Visiting Frijole Ranch Museum in Guadalupe Mountains National Park

frijole ranch ruins

One of the most interesting historic sites in Guadalupe Mountains National Park is Frijole Ranch. It’s a can’t-miss site in the park!

The ranch is the most complete remnant of early farming and ranching efforts in the Guadalupe Mountains, which started in the late 1800s.

Today, it’s the site of the Frijole Ranch Cultural Museum. It’s only 2 miles from the Pine Springs Visitor Center, making it an easy addition to any park itinerary.

Read on to learn more about the history of the ranch, and what you can see when you visit in person.

frijole ranch museum sign

Things To Do in the Frijole Ranch Area

1 View the Frijole Ranch Cultural Museum (if open)
2 Walk around and observe the old buildings that remain
3 Read the informational signs telling the story of the site’s history
4 Take the short Manzanita Spring Trail, or hike a longer trail to The Bowl
5 Observe the many bird species that frequent the area around the springs
6 Enjoy lunch in the shade of the old oak trees

History of Frijole Ranch

This area is home to a number of natural springs that have attracted humans dating back to the early Native American occupants in the Guadalupe Mountains.

The Rader brothers were American pioneers who settled here in the 1870s. Their home is one of the oldest remaining buildings in the area.

According to the National Park Service, the Raders built the house from rock and native stone, with mud filling the gaps in between.

frijole building history

The John T. Smith family then moved here in 1906 and created a small orchard, which they called Spring Hill Ranch. The Smiths would drive their produce 60 miles every day to the city of Van Horn to sell it!

They would leave by wagon in the evening, covering their fruits and vegetables with wet rags to keep them cool, arriving to Van Horn in time to greet customers in the morning. 

They grew cherries, strawberries, peaches, plums, pears, apples, oranges, lemons, apricots, and more. Read more about the Smiths’ orchard here.

The Smiths took the original ranch and added a kitchen, bedrooms, and a second floor. They also built a guesthouse and a red building that was used as a schoolhouse, shed, and bunkhouse.

The Smiths also built a greenhouse and a meat curing house, but neither of these structures remains today. 

john t smith ranch

This complex was also the site of the Frijole Post Office from 1916-1941. A postman traveled down from Carlsbad, New Mexico three times a week to make deliveries. 

John T. Smith’s wife, Nella May Smith (Carr), served as the postmaster of the office. The Smiths lived here for 36 years and raised 10 children during that time.

In the 1940s, this ranch was sold to Judge Jesse Coleman Hunter. He brought in sheep and goats, which covered the mountain.

This area was named Frijole because the locals made beans such a big part of their diet (and frijole is the Spanish word for bean.)

From 1969 to 1980, the house became a residence for park rangers, and then it became a park operations office for nearly a decade. The museum opened in 1992.

In November 1978, Frijole Ranch was formally listed on the National Register of Historic Places. You may also hear it referred to as Guadalupe Ranch.

Visiting Frijole Ranch History Museum Today

frijole info board

The ranch is easy to find, as it’s right off the main park road, on Frijole Ranch Access Road. You’ll have to drive down a half-mile gravel road to reach the ranch site. Don’t worry — the road is in good shape, so any vehicle can make it. 

The museum goes into more detail about this history, as well as the history of the Native Americans who lived in this area.

Visitors can go into the original ranch house, now the museum, whenever volunteers are available to staff it.

The official park site says, “The Frijole Ranch Museum is open seasonally, when staff or volunteers are available.” I’ll be honest — the museum has never been open when I’ve been there. It seems like getting into the museum is a matter of luck.

If it’s closed when you visit, you can still walk around the grounds, see the buildings, and read informational boards on the property. You’ll get a real sense of just how remote this place was, and how difficult life must have been for the folks who lived here decades ago.

This area is known for having a lot of birds, since they love the stream and springs running through the property.

picnic tables

There is a bathroom here, picnic tables, and short walking paths like the Smith Spring Loop Trail and Manzanita Spring Trail.

Because its large chinquapin oak trees provide shade and its running spring water cools the air, this is a good place to sit and have lunch if you’re visiting GMNP during the scorching summer months.

The Frijole Ranch parking lot is the trailhead for many of the park’s best longer hikes as well, including the Bowl Trail trek to Hunter Peak.

frijole trail

We rank a visit to Frijole Ranch as one of the best things to do in Guadalupe Mountains NP!

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