Empire Ranch has been a working cattle ranch for 140 years. Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, Empire Ranch was owned by two prominent ranching families, two corporations, and finally by the federal government.
This incredible attraction is only 20 minutes from the Arizona Outback Inn along a scenic Arizona backroad.
With a range spanning over 180 miles, Empire Ranch was one of the largest cattle ranches in Arizona. The ranch was originally owned by Walter L. Vail, a significant figure in the development of the cattle industry in southern Arizona.
Indian raids were a real threat during the early years and nearby ranches stopped operation as a result. Several ranchers close to Empire Ranch abandoned their farms and moved to Tucson. Vail instructed Empire cowboys to ride the range well-armed and never alone.
The Apaches struck repeatedly in the area. In a series of raids in 1876 and 1877, they stole several herds of livestock and killed three cowboys immediately south of the ranch. The owners of Empire Ranch did not completely relax until Geronimo’s renegades surrendered on September 4, 1886.
In 1886, the ranch was incorporated as the Empire Land and Cattle Company, with California entrepreneur Carroll W. Gates buying half-interest in 1889. By 1898, the Vails had nearly forty thousand cattle, most of which were Herefords, on their combined ranges. Vail and Gates converted the home ranch fully to “breeder-feeder” operations, with Arizona-bred cattle shipped outside the territory to fatten. Beginning in 1902, they siphoned corporate assets into lucrative real estate, horse raising, and resort investments on the West Coast.
In the 1980s, the owners began to restore the buildings to their original state and in 1988 the ranch became public land administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). 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 buildings and enhance the educational and recreational opportunities it offers to the public. In 2000, Congress combined Empire Ranch and the surrounding ranchland with the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area.
Today the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area and the Empire Ranch Headquarters are open to the public 365 days a year.
Their website explains the attractions at the ranch provides information for visitors.
“Some of the rooms at the historic Empire Ranch headquarters are wheel-chair accessible through the front breezeway (zaguán) entrance; the public restrooms are wheel-chair accessible. The terrain around the Empire Ranch headquarters is primarily dirt with uneven surfaces that can be challenging for some mobility scooters.”