican border and 60 miles south of Tucson International Airport, the Nash’s ranch encompasses grasslands, canyons, mountains, lakes, and a section of the Sonoita Creek. The family depends on the Lorta clan — George and Jennie, who have managed the Circle Z for close to 50 years, and their son Miko, who has helped out on the ranch since he was a boy and is now the dude ranch foreman.

Relaxation and adventure in Patagonia, Arizona

With only enough rooms for 36 guests and not a television on site, Circle Z Ranch is a place where one can get away from it all for true relaxation and escape from the everyday. Guests have access to a swimming pool, game room, tennis, and pickleball courts and a cantina. Along with horseback riding lessons, clinics, and trail riding, there’s a host of ranching activities and nature explorations to truly embrace the natural beauty of Patagonia, Arizona.

Circle Z Ranch welcomes guests from October to May each year, but that doesn’t slow down Miko Lorta, the ranch foreman, who is living out life in his dream job, all year round. We asked him to tell us more about what running a dude ranch means to the 36-year-old foreman; not surprisingly, it starts with a love of both the ranch and the horses.

10Best: When did you realize you wanted to be the ranch foreman?

Lorta: From when I was little, and always. There was no second guess. I always pretty much knew what I wanted to do. I really didn’t say it out loud, ‘I want to take over my dad’s job,’ but I knew that I could follow in his footsteps. But it’s kind of hard to follow in his footsteps, because I’ll never be as good as he was. I hope I can come close. He’s perfected the job for so long!

10Best: When did you take over? And tell us what the job really entails at the Circle Z Ranch?

Lorta: I worked for one year in the summer for the Forest Service in 2005. And then my dad’s back went out, so I made a decision and came straight back and started working here full time. Day to day, things change all the time here, but mainly I take care of all the horses. I’m up at 5:30 a.m., and so is my crew of seven. They go feed the horses, and, by 6:30 a.m., we have breakfast. Then I assign all the horses and saddles to the individual guests.

Sometimes I shoe a horse too. By 9:30 a.m., I separate all our rides for the day. That depends on how many people we have and how many rides I have posted. I don’t go on the rides. I have people to do that, but I go every once in a while.

The rest of the day, I am fixing something. There’s always something to be fixed on a ranch! We also have cattle to check on and horses that need to be doctored. I pretty much do anything that needs to be done: fix a water pipe in the kitchen, help birth a foal, whatever needs to be done.

I’m even the cook sometimes. I do some grilling. I’m always doing something when we are cooking on picnic days. We cook barbecue ribs and chicken. On Mondays, we have steak nights. I’m pretty much everywhere on the ranch!

Ranked among the best dude ranches in the US

10Best: Why do you think the ranch was voted among the 10 best dude ranches in the United States?

Lorta: I think what sets us apart is that our ranch is a smaller operation. We take about 30 people maximum in a week. And the people that come and visit us, our guests, we really treat them like family here. We want them to come back, come back every year. And we know they come to ride. I’m going to say 100 percent of the people that come down here come to ride. And we give it to them. If they stay a full week, they’ll probably get close to 70 or 80 miles of riding.

10Best: Is there a next generation coming up in the Lorta family that plans to keep up the tradition of being the dude ranch foreman?

Lorta: I’m very fortunate to have my wife and my daughter here on the ranch with me. My daughter is 11, and I’m raising my daughter like I was raised. She rides; she helps out on the ranch. But right now, she’s playing volleyball, basketball, and softball, so she’s got a busy schedule. I encourage her to be the best she can, whatever she decides to do.

Boynton Beach, FL—-How2Media, the producers of the television show “World’s Greatest!…”, selected Circle Z Ranch to be a part of the popular television series.

For over 96 years, Circle Z Ranch has offered the most sought after and authentic dude ranch experience in the United States. With the vast open spaces of desert, grasslands, and mountain vistas; the expertly trained horses; and the painstakingly appointed cottages, Circle Z Ranch is the gold standard of dude ranches. They are widely acknowledged as one of the few remaining original dude ranches in the country. “We think their story will be meaningful as well as educational to our viewers” said Kyle Freeman, Executive Producer of the show.

“Alongside the Lorta family, we have devoted our lives to providing an authentic and incomparably rich dude ranch experience to thousands of guests and have preserved thousands of acres of the most diverse landscape in the United States. We are humbled to be a part of the Worlds Greatest TV show” said Diana and Rick Nash, owners of the Circle Z Ranch.

