Mexico lies at the end of a short drive south from Tucson via I-19, just 63 miles or 100 km—all of I-19 is signed in metric. Except for the speed limits, that is—the Highway Patrol doesn't want motorists feigning confusion at the sight of "120 kph" signs!
You'll follow the Santa Cruz River Valley, one of the first areas in Arizona colonized by the Spanish. The Jesuit priest Eusebio Francisco Kino began mission work at Guevavi and Tumacacori in 1691, then moved to San Xavier and other sites. Livestock, new crops, and the new religion introduced by Kino and later padres greatly changed the lives of the local tribes. You may wish to stop at some of the many historic and scenic sights on the way. Some fine resorts, guest ranches, and inns lie along the route.
This gleaming white church (10 miles south of downtown Tucson, 520/294-2624, www.sanxaviermission.org, 7 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, donations welcome) rises from the desert as a testimonial to the faith of early Spanish missionaries and the Tohono O'odham Indians. One of the finest pieces of Spanish colonial architecture in the United States, its beauty has given rise to the name White Dove of the Desert. Padre Kino first visited the site in 1692, and a chapel went up in 1700. The church's name honors Kino's patron saint. The village name of Bac or Wa:k means "where the water comes out of the ground."
The mission often lacked a resident priest and suffered many difficulties during its early years. Revolts in 1734 and 1751 caused serious damage. Raiding Apache harassed residents and stole livestock. The oldest surviving part of the mission dates from 1757-63, when the Jesuit Father Alonso Espinosa built a large, flat-roofed adobe church. This structure was later moved and butted up against the east bell tower of the present church, and it is now part of the south wing of the mission.
Franciscan missionaries began construction of the present church, a marvelous example of Mexican folk baroque architecture, in 1783. Shortage of materials and skilled artisans resulted in the folksy character of the building. Workers painted the main altar to resemble marble and the dadoes to look like glazed tiles. With few fine fabrics on hand, painters simply depicted curtains on the walls. A bit of mystery surrounds the church. No one knows for sure who designed it. Legends give various reasons for the unfinished state of the east bell tower and other parts, but records state that friars ran short of construction funds.
You're welcome to step inside the church and admire the many paintings, statues, and embellishments. A statue of St. Francis Xavier above the altar, ordered from Mexico in 1759, predates the church and is the most famous of the 50 or so statues inside. Above him stands the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception; highest of all is a figure representing the Catholic God. Another figure of St. Francis Xavier reclines in the west alcove where it is much venerated. You can take flash photos unless a service is in progress, though you shouldn't photograph worshippers. The church is still a spiritual center for the Tohono O'odham. Masses take place daily; call or check the website for times.
The mission museum (about 9 a.m.-4 p.m. daily, donations welcome) introduces the people of Wa:k and the Spanish missionaries, then gives the church's history with architectural plans, photos, religious art, priests' vestments, and furnishings; a video illustrates how the artwork has been brought back to life in a major restoration project. Exhibits open daily. A gift shop on the east side sells religious and Southwest souvenirs, regional books, and some Native American crafts. To the west stands a former mortuary chapel where two early Franciscan friars lie buried. The small hill to the east features a replica of the Grotto of Lourdes.
San Xavier Plaza across from the mission includes the Wa:k Snack Shop (Mexican, Native American, and American food) and shops selling crafts of Tohono O'odham, Zuni, Hopi, Navajo, and other tribes. Tohono O'odham set up food stalls outside, especially on Sunday and religious holidays. Major celebrations are the two-day Feast of St. Francis of Assisi on October 4th and the three-day Feast of St. Francis Xavier on December 3rd. In March, usually on the 2nd weekend, the Wa:k Pow Wow attracts Southwestern Native American groups to San Xavier Mission for traditional and modern singing and dancing. Take I-19 south to Exit 92 and follow signs west and north 1.2 miles.
Green Valley, populated almost entirely by seniors, nestles in rolling hills overlooking the Santa Cruz Valley, 25 miles south of Tucson.
Asarco Mineral Discovery Center and Mine Tours
This museum (just west of I-19 Pima Mine Rd. Exit 80, 520/625-7513 recording or 520/625-8233 tour reservations, www.mineraldiscovery.com, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tues.-Sat., free) illustrates the fascinating processes of copper mining and refining. Video programs and exhibits show each step of the operations. Mineral displays have beautiful specimens of copper ore. Outdoor exhibits include massive haul trucks, an early 20th-century mine headframe, and other historic mine equipment. A gift shop offers excellent Southwestern crafts, many made of copper, along with regional books. Arizona tourist literature is available too. You can enjoy your lunch at a picnic area.
Tours (9:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Tues.-Sat., $6 adults, $5 seniors 62 and over, $4 ages 5-12) take you up past terraced white hills to view the giant Mission Mine. Your guide will point out and explain features of the operation, which is able to make a profit with an ore averaging only 0.6 percent copper. The pit is 1500 feet deep and up to 2.5 miles across, and miners will continue digging at least another 700 feet down. Giant shovels load the huge trucks, some of which can carry 320 tons of earth. With luck, you may get to see a mine blast. The tour goes inside a mill, where machinery grinds and concentrates the ore in several stages to achieve a 28 percent copper content, ready for shipment to smelters elsewhere. Tours are wheelchair accessible and depart from the Mineral Discovery Center; only large groups need to make reservations.
