Saturday, August 18, 2018

Ponderosa Ranch, Lake Tahoe, April 1977

Today I have a number of slides from Ponderosa Ranch; a tourist attraction that was located near Lake Tahoe (on the Nevada side), approximately where the fictional Ponderosa from the long-running show "Bonanza" was supposed to be.

Bonanza debuted in 1959 and ran until 1973 - 14 seasons. It was hugely popular! I certainly watched it a bunch when it was syndicated. Over the years, thousands of people who were already in the Lake Tahoe area searched in vain for the Ponderosa Ranch. So wily entrepreneurs cooked up the idea of creating a place for tourists to visit, and they also made a deal with NBC to film the show there. It debuted in 1967.

Here's a group of greenhorns next to a conestoga wagon. Sure, they're smiling now, but wait until they've had to work the ranch for 12 straight hours! They'll be sorry.

In reality, interior scenes were filmed at Burbank Studios, while the Virginia City scenes were mostly filmed at the backlot at Paramount Studios (1959 - 1970), and later at Warner Studios for the remaining run of the show (because it was cheaper). Various exteriors could be filmed at many locations near Los Angeles. Of Bonanza's 431 episodes, only 15 were actually filmed at Ponderosa Ranch.

Here's a nice shot of the park's main street. Look, Ben Cartwright has a country store! I guess being a lumber and cattle baron just didn't satisfy him the way he expected. His heart is in retail. "Y'all come back now, hear?".

Some people thrive in jail; it looks like these two are right at home. I've heard that they have some hooch hidden in the toilet, but I'll just have a root beer.

Looks like they had themselves a "Haunted Shack"/"Mystery Spot" type of attraction. Which automatically earns them my admiration and affection. You could also experience an armed holdup, tour the Cartwright home, enjoy a "Hoss burger", pan for gold, watch wild-west shows, and tour their recreation of Virginia City (located on a few miles from the real Virginia City).

I only went to Lake Tahoe once, and saw signs for the Ponderosa Ranch - I really wanted to go! But it had closed mere months before, in 2004. The land was purchased by a billionaire. (Editor's note: I was not the billionaire).

And, just because they were part of the bunch, here are two photos of Virginia City (the real one). All of the brick buildings look suitably ancient. I would definitely be interested in the 1858 Boarding House exhibit ("Upstairs!"). 

Kitty's Longbranch? Somebody was glomming on to the popularity of another iconic TV western, "Gunsmoke" (which ran for 20 seasons). Miss Kitty worked at the Long Branch Saloon, although that was based on a real saloon in Dodge City. 

I hope you have enjoyed your visit to Ponderosa Ranch and Virginia City!


Extra! Extra! Just for fun, I thought I would include this scan from a notorious "Bonanza" Viewmaster set. Notice that all four Cartwrights are subtly flipping the bird to millions of children! Lorne Green can hardly contain his glee. I'm told that this image was replaced in later editions.


Nanook said...


I've heard about the Ponderosa Ranch in Lake Tahoe, but never took the time to look for any images. These will do, jsut fine. Love the folks in the first image - especially that gal in pink. (I want to see a nice close-up of her glasses. I'm certain they're the cat's meow-!)

Thanks, Major.

TokyoMagic! said...

If you hadn't told us that the fourth pic was taken in a Haunted Shack-type of attraction, then I just would have thought that "Aunt Martha" had one too many Old Fashions.

I'm really enjoying that last pic for some morbid reason. And I'm picturing a Bonanza View Master packet with every single picture, showing the cast subtly flipping off the viewers. But I'm assuming it was just this one shot that had them doing it.

The Ponderosa Ranch is one of those "Places I've Never Been," but my aunt and uncle went in the early seventies and brought back souvenir tin cups/mugs (filled with salt water taffy), for my brother and me. The cups have the main cast pictured on one side and a photo of the ranch house on the other.

So what did you, uh...I mean the billionaire, do with the Ponderosa Ranch after buying it? Is it still standing, but just closed to visitors, or was it bulldozed?

Melissa said...

"...located near Lake Tahoe (on the Nevada side), approximately where the fictional Ponderosa from the long-running show "Bonanza" was supposed to be."

It had to be an approximation. Nobody knows exactly where the Ponderosa was supposed to be, since they kept burning the map of of it.

