A piece of the silver screen’s history in the Silver State is being preserved, while the diverse mosaic of the Mojave Desert ecosystems continues to be protected for years and generations to come. The historic and storied Walking Box Ranch owned by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and now is jointly managed by the UNLV Public Lands Institute and the Las Vegas Field Office of the BLM. Walking Box ranch is seven miles west of Searchlight and 55 miles south of Las Vegas.
RESEARCH AND EDUCATION OPPORTUNITIES
Although the ranch will not be open to the public until the renovations are completed, the ranch is now available to conduct research projects or for education events that are aligned with the education and research missions of the ranch. The ranch bunkhouse, which is equivalent to a small 3-bedroom house and which can accommodate up to 10 people for overnight visits, is available for research and education activities. A trailer near the bunkhouse is also available for use as a small classroom. Also accessible for activities appropriate on a Bureau of Land Management “Area of Critical Environmental Concern” (ACEC), is the spectacular surrounding Mojave Desert.
A 100% Design Concept Plan has recently been completed and is guiding preparation of the architectural and engineering drawings for the next phase of project development. The concept plan illustrates plans for both the future museum that will be developed in the existing historic buildings, and the future research center, which will be built south of the historic ranch house. A Master and Preservation Plan, prepared with funding from the National Park Service’s Saving America’s Treasures program and a UNLV match, describes the planning process that has guided project development. The project is scheduled for completion in 2013.
The facility is not ADA accessible at this time, but it will be following renovations that are now in the planning stages.
To discuss possible research or teaching projects contact Dr. Jean Cline at 702 895 1091.
UNLV and BLM officials announced on April 11, 2006 that a cooperative management agreement had been secured for the two entities to cooperatively manage a 40-acre parcel of the ranch. Under terms of the agreement, UNLV and BLM will work towards making the ranch available for education and interpretive purposes, including the possibility of the ranch serving as a museum and interpretive center to inform the public about the history of ranching in Southern Nevada and ongoing conservation efforts. All activities will be in compliance with the easements held by the Nature Conservancy.
The Walking Box Ranch was built in 1931 by legendary silent film stars Rex Bell and Clara Bow. The name of the ranch and brand are symbolic of a camera box on a tripod. During the 1930s, it covered nearly 400,000 acres and supported 1,800 head of cattle.
The ranch was also known as a rural escape destination for the couple’s famous Hollywood friends, which reportedly included Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, and Errol Flynn. Bell and Bow stayed at the ranch until the mid-1940s, when they separated and Bell pursued a career in politics. He served as Nevada’s lieutenant governor from 1955 until his death in 1962. Rex Bell, Jr. and his brother George grew up at the ranch. Rex Bell, Jr. served as Clark County District Attorney in the 1980s and early 1990s.
The property continued as an operating cattle ranch under Bell and the subsequent ownership of Karl Weikel through the 1980s until it was sold to Viceroy Gold Corporation in 1990. Viceroy used the property to access their local mine and rehabilitated the ranch headquarters to serve as an executive retreat. Since the mid-1990s, the property has changed hands several times and is now located in the midst of an expansive desert tortoise conservation area. View the ranch chronology.
THE RANCH TODAY
The 160-acre Walking Box Ranch is located approximately seven miles west of Searchlight and just south of State Route 164. The facilities include a two-story 5060 sq. ft. home, 2095 sq. ft. barn, 960 sq. ft. caretaker’s residence, 1200 sq. ft. guesthouse, a 60x120 foot swimming pool, tennis court, and miscellaneous structures. Outside there is a 575 sq. ft. cactus garden and a 770 sq. ft. covered patio with a built-in barbecue.
The main house features terra cotta tile on the first floor and hardwood floors on the second. The six bedrooms and six bathrooms retain most of the original tile work. The original desert stone fireplace remains as the centerpiece of the authentic great room, and a rustic wooden bar draws visitors into the family/game room.
Some of Southern Nevada’s most significant ecological and cultural resources are embodied just outside the barbed wire fences surrounding the ranch. Being adjacent to wilderness areas and areas of critical environmental concern, the region is habitat for some 300 native plant species and the threatened desert tortoise. It sits at 4,000 feet above sea level.
The property has undergone a detailed survey and cataloging of the structures, cultural artifacts, and historic land uses. The structures will be restored/renovated to stabilize and preserve the buildings’ interior and exterior. Renovations will be completed in accordance with requirements to place the ranch on the National Register of Historic Places. Master planning has been conducted to determine if the property should include a public museum and interpretive center, as well as using a portion of the surrounding environs as a field research station and training center. By taking these steps, the Bureau of Land Management and UNLV promote the public appreciation of a historic site, preserve early 1930s architecture, and provide a venue for public education about the fragile ecosystems of the Mojave Desert.