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Earth Notes - Restoring Lonely Dell Ranch

Lonely Dell Ranch at Lees Ferry
Lonely Dell Ranch at Lees Ferry

Flagstaff, AZ – Earth Notes: Restoring Lonely Dell Ranch

Lonely Dell Ranch was established in 1872 as a home for the families who operated Lees Ferry, the main Colorado River crossing for people who came from Utah to settle in Arizona. First John and Emma Lee, followed by Warren Johnson and his family, diverted the stream flowing down Paria Canyon. They planted alfalfa, sorghum, fruit trees and vegetables.

This tiny community of log cabins, stone buildings, and barns was occupied until 1972, when it was bought by the National Park Service. Some of the old ranchland is still farmed a green oasis amid the surrounding sandstone desert.

Now ranger Allen Malmquist is working to maintain the old ranch as a living site for visitors to experience.

Malmquist has devoted himself to ensuring that the property looks more or less like it did in pioneer days. He has begun re-cultivating one of the old vegetable gardens with heirloom varieties of corn, potatoes and squash. The old fruit orchard is thriving with apricots, plums, peaches and pears.

But Malmquist's main job is to repair the seven original structures on the ranch. He takes care to use the same materials and methods as the pioneers.

One of his more unusual tasks has been to whitewash the interior of one of the log cabins with the original formula of skimmed milk and hydrous lime. After a few days, the mixture reacts with atmospheric carbon dioxide to produce an old-style and surprisingly durable limestone wall coating that should last a long time.

-Diane Hope