A Jemez Hide-A-Way

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By April M. Brown

I am a Jemez history geek. I love nothing better than to find some old cabin village in the wilderness, or an old pueblo ruin atop an isolated mesa.
I’ve spent years exploring various parts of the Jemez, slowly learning about the history of each area, and benefiting from the knowledge of previous explorers like Bandelier and Hewitt. No matter how much I explore and research, there is always something new to discover there.
I continually read stories in books about old resorts, ranches and hotels that are now just empty spaces in the forest full of broken relics from yesteryear. One of those places was an old ranch called the Lazy Ray; but I was never really clear on exactly where it was located.
I had long admired photos and old post card reproductions of the place in books. It was a sprawling and exclusive ranch from the 1920s to 1960s, advertised to only house 35 guests at a time. It contained an old trading post, numerous cabins, a swimming pool, steam rooms, and even decorative water fountains. Guests could spend the day soaking in nearby natural hot springs, fishing for trout in local streams and ponds, or hunting in the forest that surrounded the resort.
Even more interesting, the resort was formerly called the Rancho Rea, which was rumored to be one of Al Capone’s secret hideouts in the late 1920s, when the heat was on in Chicago. During the time, residents in the Jemez area reported sightings of shiny, black Cadillacs driving to the location, and armed guards posted at the ranch’s entrance.
Even though the place is now returned to nature, I still wanted to see it for myself; and I finally got the opportunity last weekend, when a friend casually recommended a trail to me while camping off of FS 144. As we discussed its location, I realized that the trail he mentioned was the old road to the Lazy Ray. I couldn’t wait to explore and absorb the history of the place.
A short drive past the Fish Hatchery, on FS 314, ends at a locked gate, which begins the Cebolla Canyon Trail. The gate blocks what used to be the old road.
The afternoon was filled with both sunshine and thundershowers, as my friend and I admired the scenic beauty of the canyon. The trail follows the lovely Rio Cebolla to a pond that was once used by the guests and employees of the ranch. Even in its early years as the Rancho Rea, the river was regularly stocked with trout by the owners. It is now a catch and release area stocked with Rio Grande Cutthroats.
As we followed the trail around the pond, we started noticing obvious rock foundations. I was filled with excitement. We had found evidence of the old ranch!
Further inspection turned up old bricks, glass bottle fragments, rusty ax heads, printed ceramics and brick foundations that represented a glimpse of what life might have been like on the ranch. Old pipes jut out of the ground in places, where the plumbing once existed; and we even found what appeared to be an old grill or chimney hidden deep within the woods.
What was once a vast and bustling ranch is now empty fields full of fragmented antiques. When the Forest Service acquired the land in 1970, they tore down all of the buildings, leveling the ranch to the canyon floor. For a history geek like me though, it wasn’t difficult to imagine the old ranch in its heyday.
As I stood atop the hill looking down on outlines of buildings, I could imagine gangster cars parked along the road, and men in black suits holding tommy guns as they traversed the courtyard. I could even imagine Al Capone drinking illegal brandy at a picnic table by the Rio.
I marveled at the idea of future expeditions into the canyon and the secrets that I might uncover there. I had finally found the old ranch that I always read about; and walked in the footsteps of an infamous historical figure, that just happened to choose the Jemez as one of his many hideouts.