With warm, sunny winter days and gorgeous views, Santa Cruz County offers ideal conditions for golfing. Several quality courses in the area provide both traditional and desert-style designs.
For those who love to fish, boat or swim, there's Pena Blanca Lake, located near Rio Rico and Nogales. It's a small remote lake surrounded by old cattle ranches. Patagonia Lake, located in Patagonia State Park, includes a beach, picnic area, campground, tables, hiking trail, marina and market.
The region is an internationally renowned bird watching destination with travelers coming from around the world to view birds that migrate here from Mexico.
Hiking and equestrian trails run throughout the county, including the Arizona Trail which weaves its path through the Canelo Hills and majestic Santa Rita Mountains. There are many day trips throughout the county where visitors can experience old west history and breathtaking landscapes. Here are a few suggestions:
Santa Cruz County Fair & Rodeo Association
The Santa Cruz County Fair & Rodeo Association, located at the Sonoita Fairgrounds, is 1/4 mile south of the Highway 82, Highway 83 junction in Sonoita, Arizona. We are 40 miles southeast of Tucson, Arizona with easy access from I-10. At 5000' we maintain a year round temperature 10-15 degrees cooler than Tucson.
The Fairgrounds are situated on 36.5 acres with parking for approximately 2000. A covered grandstand area seats 2200; 180 horse stalls; 1/2 mile race track; lighted rodeo arena; performance arena; club house with kitchen; exhibition halls and RV hookups are also available for outside events. Contact us for availability and rates.
Santa Cruz County Fair & Rodeo Association
Tubac Presidio State Historic Park.
Tumacacori National Historic Park.
Patagonia Lake State Park.
The Nature Conservancy's Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve.
La Cienega National Conservation Area (formerly Empire Cienega
Ranch). Six miles north of Sonoita on the east side of Highway
83 is a beautiful expanse of riparian woodlands and grasslands, part
of what was Empire Cienega Ranch, once one of the largest and most prosperous
cattle operations in the Southwest. Today La Cienega National Conservation
Area, an antelope preserve, is managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
For more information, call (520) 258-7200.
Arizona: The Old West, With a Few Wineries Thrown In
Chris Richards for The New York Times
On Route 83 in
yron said it so nicely: "To me, high mountains are a feeling, but the hum of human cities torture." In summer in southern Arizona, both the hum and the torture intensify as shimmering, relentless heat is reflected by radiating pavement and flaring tempers. So, like Byron, loving not man the less but nature more, I head for the high country.
One of my favorite day trips loops down to Bisbee and back to Tucson, a little over 250 miles on lightly traveled roads that seem to carry me toward an older, simpler way of life. It's an uncomplicated route: Arizona 83 south to 82, then east to 80, which runs south through Bisbee to Pirtleville, then back to Interstate 10 on U.S. 191.
Right from the start, where Arizona 83 peels away from the Interstate (Exit 281) and begins to climb through the Santa Rita Mountains, the saguaro cactus, mesquite and palo verde of the Sonoran Desert slowly give way to great swaths of long grasses. This is cattle country, and silhouetted along the hillsides ahead are its icons: windmills pivot lazily to face the breeze as they pump water into stock tanks older than I am.
When I was a child, white-faced Herefords and Brahma bulls would have filled this scene almost to the horizon. Now the herds are small and scattered, sharing the sweet grass with horses and pronghorn antelope. But it is unmistakably cattle country still.
Route 83 runs past two of the largest ranches in the history of the West, the family-owned San Ignacio del Babacomari land grant and the legendary Empire Ranch. Originally established in the 1860's, the Empire comprised more than a million acres by the turn of the century.
Today the sprawling adobe ranch house is the administrative center
for the 42,000-acre Las Cienegas National Conservation Area, but the
whole area remains saturated with the atmosphere of the Old West.
Filmmakers love it. The Sonoita grasslands have lent authenticity to
movies as varied as
In addition to its big vistas, the Sonoita area is getting a reputation for its climate. Warm, sunny days, cool nights and rich red soil reproduce, at this altitude, the conditions so agreeable to wine grapes. Tidy vineyards cluster around their own windmills in Arizona's wine country, south and east of the intersection of Routes 83 and 82. When I'm not my designated driver, I sometimes stop for a tasting at one of the three wineries near the little town of Elgin - Callaghan, Sonoita or Village of Elgin Vineyards - but I've found this often turns into a full-scale detour.
Instead, heading blamelessly east, I follow Route 82 past the cottonwood-willow canopy around the San Pedro, one of the last free-flowing rivers in the Southwest. Birders claim they can spot up to 50 species on a two-hour walk there, including 10 kinds of hummingbirds.
Turning south, Arizona 80 runs right through Tombstone. Without pausing there to visit Boot Hill or Big Nose Kate's Saloon or watch re-enactments of shoot-outs at the O.K. Corral or in the streets, I climb straight through Mule Pass Tunnel into Bisbee, at 5,300 feet in elevation. When the temperature hangs relentlessly over 100 degrees in Tucson, it's usually in the pleasant 80's in Bisbee.
Founded in 1880, this scrappy mining camp proved to be one of the richest mineral sites in the world. In its heyday, in the early 1900's, it was the largest city (population 20,000) between St. Louis and San Francisco and the most cultured spot in the Southwest.
Now, since the bottom dropped out of the American copper market in the 1970's, Bisbee has become an artists' colony, proud of its colorful past and careful about restoration. Picturesque period buildings trail up the floor of Tombstone Canyon and cling to the surrounding red rock canyon walls. It's a good place to stop for lunch, perhaps at the Bisbee Coffee Company or, for more ambience, at the plush bar or terrace at the venerable Copper Queen Hotel.
Back on the road again, heading east, route 80 meanders into Pirtleville to intersect Route 191 north. The words high lonesome begin to crop up, on street signs, a feed store, a veterinary clinic, real estate billboards.
I love this stretch of road. The vista is rimmed by mountains, the Pedregosas, Swisshelms and Dragoons, blunt, stubby peaks tinted buff and lavender and oxblood by the afternoon sun. In the foreground irrigated pasture is studded with grazing animals and rolls of mown and baled hay, and there's always a raven sitting on a fence post. This isn't designated a scenic byway. The Adopt-a-Highway signs are marked "Available." But something about the simplicity of hard-working country is deeply satisfying. Inessentials have been pared away by sun and wind and the occasional flash flood. Horse ranches and farms and pistachio groves go about their business with a no-nonsense sort of timelessness.
Arizona 191 rejoins Interstate 10 in a jumble of huge, warm blond boulders where Texas Canyon suddenly thrusts itself up out of the high, wide plain. I always make a last stop here, about an hour from Tucson. The hum of human cities lies just beyond.
Callaghan Vineyards, 336 Elgin Road, Elgin; (520) 455-5322.
Sonoita Vineyards, Elgin-Canelo Road, three miles south of Elgin; (520) 455-5893.
Village of Elgin Wine Companies, Elgin Complex, Elgin; (520) 455-9309.
Bisbee Coffee Company, 2 Copper Queen Plaza, Bisbee; (520) 432-7879. Sandwiches and soft drinks for two, around $18.
Copper Queen Saloon, in the Copper Queen Hotel, 11 Howell Avenue, Bisbee; (520) 432-2216. Burgers or salads and beers for two at lunch, around $20.
JUDITH ANDERSON lives in Tucson.
In preparing this material, every effort has been made to ensure that the information provided is correct.