Just off of hwy 62, about 7.3 miles down a rough jeep road, an old ranch house sits at the foot of Texas’ highest peaks. The blue ranch house with its steeply gabled roof looks somewhat out of place among the open desert landscape. It must have felt out of place, as well, when the builder had the lumber hauled 70 miles by mule from Van Horn, Texas. you can’t help but wonder how hard it must have been to travel this region by wagon as you drive the rugged 4×4 road that violently tosses your vehicle side to side.
But don’t get discouraged. The trip out to Williams’s Ranch is worth the intensive drive. Make sure to stop by the Park Headquarters and check out a key to the gate. Drive 8.3 miles south on hwy 62 and look for a brown gate with a very small National Park shield. If you reach the hwy 62/54 split then you have gone too far. Lock the gate behind you, drive 0.75 miles and to a second gate, and follow the road toward your destination. As you start out the road really isn’t that bad. We drove comfortably at 35 mph for about the first mile and a half. Slow down for the many washes. At about 2.5 miles from Hwy 62 your path joins the Old Butterfield Stage Route and continues with it for more than 2 miles. You will know you have joined the Stagecoach’s route when you pass the rusted iron sign. When you pass the second stagecoach sign you part ways and continue north toward Williams’ Ranch and Shumard Canyon.
Before long you will be able to see the small house off in the distance. The blue paint is striking against the tall peaks 4,000 feet above you. The further down the road you get the rougher traveling becomes. By this time we had slowed to well under 10 mph with each wash becoming more difficult to cross. As you continue, the house will disappear for awhile behind the hills only to reappear much closer then you expect. About an hour after you start down the jeep road you will come to a small gravel parking area in front of the house.
Walk up and go inside the screened in porch to gaze through the windows. You will notice the doors are locked and the windows have Plexiglas covering them for protection. Cup your hands to see the old wood stove and small corner cubbard left inside the house. Along the walls you see the peelings of 100 year old wallpaper (a luxury for the time). Looking into the north end of the house we saw an aluminum ladder and planks of tong and grove molding that we guessed were being used to restore the house.
Take your time to walk around the house and read the historical plaque. You will learn of the different occupants of the house, some who lived here no more than a day. IF you have allowed enough time you might hike into Shumard canyon along the El Capitan Trail. If you have someone to drop you off (no cars allowed overnight) it’s only a 9.4 mile hike back to Pine Springs Campground. Resources:
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