High Jinks Ranch
By Rebecca Miller
The clinking and clanking of hammers is heard from a distance. It’s not easy to decipher what’s going on until you reach the gate of the High Jinks Ranch and realize that the creation and construction of something special is going on. Up the roads less taken on Mt. Lemmon, amidst the golden grassy fields and cactus, perched on the side of a hill lies the High Jinks Ranch. The desert savannah and valley surround the property at nearly a 360 degree angle by peaks of rigid rocky mountains that define the Arizona landscape. Waking up here starts with a never ending horizon painted with the magenta, orange, and violet hues of sunrise that evolve into the clear blue skies of the afternoon. It is hard not to be spellbound by the beauty of the landscape that immerses this ranch as wild purple irises embellish the hillside and walkways.
The ranch was purchased by Dan Blanco and Laurel Wilson in 2011 as a “fixer-upper,” which meant rebuild and start from scratch. Before the main house of the ranch was livable the two renovated the casita, now used as a bed and breakfast, and lived in that until the homey touches were put on the main house. From the casita they transitioned to the house after ripping up the lime green carpet that is reminiscent of a groovier time period to reveal the hidden treasure of wood floor beneath. They salvaged what they could from the original architecture as well as kept with the same rustic style with the renovations.
The casita consists of one large main room of rustic furnishings such as wood floors and an iron fire place. It is the perfect bed and breakfast for the modest traveler who is looking for nothing more than a simple and quiet stay on the mountain. The unit also has a bathroom and shower, as well as a sleeping loft to accommodate more visitors. The views are spectacular, and without the pollution of the city lights the stars shine as bright and clear as diamonds in the night sky. For $80 a night travelers can take pleasure in the simplicity and rustic beauty of the rolling hills of Mt. Lemmon and enjoy a home cooked breakfast.
What really makes this ranch a gem in southern Arizona is the history that accompanies it. In 1912, the High Jinks Ranch and Gold Mine was purchased by Buffalo Bill as a retreat from the Wild West Show. Located just to the right of the entrance are the rusted remains of his car that he used to drive through Oracle in, playing Santa Clause during Christmas and participating in local parades.
It’s easy to imagine that what stands there today is not too different from what Buffalo Bill would have seen during his time spent in Arizona, minus the electricity and running water. “The ranch represents nearly a century of do-it-yourselfers,” according to Dan. Similar to Buffalo Bill using the ranch as a retreat from his traveling show, Laurel, a third degree black belt, is hoping to establish a martial arts retreat in the mountains that will attract international visitors. If you ask her that’s one of the foundations of what the ranch is about, “Martial arts, horses, dogs, and teaching.”
From the renovation of the casita to the house and the future martial arts retreat, it’s obvious that construction is ever present on the High Jinks Ranch. In keeping with the creativity that surrounds the ranch, Dan and Laurel are erecting an art gallery that will take the place of what was once an old barn. The exterior stonework is original and all that remains of the collapsed building, but walking through the space with the new wood floors and stucco, it’s hard to believe it once held livestock. They are hoping that the art gallery will attract more artists from Oracle and bring more foot traffic through the ranch.
Even though the ranch has needed construction on every building, it’s a job that is loved and one that is truly building a dream. The previous owner was Dean Prichard who was responsible for the construction of many of the smaller buildings, owning the property for 35 years. Prichard also served on the Arizona Trail Association and was the trail warden for the Cody Trail Number 9 section of the Arizona Trail (Dan and Laurel are now the proud trail wardens for this). Dean was also paramount in getting La Casa del High Jinks listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.
The Arizona Trail runs directly in front of the ranch and hikers are welcomed to stop, shower, and refill water (it’s the only source of running water for 10 miles), and even get a slice of Laurel’s homemade apple pie. After Prichard’s death his daughter put the property up for sale, “I think she really wanted a buyer who wouldn’t just tear it down and start over. She wanted someone to use the foundation and build it back as it was intended to be,” said Laurel, “So we’re slowly trying to take it back.”
It is evident that Laurel and Dan are trying to stick with the tradition and heritage of the ranch both in its rustic architecture and its ideals. Their intention is to preserve the history of this magnificent place, while allowing others to experience the natural beauty and essence of both the ranch and its surroundings. From remarkable views, to great hiking trails, to hot apple pie the ranch is definitely a place to visit in Southern Arizona.
High Jinks Ranch Gallery