COLD WAR DEFUSED—THE TITAN MISSILE MUSEUM
When the SALT treaty called for the deactivation of the 54 Titan missiles buried deep below ground in Arizona, Kansas, and Arkansas, the people at Pima Air and Space Museum asked that one site remain open for public tours. After complex international negotiations, the request was granted. And so today the Green Valley complex of the 390th Strategic Missile Wing has been declassified and opened to the public.
Here you can watch a tape of an Air Force crew going to work, prepared for a command that fortunately never came. Had they launched their nuclear missile, in less than an hour its 440,000 pounds of thrust could have taken it from its blastproof Arizona silo to a target 8,000 miles away.
You can sit behind the consoles where two officers once waited for the command that would tell them to use two sets of keys in two combination locks to retrieve launch codes that would incinerate millions of people. The hardened command center is mounted on springs to withstand anything but a direct hit. You'll pass through a pair of 6,000-pound blast doors to approach the missile itself—110 feet tall and weighing 170 tons when fully fueled and ready to fly.
Titan Missile Museum
You may think that you're trespassing on a top-secret military installation—official Air Force vehicles, a helicopter, giant antenna, and refueling equipment look ready for action. But this once top-secret facility has thrown open its heavy doors to the public. Only this site, in use 1963-82, has been preserved (I-19 Duval Mine Rd. Exit 69, then west 0.6 mile, 520/625-7736, www.pimaair.org, one-hour tours depart 9 a.m.-4 p.m. daily, $8.50 adults, $6.50 seniors and military, $5 ages 7-12). After a look at the antennas, fueling equipment, rocket engines, and missile door on the surface, you'll descend to the subterranean chambers and make your way past security gates and a pair of blast doors to the control room. Here your guide will demonstrates the launch sequence. Then you'll walk down a 200-foot tunnel for a close look at the awesome Titan II missile. An elevator allows access for people unable to climb the stairs. The visitor center has a Cold War time line, missile warhead housing, and equipment used by technicians. A gift shop sells souvenirs.
Holiday Inn Express (I-19 Duval Mine Road Exit 69, then south on the west frontage road, 520/625-0900 or 800/465-4329, $105 d) offers an indoor pool and spa. Green Valley Best Western (111 S. La Cañada Dr., 520/625-2250 or 800/344-1441, about $100 d, less in summer) has the Lavender Restaurant, pool, and a hot tub; take I-19 Exit 65, turn west on Esperanza, then south on La Cañada.
For superb French-American dining, try Lavender Restaurant (111 S. La Cañada Dr., 520/648-0205, daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with a brunch on Sunday, $11-23) in the Green Valley Best Western; entrees include the popular crab meat-sea scallop duo and the roasted half duckling. You'll find seven more restaurants in the adjacent Green Valley Mall, just west of I-19 Esperanza Blvd. Exit 65, including Mexican at La Placita (90 W. Esperanza Blvd., 520/625-2111) and Chinese at China View (101 S. La Cañada Dr., 520/648-3848, closed Sun.). Desert Diamond Casino, just east of I-19 Pima Mine Rd. Exit 80, offers fine dining in the Agave Restaurant (520/393-2720, daily for lunch and dinner); there's a buffet restaurant too.
Green Valley | Sahuarita Chamber of Commerce (275 W. Continental Rd., Suite 123, Green Valley, AZ 85622, 520/625-7575 or 800/858-5872, http://www.greenvalleysahuaritachamber.com, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Sat.) provides both local and state-wide information. From I-19 Continental Exit 63, head west, then turn right at the tourist information sign just past the Continental Shopping Plaza.
Mount Wrightson tops the range at 9,453 feet with some of the best mountain scenery and views in the Tucson area. The forests and perennial creek of Madera Canyon on the northern slope attract many species of birds and other wildlife. A network of trails, some wheel chair accessible, wind along the creek or climb to lofty vistas in the canyon.
The Nogales Ranger District of the Coronado National Forest (just north of Nogales, 520/281-2296, www.fs.fed.us/r3/coronado) has maps and trail descriptions. You can also obtain information at Santa Rita Lodge's gift shop in Madera Canyon (see below), at some trailheads, and from the Supervisor's Office in Tucson (520/670-4552). Tucson Hiking Guide, by Betty Leavengood, contains detailed trail descriptions and maps. Santa Rita Mountains, Arizona—A Trail and Recreation Map covers the entire range with trail names and distances.
Birdwatchers flock here to see abundant and unusual wildlife, of which the coppery-tailed elegant trogon bird (Trogon elegans) is the star attraction. During summer this colorful, parrotlike bird flies in from Mexico to nest in tall trees in the canyon bottoms. More than 200 other bird species have been spotted in Madera Canyon, including 13 species of hummingbirds. Mid-March to mid-September is the best time for birdwatching. Bear, deer, mountain lion, coatimundi, and javelina also share the spring-fed canyon.
Madera Canyon is an easy 38-mile drive south from Tucson on paved roads, which stay open all year. Head south on I-19 to Continental Exit 63, then exit to the east and follow signs 11.5 miles. You'll go past pecan orchards in the Santa Cruz Valley, then mesquite, ocotillo, and cacti of the desert before reaching forests of juniper, oak, and pine in Madera Canyon. The road gently climbs through the canyon about two miles before ending at Mt. Wrightson Picnic Area. Entry is $5/day or $20/year unless you have one of the golden passes or a national parks pass w/hologram.
