About the Empire Ranch
The Empire Ranch is magnificently situated in the high Sonoran Desert
and rolling grasslands of Arizona, approximately 50 miles southeast of
Tucson, and 10 miles north of Sonoita.
The Empire Ranch House is a 22-room adobe and wood frame
building which dates to 1870 and is listed in the National Register of
Historic Places. The ranch sits at the heart of the 42,000-acre Las
Cienegas National Conservation Area (NCA), on public lands acquired and
administered since 1988 by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Tucson
The Empire Ranch was originally established in the 1860's as a ranch
of 160 acres with a four-room adobe ranch house and adjoining corral.
Owned by Edward Nye Fish, a Tucson businessman, the
ranch was acquired in 1876 by Walter L. Vail, a native of Liverpool, Nova
Scotia, and Herbert Hislop, an Englishman.
Over the next 20
years, as a part of the historic expansion of ranching, railroads, mining
and other growth in the West, Vail and various partners expanded the original land
holdings to include over one million acres. The
ranch house became an extended complex with more than 22-rooms and many
related structures, and remained a Vail family enterprise until 1928.
In 1928, the Empire Ranch was purchased by the Boice, Gates and Johnson
partnership, successor to the Chiricahua Cattle Co., when their cattle had
to be moved from the San Carlos Indian Reservation. The Boices were
respected cattlemen known for their promotion of the Hereford breed of
cattle in the Southwest. Partner Frank Boice and his family lived on and
managed the Empire Ranch, and became sole owners in 1951. During their
tenure they also hosted Hollywood production companies for the filming of
a number of classic western movies.
In 1969 the lands were sold to Gulf American Corporation for a proposed
real estate development, and later resold to Anamax Mining Company for
mining and water potential. None of these developments materialized,
however, and to this day the lands and ranch headquarters have
supported only cattle operations.
In the 1980s a groundswell of public support developed to preserve the
ranch and its natural resources in their pristine condition. In 1988
a series of land exchanges put the property into public ownership under
the administration of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), a division of
the U.S. Department of Interior. In 2000, the U.S. Congress
officially designated these 42,000 acres to be Las Cienegas National
The Empire Ranch Foundation was established as a private non-profit
organization in 1997 to work with the BLM to develop private support to
preserve the ranch buildings and enhance the educational and recreational
opportunities it offers to the general public. The Foundation has
developed a number of educational pamphlets on Empire Ranch history.
Click on links below to download:
General Visiting and Recreation
The Ranch headquarters area and the surrounding Las Cienegas
National Resource Conservation Area are open daily to visitors. Click the
following link www.blm.gov/az/st/en/prog/blm_special_areas/ncarea/lascienegas.html
for additional information on the BLM website. For
questions regarding Las Cienegas NCA recreational use, permits, rules and
regulations, or events unrelated to the Empire Ranch Foundation,
please contact the BLM Tucson Field Office, phone:
(520) 258-7200. For answers to commonly
asked questions about LCNCA public use click the following link: LCNCA
Public Use Information (.pdf).
Empire Ranch Foundation Activities
Walking tours of the historic Empire Ranch House led by ERF volunteer
docents are held at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on the second Saturday of each
month. Tours start at the Empire Ranch Visitor Contact Center, last
approximately one hour, and provide an introduction to the history of the
Empire Ranch families and the buildings in which they worked and lived.
After the tour plan to hike the .5-mile Heritage Discovery Trail through
the cottonwoods and Empire Gulch just north of the Empire Ranch House, or
explore some of the interesting outbuilding such as the Adobe Haybarn. For
questions concerning tours email: email@example.com
The Empire Ranch House and Headquarters is the site of
various special events hosted by the Foundation, including a
Fall Roundup Open House, a Spring Trail Ride, an educational Legacy Day
for area middle school students, Hands on the Land Wild About the
Grasslands! summer camps for youngsters, and bi-monthly Volunteer Days
when community volunteers address hands-on preservation tasks at the
headquarters. In addition, the Foundation holds a Winter
"Empire 100" Western Art Show and Sale, in Tucson.
Click links below for more information, and a calendar of all events
scheduled during the coming months.
Preservation, Restoration and Reuse
Physical preservation of the Empire Ranch House and other buildings is a
first-order mission of the Foundation. These projects involve stabilization and repair of ranch house doors,
windows, walls, roofs and foundations. Once stabilization is assured, a
Master Plan and an Adaptive Reuse Plan jointly prepared by the Foundation and the BLM envisions
development of the Empire Ranch Western Heritage Site and Education
interdependent programs for:
-Restoration of the Ranch House as a historic house
-Establishment of a self-guided Heritage Trail
linking the historic buildings, natural landscape and ecology
of the ranch; and
-Development of educational programs for all ages,
especially programs for children to
augment classroom learning about the natural and cultural history of the
Western Heritage and Education Center
The Empire Ranch Foundation addresses the western heritage
and education focus of our mission through sponsorship of an annual
Roundup and Open House for the general public at ranch headquarters; a
"Legacy Day" field day of on-site ranching education for local
middle school children; and "Wild About the Grasslands!",
spring and summer camp education programs for youth, focused on ecology and conservation
The Empire Ranch is an official member site of the Hands on the Land (HOL)
program, a national network of field classrooms, connecting students,
teacher, and parents to their public lands and waterways. Click link
below to see the Empire Ranch Site Profile on the HOL website:
A self-guided Heritage Discovery Trail is under
construction at Ranch Headquarters; the first segment of the trail was
completed in 2007.
The Foundation is actively gathering and organizing photos, oral
histories and other documents relating to the Empire Ranch.
Selected items or finding lists such as those links above are being made available
through this website. Click link below for summary of oral
interviews collected to date. Also see Site
Map under heading Empire Ranch Information, for links to download
additional educational materials.
The Empire Ranch Foundation publishes a quarterly newsletter with further
information about the Empire Ranch, its colorful history and current
activities. Individual issues are available from this website (.pdf
files; requires Adobe Reader).
It takes time, money and lots of effort to accomplish our mission.
We invite you to join us today by becoming a member of the Empire Ranch
Empire Ranch Foundation | P.O. Box
842, Sonoita, AZ 85637