The path from raising cattle and organic vegetables to entertaining hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world was a bit rocky in the beginning, but the deep roots at Blazin' M Ranch made such a transition possible, all while contributing to the local economy and helping put the Verde Valley on the map worldwide.
Now the good folks at Blazin' M want to say "Thank you!" to the local communities as they celebrate 20 years, with an Old West Fest, free and open to the public on Oct. 18. Plan now to stop by the ranch between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. for good old-fashioned activities for the whole family. In traditional Blazin' M style, there will be cowboy music, roping lessons, tractor pull and visits to the critter corner as well as added child-friendly carnival games, a bean-bag toss, and potato sack races with the Blazin' M staff being ably assisted by volunteers from Buena Vista Children's Services. Lunch will also be available for purchase with a portion of the proceeds going to BVCS.
"We would never have gotten started, much less maintained a viable business for 20 years, were it not for outstanding community support," says Lori Mabery, Managing Partner for Mabery Ranch Company, the family that founded Blazin' M. "We want to say thanks to our communities and make this an annual event in October."
Before they started the entertainment venue, family patriarch and community icon Chuck Mabery owned the property, upon which he grew organic vegetables. After the 100-year flood literally washed out the irrigation system in 1993, the family decided to open another family business. "We thought it would just be a part-time enterprise," says Lori, "but within a few short months, it took on a life of its own."
Though Blazin' M is only open 150 days per year on average, nearly a million people have enjoyed this family-friendly western village and dinner show so far. Before the show, guests can enjoy the museum, saloon and activities ranging from target shooting, to shopping to old-time photography. Situated on the banks of the Verde River behind a rustic ranch fence, the Blazin' M Ranch welcomes visitors from as far away as China and as nearby as their Old Town neighborhood to enjoy dinner and see the show. With its beautiful and unique setting inside Dead Horse Ranch State Park, along with the recreated Old West town, the 9-acre ranch feels like a step back in time, yet situated within a mile off Main Street in Cottonwood.
These days, in addition to the western music show, which is liberally laced with gentle cowboy comedy, and great music, there are other activities and seasonal events available throughout the year that utilize the venue in unique ways, such as line dancing lessons at Boots 'n' Boogie, community theater productions such as the critically acclaimed "A Woman's Hand" and hosted events such as the ever-popular Chamber of Commerce Regional Mixer.
According to Casey Rooney, Economic Development Director for the City of Cottonwood, this family-run venue has always been, "...on the leading edge of establishing Cottonwood as a destination location versus being just a town to drive through on the way from Sedona to Jerome."
In addition to contributing to the Verde Valley economy by employing a wide variety of talented individuals in their 20-year tenure, Blazin' M Ranch has served as the "first job" opportunity for hundreds of local high-school students. Former employees return to see the show on a regular basis, says Mabery, many of whom were teenagers when they worked at the ranch, and now bring their own children for the fun.
With five full-time and 25 part-time employees serving as shopkeepers, ticket takers, servers, singers and cooks, some employed for more than 15 years with the ranch, everybody pitches in to make the evening enjoyable for all involved.
"All our own children, some who are still partners in the business, and now grandchildren, have helped us at the ranch throughout the years," says Mabery. "When Chuck was still entertaining, many evenings we would have four generations working here all at the same time. Family and staff alike consistently get kudos from our guests about their visit. We all work together to make this a memorable experience, a place where people want to be and can't wait to return."
Supporting the community is a big part of the Blazin' M philosophy over the years. Fund raisers wherein Blazin' M donated the food, the facility and staff time have raised tens of thousands of dollars for local charities including Rainbow Acres, the Sedona/Verde Valley Fire Fighter Charities and many other area nonprofits.
Noting that family-run businesses that withstand the test of time seem to be "few and far between," Mabery says that Blazin' M has flourished because they have tried to listen to their guests and changed with the times.
"Saying thank you is more than a gesture," says Mabery. "Some of our best ideas have come from customer recommendations." Mabery says with a smile, "The suggestion box is always open."
For more information on Blazin' M, contact Lori Mabery at 928-634-0334 or go to the website at blazinm.com.