Forest Service crews repair fencing around the former Canelo ranger’s residence in preparation for offering it as a vacation rental. Photo by Marion Vendituoli

Tucked away on Membrillo Lane in Canelo, on the west side of Turkey Creek, the old Forest Service ranger residence and ranger’s office are being spruced up in preparation for their debut as the newest members of the National Forest Service’s roster of rental cabins.

When the project is completed in early 2024, the Canelo ranger station cabins will be the 9th and 10th cabins for rent by the Forest Service in the Coronado Forest as part of their “Room with a View” program. 

Historic Preservation Specialist Chris Schrager first proposed the “adaptive re-use” of the Canelo ranger residence several years ago. “It’s a lengthy process,” he said recently. “There’s planning, getting funding, and an environmental assessment.” 

He estimated that it has taken six to eight years to complete the project, which was partially funded by the Great American Outdoors Act, a law enacted in 2020 to address the need for repairs and maintenance of infrastructure on public lands.

Surrounded by large trees and grasslands, the Canelo cabins sit on Forest Service land that slopes down to Turkey Creek. On a recent September morning, the landscape was punctuated with the brilliant yellow of San Pedro Matchweed in bloom. As a pair of turkeys watched cars driving down the lane to the ranger station, and a deer slipped between the trees, a group of wildland firefighters and two archaeologists from the Sierra Vista Ranger District of the Coronado National Forest worked to restore the residence, moving piles of rubble and replacing a metal fence.

Work stopped briefly for everyone to admire a small rock rattlesnake that was disturbed from its hiding place in the rubble. The crew debated whether the animal was designated as endangered or threatened. “This area is notorious for snakes,” commented Schrager. They left the snake hiding in its chunk of concrete and continued to move debris by hand, apparently unconcerned that any of the snake’s relatives might be lurking nearby.

The residence and office building were built in the 1930s, with much of the work done by Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) workers. The CCC was a program established by President Roosevelt in 1933 to provide work for single men between the ages of 18 and 25 improving public lands across the U.S. 

A meadow at the former ranger station has a grill, volleyball court and picnic table. Photo by Marion Vendituoli

Schrager pointed out rock walls and masonry done by CCC workers, noting the quality of the workmanship done by these previously untrained young men almost a century ago.

Elgin residents John and Pattie Oliver lived at the Canelo ranger residence from 1960 to 1987, raising their three children. John served as the fire control officer for the Forest Service district, commuting daily first to Patagonia, and then to Sierra Vista to the Forest Service office there. 

John built corrals at the station for their animals out of 4” metal pipe. “It came off the top of Huachuca Mountain from a waterline from a mine,” he said. “The kids had their 4-H animals, we had our horses, and the Forest service had mules there,” Pattie said. 

The Olivers heated the house with a large wood burning furnace installed in the basement. They put in a volleyball court, and had a grill under the cottonwood trees near Turkey Creek. In the summer, during fire season, crews from northern California and Oregon would come and stay for a month at a time. “I loved it,” Pattie said. “We had so many Fire Service parties in the summer. It was so much fun.” 

“Being out there under the big cottonwoods with the water running down below, it was really a nice place to live,” said John.

Both the bungalow-style buildings followed the standard design set by the Forest Service. Schrager noted that identical buildings can be found in districts throughout Arizona. The six-room residence has two bedrooms, a bathroom, kitchen, dining room, and living room. The former ranger’s office has three rooms, including one bedroom, a bathroom, and a kitchen. Renovations have included upgrading the kitchens and baths with ceramic tiled floor, and new appliances and fixtures. Mini-split heating and air conditioning have been installed in both buildings, and light fixtures and fans replaced.

Workers have also installed lighting fixtures and fans and are repairing retaining walls. They have replaced metal fencing, repaired and repainted damaged and deteriorating wood fascias and windows, fixed roof leaks and added gutters.

These cabins, as well as others on Forest Service land throughout the state, are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. “These are significant resources,” Schrager said. “Not nationally, maybe, but regionally they have tremendous significance.” Forest Service Field Archaeologist Jonnie Knighton-Wisor and Susan Bierer, Sierra Vista District Archaeologist for the Coronado Forest both agreed. “People have been around here for thousands of years using the landscape,” Knighton-Wisor said. 

Bierer noted the rich history of the region. “There is every site type here [in Santa Cruz and Cochise Counties],” she said. “Mining [sites], prehistoric sites like Murray Springs, the Playa. There are water resources, perennial streams, and seasonal campsites that have been undeveloped, and are basically preserved.”

All six forest districts in the state have cabins for rent. Other locations in southern Arizona include a cabin at Madera Canyon, two cabins on Mt. Lemmon, one in Kentucky Camp, two in the Dragoon Mountains, and two in Portal. “Some are very remote, and some are right off a highway,” said Schrager. 

Renters must bring all their linens and supplies, including pillows, and food. They are responsible for leaving the cabins clean, as there is no maid service. The rental fees, which range from $75 to $200 per night, are used for repairs to the cabins and for capital improvements.