Constellation Road: Germans in Wickenburg

Horseback is the best way to travel through Arizona ‘s wilderness, north of the state’s capital, Phoenix .  Down the Constellation Road , past King Solomon’s wash, and the Gold Bar mine, travelers find themselves at the Williams Family Ranch, surrounded by undeveloped Hassayampa  wilderness.

But as reporter Tony Ganzer explains from station KJZZ, many of the visitors to this wilderness are a long way from their European homes.

{For PRI’s The World}

Roy Williams rides toward a group of nearly a dozen riders on horseback.  His dark brown stallion expertly climbs a ridge overlooking pristine, saguaro-checkered wilderness.

Williams is known as grandpa by his family, friends and guests.  He’s a rancher by livelihood, with a bushy white mustache and a well-worn tan cowboy hat.  Williams sits confidently in his saddle as he tells the tales of his wilderness.

“There was a group in here mining but when they made it wilderness in 1994, they had to take out all the mining stuff,” Williams says, as two riders look at him curiously. They’re from Austria.

It may seem odd to hear German in the Arizona wilderness, but 75 to 80 percent of the guests to the Williams Family Ranch hail from Europe, and many of them are from Germany. 

Roy Williams and his wife Carrol began taking on guests in 1992 to pay back debt incurred on their land.  One of their first guests happened to be a German author.

“She ended up writing this really nice article,” Williams recalls. “Carrol and I got the centerfold in this magazine and they took our picture down at the river with our dogs and horses and by her publishing that, and our phone number and everything, we started getting people.”

The publicity gave the William’s Ranch a boost. 

One guest was so impressed she created a Web site and travel company for the ranch, bilingual in German and English. She carefully chooses guests who she thinks will jibe with the Williams family.

Both Roy and Carrol have lived in Arizona nearly all their lives.  They stable 20 horses, and work 100 head of cattle–not enough to pay all the bills. 

“It’s an old rustic place only supported by its family.  We all have to pitch in with our money to keep it alive,” says Sam Williams, Roy and Carrol’s nephew.

“Wir wollten wirklich keinen Komfort, und das wirkliche Leben eines Cowboys miterleben,” says Sylvia Bann, a police officer from Austria , near Salzburg.  She is traveling with her friend Daniella Chergitz, a secretary.  The translation: the pair wanted no comfort in their Arizona vacation, and wanted to experience the life of real cowboys.

“Das Ranchleben ist nicht so oberflächlich wie das Leben in der Stadt, sage ich mal, wo man nur auf seinen Styling achtet, seine Kleidung, die neuesten Schuhe,” Chergitz says.

“Life on the ranch is not as superficial as life in the city, I’d say, where people only care about their hair styles, their clothes and the latest shoes.”

Guests to the Williams ranch can do as much, or as little as they want with the family.  They eat meals either in the house, or under a covered porch. Everyone prays together in the living room, holding hands near a wood stove.

A generator powers the ranch house after dark, when the solar panels rest.  Maryn Lorenz sits on the porch after a steak dinner.  She’s from Southwestern Germany , and has been visiting the ranch for years, taking weeks or months to enjoy the wilderness.

“This is going back to live the simple life for a while,” she says. “That’s at least what attracts me. Nothing’s going to bother you out here, you can take all the time you want.”

Lorenz says the Williams offer their guests a chance to be part of the family.  Sam Williams even married one of the ranch’s German guests, Tamara.

“That’s what we’re about: just old-time, neighborly type stuff,” Carrol Williams says, known as granny by everyone at the ranch.  She sits with Tamara as rain hits the porch roof.  Carrol Williams has a broad smile, her silver hair is tied in a tight bun.  She says all she has to offer people is hospitality.

“I’m really happy that people can come out and see the country for the reason we bought it—it was like coming home,” she says.

Both Carrol and Roy Williams have modest goals for their ranch.  Roy Williams says he’d like enough business to stay solvent.  Along with his European clientele and other guests, he’d like to open his ranch to local disabled children to expose them to the wilderness.

Saddle Up! on PRI’s The World

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