There are no hoof prints in the dirt between the walls of the cattle run anymore.

There haven't been any cowboys here in decades.

What there is, is history.

During a rare tour of the county-owned Canoa Ranch on Friday, locals got a glimpse of the past in the old ranch buildings and corrals. And they got an update on the county's plan to rehabilitate natural and cultural sites and open museums.

"Canoa Ranch really is a microcosm of Southern Arizona," said Linda Mayro, the county's cultural resources manager. "It's a place where all our cultural traditions come together, overlap. And the environment facilitated that."

Native Americans, then Spaniards, Mexicans and Americans lived on the site.

But the spring that brought vital water to them doesn't run anymore and the ranch has been vacant since the 1960s. Some of the adobe buildings have crumbled since then.

In 2001 Pima County bought the 4,800-acre ranch property, about 25 miles south of Tucson. Bond funds in 2004 paid for site improvements that are wrapping up this year, but the remaining work will take several more years.

Visitors Friday learned about the extensive repairs that have already been done on some of the buildings while standing under the breezy porch of the foreman's house or behind the picture windows of the ranch owner's house.

About $19 million is needed to develop the site in phases, and about $1.3 million would be needed annually to operate the park.

Plans call for building a visitor center, gift shop, museum and interpretive sites, some inside the existing buildings. There could also be a living history ranch, an equestrian center and special-event campground.

About $6 million for the project could be included in the county's next bond election, said Kerry Baldwin, Pima County's Natural Resources Division manager.

"It's a part of our history that if we don't work hard to protect it, it is going away," he said.

"This is our Independence Hall. This is our Sistine Chapel. We are a younger area, and these are those pieces that we've got to protect. If we don't protect them, they're gone. We've lost so much already."

Contact reporter Becky Pallack at or 573-4346.