- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 19, 2007

SANTA BARBARA, Calif.

No special sign marks the Re- fugio Road exit from U.S. 101 as leading to a historic site. Avocado and lemon groves line the two-lane road for the first part of the seven-mile drive eastward, until the road begins a 2,000-foot climb into the Santa Ynez Mountains. Twisting and turning through a narrow valley, the road becoming increasingly steep.

The ascent strains even the powerful four-wheel-drive vehicle driven by Clark Vandeventer, 27, who recounts a journey up Refugio Road that happened before he was born.

“The first time they came up, there came a point where Mrs. Reagan said, ‘Ronnie, let’s just turn around. There can’t be anything back here. This is just so remote.’ ”

That was 1974. Ronald Reagan, then nearing the end of his two terms as governor of California, and his wife, Nancy, were riding with businessman William A. Wilson, who lived nearby. The Reagans had asked Mr. Wilson to help them find a ranch in the area, but the trek up the narrow road was discouraging.

“But when they pulled into the property,” Mr. Vandeventer says, relating the story as he heard it from Mr. Wilson, “Reagan turned to him and said, ‘Bill, how did you find this place? This is just perfect. This is just what I had in mind.’ … And finally, Bill said, ‘Governor, you be quiet. Ray Cornelius, who owns this ranch, is here today. I don’t want him to hear you talking this way. The price is going to go up.” ”

The Reagans bought the 688-acre property for $450,000 and named it Rancho del Cielo — “Ranch in the Sky.” It became famous during the Reagan presidency as the scene of Mr. Reagan’s vacation horseback rides and where he hosted such visiting dignitaries as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

For more than 20 years, the ranch was the Reagan family’s private retreat. Today, it is the focus of an effort to preserve Mr. Reagan’s political legacy for future generations.

The Young America’s Foundation (YAF) purchased Rancho del Cielo in 1998 and has made it a pilgrimage destination for high-school and college students learning about the Reagan philosophy.

“The ranch shows the real Ronald Reagan,” says Ron Robinson, president of YAF.

It has been preserved in authentic historical condition, including the furniture, the books on the shelves and the saddles in the barn.

“It’s a special place. You can see why Reagan chose it,” Mr. Robinson says.

Mr. VandeventerYAF’s director of development and supporter relations for the Reagan Ranch Center — is an experienced ranch guide, pointing out the fences and stone patio that Mr. Reagan built himself.

Inside the adobe ranch house, the Western-style decor is simple, informal and occasionally humorous, as in the case of the two novelty “jackalope” heads mounted on one wall. Double doors separate the living room and dining area from the bedroom and den where the Reagans spent quiet time together.

The den, with its Zenith television, “was very much a private sanctuary,” Mr. Vandeventer says, pointing out the chair where Mr. Reagan often fell asleep reading in the evenings.

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