The historic Empire Ranch has been a working cattle ranch for over 135 years. It’s rich history includes successive ownership by two prominent ranching families, two corporations and finally by the federal government on behalf of the general public. Today the ranch is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. In 1976 the Empire Ranch House was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. In 2000, the U.S. Congress officially designated the current 42,000 acres to be Las Cienegas National Conservation Area. What a treasure. It’s just north of Sonoita Arizona. A one hour drive from metropolitan Tucson will take you back in time.
The Empire Ranch Foundation was created to help preserve the existing buildings on the ranch. The members recruit volunteers to run docent tours the second and fourth Saturdays of every month. Of course there is the need for fundraising through different events. The first time we went to the ranch was one of the Saturdays they had tours.
The ranch buildings are open on tour days. You can see some past restorations and ongoing projects. Like anything else, the Foundation can move only as fast as the incoming money allows.
Docents can be found at the Visitor Contact Station. You will also find some nice shirts, hats, books and more for purchase. There’s a donation jar, if you are so inclined.
On our first visit we learned you’re allow to camp any place on the ranch. Shortly after we got our RV in January 2014, we took it out on a practice run at the ranch. We spent one night there and two days hiking around. With the exception of a rare plane flying over, you would have thought we were the last two people on earth. It was quiet and beautiful.
Of course there are plenty of mountain views.
The night of our trip we were treated to a beautiful sunset.
Look at that blue sky, the mountains and the setting sun.
We got up the next morning and took a hike to see the morning sun wake up the mountains. When we left that afternoon, it took us only an hour to pull into our driveway. It helps to live on the far Eastside of Tucson.
Our next visit to the ranch was for the Spring Trail Ride, one of the Foundation’s Fundraisers. There are two rides, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. There are wagon rides throughout the day. At noon there is a barbecue with hotdogs and hamburgers. You can bring your own horse to ride. There are also rental horses brought in for the day. You need to reserve your space in advance. Here are a few of the horses waiting to be matched with their riders.
Here was my horse for the ride. Her name is Chile Pepper. I thought with a name like that we were destined to be together. What a character. I was at the back of the pack almost the entire ride. Good old Chile Pepper seemed more concerned about what was going on behind her than in front of her. She was constantly looking back and never seemed to get real happy until every one was in front of us. I am deathly allergic to most animals. Dogs, cats and potbelly pigs can put my lungs into an almost immediate shut down. For some reason horses have no impact at all. Many years ago we visited a ranch down near the border, Rancho de la Oso. Included in the package were trail rides in the morning and afternoon. After breakfast we hot footed it down to the corral. Jim said we are not going on a trail ride until you find out if you can handle it. Well it was full immersion. I walked up to that horse and rubbed my face on hers. The good news there was absolutely no reactions. You have no idea how wonderful it is to be able to touch and pet at least one animal.
Here’s Jim getting acquainted with Opal. She sure is a pretty little horse. He said she responded well to the reigns and was pulling on the grass eating the entire way. If we ever venture out on another ride like this, we will ask for two horses that are buddies. Except for the first two breaks for water, I didn’t see Jim at all on the trail. At the end of the ride Jim was back at the ranch at least 15 minutes before me.
Here we are heading out. I took very few pictures. It’s not easy when you are working hard to stay on the horse and you’re also bouncing up and down. I was surprised my iPhone did such a great job. Look at this beautiful open land. As you can see we were strung out for quite a distance. We were warned ahead of time to allow the horses their space.
Here’s the view from the rider’s seat. Prior to the ride you are required to sign waivers and a waiver for helmets. I decided not to get a helmet, but will probably opt to get one if we do this again. There was only one rider who went down on this trail ride. Full confession, it was me. Fortunately it happened so quickly I had no idea what had occurred. I was going up a slight hill after crossing some water. Next thing I know I am on the ground wondering what happened to my shoe. How it came off was a mystery to me. I guess it was a good thing. Other than some sore muscles and a tail bone, of course a very bruised ego, nothing was damaged. I didn’t hit my head and Chile Pepper put me down in the tall grass. The good news is I got back up on that horse and finished the ride. The bad news was there was three and a half hours to go. It was scheduled to be a three hour ride and it ended up being four hours and six miles. Even the riders who rode every week were feeling it. I hadn’t been on a horse since 1987! Last century and a couple of decades. When I finally made it back to the ranch there was no way I could get down myself. Another embarrassing moment. Needless to say we opted not to go on the afternoon ride. I got home took two Aleve, a hot Epsom salts bath, the salts had Chamomile in them, another Aleve and an Excedrin and slept for about ten hours. I was tired.
While we were having lunch I decided to check out my Fitbit. Boy, what a surprise. I set a record for floors that day and no way will I ever get 190 active minutes again. My husband asked, don’t you feel guilty claiming this since you really didn’t walk? After what I went through the last four hours I am taking it. Who knew riding a horse was such a calorie burner.
The bruises of riding and in my case the decision to take a short break at the beginning (doesn’t that sound much better than falling off a horse?) will disappear, but the memories will be with us forever. Empire Ranch is truly a special place. If it weren’t for one of our recessions, today it would be huge community filled with homes, people and noise. Instead the traditions of the West continue. Maybe this year we will get down there to experience the round up. This year it’s November 7, 2015. Take the time to visit the Ranch. Afterwards head on down the road and enjoy a delicious meal at one of the Sonoita restaurants.
If you would like to learn more about the ranch and foundation here’s the link to their website, http://www.empireranchfoundation.org/.
You may want to schedule your first visit on the Saturdays that have the docent tours. Would appreciate you heading on back to this site and leave a few comments about your visit.