From Proctor Parking Area, on the right at the entrance to the canyon (elev. 4,400 feet), a paved path (wheelchair accessible) with interpretive signs heads upstream in a 0.8-mile loop. Benches along the way offer places for rest and contemplation. A crumbling adobe wall of White House Ruins lies just off the trail. A narrow trail continues upstream to trailheads at White House Picnic Area in 0.75 mile, Madera Picnic Area in 1.2 miles, Santa Rita Lodge in 1.4 miles, the Amphitheater in 1.7 miles, and trail's end at Roundup Picnic Area in 4.4 miles one way.
White House Picnic Area, on the right a bit beyond Proctor Parking Area, offers tables in a woodland and an easy 0.4-mile paved loop trail that's wheelchair accessible. Madera Picnic Area, about half way up Madera Canyon at Milepost 12, has tables in the forest on both sides of the road at an elevation of 4,820 feet. At a loop at road's end, Mt. Wrightson Picnic Area (elev. 5,400 feet) offers tables under the trees and trailheads for Nature, Old Baldy, Super, and Vault Mine Trails. The Nature Trail has interpretive signs and some good views of the canyon as it descends 2.7 miles one way to the Amphitheater trailhead; elevation change is 510 feet. You could also continue on trails down as far as Proctor Parking Area in 4.4 miles total one way with a 1,000-foot elevation drop.
Bog Springs-Kent Spring Loop Trail
One of Madera Canyon's prettiest hikes begins from Madera Picnic Area. The moderate 5.8-mile trail has an elevation gain of 1,600 feet with fine views of the Santa Ritas, Madera Canyon, and far across the Santa Cruz Valley. Three springs along the way usually have water (treat before drinking) that attracts birds and other wildlife and supports large sycamore trees. The path climbs gently 0.7 mile from the east side of the picnic area to the start of the loop; turn left for Bog Springs, another 0.8 mile. The trail steepens to its highest point just before Kent Spring (elev. 6,620) 1.2 miles farther. The way then follows an old jeep road, steeply downhill at first, to Sylvester Spring in 0.5 mile, swings over into another seasonal drainage, curves back to the start of the loop in 1.9 miles, and back to the picnic area in 0.7 mile. You can save a bit of hiking by starting from the trailhead at Bog Springs Campground, but there's no hiker parking here—you'd have to pay the campground fee. It's also possible to access the loop on the new Four Springs Trail from the Amphitheater trailhead.
Mt. Wrightson Trails
On a clear day at the top, you'll see most of southeastern Arizona and well into Mexico. Don't climb if thunderstorms threaten—another good reason to get an early start in summer. Usually May-Nov. offers the best hiking. Pines begin to appear at trailhead elevations, then become more numerous higher up. Douglas fir and aspen groves thrive in protected areas. Only hardy trees hang onto the wind-blasted ridges. Mount Wrightson, along with most of the highest mountains, lies within the Mount Wrightson Wilderness.
Two trails to the summit start from Madera Canyon's Roundup Picnic Area (elev. 5,400 feet), two miles up Madera Canyon. Super Trail has a relatively gentle grade, but the trail is long (16.2 miles roundtrip) and offers little shade. Old Baldy Trail is steeper and shorter (10.8 miles roundtrip) with lots of shade. Many hikers go up one trail and descend the other on a figure-eight loop. The trails cross at Josephine Saddle (elev. 7,250 ft.), southwest of the peak, then meet again at Baldy Saddle (elev. 8,800 ft.) just below the peak's north face. From here it's just 0.9 mile more to the summit. Both trails lie mostly in the wilderness, where mountain bikes are prohibited.
Hikers with a high-clearance 4WD vehicle can reach Gardner Canyon Trail on the east side of the Santa Ritas. This trail is slightly shorter with a bit less climb than the ascent from Madera Canyon. From Tucson, head east about 21 miles on I-10 to Exit 281, turn south about 21 miles on AZ 83, then turn west about 11 miles on Gardner Canyon Road (Forest Road 92). You'll pass Apache Springs Ranch and trailheads for the Arizona Trail before reaching the Gardner Canyon Trailhead at road's end. The last several miles have several creek fords and hill climbs that can be rough. At the trailhead (elev. 6,070 ft.), follow Gardner Canyon Trail #143 three miles to the Super Trail, which curves around to Baldy Saddle in another 0.8 mile, then continue 0.9 mile on Old Baldy Trail to the summit.
The new Four Springs Trail begins at the Amphitheater trailhead, then climbs steeply to the ridge-top Orange Trail north of Mt. Wrightson. You could do a loop with these and either the Super or Old Baldy trails.
Accommodations and Campground
All of the lodges have an idyllic streamside setting in Madera Canyon. Santa Rita Lodge (520/625-8746, www.santaritalodge.com) offers 12 rental units with kitchenettes for $83-98 d Feb.-May, $60-93 d June-Jan., with discounts for long stays. The lodge's gift shop and website are handy sources for local information. Madera Kubo (0.4 mile past Santa Rita Lodge on the left, 520/625-2908, www.maderakubo.com, $75 d year-round) rents four cabins and has a gift shop. Chuparosa Inn (a bit farther up on the right, 520/393-7370, www.chuparosainn.com, $110 d room, $130 d suite year-round) has three bed and breakfast rooms.
