Empire Ranch is a perfect example of why random signs along deserted stretches of highway should never be ignored. More often than not, they lead the way to something intriguing. But that’s an understatement for this sprawling, well-preserved site off Route 83 in southern Arizona, which boasts a 22-room farmhouse, numerous outlying structures, endless trails, and even a frog breeding habitat. The site has been used as a filming location for huge title such as 3:10 to Yuma, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, and Oklahoma!, among many others.
Located in the stunning Las Cienegas National Conservation Area and maintained by the Bureau of Land Management, the historic Empire Ranch farmhouse dates back to 1870. A breezeway through the center of the home leads visitors through a series of doors, which showcase the ranch’s gradual expansion as the rooms become increasingly modern. The first doors lead to primitive adobe bedrooms for the ranch hands and the cooks. An outdoor meat locker is nestled between the bedrooms. Behind the final door, visitors are greeted by a seemingly 1950s era kitchen, full of strange knickknacks and a vibrant teal paint job. The Mix Master in the corner is a stark contrast to the original kitchen just a few doors down, which was little more than a table, a meat cleaver, and a boarded up hearth oven. Various signs throughout the property tell the ranch’s tale and explain some of its curious attributes. Outside of the main ranch house, there’s more to explore, including barns, stables, and an interpretive trail.
The strangest thing about Empire Ranch is how quiet is it. We pulled off the highway on a whim and spent hours exploring, but never encountered another soul. Back in Phoenix, we can’t seem to find anyone who’s ever hear of Empire Ranch, let alone visited the site. It’s amazing that such a wonderful place could go unnoticed by so many. Anyone who loves history, nature, abandoned buildings, quirky places, old Hollywood, and apparently frogs will fall in love with this place.
Just be prepared for wild turkey traffic jams.
Location: Route 83 between mile markers 39 & 40, approximately 3 miles off the highway (road is mostly paved and accessible to all vehicle types)
Hours: Daily, sunrise to sunset (Check their website below to make sure not to visit during a special event)