Desert Empire

Arizona's Empire Ranch boasts a rich history going back to the days of two daring speculators. The ranch's future now depends on an enterprising family, a partnership with the government, and a renewed horse program.


In the early spring, the Old Spanish Trail south of Tucson bursts forth in a kaleidoscope of color. The desert plants that inhabit the region cast off their ominous appearances for a few weeks of wild abandon as Mexican gold poppies, purple lupines and mariposa lilies put on a dazzling show. Meadows of wildflowers paint the countryside in brilliant shades from the desert lowlands to the high country, and each new environment offers its own splendid variety.

Route 83, the present-day name for the old trail, can be joined from the main highway heading south from Tucson. Along the route, the greasewood, mesquite and giant saguaros of the Sonoran Desert give way, mile by mile, to lavish grasslands that almost look out of place in Arizona.

Father Eusebio Kino, a Jesuit missionary, brought the first cattle - 150 head - to graze near the headwaters of nearby Cienega Creek in 1699. Today, Route 83 leads to one of the largest ranches in the history of the West, the Empire Ranch.

For the rest of this article, see thee July 2006 issue of Western Horseman.