Photography Club travels to the Empire Ranch Festival

Robert Thoresen

Seven festivals abound in the area in November. Two compete on the second weekend: the Tucson Celtic Festival and the Empire Ranch Roundup. Last year the club took in the Celtic Festival. This year it would be the Empire Ranch Roundup. Fifteen members got off to an early start to make it in time for the grand opening welcoming ceremony. In the main arena the B Troup of the 4th US Cavalry (memorial unit from Fort Huachuca) started off with an honor ceremony and military riding/drill demonstration, which was followed by demonstrations of cattle handling and horsemanship and finally concluding with mounted horseback shooting demonstrations. Diversions at the same time included cowboy conversations at the ranch house and conversation tents describing cowboy life from the 1870s to the present, history of the ranch families and the filming of Hollywood westerns on the ranch and in the Sonoita to Tucson region. If that wasn’t enough to keep one occupied, western musical ballads rang from the main music tent. The ranch is located on State Route 83, north of Sonoita and just south of the Border Patrol inspection station.

The Empire Ranch was founded in 1876 as a 160 acre spread. The two founding families were from Nova Scotia and England. Expansion peaked at 100,000 acres by the end of the 19th century. The ranch has passed on through three different ownerships since 1928, one being Gulf America Company, which had plans for a large planned community development. After that busted, the property was sold to Amamax Mining for anticipated mineral extraction. Finally the ranch’s remaining 42,000 acres was acquired by the US Bureau of Land Management in a public-private land swap. Ultimately the area was designated as the major component of the Ceingas Nature Conservation Area. The BLM continues to provide a grazing lease. The Empire Ranch Foundation, a nonprofit volunteer organization (, functions to protect, restore and sustain the ranch’s historical buildings and immediate surrounding grounds.

A nearly continuous lunch is a significant component of the festival. The Elgin-Sonoita Cowbells supplied sandwiches from a mammoth pile of pulled pork covered with brush-fired BBQ sauce along with sides of coleslaw and cowboy beans for a departing $10 bill. PCQC members came up empty handed for the 30+ item raffle.

The PCQC was formed in 2009 and makes regularly scheduled field trips throughout the year. All Quail Creek residents are invited to the monthly meetings the second Wednesday of the month, now to be held at the Anza Conference Center. For current events and further details go to the club’s continuously updated website at