Up Interstate 15 just past the High Desert city of Victorville, Ernesto Enriquez found his dream. It's here, where old Route 66 takes visitors west, winding through yesteryear's dusty town centers, that you can see the cottonwoods lining the Roy Rogers Double R Bar Ranch.
At first glance, there really isn't much to this dream: just a couple of ranch houses, a barn and several other structures on 67 acres that, until January, was left worse for wear for more than two years, a victim of the former owner's big ideas and too small pocketbook.
But for Enriquez, whose father bred and trained some of Rogers' horses, having a piece of land connected to the American cowboy legend--who shared the same morals and values his father taught him--is a dream come true.
The Enriquezes, a second-generation Mexican American family from Mission Viejo, purchased the property not from Roy Rogers' family but from a Rogers' family friend in Indiana, who had bought it after the "King of the Cowboys" died July 6, 1998. It was sold to the Enriquezes after a dude ranch idea went bust.
For five months, the family--patriarch Carlos Enriquez, his wife, Alicia, and their five children, including 35-year-old Ernesto, the eldest--has been working on repairs, upgrading the wells and slapping on a fresh coat of paint, just in time for today's commemoration of Rogers' death four years ago.
Rogers and Dale Evans, "Queen of the West," who died last year, starred together in more than 30 movies and two television series. They lived in nearby Apple Valley but bought the ranch in 1967 so Roy could skeet-shoot and breed and train racehorses, said Roy "Dusty" Rogers Jr., the couple's son.
"Dad was really into racehorses; the place even had a bunkhouse for the race jockeys," he said, adding that his father built a racetrack at the ranch, which proved expensive.
"He would always say, 'Dad-gummed racehorses. Always working on an excuse to get hurt.' "
How the Enriquez family came to own Roy Rogers' ranch is a story best told by Ernesto Enriquez, who like his brothers and sisters grew up on a nearby ranch run by his father.
Though he attended schools in Victor Valley, Enriquez grew up and eventually moved to Mission Viejo, where he married, had children and is now a successful painting and roofing contractor.
"I wanted to do something for my father," he said. "He had worked hard all his life and never owned any property. So I put a proposal together for my brothers and sisters, the whole family, telling them that we should, if the opportunity came up, try and buy Dad and Mom a ranch."
When a brother saw that the Roy Rogers' ranch was for sale, he told the rest of the family. Within days, they were in escrow. The price was $300,000, Ernesto said.
He soon saw an entrepreneurial opportunity and coaxed his family into refurbishing the ranch for today's celebration. The public will be shuttled from the Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum in Victorville eight miles to the ranch, which will have such attractions as farm animals, pony and hay rides, and a Roy Rogers look-alike.
"This will be a test for us and a chance to survey what the public wants, especially younger visitors," Ernesto said. "Roy's fans are getting older, not younger, and if we're to make a go of this, we need to find out what the public wants."
At the very least, the family now has a working ranch. One brother, Jesus Enriquez, who trains horses at Los Alamitos racetrack, plans to board horses there and help his father with boarding and training at the ranch.
"We want to make this ranch profitable without the museum and having tourists here," Ernesto said. "But Roy and Dale really made an imprint here in the Mojave, not just for their movies and stuff, but for the way they lived.
"They knew my dad.... He trained a few of their horses. They were very nice, simple people, and we want to carry on the way they lived.
"Really, my wife and I are more into the Roy Rogers nostalgia, and my dad and my brother Jesus are more into having a booming horse ranch. We have both of our own dreams, and merging them can be a challenge, but we're pretty united on this."
On a recent morning, Ernesto's wife, Anne, 38, did the best she could to avoid the desert winds that swirled creating dust devils while she lent a hand with painting chores.
She grew up in Italy and instead of Saturday westerns enjoyed the romanticism of Venice. She knew of Roy Rogers. "But," she said, "I thought Dale [Evans] was a guy because of the name."
All that changed after her husband's family bought the ranch. She immersed herself in everything western and took "a crash course on Roy Rogers and Dale Evans."
She rented their movies and bought their albums, including CDs she plays in the car for her children. Her two daughters, Elisa, 4, and Isabella, 2, and nephew, Caesar, 6, can either hum or sing "Happy Trails," the theme song to "The Roy Rogers Show."