By JJ Lamb and Gerald Lamb
We usually take our roads for granted. But sometimes we have to fight for them. On June 26, 1926, 11 Vail residents—including brothers Guy and Carl Monthan and Colossal Cave Park Operator Frank Schmidt—petitioned the Pima County Board of Supervisors to declare the “the concrete dip over the Pantano Wash on the old Vail-Benson Highway along the present constructed road to Colossal Cave” a County Highway and to accept it into Pima County’s road system. The road they fought for evolved into what is now known as Colossal Cave Road. It’s hard to imagine life in Vail today without this vital link to the Rincon Valley and Colossal Cave. Those vital links to home, cultural sites, and commerce may seem set in stone, but just this year another group of Vail residents had to stand up to protect the Leon Ranch Road from eraser.
The historic Leon Ranch Road and Bravo-Leon Cemetery are remnants of Vail’s historic landscape that has been nearly erased by time and development. It is a dirt road, not so different from so many other dirt roads in Pima County. Except for a few distinctly Vail details. There are neighbors who have built their own homes, some belong to a well-share, others raise chickens, goats, and horses but at the end of the day they all come together to maintain the road they all share.
The Leon Ranch Road once took travelers all the way to Tucson and was vital in transporting fresh produce from the Monthan Ranch but has been truncated by development. The eastern section of the Leon Ranch Road was subsumed by development at Rancho del Lago between 2001 and 2008. At the beginning of 2021, only the western section of the lower Leon Ranch Road remained. Earlier this year a development approved by Pima County in 2005 threatened to erase the remaining section of the road. Though no longer the commercial farm to market thoroughfare it once was, the Leon Ranch Road still provides safe access for 30 families and connects Vail pioneer families to the Bravo-Leon Cemetery located on the 1912 Leon Homestead. With construction barricades blocking access and bulldozers poised to clear blade, Vail residents stood up and said enough!
Vail Preservation Society (VPS) is proud to have been a part of this grass roots effort along with residents Marilyn Dailey, the Leon family—and other neighbors living on the Leon-Ranch Road—and Vail Pioneering families led by Sarah Hiteman and Barbara Mayer. Preserving the historic road maintains access for one of Vail’s oldest, established neighborhoods, access to a significant traditional cultural site—the Bravo-Leon Cemetery—and renewed access for the big yellow school buses that haven’t been able to pick up children living along the Leon Ranch Road for over six months! VPS helped bring residents, pioneering family members, and our Pima County government leaders together and provided key research related to the history of the road and cemetery.
VPS works to preserve Vail’s stories and heritage so that it can provide the context needed to truly understand our community. That research and community advocacy brings us together as we come to understand and respect each other. We care about our community, and, just like the 11 Vail neighbors who came together in 1926 to advocate Colossal Cave Road, Vail neighbors old and new came together and repeated history in 2021. The Leon Ranch Road is safe and here to stay.
Pima County Administrator Huckelberry, District 4 Supervisor Steve Christy, Pima County staff, and the Pima County Board of Supervisors, thank you.
J.J. Lamb is President & CEO of Vail Preservation Society. A U of A graduate, her family has lived in Vail since 1971. She was named an Arizona Culturekeeper in 2011 and an Arizona Friend of the Humanities in 2020.