Ranchin’, Ranchin’, Ranchin’, Keep Them Docents Ranchin’by John Scott on Apr. 04, 2012, under Uncategorized
In an earlier entry, I mentioned one of Arizona’s surviving 1870’s cattle ranches, the Empire Ranch. Located 10 miles north of Sonoita, this historic gem is a must for those wanting to immerse themselves in the 19th century.
Founded in 1860 by a Tucson businessman, the original ranch house was only four rooms with an adjoining corral. By the late 1870’s it was purchased by Walter Vail and Herbert Hislop, who expanded the 160-acre operation and the ranch house grew to 22 rooms with outlying buildings. Ultimately, the enterprise absorbed almost 1 million acres and holdings in the mining arena as well.
It was still a working cattle ranch the 20th century when the film industry targeted it as a location for over 30 western movies. Probably the most famous being Red River, starring John Wayne. Interestingly, the 1988 remake with James Arness was also filmed there. I’ll bet Texans are miffed about that, since the film is about a trail drive from Texas to Kansas. Maybe the next remake will be filmed in Texas.
Today, the Bureau of Land Management runs the area and the Empire Ranch Foundation is hard at work stabilizing and restoring the ranch house to its former glory. In doing this, they have found many interesting articles that tell the tale of this glorious southern Arizona cattle kingdom. They unearthed oyster shells that told of the Vail’s penchant for shellfish. In the 1880’s, these items were shipped in by rail from California, since Joe’s Crab Shack wasn’t founded yet.
In an effort to raise money for its continued restoration, the foundation hosts many events each year. The highly successful “Fall Roundup and Open House” offers entertainment and education for the whole family. They run summer day camps for kids, a western art show, and programs to teach folks about the grasslands nestled in the La Cienega region. Docents are trained in the history of the area as well as the buildings that make up the Ranch enterprise.
This coming weekend is their “Spring Trail Ride and Steak Dinner”. You can bring your own horse (BYOH) or rent one of theirs, and experienced guides will treat you to a look at the Ranch’s beautiful scenery. For those who don’t want to get on the “hurricane deck”, the ranch is providing wagon rides. Later in the day, there will be entertainment and dutch oven cherry cobbler…so I’ll be there.
If you decide to visit one weekend, or are interested in volunteering your time and skills, you won’t be sorry. The Empire Ranch is a remarkable treasure of our state’s history. For more information, please go to http://empireranchfoundation.org