Saturday, 19 April 2014

Swimming Pools & Movie Stars, Empire Ranch, Sonoita, AZ

Established in 1871 Empire Ranch, now part of the Las Cinegas National Conservation Area, has a fascinating history, that really does include swimming pools and movie stars.
From Tucson, we took I10 to the Highway 83 exit and followed the road until we came to the brown visitor sign, turning onto the ranch we followed the dirt road across rolling grasslands until we came to the ranch headquarters.
The original house was a small 4 room building, over the years it was altered and extended to suit the times and whoever was living there, at one time there was also an outdoor swimming pool.

The yard in front of the house.

What looked like an old stock shed

The view from the yard.

As befits a busy ranch, the kitchen was obviously well used, although I was a bit worried about the rattlesnake warning!

Empire Ranch was also used as a location for quite a few films, including Red River and the Outlaw Josey Wales, episodes of Bonanza were also filmed there.   John Wayne, Burt Lancaster and Maureen O’Hara also stayed at the ranch while they were filming. 

This photograph was on one of the informational boards inside the ranch house.

We took the ½ mile Heritage Loop Trail past the leopard frog breeding ponds, sadly we didn’t actually see any.

The trail continued along the dry creek and past enormous old cottonwood trees.   Which is when we found out that it’s not a good idea to sit under a cottonwood on a windy day as they are self pruning, so you just might end up with a huge branch falling on your head!   Not good! 

At the end of the trail you walk past the ‘new’ ranch house that was built in the 1950’s.

It’s a very atmospheric place a lot of restoration work has been done and more is planned.   There are fabulous views across to the mountains and on a quiet Sunday afternoon, we practically had the place to ourselves.   Entrance is free, but donations are appreciated, if you’re in the area and like old ranches it’s definitely worth a visit. 

Have fun, we are!


  1. We had good pizza and beer at the Cantina in Sonoita. Kind of a dive, but not bad pizza.

    Interesting tour of the ranch.

    1. Thanks, good pizza is always worth knowing about.