Bog Springs Campground (elev. 5,600 feet, $10 camping, $5 day use) is open all year with water; some sites can accommodate rigs to 22 feet. Turn left at Madera Picnic Area and go half a mile.
Elephant Head Mountain-Bike Route
Mountain bikers can follow a very technical and scenic series of back roads and trails between the entrance of Madera Canyon (begin at Proctor Parking Area) and a junction 0.75 mile past the Whipple Observatory visitor center. Elevations range 3,600-4,600 feet, and the trail is rated "most difficult." It's 10 miles one-way and best done in the cooler months.
Northern Areas of the Santa Rita Mountains
Though little visited, the north side has ghost towns, shady canyons, and towering rocky summits. Back-road enthusiasts can seek out Helvetia's adobe ruin, mine workings, and cemetery; this copper mining center came to life in the 1890s and died in the 1920s. It's easily reached from Sahuarita or Green Valley, but you'll need a good map, as there are no signs for the ruin or cemetery. Scenic drives across the Santa Ritas include the fairly easy Box Canyon Road (Forest Road 62) and the challenging Lopez Pass road (4WD needed). You can reach this region from I-19 on the west or AZ 83 on the east.
Eastern Areas of the Santa Rita Mountains
The back roads on the eastern side of the Santa Ritas offer scenic drives and mountain biking too. Hikers can access the Arizona Trail or head off on other trails into the heights of the range.
Kentucky Camp, a well-preserved ghost town, dates from 1904 when the Santa Rita Water and Mining Company started construction of a placer gold mine; financial woes and the death of the mining engineer the following year ended the dreams. Volunteers have restored the adobe headquarters, assay office, and two cabins; see www.kentuckycamp.org/ for info on history and visiting the site. The Boston Gulch Adventure Hike heads out to mining sites (for experienced hikers; about 3 hours) and the Arizona Trail goes through the site. You can rent one of the cabins for $75/night or the headquarters and cabin for $150/night; contact www.recreation.gov/ or 877/444-6777. To get here, take AZ 83 south 21 miles from I-10 (or north 4 miles from Sonoita) to unpaved Gardner Canyon Road/Forest Road 92; follow it west 0.75 mile, turn right on Forest Road 163 and continue 4.3 miles to the gate, then walk a quarter-mile to Kentucky Camp. Cautiously driven cars may be able to do the trip. The gate is often open on Saturday and can be opened on request (call the Nogales Ranger Station) for people who have difficulty walking.
Cave of the Bells attracts experienced spelunkers to see a variety of minerals and an underground lake inside. This undeveloped "wild" cave lies in East Sawmill Canyon off Gardner Canyon Road. Obtain gate key and directions from the Forest Service's Nogales Ranger District office north of Nogales or the supervisor's office in Tucson.
The Smithsonian Institution studies the heavens with a variety of telescopes on Mt. Hopkins in the Santa Ritas. A visitor center (520/670-5707, www.cfa.harvard.edu/facilities/flwo/, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Mon.-Fri. except federal holidays) at the base of the mountain offers seasonal tours to several telescopes atop the summit and year-round astronomy exhibits.
From mid-March to November, six-hour tours of the observatory depart from the visitor center. Call up to four weeks in advance—especially early in the season—for the schedule (generally Monday, Wednesday, and Friday), directions, and required reservations; tours cost $7 adults, $2.50 children 6-12; children under six are not permitted. The tour begins with a short video presentation at 9 a.m., followed by a narrated bus ride high into the mountains. It's great to let the experienced driver tackle the narrow, winding mountain road, stopping at a 10-meter-diameter reflector designed for gamma ray studies and at other telescopes along the way. The famous MMT, one of the world's largest telescopes, has a 6.5-meter mirror inside a 4.5-story housing that weighs 550 tons and turns with the telescope. At each stop, your guide discusses astronomy and local history and points out distant summits. The outstanding views are almost as good as those from nearby Mt. Wrightson. You may be able to pick out the Guillermo Haro Astrophysical Observatory 56 miles south-southeast in Mexico. The tour takes a midday break atop Mt. Hopkins for a picnic (bring your own lunch). Be prepared for temperatures 15-20ºF cooler than in the valley, possible summer showers, and the thin air at Mt. Hopkins' 8,550-foot summit.
Whipple Picnic Area near the visitor center is open daily all year with a nature trail, picnic tables, grills, and restrooms. You can drive up the Mt. Hopkins Road on your own for views and a few undeveloped spots for picnicking or camping; a gate 7.5 miles past the visitor center blocks the remaining 5 miles to the top, though you can walk on this road.
The visitor center is 43 miles south of Tucson and 38 miles north of Nogales. From Tucson, head south on I-19 to Canoa Exit 56, go south 3 miles along the east frontage road, east 1.5 miles on Elephant Head Road, then southeast 6.5 miles on Mt. Hopkins Road; all of these are paved. From Nogales, you can take I-19 Amado Exit 48, go north 2 miles on the east frontage road, then turn east on Elephant Head Road.
Amado and Vicinity
Rex Ranch (east from I-19 Exit 48 or 42, 520/398-2914, www.rexranch.com, $125 d and up Oct.-May, less off-season) enjoys a quiet and scenic location ideal for relaxation. It's also popular with groups and families. Guests can use the full-service spa facilities, go horseback riding, mountain biking, or birdwatching, and play golf at a nearby course. A fine-dining restaurant serves European and Southwestern cuisine.