I still enjoy Bonanza from time to time, even though I wouldn't say it's my favorite of that era's TV Westerns. And when they started having cast changes, it was hard for me to invest in the new characters. I did love the occasional episode where Pernell Roberts would sing.

While Miss Kitty Russell started out working at The Long Branch, she ended up buying and running it.

I wish we could have another golden age of Westerns, but I dunno if that's ever gonna happen. It's one of the reasons I love Frontierland, hope to visit Knott's, and miss these smaller, simpler establishments.

That thar lady in blue looks like she's a-leanin' on something, but blowed if'n I can tell what.

(I just finished a production of Oklahoma!with a local the-ay-ter company, and I just cain't seem ter shake the dialect. An' I only had me two lines!)

Melissa said...

They could have a special Viewmaster reel set, with the still, lifeless faces of all the poor women who fell in love with a Cartwright and had to die.

K. Martinez said...

I've been to Tahoe lots of times and never even knew this attraction existed. I've been to Virginia City and that's a cool place.

I watched "Bonanza" once in a while, but it was "The Rifleman" that I was a fan of regularly. That and "Gunsmoke". Thanks, Major.

Chuck said...

Bonanza is one of my "go to" shows when I need to break up the mind-numbing tediousness of certain household chores like ironing or sewing patches on a Scout uniform. The pacing is slow enough that I can alternate concentrating on each task without missing anything. Plus, that theme song is just pure awesomeness.

I have a DVD set of all of the episodes that have slipped into public domain, and one of my favorites is "Day of Reckoning." Not only is there some fine acting by Ricardo Montalban, but I also get a kick out of the fact that his character's wife is played by Madlyn Rhue, 7 years before they would be paired again in the Star Trek episode "Space Seed."

I have a good friend from childhood who visited the Ponderosa Ranch just before I met him, which was just three years after the show ended production. I remember being pretty jealous; I had to settle for eating at the local Ponderosa and Bonanza steaketerias.

Oddly, although I have been familiar with all of the main characters as far back as I can remember, I have zero recollection of watching the show until the '80s.

Melissa, I think the Cartwrights are telling the writers what they think of that curse.

JC Shannon said...

I too visited Lake Tahoe in the late 60s and again in the early 70s, but I never got to see the Ponderosa Ranch. I heard about it though. It looks kinda cool. Every once in a while, I see a tin cup souvenier or two in antique stores to this day, and Bonanza lunch boxes are highly collectable. I am also liking the viewmaster scan. "Yes I know the finger Goose." Pretty risque for the time. Bonanza was a classic, but I prefered Roy Rogers and The Lone Ranger. Thank you Major for todays scans.

The Magic Ears Dudebro said...

I would say this reminds me of Frontierland, but not only would that be too stereotypical, but also somewhat of a lie. Frontierland has nothing on this place. I'd say it's more like Knott's Berry Farm. I've never been there, but it certainly looks authentic enough.

Major Pepperidge said...

Nanook, it was very frustrating to be right there in Tahoe, only to find that the Ponderosa Ranch had closed only months earlier. All of the signs enticing us to come and visit were just mocking me!

TokyoMagic!, man, I would love it if the Cartwrights had managed to give the finger to the camera in EVERY image! That would have raised it to legendary status. Does salt water taffy actually have salt water in it? Somehow I don’t think it does. I was just on Morro Bay’s “Embarcadero”, and half the stores there sell 50 flavors of salt water taffy. I guess it’s popular - or else it’s the perfect gift for somebody’s nephew. I’m not sure what happened to all of the buildings and facilities after the buyout.

Melissa, they never learned that a red-hot branding iron and a parchment map don’t mix. I never really thought about which TV western was my favorite. I sure liked “Wild, Wild West”! I probably watched “Bonanza” more than any other, as it was a favorite of my grandparents. Miss Kitty and Slue Foot Sue were both wily entrepreneurs! It’s odd the way westerns have never had a true comeback. We’ll get the occasional hit movie (“Dances With Wolves”, “Unforgiven”), and a few shows (“Deadwood”), but they will probably never dominate the way they did in the 50’s and 60’s. Oklahoma! must have been fun to do on stage!

K. Martinez, I didn’t know about the Ponderosa Ranch park until I went up there and saw the signs. In reality, the rest of my family would have probably refused to go, and I would have spent the entire vacation with silent tears streaming down my cheeks.

