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PHOTO: Lili DeBarbieri
The smell of fresh basil, Swiss chard, bok choy and arugula float through the air as I arrive at Triangle L Ranch Bed-and-Breakfast, in Oracle, Ariz., an outdoor art gallery, farm and community center perhaps best described as a multi-use facility.
“It’s a gathering place,” says Sharon Holnback, multi-media artist and the ranch’s owner since 2001. “I was looking for some land outside Tucson that was unimproved. I found the Triangle L with a colleague and saw potential.”
The gallery/barn is the venue for a variety of events, like concerts, lectures and workshops, and nearby is an outdoor kitchen featuring a clay oven built in one of the on-site workshops. At an elevation of 4,500 feet, the 50-acre ranch is considered a high-desert environment.
From Homestead to Artist Haven
The ranch was inhabited by Apaches in the 1890s later turned into a homestead named “Boot Ranch” after the ranch’s leather-making activities. Then Westry Ladd, Bostonian architect and “gentleman” rancher, purchased the ranch. Buffalo Bill is said to have been a regular visitor at here during Ladd’s ownership. Westry willed the property to his brother William, who also operated it as a cattle ranch, although he left the real work to a ranch foreman and cowboys. In 1924, William B. Trowbridge became the owner and turned the Triangle L into one of Southern Arizona’s oldest guest ranches. So you could say the land has seen quite a lot of activity.
Architecturally, the ranch today is well-preserved and extremely beautiful. Whitewashed adobe buildings with red tin roofs dwell in the shade of giant oaks. Stacked-wood corral fences wind all around the property.The old windmill still stands as a landmark from another era.
The landscape is equally as beautiful and in its natural state—desert flowers and cacti are everywhere. Habitat areas for wildlife, such as hawks, ravens, rabbits, roadrunners, quail, chipmunks and many species of songbirds can be enjoyed during the day. At night, owls, javelina, bobcats and coyotes are frequent visitors with the occasional hint of a mountain lion among the boulders of the ranch’s sculpture garden. In addition to the native fauna, Holnback tends a lovely iris garden, as well as a large community vegetable garden, that provides produce for the market and guests.
The ranch’s most unique feature, though, is its outdoor art installations along winding pathways that stretch out into the high-desert ecosystem. The installations feature soundscapes that can be triggered by motion. Guests and the community are welcome to go out into the sculpture garden, stroll and enjoy as a kind of park.
Accentuating Desert Beauty
Holnback learned a great deal from the project and shares her tips for creating beauty in the desert world.
1. Uncover Buried Treasure
Because of overgrazing, much of the Triangle L property was overrun with desert broom when Holnback first arrived. She started weeding with the attitude that she was uncovering “buried treasures” of wonderful rocks and a beautiful environment. So she started a pathway that eventually expanded into an outdoor gallery and sculpture path where various artists have contributed installations or site-specific pieces.
2. Find Balance
Creating a farm space that people want to visit all about balancing historical integrity and nature while creating areas that can be utilized for community events, small gatherings, personal reflection and meditation.
3. Empower Your Customers
Let your guests “do-it themselves”—family reunions, yoga and retreats. “People can utilize the facility for things they are interested in. The sky’s the limit,” Holnback says. Not only do they come up with creative events, it takes the burden off you to do it all.
4. Continuously Reinvent
Adding new environments for people to enjoy that blend art and history in a beautiful natural setting keeps the property’s energy from getting stuck, allowing for innovation and beauty to emerge.
When You Visit
If you find yourself at this inspiring ranch in Southern Arizona, be sure to check out these on-site events.
- Oracle Farmers Market: Every Saturday morning, the Triangle L hosts the Oracle Farmers’ Market outside their barn-turned-gallery space. There are homemade scones, beef chili and locally roasted coffee. You may also find eggs, tomatoes, organic honey and squash.
- GLOW: Triple L has become a real artistic hub for the community, with cultural and entertainment events held for the public throughout the year. GLOW, the ranch’s biggest event with more than 200 artists, takes place close to the full moon in September and October and features illuminated sculpture, multi-media art, music, performances and, of course, local food.