EAGER, SPRUCEDALE RANCH and ALPINE, AZ (ARIZONA HIGHWAYS TV) -- Surrounded by pines and tucked in this quaint little valley not far from the Four Corners is the X Diamond Ranch. The family ranch was started was back in 1893 and has been in Wink's family ever since.

Arizona Highways TV - X Diamond Ranch

“One of the things I think's important to is to share it with other people," Wink Crigler said. "I have a very strong desire for other people to see how ranches are [run.]”

The working cattle ranch is also home to horses and deer. Visitors can roam the ranch or saddle up for a ride in the wilderness.

“Some people like to ride out in the snow; they get a thrill of looking at snow and finding tracks and seeing what's been there," Wink said. "Even if they don't see the animals themselves, you know there's a story in the snow left behind.”

The land has a pretty amazing story of its own. First occupied around 600 AD, it is now an archaeological site. But unlike most, people are not only encouraged to come and take a look, you can grab some tools and help dig.

Arizona Highways TV - Excavation

“[It's] the only site of its kind in the United States, that I'm aware of, where the public can come and actually do university-level work and participate in the actual excavations,” an archaeologist explained.

A $5 donation gets you about an hour of dig time at the Little Bear Archaeological Site. If you find something, it gets stored in the lab or the museum along with more 1,000 artifacts, mostly jars or pots or tools.

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The area is truly a natural museum of the past. Each one of these rectangular outcrops has a story. And if you look close, you can hear it.

Arizona Highways TV _ Archaeological site

“As you look at the walls, you can see that they're different in time. The walls will actually speak to you and tell you their own language, chronologically. 'I'm older than the one next to me because I'm uglier and more primitive in style.' 'I'm newer because my masonry style shows a great deal more knowledge about how to keep a wall up,’” the archaeologist said.

The land just oozes with history and heritage, and yet right next to the ruins, is beauty personified – a gorgeous lake for fishing, or forests to hike.

“I never get tired of the beauty of this canyon," Wink said. It's there every morning when you wake up; it's there every night as the sun goes down.”

The ranch is also home to a one-of-a-kind museum, a place where you can see and hear what life was like back in the early and mid-1900s.

From antiques sewing machines to Old Western saddles, fancy Western wear to Old West necessities, the X Diamond Ranch is not just unique, it's historical -- a place that truly stands the test of time.

To the south ... 

When people come out here to Alpine (just 20 miles from the ranch), it's to enjoy Mother Nature to its fullest. But that experience is different for everyone.

[WATCH: Small towns like Alpine are the heart and soul of Arizona]

For some, it just means sitting back, relaxing and taking in the beauty. But others want more of a scenic adventure.

Arizona Highways TV - Robin on Little Joe

Robin on Little Joe near the Sprucedale Guest Ranch

So, if you just head about 20 miles southwest of Alpine, you'll come right to the Sprucedale Guest Ranch. You can ride great horses like Little Joe and enjoy the mixed conifer forest.

One of the best simple pleasures you'll find in alpine is an easy-going horse saddled up and ready to take you on a ride that you stay with you forever.

After some basic instructions, Ellis Wiltbank with the Sprucedale Guest Ranch leads the riders through some of the prettiest country in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests.

Arizona Highways TV - Sprucedale Guest Ranch

Riders take trails through grassy meadows with summer wildflowers, and take in some breathtaking big skies over pine and aspen covered mountains.

Along the way, Ellis fills us in on some of the area's legendary characters.

But he knows when to talk and when to just let his guest riders quietly marvel at the amazing scenery that surrounds them and their horses.

“Now, this is to me the most beautiful part of this ride, when you look up in the sky, and you see all of these pine trees up against the white clouds and the blue sky," Robin said as Little Joe carried her along the trail. "That's pretty magnificent.”

“Up here, you have different scenery," Ellis said. "The mountains that we have and the canyons that we have are different from anything you would get in the desert or down lower. Just different scenery.” 

Arizona Highways TV - Sprucedale Guest Ranch

The pine-scented clean air and the hypnotic sounds of horses crossing a cool, meandering stream just lull you into a state of calm and relaxation.

And when it's time to head back to the ranch, whether you're ready or not, your horse already knows the way back to Sprucedale, the way you will, long after you've left the ranch and are set on returning again.

The road to Alpine is paved with good intentions primarily because, if there ever was an Arizona town intended for you to visit, it would have to be this one.

Arizona Highways TV - Alpine

“We're basically north and south, we're just about dead center of the state," Greg Thompson, a lifetime resident of Alpine said, "Right here, we're approximately 4 miles from the New Mexico state line, so we're on the extreme eastern edge of the White Mountains."

The high country setting of Alpine is the only place Greg would ever think of living.

“I love it," he said. 'I love it. It's all I know. I've lived here my whole life, basically 50 years, and I don't think I would trade it for the hustle-bustle of city life."

“Alpine is fairly laid back,” he continued. “We get very busy in the summer. You know, you kind of make hay when the sun shines up here, because we do have a pretty extended period of winter up here. I've always said, 'If you can make it through the winter, you always can make it through the summers up here.;"

Alpine has about 500 year-round residents, but in the summer, that number changes.

“We probably have upwards of 2,000 summer residents; that's a big part of our population is summer cabins, summer properties," Greg said.

All you have to do is take a good look around to see why.

“It's a good trade-off from the desert, you know? It's a good place to be in the summer when it's hot in the Valley,” according to Greg.

Alpine is a sportsman's paradise, so Robin wanted to see where the sportsmen and sportswomen hang out. That would be The Tackle Shop and Sports Center.

They have everything you need, including squirming worms if you plan to go fishing.

Drive into the Apache National Forest, and you are surrounded by some of the tallest Ponderosa pines in the state.

On our journey, it seemed like the tree tops could almost tickle the clouds as the bright blue sky flew by.

Arizona Highways TV - Hannagan Meadow Lodge

Up this way, just off Highway 191, is the Hannagan Meadow Lodge. The original lodge was built back in 1912 and is the oldest in Arizona.

Surrounded by lush pines and a grassy meadow, the lodge is a woodworker's dream.

The walls are partly made of logs, and giant wood beams stretch from one side of the ceiling to the other.

Arizona Highways TV - Hanngan Meadow Lodge

Decorated like they did in the olden days, visitors are greeted by wood-burning fireplaces with wood-carved mantels, a picture of one of the more famous guests, perched to the side.

The wood-covered porch gives visitors a spectacular view of Hannagan Meadow, a place where horses are as frequent as cars. Even rainy days the picture is worth 1,000 or more words.

Perched at more than 9,000 feet in elevation, Hannagan Meadow truly is one of our state's brightest jewels.

Small towns like Alpine truly are the heart and soul of Arizona, and with such a magnificent backdrop, this is a place you definitely wanna come and visit.

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(1) comment

JF Conlon

Such a beautif part of Arizona. Thanks for these articles.

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