Rock hounds have been making pilgrimages to the Woodward Ranch since the 1930s—and still do—to hunt for agates and gemstones on the 2,200-acre patch of prairies, mesas, and mountains, about 16 miles south of Alpine.
But after the 2011 death of Trey Woodward—the third generation Woodward to own the ranch—his widow Jan Woodward and other family members decided it was time to sell.
“It’s just too much for one woman to take care of,” Jan told me during a recent phone call. “This is what’s happening to farms and ranches all over. As people grow older and can’t continue to do the work, the children have moved away. The small family-owned farms and ranches are becoming a thing of the past. It’s like having dial-up Internet.”
Jan is ambivalent about the sale. She would be just as happy to stay. To complement the ranch’s tourism business, Jan leases the land to cattle ranchers and mule-deer hunters. Visitors can also hike around to view the wildlife or go horseback riding (on their own horses).
“I don’t want to move,” she says. “I love it here.”
Texas Ranger J.C. Bird homesteaded the ranch in 1884. His adopted sons, including Frank Woodward Sr., each inherited parcels of the original homestead.
It was Frank Sr. who realized the local geology was of interest to rock hunters—especially the red plume agate found only there. He opened the ranch to tourists in the mid- to late-1930s. (Big Bend National Park opened a few years later, in 1944).
“It’s a rock hound’s paradise,” she says. “It’s all igneous, formed by a small volcano. The remnants of it are still here. It’s known today as Eagle Peak.”
Despite the potential for a sale, Jan recently hired a foreman and has made improvements to the ranch to accommodate visitors, including improvements to the ranch’s RV and tent camping areas.
There’s a new meet-and-greet area for campers, a new restroom and shower, a new telescope for stargazing, and improvements to the two cabins. Also, as of January 1, the ranch is now open six days a week, up from three days.
“We want our guests to have a good time and be comfortable here,” Jan says. “In today’s economic uncertainties, who knows if (the ranch) is ever going to sell?”
Jan says she’d like to see a buyer keep the ranch open to rock hounds, but there’s no guarantee.
“If you want to come see it, now’s the time,” she says.