Visitors are not allowed to drive onto the ranch since it is a working ranch; all tours are either on one of their busses or a group motor coach. They tour you through a small area of the ranch, but you do get to see several buildings including the Big House and the large covered pavilion where horse auctions were once held.
I didn't get too many pictures from the tour as making pictures through the window of a motor coach has its serious faults. At the visitor center 2 longhorns were in a adjacent field, and as our tour guide told us, their longhorn cattle is on another part of the ranch so they have these there because non-Texas visitors always expect to see a longhorn while visiting the ranch!
In preparation for the trip I had started reading Petra's Legacy. Petra Vela Kenedy was the wife of Mifflin Kenedy who was a business partner and close friend of Richard King. While it is not an actual biography of her life, it is a compilation of the events that would have involved her and her family. Little is actually known about her, but through letters, court documents and newspaper articles the authors compiled a book that offers a glimpse into the struggles that these early ranchers and their families encountered as they tried to tame the Wild Horse Dessert. Many years ago, in what now seems like another life, I had spent time in South Texas and was familiar with the harshness of this land. As I read the book I could understand the trials that they went through to exist and to establish these ranches. Life was not easy and often they were dealing with human threats in addition to the unpredictably of natural events.
This area had had several inches of rain the week before our visit; they were over-joyed and everything was very green. The last few years have been very dry for South Texas.
Our tour guide was ecstatic that there was water in this creek! It had been dry until the rain came. I don't remember the name of the creek, but the guide told us that Richard King had camped along this creek when he first came to the ranch, known then as the Santa Gertrudis Ranch, and had fallen in love with this rough country.
The King Ranch web site offers a good summary of the ranch and its history:
Today’s King Ranch has diversified into a major agribusiness with interests in cattle ranching and feedlot operations, farming (citrus, cotton, grain, sugar cane, and turfgrass), pecan processing and sales, commodity marketing and processing, luxury retail goods, and recreational hunting.
I was surprised to learn that the King Ranch had been a key player in developing the American Quarter horse. At one time the ranch had several thousand horses, today they only have a few and they are used exclusively on the ranch and are only bred to replenish their stock. The horses we saw were fine looking horses and we even got to see a foal at the brood mare barn! The Triple Crown winner in 1946 was Assault, bred and born right here on the King Ranch.
The Santa Gertrudis and Santa Cruz breeds of cattle were developed on the ranch. Our guide was quick to point out which was which as we passed different pastures, but I can't remember for sure in this picture. I think the lighter cow on the left is a Santa Cruz. The tags in the ear have codes that trace the lineage of each animal as well as information about the marbling to be found in their meat.
Our final stop before heading home was the King Ranch Saddle Shop. I enjoyed browsing in the beautiful store, but was more taken with the building and this entryway tile!