Empire Ranch at Las Cienagas National Conservation Area, Arizona

I visited Empire Ranch to learn more about its interesting history, walk some of its property and to drive some of the paved and dirt roads through thousands of acres of grassland. There are 29 perennial grasses here depending on the season. I know little about pasture rotation or grasses, but this is what this area is known for, grasses.

Here’s the history in a nutshell: In the 1870’s, Edward Nye Fish had his 4 room adobe house and corral on 160 acres of land. In 1876, Walter L. Vail and Herbert S. Hislop purchased and expanded the land holdings, livestock and buildings till 1928. Frank Boice and family moved in and managed Empire Ranch for the next 47 years with ranching and some Hollywood western movies filmed here.

1969, Gulf American Corp bought the ranch for real estate development and sold in 1974 to Anamax Mining Co for mining and water potential. Fortunately, neither of those developments happened. 1975 – 2009, another family lived here and ranched the area. The ranch house built in the 1950’s for Boice’s oldest son has been rehabilitated for Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) administrative and educational programs at Empire Ranch.

1988, land exchanges took place and eventually in 2000 the US Congress designated 42,000 acres as Las Cienagas National Conservation Area with cattle operations continued under BLM arrangements.

I walked a half mile Heritage Discovery Trail. There is a 1920’s, 2 room  house which had been for a family working on the farm.

Looking ahead, a line of green tree canopy is obvious as they are cottonwood trees, known as a cottonwood gallery. There was a “snag hazard” sign notifying hikers about the trees weakened by fire damage could fall at any time. All are encouraged to stay on the trail, be alert for falling  trees and to avoid the area in high winds. I also learned cottonwood trees self-prune, meaning they will drop limbs of 1,000 pounds or more on windy days. An awful place to tent for a night, not that it is allowed, but with no wind I confidently walked the trail. At some points I did step off the trail to check out a wash and another building on a dead-end trail.

I learned there are efforts to recover the threatened Chiricahua leopard frog. Also, the “cow pie” I saw on the road did actually result in me seeing cattle! I do not know how many gates I have opened and closed while hiking and mountain biking through the years, and I never see cattle. I did see them here! They seemed as surprised!

Near the ranch house is handicapped accessible parking for access to restrooms. Many ATV’s were being hauled in, yet I never saw them on the roads. The dirt roads vary in amount of ruts and rocks. Some areas you’ll see old campfires, bullet shells, and no people. Although in the middle of nowhere, I did see a large recreational vehicle with what I think is a tented toilet area. Otherwise, expect to see lots of grassland and dirt roads that go on and on! I checked out some areas designated as trailheads, but with snag hazard signs I did not wander in to far. Then at one point I realized, I need to turn around on this dirt road to eventually be out of the thousands of acres of silence and grassland! Another time, I will explore another road within this conservation area and find some tanks or other water sources to locate some birds. Today, some smaller birds and shrike were all I saw.