Amado Territory Inn Bed & Breakfast (just east off I-19 Exit 48, 520/398-8684 or 888/398-8684, http://www.amadoterritoryinn.com/, $120-135 d Nov.-June, $95-105 d July-Oct.) offers rooms with views of the Santa Ritas and a restful atmosphere; rooms have no TVs or telephones, and children under 12 are not permitted. Amado Cafe (520/398-9211, closed Sun. evening and Mon.) next door prepares Southwestern and Mediterranean food for lunch and dinner. Galleries nearby include Blackstar, which mines opal locally and sets the stones in jewelry. To the north in the Amado Territory grounds, Kristofer's (520/625-0331) prepares gourmet sandwiches and wraps for lunch, then fine dining for dinner.
Two RV parks offer overnight and long-term spaces about two miles south on the east frontage road off I-19 Exits 46 or 42. Mountain View RV Ranch (520/398-9401, $15 no hookups, $21.21 w/hookups including tax) has basic sites for tents and RVs along with a pool and showers. De Anza Trails RV Resort (520/398-8628, $25 RV w/hookups) next door offers a pool, hot tub, and showers.
Two atmospheric restaurants lie just west of I-19 Exit 48. You'll see how the Longhorn Grill (520/398-3955, daily for lunch and dinner) got its name! The horns originally served as a movie set. Inside, the menu offers meat, fish, pasta, and pizza dishes. Across the street, the Cow Palace (520/398-2201, daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner) serves up cowboy, Mexican, and Italian food in a Western setting.
A paved road winds southwest 23 miles across the desert hills from I-19 Exit 48 to this little village of about 1,500 people. Birders and other nature lovers come to see wildlife at the nearby springs of the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. You can also get here on paved roads via AZ 286 from the west or on the very scenic but twisting 36-mile Ruby Road (AZ 289/Forest Road 39, partly dirt) through the Coronado National Forest. Downtown Arivaca has a store/gas station, post office, and a library. A small refuge visitor center next to the Arivaca Mercantile is open irregular hours.
This 90-acre reservoir with its cottonwood- and willow-lined shoreline attracts fishermen, who catch largemouth bass, bluegill, and catfish while enjoying the solitude here. Facilities are minimal—just parking areas, a boat ramp, and outhouses. Single electric motors can be used.
The easiest way in is from Amado (I-19 Exit 48, 37 miles south of Tucson) to the village of Arivaca, 20 miles. From Arivaca head southeast five miles on paved Forest Road 39, then turn left 2.3 unpaved miles to the lake.
The other route follows the Ruby Road; head west 10 miles from I-19 Exit 12 on AZ 289 to just before Peña Blanca Lake, then continue west 21 miles on unpaved Forest Road 39, turning right after 2.3 miles. This slow but scenic route winds through the Atascosa Mountains on dirt roads—usually passable by cautiously driven cars—past the ghost towns of Ruby (fenced off; call 520/744-4471 to arrange a visit) and Oro Blanco.
Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge
Located about 60 miles southwest of Tucson, this former ranch now provides a habitat for over 300 species of birds, including the masked bobwhite that was reintroduced here. You have a good chance of seeing pronghorn, mule deer, coyote, and javelina along refuge roads. With luck, you might spot a mountain lion, coatimundi, ring-tailed cat, badger, desert tortoise, or Gila monster. Grazing over the past 100-plus years damaged the grasslands, which are now being restored with controlled burns. Riparian lands, added later to the refuge, attract both wildlife and visitors. The refuge brochure contains a map, an introduction to the resident wildlife, and advice on visits; it's available at refuge visitor centers and some tourist offices. Call or check the website for a schedule of tours and workshops.
Refuge headquarters (P.O. Box 109, Sasabe, AZ 86633, 502/823-4251, http://southwest.fws.gov, 7 a.m.-4 p.m. daily) lies in the southern part of the refuge with information and a few exhibits. Pronghorn Drive begins just south of the headquarters and loops 10 miles across open grassland with sweeping views of the Altar Valley; it's passable for cars in dry weather. Aguirre Lake, just north of the headquarters, has water and birds only after plentiful rain. Most backroads in the refuge require 4WD, especially after rains. Mountain bikers can make many loop trips. You can camp at any of the more than 100 primitive sites along the backroads; no permit is needed, but you must stay at a designated site.
From Tucson, the fastest way heads west 21 miles on AZ 86 to Robles Junction, turns south 38 miles on AZ 286 to the headquarters turnoff (between Mileposts 7 and 8), then turns east three miles on a paved road to the headquarters. The more scenic route goes via the tiny town of Arivaca and refuge riparian areas: drive 33 miles south on I-19 to Arivaca Junction, turn southwest 32 miles via Arivaca to AZ 286, then turn south about 4 miles to the headquarters turnoff.
Just east of Arivaca, seven springs rise from the desert valley at Arivaca Cienega. A boardwalk trail leads out to Willow Pond and marshlands, popular for birdwatching, in a 1.3-mile loop. Arivaca Creek pops up above ground two miles west of Arivaca and supports towering Fremont cottonwood trees, lush vegetation, birds, and other wildlife. A trail makes a figure-eight loop of about one mile. For great views of the area, branch off on the Mustang Trail, which leads to the top of El Cerro in five miles roundtrip, with the last section rough and on loose rock. You'll need a hat, sturdy shoes, and water, as there's no shade.
