Besides serving to preserve a unique landscape, the conservation area is also the home of the Empire Ranch which has been a working cattle ranch since 1871. In 1876 Walter L. Vail bought the ranch and made additions and improvements to a small adobe house located on the property in preparation for the arrival of his wife from New Jersey. The Vail family owned the ranch until 1921, expanding the original herd of 612 cattle to over 40,000. The next owners, Frank Boice and his family lived on the ranch until 1969. After the Boices sold the ranch it passed through several owners including a couple of companies that were planning on mining and developing the land for housing. Fortunately the plans for development stalled and the land was obtained by the federal government. It’s managed jointly by the BLM and the Empire Ranch Foundation.
The Empire Ranch Foundation works to preserve the historic buildings which include the original 1871 adobe house plus the additional rooms that were added through the years. The house and many of the out buildings are opened for self-guided tours. Artifacts and interpretive signs are located in the buildings and on the grounds. A short interpretive trail loops through a stand of cottonwood trees.
The site is partly accessible but wheelchair users may need to have help because of rough and uneven ground. Many of the rooms in the house have ramps. The interpretive trail is hard packed dirt with a slight downhill slope. The last section is rough and steeply uphill so backtracking may be necessary.
The parking areas at the ranch are large enough for any RV. There are two officially designated primitive camp areas that provide free camping for up to 14 days. We stayed at Cieneguita Camp Area which is a very nice grassland with scrubby trees and good views. Dispersed camping is okay too but only in areas that have already been used. Las Cienegas 31.76551, -110.62929