Sunday, December 3, 2006

An apple a day keeps business boomin' at Beatty's Guest Ranch & Orchard
By Cindy Skalsky


The sign at the bottom of Miller Canyon Road and Highway 92 reads "Foothills Ranch."

The casual traveler will glimpse a recent development of large, pricey homes, unlikely to be
"raising" anything beyond herds of the latest electronic devices, or crops of hybrid vehicles
in three-car garages.

It is only by turning onto Miller Canyon Road, and continuing for several daunting miles
after the pavement ends, that one arrives at Beatty's Guest Ranch & Orchard, where, for
nearly 40 years, a family has lived off the land in a magical space.

Carr Reef looms overhead, sudden panoramas of the San Pedro Valley where Dragoon and
Chiricahua Mountain backdrops appear out of nowhere, the splendid intimacy of the canyon
feels like a green blanket, and Miller Creek sings under the footbridge entrance.

Pull the cord to ring the bell at the roadside store and you may be welcomed by dogs,
chickens, a bear or a member of the genial Beatty family.

"We bought the house in 1967, and gradually added to the property," said Edith Beatty, a
native of Manitoba, Canada. "Tom had the hankering to have the orchard."

The Beattys were newlyweds in '67 and gradually acquired three parcels of land that now
comprise their 10 private acres surrounded by the Coronado National Forest.

"That's a wilderness area above us," Edith notes. "They declared that in 1988."

Although Tom Beatty Sr., came to the area to work at Fort Huachuca as a systems analyst,
his origins in North Dakota had molded him into a fisherman and naturalist by nature. A
master's degree in mathematics made him eminently employable by various defense contractors.

"Dad has retired three or four times,"grins Tom Jr., who now happily performs the "heavy"
work around the spread."We never know when it will be permanent."

Four children, 1,300 apple trees, 220 beehives and three rental cabins-in-the-woods later,
the modest family has been featured in dozens of birding, travel and naturalist magazines,
newsletters and blogs worldwide. They may or may not be mentioned in the January 2007
issue of National Geographic in an upcoming feature on hummingbirds. Their ranch holds
the record for most species - 14 - sighted on a single day.

"But the butterflies have been crazy this year," Edith said. "People are starting to come
for the butterflies.”

The Beattys grow 25 varieties of organic apples and sell them at their 5,800-foot Miller
Canyon elevation, and at the Bisbee and Sierra Vista farmers' markets. The six rental units
consist of a duplex, an old refurbished miner's cabin and the three private structures they've
built themselves, scattered throughout the maple, oak, and sycamore forest.

East coasters and Europeans - most often Germans and Brits - come in the spring and
summer for bird watching, while Arizonans from Tucson and Phoenix escape in the winter
for weekend getaways. The guest ranch was full over Thanksgiving, and people from
England are coming for Christmas.

Word-of-mouth keeps the private enclave busy with no need to advertise.

"The miner's cabin was on the tax rolls in 1911," said Tom Jr. "We don't know who built it,
but there's a trap door in the floor that leads to a space with a buried chest that has secure
metal straps. We think it might be something to do with bootlegging during Prohibition.
Looks like it might hold a load from two horses' worth of booze from Mexico."

Although the chores around the Beatty Guest Ranch & Orchard - they're not a bed and
breakfast because they don't serve breakfast - appear endless, they hire no outside help.
The family takes it all in stride and makes it seem easy.

"Growing up, I took care of the chickens," said Tom Jr., who, with his siblings, may be
among the youngest adults in America who can lay claim to walking three miles down the
road to meet the school bus.

Today, the jobs involve pruning the trees, picking the apples, catching the predators, chasing
off bears, hosting the guests, cleaning the cabins, cutting back weeds, selling the apples and
honey, and participating with Arizona Department of Game and Fish in the re-population of
the endangered Ramsey Canyon leopard frog.

"They introduced the tadpoles into our ponds in '99," Tom Jr. said, "and they keep count of
the frogs, check 'em for disease, and have taken our tadpoles into other canyons to expand
the population."

Game and Fish officers are more than familiar with the Beattys, not only for the leopard frog
project, but because of the recent prevalence of bears on the property - a large brown male
and female probably traveling through from Mexico and several local black bears who were
persistently aggressive.

Tom Jr. shot a large one this summer, when treeing it multiple times and the valiant efforts
of their five dogs still wouldn't make it go away. Fish and Game took the skin and gave the
Beattys — who normally do their own butchering - the meat.

Last week, Tom Jr. was bitten on the leg by a baby bear the dogs were about to kill had he
not gotten there in time to save it.

"It wasn't hurting anything," he said. "But the dogs didn't know any better."

Other regular visitors to the guest ranch include ringtail cats, coatamundi, fox, deer,
javalinas, cotton rats, opossums and four types of skunks, including the hog-nosed.

"They look like pigs," Tom Jr. told a visitor, "and they're big. Like 15 to 20 pounds."

With his married siblings scattered to other parts of Arizona and California, it is "young
Tom" - oldest of the four - who returned to Miller Canyon after earning an associate's
degree in computer science at Pima Community College and taking additional classes at
University of Arizona.

"It seemed like a good idea at the time," he smiles, referring to his studies. "But I don't use
it. And I wouldn't like working in an office. Growing up here was nice. And we don't work
that hard, really."

A self-taught naturalist, he spills over with detailed insight and information on the trails,
habits and habitats of the denizens of the Huachuca Mountains - human and otherwise.

He moves across the land as if part of it and is an avid reader of science fiction and "fiction

"Oh yeah, I think so," he answered easily when asked if he'll continue the family business.

Right now, it's the slow time of the year for the Beattys, with apples almost all harvested
and the visitor contingent reduced to the three rental units that offer heat for the winter.

Edith and Tom Sr. may take the famous train trip through the Copper Canyon in Mexico,
and perhaps go visit youngest son Jason, a Coast Guard officer, at his new home in
Petaluma, Calif.

There is the future prospect that son John, who works at Intel in Chandler, with wife and
two children, may return to the homestead one day and continue the Beatty tradition into a
third generation.

"This time of year, we don't get the morning sun 'til about 8:30," said Tom Jr., adding that
when it's still dark at 6 a.m., there's not much point in jumping out of bed to go to work.
"But the chickens and the trees they mostly take care of themselves."

Nature provides.

And the Beattys help.

REPORTER Cindy Skalsky can be reached at 515-4611 or by e-mail at