Lil Boquillas Ranch Slowly Disappearing
Entire buildings and structures are disappearing from the Lil Boquillas Ranch near Fairbank, Arizona. I recommend you visit this historical treasure soon, for at this rate it will probably be gone within the next decade.
Yesterday, I was looking down on the San Pedro River using the satellite view in Google Maps. I noticed what might be some ruins south of the Lil Boquillas Ranch and I thought it might be an interesting thing to investigate. So, this morning I woke up and decided it was a good time to make that hike, even though the sky was clear of clouds.
The trail to Lil Boquillas ranch starts right across from the old ghost town of Fairbank, situated off of SR82 along the banks of the San Pedro River in the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area. The trail is actually an old dirt road that leads out to the ranch. Motorized vehicles are not allowed, so you either hike it, bike it, or hoof it. In my case, my feet were my transportation.
It had rained the day before, making for a stifling humid morning. The cloudless sky guaranteed it was going to get hot really fast.
It’s an unremarkable hike that winds through desert scrub with dead mesquite trees prevalent along the way. Two major washes cut across the road, but the sand was wet from the recent rains and it didn’t slow my walking across it.
I encountered about 32 vultures sunning their wings in the warm rays of the morning Sun. Every time I got near them they would fly off and perch further down the road. They never flew far though, so this scenario was repeated over and over again for about a mile and a half.
I noticed that the utility poles that carry power out to the Lil Boquillas Ranch were in sad disrepair and I wondered how the ranch was faring with their electric supply. The last time I had been out this way the poles were in a lot better condition, ensuring the ranch, which was being used by BLM scientists for research of the surrounding ecosystem, got its supply of electricity. The wires up on those rickety poles looked pretty dicy and I hoped they had some good surge protectors!
After 2.5 miles, I finally arrived at the ranch and was immediately struck at how much the property had fallen into disrepair during the 6 years that have elapsed since my last trip this way. The once well-kept grounds now had an abandoned look to them.
The first thing I noticed was there was no sign stating “Lil Boquillas Ranch” over the entrance to the property. Then I noticed that the Main House, which used to be white, like the white metal fence that neatly segregated it from the rest of the property, was now plain brown wood with boarded windows. All the white siding had been removed from the structure and the fence in front of it was damaged, as if a large object had fallen upon it.
There used to be a residence to the right of the Main House, probably the Foreman’s House, A large section of the fence was missing and the spot the building once occupied has now been completely reclaimed by grass. You would never realize that an entire building had once sat there not too long ago.
The large barn was surprisingly in the same condition since I last saw it. I did notice that the roof was beginning to buckle a bit more and would eventually collapse. On the blacksmith side of the barn, the tin roof that covered the feed area, especially toward the back of the barn, seemed to be a bit worse for wear and tear. I still thought it unsafe to walk under.
The Blacksmith building was in shambles. The doors stood ajar and the window panes were broken. The inside of the building once showcased the objects that were made here, and was used by maintenance personnel. Now there was rubble all over the floor.
The Commissary hadn’t fared well either. It was now boarded up. like the main house, and the cement around the chimney bricks was badly eroded. It won’t be long before the stacks topple over.
The Smokehouse looked pretty much the same. The doors were still open, and the tin roof was a bit more rusted.
The water tower was completely dismantled, the wood from the reservoir stacked neatly where the tower once stood, and the pipes that supported the platform were nowhere to be seen.
I’m saddened that this historical site has been left to rot in the desert. If any of you want to experience the ranch, be sure you do it soon, for in another decade it will probably be gone. For those of you who are John Wayne fans, this is a place you need to see. The ranch and barn were used in the filming of the fight scene in the 1948 Western classic, Red River.
Further information about the ranch can be found on Wikipedia and on Google.
I sadly left the ranch, and continued along the trail to reach my destination. I took the right fork in the road instead of the left and found myself near an old abandoned car, after which the road came to an abrupt stop near the San Pedro River.
I did some bushwhacking, thinking I might be able to pick up the trail, but instead I found a concrete wall, near which a steel cable ran up to the side of an excavated hill. I followed the wall, which was quite long, and found that it was part of a dam that had been built along a natural rock formation.
Above the dam sat a cleared area, which consisted of the pulverized rocks that had been taken from the nearby cliff. There was a 25 to 30 foot concrete wall built into the cliff face. Climbing up to the top of the cliff it was apparent that this too was a dam of some sort, and the entire hill had been dug out to create a channel to trap water behind the dam.
I’m guessing the dams were used to water the huge cattle operation that took place here. The Lil Boquillas Ranch had the money and resources to build such structures for their cattle empire,
It was starting to get hot and I decided it was time to hike the four miles back to my car. On the return trip I saw where I had missed my turn. I’ll try going that way on some other day.
It was 90F by the time I got back to my vehicle. As soon as I approached the car I saw a BLM Ranger truck crossing SR82 and coming my way to check me out. He pulled up and told me that he had been waiting for me. A lot of historical artifacts were being removed from the area and he was checking everyone that looked suspicious, or whose car was parked in the area for an inordinate amount of time.
I explained that I was a photographer and I had just come back from Lil Boquillas Ranch. I asked him if he knew whether they were going to tear the place down. He wasn’t that familiar with the ranch, being based in Tucson, and though he had been out there several times, he wasn’t aware that an entire building had been removed, and had not heard any news of the ranch being dismantled.
We chatted a bit more, and he gave me some good tips on how to get to some other sites to photograph. I finally started to feel the effects of the 8 miles of walking in the humid heat, so I bade him farewell, got into my car, and headed back for the air-conditioned comfort of home.