Guided tours visit Brown Canyon, a sycamore-lined creek in the Baboquivari Mountains in the northwest corner of the refuge; it's too fragile for public access otherwise.
This sleepy adobe village on the Arizona side of the border has a store and a nearby guest ranch. The larger Mexican town of Sasabe has about 1,000 inhabitants and lies a mile south of the border. It serves as a ranching center but lacks tourist shops. Besides running cattle, local people export mesquite firewood and adobe bricks. The border is open daily, but few travelers cross into Mexico here; there's no source for vehicle permits or insurance, and the 60-mile stretch of dirt road heading south from the border is rough. The excellent Rancho de la Osa Guest Ranch makes a great getaway just a few miles from Sasabe; see the description in the Tucson Accommodations section; visitors should call first.
After the Pima Indian Revolt in 1751, the Spanish decided to protect their missions and settlers in this remote region, so they built Tubac Presidio, the first European settlement in what's now Arizona. When the Spanish departed in 1776, garrisons of Pima Indians and later Mexicans provided some security, yet Apache raids and political turmoil in following decades often made life unbearable at times. Tubac's citizens had to flee repeatedly.
By the time the United States took over after the 1854 Gadsden Purchase, Tubac had decayed into a pile of crumbling adobe ruins. Prospectors and adventure-seekers, fired by tales of old Spanish mines, soon poured in. They hit rich mineral deposits, and by 1859 Tubac had become a boomtown with Arizona's first newspaper, the Weekly Arizonan. The Civil War brought the good times to an end when the troops guarding the town headed east to fight the Confederacy. Apache once again raided the settlement, and the inhabitants once again had to seek safer locales. Tubac recovered after the Civil War, but the boom days were finished.
Much later, when an art school opened in 1948, Tubac began a slow transformation into an artists' colony. Today you can explore about 100 studios and galleries displaying modern jewelry, ceramics, fountains, woodcarvings, prints, batiks, paintings, and other works. During the week-long Tubac Festival of the Arts in February, residents and visiting artists celebrate with exhibitions, demonstrations, and food. Tubac lies 45 miles south of Tucson off I-19 Exit 34.
Tubac Center of the Arts
This gallery (Plaza Road, near the entrance to Tubac, 520/398-2371, www.TubacArts.org, 1-4:30 p.m. Sun., 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Mon.-Sat. Sept.-May, call for summer hours, $2 suggested donation) displays excellent work by local, regional, and national artists. Most works are for sale and there's a gift shop. A Performing Arts program offers a variety of presentations. Both adults and children can attend workshops; kids also have a summer program.
Tubac Presidio State Historic Park
This park (520/398-2252, http://azstateparks.com/Parks/TUPR/index.html, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, $4 ages 14 and over, $2 ages 7-13) on the site of the Spanish presidio, displays Tubac's history. A short video in the visitor center provides an introduction. Continue outside and descend stairs to see the original foundation and wall in an underground excavation. Next, in the museum, models illustrate how the presidio appeared in the early years. Exhibits illustrate the lives of the people who were here during the prehistoric, Spanish, Mexican, and American periods. You'll see the printing press used for Arizona's first newspaper and a reproduction of the first issue, dated March 3, 1859. The schoolhouse adjacent to the visitor center dates from 1885; it's a successor to Arizona's first school, which was built in 1789. You can also visit St. Ann's Church, just outside the park; it was rebuilt in the 1920s as the latest in a series of churches built on the site since the early 1700s. The state park itself is historic because it's Arizona's first, established in 1959.
Living History Programs (1-4 p.m. Sun. Oct.-March) portray the Spanish colonial period's crafts, food, traditional medicine, and religion. In October on the weekend closest to the 23rd, the park hosts Anza Days Cultural Celebration that commemorates the 1775 departure from Tubac of the de Anza expedition; you can enjoy re-enactments, historic craft demonstrations, entertainment, and local foods.
From the gateway to Tubac, turn right 0.3 mile on Tubac Road to the park entrance. A mesquite-shaded picnic area lies south across the street from the park.
Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail
You can hike a 4.5-mile section of trail once used by the Spanish to secure a route to the west coast. Tubac Presidio Captain Juan Bautista de Anza led 240 colonists in 1775-76 to what would become San Francisco in northern California. You can start at either Tubac Presidio State Historic Park (south side of the state park's parking lot) or Tumacacori National Historical Park. From either trailhead, you will cross the Santa Cruz River after 1.25 miles, but the river can be too high to cross safely at times,. There's excellent birding, and the state park visitor center has a bird list. Hikers should carry plenty of water, especially in hot weather, and keep on the trail, as it crosses private land.
Tubac's many galleries sell outstanding art and crafts. Pick up a map at many businesses or just wander down the lanes. La Paloma de Tubac (just east of the state park, 520/398-9231) offers a huge selection of folk art and crafts from Mexico, Central America, and South America. Tortuga Books has a great regional and general offering in front of the Mercado de Baca.
Accommodations and Campgrounds
Tubac Country Inn (corner of 13 Burruel St. and Plaza, 520/398-3178, www.tubaccountryinn.com, $85-155 d) has five suites with continental breakfast. Secret Garden Inn Bed & Breakfast (520/398-9371, $105 d) offers two rooms with continental breakfast down a little lane north of the state park.
