It’s been nearly eight years now since visitors to Lake Tahoe could treat their imagination with a visit to the legendary Ponderosa Ranch in Incline Village, Nevada. The popular western theme park, where some scenes from the television series Bonanza were filmed, closed in September 2004 after it was purchased by David Duffield, the wealthy founder of the software company PeopleSoft.

The loss of the Ponderosa Ranch, among northern Nevada’s most popular tourist destinations, disappointed fans from around the world, testament to the long-running program’s universal appeal among many cultures. The show's re-runs are still watched by millions of people who love America's 19th century western cowboy lifestyle and landscape.

Bonanza premiered on the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) in September 1959 and was so successful that the Lake Tahoe-based story ran for 14 seasons until 1973, with 430 weekly episodes produced. It was America’s first western television series filmed in color and during the mid-1960s ranked as the number one rated program in the United States.

The TV show’s opening credits depicted a hand-drawn map that indicated the location of the fictional Cartwright family’s vast Ponderosa Ranch at north Lake Tahoe, and the Nevada communities of Virginia City, Reno and Carson City. The map, drawn by artist Robert Temple, boasted bold hues of blue for the Lake, with vibrant tones of red and orange depicting the virtual 600,000 acre (1,000 square miles) ranch. Considering that all previous TV series were produced in black and white, the dramatic colors at the beginning of each Bonanza episode really caught the viewer’s eye.

Temple had his geography wrong with Reno placed west of Carson City instead of north, so to correct the orientation he added a compass rose that pointed northwest. (In 2010, this iconic map was donated to the Autry National Center of the American West in Los Angeles, joining other Bonanza memorabilia.)

It wasn’t just color film that made Bonanza stand out among other weekly television programs. The creators behind the show were unique in how they addressed controversial cultural issues that previous TV series had ignored. Bonanza’s screenwriters pushed the accepted boundaries of America’s contemporary family values with provocative storylines that included racism, interracial romance, ageism, and many other sexual and racial taboos of the day.

Although most scenes in Bonanza were filmed at Paramount Studios in Hollywood, for six seasons in the 1960s, portions of the weekly production were shot at Lake Tahoe and Truckee. 

The Ponderosa Ranch theme park itself was established in the early 1960s by William Anderson who moved to Incline Village in 1962 from the Bay Area. Anderson was an ardent horseman and outdoorsman, so when Incline Village developer Art Wood told him that he would sell him some land cheap if he would establish a riding stable for visitors he agreed. At one point, the Bonanza film crew arrived and asked Anderson if they could corral their horses and buggies at his stables.

As the Bonanza TV show’s popularity grew, more people traveled to Incline Village asking where the fictional “Cartwright Ranch” was so Anderson and actor Lorne Greene came up with a plan to build a real Ponderosa Ranch and open it to the public. Anderson went into debt to establish his 570-acre theme park, including having to sell his last shotgun and an antique car to make payroll, but it all paid off. Not only was the park popular with families and cowboy aficionados for four decades, but the ranch buildings were used for conventions and business meetings.

In 1963, actor Lorne Greene received the Reno Rodeo's annual Silver Spurs Award, considered the "Oscar" for the most popular western TV stars at the time. The Reno Chamber of Commerce promotion ran from 1950 to 1965, with the inaugural presentation made to actor John Wayne and movie director John Ford.   

Even after the discontinuation of the Bonanza series in 1973, more than 300,000 people visited the park every year. The operation provided jobs for Tahoe locals, pumped money into the economy, and helped spread the word about Lake Tahoe’s spectacular beauty worldwide. Two television movies were filmed on location at the site, “Bonanza, the Return (1992) and “Bonanza Under Attack” (1994).

Of the four main characters in the long-running Bonanza series, Dan Blocker (Hoss), Michael Landon (Little Joe), Lorne Green (Ben Cartwright), and Pernell Roberts (Adam Cartwright), none survive today.

Shortly before filming began for the final season of the show, actor Dan Blocker died from complications after a surgical procedure, so the producers cut him out of the storyline by killing his character “Hoss” in an accident. This was the first time a TV series had incorporated an actor’s death into the story line by having his character die.


Dan Blocker as the "Hoss" character died before the final season of Bonanza.

For those wanting to learn more, William Anderson, who died in June 2008 at his ranch home in Dayton, Nevada, wrote a book titled, “Bill’s Big Bonanza: The autobiography of a third grade dropout who came to build, own and operate the world’s most famous ranch.” The book provides historical insight into the creation and back story of the Ponderosa Ranch.


