By Joanna Dodder Nellans
A day trip to the Juniper Well Ranch and nearby Barnstar Brewery is only a leisurely half-hour’s drive from Prescott, but it truly feels like a world away. The short jaunt leaves plenty of extra time for getting to know the new friends you’re sure to make.
You would expect to find a ranch out here in the wide-open Tonto Basin on the other side of majestic Granite Mountain – but a brewery? Sandy Bigelow wondered if anyone would come if she and her husband built it; they don’t wonder any more.
On any given weekend afternoon at this dog-friendly establishment, dozens of strangers are chatting in the chairs grouped throughout the property’s cubbyholes and porches. No one is staring down at a cell phone, because they don’t work here.
“They don’t just have a quick beer and leave,” brewery partner Jason Johnson relates. “Nobody does that here.” The owners are no longer surprised when they see strangers returning together as friends.
A mile and a half down Tonto Road, cell phones also are useless on the Juniper Well Ranch. Here on this working guest ranch, visitors find a relaxing refuge where they can pick out a hammock or bench to recharge their senses amidst fruit and juniper trees, flowers, tipis, cabins, farm animals and wildlife after circling through the labyrinth, hiking the trails, or riding a horse into the wide-open sunset. Margaret Blessing, who owns the ranch with her husband Everett and their son Astron, fell in love with the place the minute she first saw it.
“It’s the stillness, the stillness of the land and the stillness I encountered in myself when I got here,” she explains.
The ranch and brewery are the perfect complement to each other, producing happy hormones in different ways. Jason, by the way, designed comfortable spaces at both locations. The only question is whether to relax and recharge on the ranch, then go enjoy a chat and a brew, or vice versa?
For a conversation starter, ask the Bigelows and Johnson how they ended up here. But of course, the conversation isn’t Barnstar’s only popular activity. People definitely come for the beer, too. David and Jason are busy on weekdays replenishing the stouts, porters, IPAs, pale ales, wheats, blondes and reds available only on site. One of the more unusual offerings is the “Hot Philis” featuring tomato and ghost pepper.
“It’s really mild on the palate on the front end, and then that heat comes in like a freight train on the back end,” as Jason describes it. Don’t worry though; no pain is involved, only pleasure.
That phrase perfectly sums up this entire Day Trip experience as well.