Taking A Look Around The Lonely Dell Ranch Historic Site At Lee’s Ferry
- Date Visited: April 2021
- GPS: 36.86898, -111.5952
- Hours: 24/7
Lonely Dell Ranch Historic District is located in Lees Ferry, Arizona and is part of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
This 460 acre area was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 and in 1997 it was expanded to include Lee’s Ferry. Lee’s Ferry was named after John Doyle Lee, who was the first permanent resident of the area.
A small parking lot is located near the entrance gate of the ranch. Be sure to pick up the brochure at the gate for information during your self-guided walking tour.
The first part of the ranch you stumble across will be the orchard. It’s truly amazing to see this green oasis located right in the middle of the desert. The irrigation system that was constructed to help these fruit trees thrive is quite impressive.
The orchard was planted in 1965 by the last private owners of the ranch. Apricot, peach, pear and plum trees can all be found scattered among the many rows.
If you’re lucky enough to be there during harvest season you are even permitted to pick fruit from the trees for personal consumption. Fruit collected from the orchard should not exceed 5 gallons per person per day.
We were there at the wrong time of year so unfortunately we didn’t get any fruit. Wandering among the rows of the orchard though was one of my favorite parts of the ranch.
Jacob Hamblin was a Mormon missionary who discovered this area in 1864.
Over the years three Mormon families, the Lees, Johnsons and Emetts, made a good life for themselves in this isolated area. These families, among others, operated the isolated outpost of Lee’s Ferry which was once the only place to cross the Colorado River for hundreds of miles.
In December 1871 John D. Lee and his wives, Emma and Rachel, arrived to start operations for the ferry crossings on behalf of the Mormon Church. In 1881 Warren Johnson, along with his wives Samantha and Permelia, took over operations. In 1897 ferry operations were taken over by James Emett.
There are still multiple buildings standing on the ranch today.
After strolling through the orchard check out the cabins of Samantha Johnson and Jeremiah Johnson, the Lonely Dell Dugout and the Picture Window Cabin. A number of pieces of old farm machinery is also scattered around the property.
The Weaver Ranch House is the most modern building on the ranch. It was built around 1935 by Poli Hungavi for Leo and Hazel Weaver. They named it the Paradise Canyon Ranch. It was eventually purchased by Gus and Romona Griffin and upgraded with electricity in 1965.
Informational Plaques are located throughout the property giving more details and history about the ranch.
After your exploration of the main grounds of the ranch are complete continue your journey down the road to the old cemetery. Between 1874-1933 an estimated 25 residents and travelers were buried here.
The graves of around 20 people still remain in this fenced in cemetery. Descendants of these early pioneers still visit and maintain the cemetery.
Continue down the road past the cemetery and you will stumble upon the Paria river. This river is an off-shoot of the Colorado river and is how water was initially pumped to the ranch. In 1965 the last owners of the ranch placed a pump here that still remains today.
Pass the pump location the trail continues to an old corral. You are now in the Paria Canyon Wilderness that is part of BLM land. With a permit you can overnight hike in this are. If you day-hike up the river where you’ll encounter more ranch buildings, remains of the old irrigation system and some beautiful red rock desert landscape.
We turned around at the corral though as it was already noon and getting quite toasty.
The hike at Lonely Dell Ranch is one to two miles roundtrip depending on just how far you venture down the trail. Pets are also allowed on trail as long as they are leashed.
If your goal is just to see the orchard and main ranch buildings you will have an easy and pretty short walk. In fact the whole hike is pretty flat and doesn’t require much effort. It does get hot though so bring water, it is the desert after all.
If you’re in the area visiting Vermillion Cliffs National Monument (which is right down the road and spectacular) or checking out the Navajo Bridge Interpretive Center (also amazing and right down the road) be sure to stop by Lees Ferry. The Lonely Dell Ranch Historic Site and hike is pretty cool and there are a ton of other awesome activities at Lee’s Ferry as well.
This area is part of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and does require a fee to enter. If you have an America the Beautiful Pass it’s free. There are multiple hikes, river access and a beach at Lee’s Ferry as well. They also have a campground and ranger station.
If you travel full-time I highly recommend purchasing this national parks pass. For only $80 a year you get free access to hundreds of national parks, monuments and recreation areas. Some campgrounds even give a discount if you have one. I’ve been surprised at the number of places we’ve gotten into and the ton of money we have saved.