Bill Anderson with his wife Sharon during an interview on his 80th birthday at their Dayton, Nevada, home in 2003. Anderson died in 2008.



39 comments (Add your own)

1. Gary wrote:
Hi Mark,

I am 57 years old...Even when I was growing up and I've been going to Tahoe every summer since I was five, The Ponderosa was one of my favorite summer visits. I recently wiht my own children the last summer it was open I am a "BIG" fan of Bonanaza, it was shameful when they closed it down. Nothing has happened with that property that I could see? Too bad it can't be revitalized by a campaign to raise funds to re-open it...

Mon, August 27, 2012 @ 3:32 PM

2. Mark wrote:
Hi Gary,
I agree that it would be neat if the Ponderosa Ranch opened for business again, but I'm not holding my breath on that one.

Mon, August 27, 2012 @ 3:58 PM

3. Christopher c burt wrote:
Another great blog Mark! Thanks. 'Ponderosa' was my favorite TV program when I was kid (I'm also 57 years old like another commentator above) and I still humm the program's theme song whenever I'm driving through the West.


Mon, August 27, 2012 @ 5:26 PM

4. Ray Seider wrote:
I was the insurance broker for the Ponderosa for the 28 years prior to the sale of the ranch. $55,000,000 was one heck of a price to pay for the property. I read and then lost my copy of Bills Big Bonanza and would love to find another copy if anyone has one for sale contact me at my email above.

Thu, January 10, 2013 @ 9:15 PM

5. Barry Santos wrote:
All the time I was growing up in Jakarta I dreamed of being a cowboy and riding my pony on a cattle drive yah i should a been a cowboy

Wed, March 13, 2013 @ 12:22 PM

6. wrote:
I use to play music at The Silver Dollar Saloon. Really miss it.

Sat, March 23, 2013 @ 3:20 PM

7. Jimmy Youngblood wrote:
I use to play music in the Silver Dollar Saloon.

Mon, April 1, 2013 @ 6:49 PM

8. Theresa wrote:
Great memories! Wish it was still open for business. My husband and were married in the little church of the ponderosa in 1988! We were hoping to renew our vows, but sadly we will celebrate 25yrs somewhere else!

Thu, April 18, 2013 @ 3:07 PM

9. Jennifer & Alan wrote:
We also were married at the Little Church of the Ponderosa, in 2002 - they opened one day early for us, so we could be married there! We've been hoping to go back since it was closed, we keep checking back, still hoping!

Mon, April 29, 2013 @ 5:03 PM

10. Jennifer wrote:
We also were married at the little Church of the Ponderosa, in 2002 - they opened a day early just for us! We were hoping to go back for our 10th anniversary, but alas...we'll keep checking back, maybe someone will come to their senses!

Mon, April 29, 2013 @ 5:05 PM

11. Howdy wrote:
I enjoyed the show when it was on back in the 60's. I still enjoy watching reruns today. Took a trip out west this year and was disappointed the Ranch was not open.

Tue, June 18, 2013 @ 12:34 AM

12. Debbie wrote:
I enjoyed watching the show back in the 60's. We were planning to take our grandchildren this summer to the Ponderosa. So disappointed to hear it is now closed. Are the buildings still there? Are you able to drive close to it?

Sun, June 30, 2013 @ 1:22 PM

13. Gerald Woodruff wrote:
Well I live near there and miss the ranch and the hay ride Breakfast and sitting in front of Sheriff Coffee office and drinking my sasperella out of my tin cup but they have been doing alot of landscaping and lots activity in and around the ranch for awhile so something is going on exactly what hard to say but the word is that they are planning to reopen it as a bigger and better amusement park but still keep all the old stuff the same .

Sat, July 13, 2013 @ 3:13 PM

14. P A Michel wrote:
I was a BIG fan of Bonanza back in the early 60's and still watch the shows today. This was the best entertainment TV had to offer. I travel to Tahoe every year and enjoy the area very much. I do miss the Pondarosa Ranch and would love to see it open again.

Fri, July 26, 2013 @ 4:07 PM

15. Lynn Davis wrote:
I was married at the Little Church of the Ponderosa on 8/8/88.. Today is my 25th Wedding Anniversary.. would love to have gone back to the Ponderosa one day - sad it's gone..