Air Times:

Sunday, June 11, 2023 at 2:30 pm Eastern time – Bloomberg TV 

Sunday, June 18, 2023 at 2:30 pm Eastern time – Bloomberg TV


On DirecTV: Channel 353.

On DISH Network: Channel 203.

On Cable: Depends on your local area and carrierannounced today that they have recently












EDITOR’S NOTE: As Editor Robert Stieve noted in our April issue on Sonoita-Patagonia, that region of Arizona was the filming location for the musical Oklahoma!, released in 1955. The April 1955 issue of Arizona Highways included a look at the production, along with photos from the set and an account of how Oklahoma! ended up in Arizona. Here’s Allen C. Reed’s story from that issue.

Just twelve years ago this month, the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, “Oklahoma!”, destined to be a fabulously successful hit, opened on Broadway. In the dozen ensuing years, “Oklahoma!” has played more than 8,000 performances to a delighted world-wide audience well over 12,000,000, with a gross of over $30,000,000. Such a record causes little wonder when taking into consideration the loved musical score that seems to have the immortal quality of never growing old: numbers like “The Surrey With the Fringe on Top,” “Oh What a Beautiful Morning,” “People Will Say We’re in Love,” and the title number.

Now the great musical “Oklahoma!” can reach a still wider audience, for the long-awaited screen version about to be released in full color is expected to smash this twelve-year record in a fraction of the time.

“Oklahoma!” is not only being filmed in CinemaScope but this production marks the introduction of a new camera, the Todd-American Optical big screen process, which uses a single strip of 65mm film and is designed to give audiences a sense of participation on the order of Cinerama.

After turning down a host of offers to film “Oklahoma!”, partly to avoid outside tampering with their creation, Rodgers and Hammerstein formed their own company, leased facilities and equipment from M.G.M. and hired Arthur Hornblow as the producer. The director is Academy Award winner Fred Zinnemann, who has such top-flight pictures to his credit as “Seventh Cross,” “High Noon,” “From Here to Eternity,” and many others.

The cast of “Oklahoma!” includes Gordon McRae as “Curley,” a sparkling and capable newcomer making her film debut. Shirley Jones, as “Laurey,” Charlotte Green as “Aunt Eller,” Barbara Lawrence as “Gertie,” Eddie Albert as “Ali Hakim,” Gene Nelson as “Will Parker,” Gloria Grahame as “Ado Annie,” Rod Steiger as “Jud,” James Whitmore as “Andy Carnes,” Jay C. Flippen as “Skidmore” and Roy Barcroft as “Cord Elam.”

Before the film got under way, more than 250,000 miles were logged by R.&H. officials in search of the ideal location site. An extensive survey crisscrossing the state of Oklahoma revealed that it would be rather difficult to capture the feeling of wide open spaces, that the territory was noted for 50 years ago, with an oil well or some such modern structure showing up in the background. Other drawbacks of the Sooner state were too many airplanes that would disturb the sound system and force costly delays, to say nothing of the great distance to transport tons of equipment and the 325 member cast and crew back and forth from the home studio in Culver City, California.

One day Arthur Hornblow, leafing through the pages of Arizona Highways, saw a color photograph of the spacious San Rafael Valley of Southern Arizona. When research revealed this area was noted, during the summer, for its green grass and picturesque clouds, arrangements were made to film the exterior sequences in this ideal setting 36 miles northeast of Nogales. There, in the shade of stately cottonwoods by a quiet country stream, “Aunt Eller’s” farm of 1900 vintage took form, complete with two-story house, barn, silo, windmill and smoke house.

Shooting schedule called for a bearing peach orchard, a field of ripe wheat and a field of corn “as high as an elephant’s eye,” in July at an altitude of 5,000 feet where harvest time is normally in October. The peach orchard was purchased and transplanted. From the studio prop department came some 2,000 lush looking wax peaches, complete with fuzz, to be hung out each morning and taken in at night. The corn field, running up and down hill, presented an especially tough problem. Each stalk had to be coddled and nurtured with chemicals and a constant supply of water to yield what was doubtlessly the world’s most costly corn crop: ten acres at something like $8.95 per ear. Of more than 6,000 props bought, borrowed or built, for this picture, by Irving Sindler and his prop department, the Arizona sky proved to be the most magnificent, with white thunderheads boiling up into the afternoon blue a daily occurrence.

