Why Reagan Loves The Ranch
Ronald Reagan’s love for the ranching life preceded Rancho del Cielo. He had owned ranches elsewhere in California—in Northridge, Riverside, and Malibu. As his second term as governor of California drew to a close, he began looking for something much more secluded. He found it when friend Bill Wilson pointed him toward the Santa Ynez Mountains in Santa Barbara County—about a 45-minute drive from the city of Santa Barbara—where he came upon a 688-acre spot with a tiny circa-1872 adobe house. He immediately fell in love with the place. “From the first day we saw it, Rancho del Cielo cast a spell over us. No place before or since has ever given Nancy and me the joy and serenity it does,” he stated.
On November 13, 1974, the Reagan’s purchased “Tip Top Ranch.” They rechristened it “Rancho del Cielo,” which translates as the ‘Ranch in the Heavens.’
For Reagan, the Ranch became a second home, not only as a private citizen in the 1970s but also while he was president and in the immediate years thereafter. He often observed that he believed the more he visited the Ranch, the longer he would live. This was Reagan’s Mount Vernon.
The Ranch served as an essential retreat for Ronald Reagan for nearly 25 years. “We relax at the Ranch,” said Reagan, “which if not Heaven itself, probably has the same ZIP code.”
And more than a vacation home, the Ranch is where Ronald Reagan came to make some of the most important decisions affecting his-and our nation’s-future.
“Riding on one of the tree-lined trails, or gazing up at the western skies, well, there’s no better way I know of to sort out a problem.”
“There’s something about the wild scenery and serenity of the ranch and the easy gait of the horse beneath me that I find particularly relaxing. And while I loved living in the White House, I must confess that nothing in this great wide world of ours quite compares to having a home on the ranch.”
A Presidential Retreat
One of the more ridiculous caricatures of Ronald Reagan as president was the unfair, inaccurate assertion by critics that he was lazy and too old to be president. Quite the contrary, Ronald Reagan was in superb physical condition—as evident in his longevity of life—and was an extremely hard worker. Nowhere was this more evident than at Rancho del Cielo.
The 40th president “relaxed” at the Ranch by working at the Ranch. His unique method of relaxation included cutting wood, clearing brush, and a penchant for chopping up used telephone poles that found new life as a sturdy, winding fence. Reagan’s typical companion on the trail was a chainsaw, which could often be heard buzzing loudly through the canyon.
Reagan’s only genuine forms of relaxation—at least by most definitions—were his horseback rides during the day and his reading by the hearth in the evenings.
When Reagan was not “recharging his batteries” behind a saw or in the saddle, he was doing so by driving his beloved blue Jeep, a gift from Mrs. Reagan, along the ranch trails.
“The whole Ranch is for work,” said Barbara Walters when she visited in 1981. “It’s truly a labor of love. For Ronald Reagan loves this Ranch. He loves the land and, in a larger sense, all that it represents.”
“There are things that give you a sense of accomplishment,” reflected Reagan, “Things like clearing a trail, pruning a section of woods that has to be done, clearing brush—and then you go at it.”
The Western White House
During the 1980s, Rancho del Cielo took a profound turn, transforming from a mere ranch high atop a hill in Santa Barbara County to no less than the West Coast headquarters of the presidency. The Ranch came to be known as the “Western White House,” as President Reagan would spend a full year’s time there during his two terms as the nation’s chief executive.
The small ranch home became a remote extension of the Oval Office, equipped with a simple push-button telephone that served as a line of communication between the American president and the outside world—though certainly not the only connection, as the Secret Service set up a fully functional compound beyond the ranch house, which included all of the latest telecommunications technology.
Presidential duties at the Ranch were quite varied, ranging from telephone calls to heads of state and Cabinet members to celebrities such as comedian Jerry Lewis and baseball player Willie Stargell.
President Reagan also played host and held meetings at the Ranch. He met there with White House staff, his Cabinet, Vice President Bush, and with heads of state including Queen Elizabeth II.
There were dozens of significant events that occurred while Reagan was at the Ranch, including several that required immediate presidential action.
These include the August 1981 signing ceremony for the Economic Recovery Tax Act and the president’s decision that same month to fire 11,359 striking air-traffic controllers. The latter moment came during Reagan’s road to recovery from the assassination attempt where the Ranch once again worked its therapeutic magic on the man’s body and soul.
At the Ranch, the president also grappled with how to react to several national and international tragedies involving the painful loss of American lives, from the April 18, 1983, bombing of the U.S. embassy in Beirut, Lebanon—which killed 32—to the calamitous explosion of the U.S. space shuttle, The Challenger, on January 28, 1986.
Perhaps the gravest moment the president faced at Rancho del Cielo occurred on September 1, 1983. Early that morning, Reagan received a call from National Security Adviser Bill Clark informing him of preliminary reports that a South Korean airliner, Flight 007, en route from New York City to Seoul, had been shot out of the sky by Soviet fighter planes. “Bill,” Reagan reacted, “let’s pray it’s not true.” It was true. The plane held 269 passengers, including 61 Americans. There were no survivors.