Thu, August 8, 2013 @ 8:07 AM

16. Monica Sala wrote:
Just wondering if you can drive in anymore and see anything? We will be in the area soon and would like to show the kids the outside at least!

Sun, August 11, 2013 @ 9:47 AM

17. Mark wrote:
Hi Monica,
You can't drive in anymore, but there is a new restaurant right near the old entrance. I haven't been in the restaurant yet, but they might have Ponderosa Ranch memorabilia in there and there are still some old machines dotting the parking lot. Give it a shot.

Sun, August 11, 2013 @ 9:58 AM

18. Donna McCourry King wrote:
My dad, Jim McCourry went to Lake Tahoe in 1959! His sister Juanita Wood and Art Wood were early developers there! My husband and I visited many times in the 60's and took our own children there in the nineties ! Everyone loved Bonanza and it was truly a 60's "thing". As a literature teacher for many years, I used items from my trips to Tahoe and Virginia in the classroom ! My dad had the Ponderosa Reality, Inc. I also taught American History for a short time. I hope that the history of Incline Village will never be forgotten by the locals and preserved for future generations ! It is an interesting part of history in Nevada. I like it so much better that anything near Las Vegas !!!!!

Mon, August 19, 2013 @ 12:34 PM

19. Donna McCourry King wrote:
My dad was Art Wood's brother-in-law! Jim McCourry , my dad, moved there in 1959! I loved visiting there in the 60's to the 90's! I am one of three living heirs or the original children whose parents had a part in the Incline Development !

Thu, August 29, 2013 @ 7:24 AM

20. Dave Pierce wrote:
My wife Carla and I were married at the Little Church of the Ponderosa, September 25th 1999. It would be great if the park was opened again. We would love to visit the church and the park. I grew up watching Bonanza every Sunday night. We never missed it. We won't waste any time coming back, if they open the gates.

Fri, August 30, 2013 @ 1:44 PM

21. Gonzalo Fernandez wrote:
I am 53 years old and I used to watch Bonanza with my Dad in 1967 to 1970 in Spanish in Mexico City. Now I watch it mínimum twice a week and as I understand most of it in English it is wonderful to listen the original sounds an voices. I am planning to go for the first time to lake Tahoe with my wife and we might see at least from far away La Ponderosa.

Thu, September 19, 2013 @ 9:09 AM

22. Brad Pursell wrote:
I too am 57 years old. Every Sunday evening as a kid watched Bonanza with the whole family. I would love for them to re-open there amusement park. Bonanza is apart of American History.Never been there,but would love to go there.

Sat, September 21, 2013 @ 10:46 PM

23. Alyssa Nielsen wrote:
I spent much of my childhood on the ranch, as my dad worked and performed as bad man Buck Bloodsworth. I have so many amazing memories of roaming the property. It's so hard to explain bits of my childhood to my husband without being able to visit the ranch. I spent so much time exploring the back alleys and the places that the public didn't know existed. Summer was spent next door to the ice cream shop in what many thought was a false front, it was actually our cabin. Winter was amazing, living above the barn up by the ranch house. I would live to see it reopened, in any capacity. It's a part of my life id like to share with my family.

Tue, October 8, 2013 @ 10:21 AM

24. Rebecca Holcomb wrote:
We went right before it closed. If I had known it was going to close I would have spent much more time there than the two hours that we did. We were on a time limit and I could not stay any longer regrettfully. It was great to actually see the place. I was there once before as a young child back in 1970. I had so much fun! So when we had another chance to go in my 40's we went again. I was devastated to hear they closed it. I watch the Ponderosa on tv all the time and enjoy the shows still. Why won't they bring it back as a tourist spot. We need Good clean entertainment these days more than ever, especially for our grandkids....

Mon, December 2, 2013 @ 3:28 PM


Wed, December 11, 2013 @ 10:46 PM

26. Erin Menard wrote:
REALLY hope the rumors are true about The Ponderosa Ranch Re-opening!! Great Show, with wonderful corny themes, and GREAT amusement park! Wonderful memories and would like very much to revisit this place once again!

Sat, December 21, 2013 @ 9:46 PM

27. Kat Cartrwight wrote:
Love to see all the comments from Bonanza fans!! If any of you are interested, the Bonanza Convention is being held in Carson City on June 26-29, 2014 and tickets are still available. These are held approx. every 4 years and are tons of fun. You get to meet actors and make many new friends who are also BZ fans. If anyone is interested and would like a registration form and/or more info, please email me. Reservations are still open, but need to be made soon.