There is nothing small time about the production of “Oklahoma!”, with filming cost reported upwards from five to eight million dollars. The fine cast, the excelling abilities of director Fred Zinnemann, the outstanding capabilities of producer Arthur Hornblow, camerman Robert Surtees and of the entire hand-picked crew, along with the musical and story genius of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, are combined to give the world an entertainment experience surely worthy of all the awards and “splendiferous” adjectives that Hollywood can come up with, one in which Arizona can surely be honored and proud to have played such an important role.

To learn more about Sonoita and Patagonia, pick up a copy of our April issue, on newsstands now.

We are thrilled to introduce our new Logo for the Circle Z Guest Ranch, which will be used in many different ways including embroidered on our popular ranch wear items in our gift shop. Imagining this new design was a creative group effort, with many members of our team giving their thoughts. We wanted the logo to speak to who we are, and to portray a more contemporary feel, while holding on to our deep and historic origins. It was important to represent the history of the ranch, exuding the simplicity of life here at the ranch, along with the authenticity we continue to offer our guests. And most of all, we wanted to represent the reverence we hold for the foundation of our ranch: our horses.

Many of you who have been to the ranch will recall the beautiful artwork in our cantina, showing Mrs. Zinsmeister, the original ranch owner, and her horse El Sultan, the original ranch stallion, bowing in front of the ranch gate. This was the inspiration for our logo. We hope you like it, and we look forward to introducing it to the look and feel of our ranch.


el sultan

Since our inception in 1926 we have been known for our fine breeds of horses. Circle Z Ranch’s first and most notable stallion was a Carthusian Stallion named El Sultan, and this is his story.

Heavy in foal, a Spanish mare from the Spanish royal stables of Marquis de Domecq of Jerez de la Frontera was gifted to a stable in Havana, Cuba. Arriving in Cuba in 1931, she soon foaled El Sultan, who would become the stallion for the Circle Z Ranch by the age of five.

A Carthusian Horse, El Sultan’s bloodlines dated back to the late twelve hundreds. After the Moors left Spain, the Carthusian monks in Andalusia bred this larger Moorish Arabian stallion with a larger type of mare from central Europe. This original stallion was named Esclavo. The mare’s bloodlines went so far back into antiquity that her exact breed was unknown.

After 300 years of breeding and meticulous record keeping, the Carthusian monks considered their breed firmly established. Taking the purity of the bloodlines seriously, it is said they even refused royal orders to mix their stallions with other breeds. When the monks disbanded in the 1800’s, the horses were taken in by Juan Jose Zapata, who diligently continued the purity of the bloodline. Called the Saintly Horse because of its extremely gentle disposition, these pure bloods were jealously guarded by the Government and the Spanish remount system as they were excellent cavalry horses.

The Carthusian horses are known for their proud and lofty actions, a showy and rhythmical walk, and a high stepping trot. Their canters are rocking in nature, with natural balance, agility and fire. Today Carthusian horses are raised around Cordoba, Jerez de la Frontera, and Badajoz, Spain on state-owned farms. Nearly all of the modern pure Carthusian horses are descendants of Esclavo.

In 1934 El Sultan was the first Carthusian to live in the United States, and at the time only the sixth to be let out of Spain. Given as a gift from the Cuban Stables to a family in New York, he ultimately ended up in the hands of Mr. R. A. Weaver of Cleveland Ohio. Mr. Weaver was a sponsor of the Kenyon College polo team and a frequent guest at the Circle Z Ranch. Not interested in breeding, he decided that the ideal place for El Sultan would be the Circle Z Ranch, where breeding him with the smaller Mexican range horse would make an ideal guest horse. And he was right.

El Sultan not only sired countless foals for our guest ranch, his gentle disposition led him to serve many functions. Taking well to stock work, he was used for roping at the fall, ranch sponsored rodeos. He also was a frequent show horse at the Tucson parades, winning numerous awards for first of show. Standing over 16 hands, he was said to have been able to jump 6 foot high fences. He was also used during the polo matches at the ranch, which Mr. Weaver helped to establish. He was so gentle that guests rode him as well.

El Sultan was much beloved by the ZInsmeister family, so much so that he had his own stable and corral, and was insured for $10,000. When the Zinsmeisters sold the ranch in 1948, El Sultan stayed with the Zinsmeister family, and was exercised every day until his death on January 2, 1953. In the words of Helen Zinsmeister, “He was more than anyone could expect, and a natural performer and jumper.” His stunning profile still adorns our ranch walls, where El Sultan will forever be remembered as the Circle Z Stallion.


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