Santa Cruz County is packed full of plenty of things to explore and enjoy. Outdoor enthusiasts can choose from a variety of activities such as hiking, biking, horseback riding, birding, boating, swimming, waterskiing, fishing, hunting, mountain climbing and golfing.
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
In 2011, we celebrate our 96th Anniversary of the Sonoita Labor Day Rodeo and the Santa Cruz County Fair. The fairgrounds facility is owned and operated by its membership.
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
3142 S. Highway 83
P. O. Box 85 Sonoita, Arizona 85637
Phone: (520) 455-5553 Fax: (520) 455-5330
Web Site: www.sonoitafairgrounds.com
From Amado, visit the Whipple Observatory in the Santa Rita Mountains. Enjoy exhibits on astronomy, natural science, and cultural history. There is also an outdoor patio with the Native American petroglyphs discovered on site, desert flora, and stunning views of the surrounding Santa Rita Mountains.
Please call (520) 670-5707 before you go.
Tubac Presidio State Historic Park.
Enjoy living history programs while experiencing Arizona's first European settlement. Remnants of the military fort founded by the Spanish in 1752 have been uncovered by University of Arizona archaeologists and preserved by Arizona State Parks. An underground display features portions of the original foundation, walls, and plaza floor of the Presidio (fort) de San Ignacio de Tubac. Spanish soldiers established the fort to control the local Pima and Apache Indians and serve as a base for further exploration of the Southwest. For more information, call (520) 398-2252.
Tumacacori National Historic Park.
A Franciscan mission built in 1795 that was regularly besieged by the Apache Indians, its ruins that are visible today including a chapel and graveyard. Visitors can also walk through an elaborate church built in 1822. The site has been converted into a National Historic Park with a visitor center where you can learn all about the mission. This is a very picturesque and tranquil spot with lots of mesquite trees and a half-mile trail. On weekends, there’s often a craft demonstration. For more information, call (520) 398-2371.
Sacred Heart Church located in Historic Nogales Main Street was completed in 1928.
|Historic Nogales Main Street.
Back when the border was marked by a waist-high post and crossing over was an unremarkable event, a saloon straddled the line with a door in Mexico and one in the U.S. Merchants and professionals carried on a long tradition of robust commercial trade and their profits built the stately homes that still grace Crawford Street and Marsh Heights. Old Town Hall, built by the Nogales Fire Department in 1914, is now the Pimeria Alta Museum. The Sacred Heart Church was inaugurated Thanksgiving Day in 1928 after 2 years of construction. For a tour of historic districts, call (520) 397-9219.
Patagonia Lake State Park.
For those who love the outdoors and water, Patagonia Lake State Park is popular for a variety of recreational activities including water skiing, fishing, camping, picnicking, and hiking. Created by the damming of Sonoita Creek, the lake is habitat for bass, crappie, bluegill, and catfish, and is stocked with rainbow trout during the winter. For anglers' sake, the east half of the lake is designated a no-wake area. A handicap fishing dock is located at the marina and behind the Sonoita Creek Visitor Center. Camping ranges from undeveloped spots to sites with water and electric hookups. Park conveniences include picnic ramadas, a swimming beach, and a marina store with boat rentals. For more information, call (520) 287-6965.
The Nature Conservancy's Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve.
The Nature Conservancy’s Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve is an extraordinary stop for birders and hikers alike with trails running along perennial streams. Visitors from around the world stop here to see over 200 species of rare and exotic birds that migrate from Mexico to this southeastern tip of Arizona. For more information, call (520) 394-2400.
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
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.