Fri, December 27, 2013 @ 6:28 PM

28. Mark wrote:
For those of you interested in signing up to attend the 2014 Bonanza Convention in Carson City, Nevada, next June, contact Kat Cartwright. (See post above.)
Kat's email is: katcartwright99@yahoo.com

Sat, December 28, 2013 @ 9:52 AM

29. Ray Dawson wrote:

I was lucky enough to visit the Ponderosa Ranch back in the 1980's and for me, it was a dream come true. Walking into that oh so familiar living room with Ben's desk and seafaring paraphenalia, Hop Sings kitchen and so on just brought to lfe all those childhood memories.The Hoss Burger stand and the Hoss's 'House Of Wonders was amazing. What a shame it closed down. I don't know if it was a personal decision by the new owner or a financial one and I am sure it would still draw huge crowds if it was reopened but it probably won't. I came from England to see it! Lake Tahoe was amazing too.Its on my bucket list.

Fri, January 10, 2014 @ 10:26 AM

30. Antonio Esteban wrote:
We visited the Ranch in the 80's. It was a special place in a wonderful trip to the Far West, from our home in Spain. We are planning a new trip for the next summer and we will miss The Ponderosa. What a pity!!

Wed, January 22, 2014 @ 2:16 PM

31. Shari wrote:
What is the name of the new restaraunt nearest I the ponderosa

Sun, January 26, 2014 @ 10:40 PM

32. Mark wrote:
Shari. The name of the new restaurant next to the Ponderosa Ranch location is Tunnel Creek Station.

Mon, January 27, 2014 @ 2:54 PM

33. Phelton Arnaud and Angela Arnaud wrote:
We went in the summer of 2004 to the ponderosa ranch, which was a life long dream of my husband. As a young boy he always dreamed of going. The year we went was the last year that it was to be moved, so we just made it. We would love to see the park reopened. My family enjoyed the trip we visited Lake Tahoe. We looked at the pictures and my husband still watches Bonanza faithfully, and remembers the things we seen, like the hats that hung on the wall.

Wed, January 29, 2014 @ 10:05 AM

34. Mary Smith wrote:
I came here on a work related trip and saw some something about Ponderosa. I was soooo excited, got on line to find out how to get there, when it was open etc only to find it is no longer open to the public. What a disappointment, I was going to be the cool mom as my children are teenagers who love Bonanza and I was going to get to say I was there. Would have loved to bring them back with me. Hope the new owner reconsiders

Wed, February 5, 2014 @ 3:22 PM

35. Drenne wrote:
Please reopen the park the Ponderosa. By the grace of God have a heart and reopen the park and watch the miracle of people young and old to visit the park.

Fri, March 14, 2014 @ 3:13 AM

36. Denny wrote:
I hope they reopen the ranch one day. It was heartbreaking when it closed. This show was something special. It felt so real. It still does, feels like it was part of real history; and I'm bettin' that each one of us who has written a note here feels like part of it--almost like descendants of the family. It's too bad that the home is no longer open to us. However, at least it's still there. I thought I read somewhere that the purchaser wanted to renovate and turn it into a private residence (was one of us, and could afford to do it). I hope that's true. But at least he's preserved it, and hasn't turned it into townhouses and single family homes, and I'm overwhelmingly grateful for that! Yes, it was a truly special show that reached us all down deep. We're all Cartwrights at heart and, in that, friends! And I can't help but believe that makes for a pretty great legacy.

Tue, April 15, 2014 @ 12:22 PM

37. Lin wrote:
I too was saddened that the Ranch closed. Went in 1999 with the Bonanza Convention and had a blast. Only wish I bought so many more Ponderosa Ranch items. Does any one know if these are for sale still up there somewhere?

Fri, April 18, 2014 @ 10:40 AM

38. Mark wrote:
One of Lorne Greene's sons Chuck recently sold off a lot of Ponderosa Ranch memorabilia at a January 2014 auction. Some of those items may have found their way onto Craig's list or some of the other on-line purveyors.

Fri, April 18, 2014 @ 3:39 PM

39. Phil Marley wrote:
Whats the latest news on reopening the property, anyone know?

Mon, April 21, 2014 @ 6:04 PM

Add a New Comment

Enter the code you see below:

Comment Guidelines: No HTML is allowed. Off-topic or inappropriate comments will be edited or deleted. Thanks.