Chuck, I don’t know how you can follow the complex and circuitous plots of Bonanza without paying strict attention! Also, cool that you can sew. I can’t. I do love that theme song. If I was stuck on a desert island with a working TV (?) and could only watch one show, I could do worse than Bonanza! How in the world do you know that trivia about Ricardo Montalban and Madlyn Rhue?? Oh man, my family ate ate the Ponderosa and Bonanza steakhouses… I mostly remember gristle. I still recall my Grandma watching Bonanza and saying, “Oh, this is an old one with Adam!”. She was so excited. At least she wasn’t watching “The Lawrence Welk Show”, which completely baffled me.

Jonathan, I wouldn’t be able to resist a classic western theme park. Now that I think about it, Knott’s Berry Farm might be the only one I’ve ever been to. Hard to say though. Today I love Roy Rogers and the Lone Ranger, but as a kid I didn’t find them as appealing. What can I say, I was dumb!

The Magic Ears Dudebro, since this place was built to be used as a film set, I think they went for more authenticity than Frontierland - and even then it’s a kind of movie backlot authenticity. Still, it looks pretty great.

Nanook said...


I agree that The Lawrence Welk Show is indeed a puzzlement. It clearly takes the 'squeaky-clean goodness' of much of what Disneyland provided [provides] and goes them one better. It was truly rife for maximum finger-pointing and shaming-! On the other hand... say what you will about their syrupy arrangements, goody-two-shoes singing, and decades-behind-the times 'social graces', virtually-all of the performers, and ALL of the musicians (including the usual gang of 'featured musicians': Myron Floren; Bob Ralston and Jo Ann Castle), were tops in their field. And - when given half a chance - which often meant covering a Big Band tune - one would be hard pressed to find a better sound-! Unfortunately, those moments were few, and far between.

Major Pepperidge said...

Nanook, I think part of the appeal of Lawrence Welk’s show for my grandparents was that, even in to their 80’s, they would go out with friends to dance. I never once witnessed this for myself, and my grandpa worked at the Hormel plant on the loading dock, so it was hard to imagine him cutting a rug. But I loved that they still did it for as long as they could. Plus, this was in Minnesota, and somehow Lawrence Welk seems tailor-made for old folks of German/Swedish/Norwegian heritage. Meanwhile I once heard a version of Henry Mancini's "Baby Elephant Walk", and it had some pretty cool horns - turned out it was by Lawrence Welk!

Anonymous said...

I drove by what once was the Ponderosa Ranch just a couple weeks ago. It appears to be intact, above what was the parking lot, immediately south of Incline Village. It's not marked. Just what is that billionaire going to do with it? I've been asking myself that question every time I've been by there. KS

Chuck said...

Major, knowing that piece of trivia was just a fluke. I wouldn't say I'm that big of a Star Trek fan. Sure, I may keep a Starfleet mug on my desk at the office next to a working communicator and phaser, but who doesn't? It's not an unhealthy obsession like being an I Love Lucy fan.

Anyway, a couple of years ago, I ended up re-watching "Day of Reckoning" about a week after re-watching "Space Seed," and suddenly had a "eureka!" moment where it all came together for me. Then I pricked my finger with a sewing needle and the moment was lost. At least I didn't fall into a deep sleep requiring a prince to wake me with true love's kiss. That would have been awkward to try to explain to my wife.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Major. What a funny rude picture to have at the end.

Bonanza, Gunsmoke and Lawrence Welk were must-see TV in my childhood home. I still love them. Watched two episodes of Gunsmoke last Friday night on the motel TV since I don't get TV at home anymore.

I never visited the Ponderosa Ranch, though.

@Melissa, "still, lifeless faces...." sounds like a comment my wife would make. All of Little Joe's beaus dropping like red shirted guards in Star Trek.

@Anonymous KS: If the billionaire who bought the Ponderosa Ranch is the same billionaire who owns the big spread at the corner of Lakeshore and Tahoe Blvd, he probably bought it just so no one else would ever get into it. There's undoubtedly a great view of his deck and yard from the Ranch. But there are so many billionaires these days, could be any one of them.

Thanks Major.


The Lurking Bat said...

it is with a very sad heart that I wish to report that, based on current images from Google Earth (dated 6/2018), the Ponderosa Ranch is in the process of being demolish.