Tubac Golf Resort (one mile north of Tubac, 520/398-2211 or 800/848-7893, www.tubacgolfresort.com) offers posada rooms ($140-175 d), casitas ($175-190 d), and hacienda suites ($195-265 d) along with an 18-hole golf course, tennis court, pool, and a hot tub; prices are lower in the warmer months. The dining room serves American and continental food daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It's off the I-19 east frontage road between I-19 Exit 40 and Tubac.
Tubac Trailer Tether (Burruel St., 520/398-2111, $19 RV w/hookups) offers spaces in town.
Tosh's Hacienda de Tubac (corner of Camino Otero and Burruel St., 520/398-3008, daily for lunch and dinner, closed Mon.-Tues. in summer) serves Southwestern and Mexican cuisine indoors or on the patio. Cross the footbridge in the Mercado de Baca for Shelby's Bistro (520/398-8075, daily for lunch and Wed.-Sat. for dinner) offers a lunch menu of sandwiches, salads, pasta, and pizza plus additional meat and seafood dishes for dinner; you have a choice of patio and indoor seating.
Tubac-Santa Cruz Visitor Center (4 Plaza Rd., 520/398-0007, www.toursantacruz.com, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat.-Sun.) is on your left as you enter Tubac. Tubac Chamber of Commerce (P.O. Box 1866, Tubac, AZ 85646, 520/398-2704, www.tubacaz.com) also provides local information. The Tubac Historical Society has a research library and gift shop north of the state park, but it's open only 1-4 p.m. Thurs.-Sun. from October to May.
This massive adobe ruin evokes visions of Spanish missionaries and devout Indian followers. Father Kino first visited the Pima village of Tumacacori in 1691, saying Mass under a brush shelter. Kino's successors continued the mission work, teaching, converting, and farming, but work didn't begin on the present church until 1800.
Franciscan Father Narciso Gutierrez, determined to build a church as splendid as San Xavier del Bac, supervised the construction. Work went slowly, and although never quite finished, the building was in use by 1822. Then the fledgling Mexican government restricted funds for mission work and began to evict all foreign missionaries. Tumacacori's last resident priest, Father Ramon Liberos of Spain, had to leave in 1828.
Indians continued to care for the church and received occasional visits by missionaries from Mexico, but raiding Apache made life hard. The last devout Indians finally gave up in 1848, packing the church furnishings and moving to San Xavier del Bac.
Tumacacori fell into ruins before receiving protection as a national monument in 1908, then as a national historical park in 1990. Today, a museum (48 miles south of Tucson near I-19 Exit 29, just three miles south of Tubac on the east frontage road, 520/398-2341, www.nps.gov/tuma, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, $3/person age 17 and up) recalls the mission life of the Indians and Spanish with an introductory video, historical and architectural exhibits, and some of the mission's original "santos" (wooden statues). An interpretive booklet for the self-guided tour relates details of the church, circular mortuary chapel, graveyard, storeroom, and other structures. Staff offer scheduled tours Sept.-June and on request. Herbs, flowers, shade trees, and other plants grace the Patio Garden. Craft demonstrations take place weekends Sept.-June. Tumacacori Fiesta features Native American dances, crafts, and food on the first weekend in December. You can have a picnic, but no camping is permitted. The visitor center has a good selection of regional books.
Two other early Spanish mission ruins belong to the park—Guevavi (started in 1701 and abandoned in 1776) and Calabazas (founded in the 1750s and faded away in the 1800s). You can visit them only on guided tours that run monthly Oct.-April.
Tumacacori Restaurant (across the street from the mission, 520/398-9038, closed Mon.) serves Greek and Mexican food for lunch and dinner.
The light-colored bluffs overlooking this 52-acre lake inspired the name, Spanish for "White Rock." It's at an elevation of 4,000 feet in scenic hills 16 miles northwest of Nogales. Anglers come to catch bass, bluegill, crappie, catfish, and, from November to March, rainbow trout. Mercury in the lake water may require catch and release for the warm-water fish, but trout might be okay. The lake has a boat ramp and a trail around the shore. Take I-19 Ruby Rd. Exit 12 and drive west 11 miles on paved AZ 289. Upper and Lower Thumb Rock Picnic Areas are just before road's end.
White Rock Campground is in Peña Blanca Canyon upstream from the lake; sites cost $5 and are open year-round but lack water; trailers to 22 feet are ok. Turn left 0.1 mile onto Forest Road 39 at Milepost 10, one mile before the lake; a smaller section of the campground is 0.1 mile down the road to the lake from the junction.
Forest Road 39 continues west from the lake area through canyons and mountains with some great scenery. The road is slow, bumpy, and unpaved within the national forest, so allow plenty of time. Trails and back roads branch off for further exploration. It's about 21 miles from the AZ 289 turnoff to the Arivaca Lake turnoff, where pavement begins, then another five miles to the town of Arivaca. The Nogales Ranger District office (520/281-2296, www.fs.fed.us/r3/coronado) north of Nogales has maps and recreation information.
