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Riding in the Wilderness - Sonoita, Arizona - ATV Tour to The Empire Ranch



Riding in the Wilderness -Sonoita Arizona – ATV tour visiting the Empire Ranch

Martha and I decided to do an ATV Tour out of Sonoita, Arizona. We opted to take a cross country 4 hour tour which took us through the vast Empire Ranch. It was a lot a lot of fun. Our tour guides were Apache ATV Tours and their website can be found here: http://www.apacheatvtours.com/


The Empire Ranch is located on East Empire Ranch Road, three miles east of the intersection with State Highway 83 (between mile markers 39 and 40). It is 36 miles southeast of Tucson and 31 miles north of the Mexican border. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, the nomination included only the main building of original ranch headquarters which was 160 acres in Pima County Arizona.

empire-ranch.jpg?w=595&h=428 The Empire Ranch House and facilities circa 1900 (Source Wikipedia)

The Empire Ranch represents one of the most successful, long-lived, cattle ranching enterprises in the Southwest and has been in operation for over 140 years. The ranch is located in the ecologically rich Cienega Valley in Southeast Arizona, Ranch owners made full use of and, husbanded well, all of its natural resources – grass, water and soils – in support of their livestock business.


The landscape retains a remarkable degree of integrity both of its natural resources and its built structures and features. Those ecological and historic values were recently recognized by Congress when the landscape was designated as the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area in 2000. Now administered by the Bureau of Land Management, the Empire Ranch landscape still functions as a working cattle ranch and its headquarters are being stabilized and preserved. (source Wikipedia)

vaqueros.jpg?w=723 Vaquero’s mounted and ready work on the Empire Ranch (source Wikipedia)

The Empire Ranch was originally established in the 1860’s as a homestead ranch of 160 acres with a flat topped four-room adobe ranch house and adjoining adobe-walled corral. In 1876 the ranch was owned by Edward Nye Fish, a Tucson businessman, when it was acquired for $2,000 by Walter L. Vail, a native of Liverpool, Nova Scotia, and Plainfield, New Jersey, and Herbert Hislop, an Englishman. John Harvey, an Englishman from Bermuda, joined the partnership a few months later.

ranch-and-cattle-pen.jpg?w=723 Circa 1890’s

The economic and financial success of the Empire Ranch was dependent upon the ingenuity and determination of two ranching families – Walter L Vail and relatives and, later, Frank Boice and his descendants. Walter Vail expanded the original homestead through a series of strategic acquisitions of land parcels and water rights and effectively secured control of several hundred thousand acres to support over 40,000 head of cattle. Possession and control of these valuable lands and water sources allowed the Vail family to protect the ecological integrity of their most important natural resources – soil and grass – when other ranchers regularly overused and ultimately damaged theirs. Like other entrepreneurs of the time, they invested in other resources and land uses. The discovery of silver at the Total Wreck Mine provided additional financial support for the Vails’ cattle empire.

This lead to the growth of the ranch to an eventually the ranch grew to 115,200 acres, or 180 Sections which made the ranch 180 sq. miles. Today it still remains large by any standard at 46,000 acres owned and operated by the BLM. It is open to recreational activities of all kinds.

img_20190105_103357-20190105.jpg?w=723 Ready to depart on the tour
  00000img_00000_burst20190105112420308_co Scenery that just won’t dissapoint 00000img_00000_burst20190105112527986_co00000img_00000_burst20190105113123522_co

Ranch resides amidst rolling grasslands at the transition between the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts. The Valley is surrounded by the Santa Rita, Huachuca, Whetstone, Mustang and Empire Mountains. The Santa Rita’s are in the background.

img_20190105_101321-20190105.jpg?w=723img_20190105_102248-20190105.jpg?w=723img_20190105_102612-20190105.jpg?w=723img_20190105_102727-20190105-1.jpg?w=723img_20190105_120907-20190105.jpg?w=723img_20190105_142731-20190105.jpg?w=723 That ain’t a cow! p1050222-20190105.jpg?w=723p1050228-20190105.jpg?w=723p1050242-20190105.jpg?w=723p1050245-20190105.jpg?w=723 Lunch break under giant, old cottonwoods p1050260-20190105.jpg?w=723p1050265-20190105.jpg?w=723p1050267-20190105.jpg?w=723 More, “not cows” Antelope


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We have taken this tour and several other with Apache Tours.  When we are in the greater Tombstone area we try to book a new tour with Apache!

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Thank you for the info!! We have been to Sonoita quite a few times but never on a tour. My aunt and uncle have their second home there in Sonoita. I think we will book a tour next time!! We have friends in Sierra Vista, Goodyear, Buckeye, Phoenix, Gold Canyon, Queen Creek and Apache Junction. Makes it hard to go for a "little" visit.

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