Atascosa Lookout Trail #100
The path climbs steeply from 4,700 feet through desert vegetation, oaks, juniper, and pinyon pine to the summit at 6,255 feet. Allow a half day for the six-mile roundtrip; see the 7.5-minute Ruby topo map. The trailhead is five miles west of Peña Blanca Lake on unpaved Forest Road 39. Look for a parking area on the south side of the road; the unsigned trailhead is on the north side. From the top, you can see mountain ranges in Mexico to the south, Peña Blanca Lake and Nogales to the east, the Santa Ritas and Rincons to the northeast, the Santa Catalinas to the north, and the Baboquivaris to the west. You can hike year-round except after snowstorms.
Sycamore Canyon Trail #40
Plants and wildlife rarely found elsewhere in the United States live in the scenic canyon. The trail crosses both the Goodding Research Natural Area, named for a prominent Arizona botanist, and the Pajarita Wilderness. The trail is rough in spots but you can follow it downstream all the way to the Mexican border, a distance of 5.3 miles one-way. The first 1.3 miles is easy walking, then boulder-hopping and wading are necessary. Toward the end, the canyon opens up and you'll see saguaro on the slopes. A barbed-wire fence marks the Mexican border. No camping is allowed along the trail.
The trailhead is about 10 miles west of Peña Blanca Lake on Forest Road 39, then left a quarter mile on Forest Road 218 to Hank and Yank Historical Site. These adobe ruins were part of a ranch started in the 1880s by two former army scouts.
Hiking in Sycamore Canyon is good all year. Elevation ranges from 4,000 feet at the trailhead to 3,500 feet at the border. Depending on how far you go, the hike can be an easy two-hour stroll for the first mile or so, or a long (10-hour) 10.6-mile roundtrip day hike all the way to Mexico; see the Ruby topo map. At the border, you have the options of retracing your steps or heading east four miles along Border Trail #45 to a trailhead on Forest Road 39A.
The twin cities of Nogales, astride the U.S. and Mexican border, are truly international. Many visitors come for shopping, and the Mexico side of Nogales offers a huge selection of handicrafts. You'll also find good restaurants and serenading mariachi bands south of the border.
Native Americans used Nogales Pass for at least 2,000 years on migration and trade routes. The Hohokam came through on their way to the Gulf of California to collect shells prized as bracelet and necklace material. Pima, possibly descended from the Hohokam, settled and traveled in the Santa Cruz River Valley and Nogales area after A.D. 1500. During the Spanish era, missionaries, soldiers, ranchers, and prospectors also passed through. Apache used the pass on raiding forays well into the 1800s. Traders on the Guaymas-Tucson route knew the spot as Los Nogales (Spanish for "The Walnuts"). A survey team marked the international boundary line here in 1855, one year after the Gadsden Purchase.
The twin cities got their start in 1880, when Juan Jose Vásquez established a roadhouse on the Mexican side, and some months later Jacob Isaacson set up a trading post on the American side. The first railroad line to cross the border between the U.S. and Mexico came through in October 1882, and Nogales prospered with trade, silver mining, and ranching.
When Pancho Villa threatened Nogales in 1916, the worried U.S. Army established Camp Little on the edge of town. Relations between the two halves of Nogales remained good despite the political turmoil in Mexico, and Camp Little closed in 1933. Tourists discovered Nogales in the 1940s, and tourism, along with trade, keeps the border busy today.
Artifacts and old photos of the Pimeria Alta Historical Society Museum (Grand Ave. and Crawford St., 520/287-4621, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Wed.-Sun. depending on staffing, donations welcome) illustrate the long and colorful history of southern Arizona and northern Sonora. An attraction in itself, the mission-style building dates to 1914 and housed the Nogales City Hall and police and fire departments. You can see the old jail, hand-powered water pump, law office, and other exhibits. The society's research library and archives offer a wealth of books on regional history as well as an extensive collection of historic photographs.
The 1904 former Santa Cruz County Courthouse, a square granite structure with a shiny aluminum dome, presides on the hillside to the northeast. You can visit the Cowbelles and Arizona Rangers museums inside 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Saturdays.
Local artists display their work in the Hilltop Art Gallery (Hilltop Dr., 520/287-5515, noon-4:30 p.m. daily Sept.-May, free). From Grand Avenue, turn west on Ellis Street, right on Marina Street, then right following signs.
Most visitors to Ambos Nogales ("Both Nogales") find it easier to park on the American side near the border (about $4 all day) and set off on foot. This saves delays in crossing the border by car and finding parking spots in Mexico.
Mexican craftspeople turn out an astonishing array of products, from saddles to Tiffany-style lampshades. Because a day's wages in Mexico comes close to an hour's wages in the U.S., most crafts are real bargains. Be sure to shop around and politely request a discount before laying out any cash, even in the large fixed-price stores. Most salespeople speak English, and you don't need pesos as dollars and major credit cards are happily accepted.
Popular buys include chess sets of carved onyx, clay reproductions of Mayan art, painted vases, embroidered clothing, glassware, hand-tooled leather pieces, wool blankets, and woodcarvings. Pharmacies line the streets too, but staff may not be knowledgeable; you'll need a prescription to bring drugs back to the United States. Some items are very unpopular with U.S. Customs: guns and ammunition, fireworks, illegal drugs, switchblades, most meat products, and sea-turtle products. Adults can bring back other goods totaling US$400, including one quart of liquor every 31 days. Also, be careful not to bring guns into Mexico.
A passport or passport card or other valid travel documents is required to re-enter the United States; see www.travel.state.gov. The Consulado de Mexico (571 N. Grand Ave., 520/287-2521) is in Nogales, Arizona.
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