If you’re looking for a small town to get away from it all, Tucson is also the gateway to southeastern Arizona, which has clusters of small towns which add up to a distinct world of their own, far away from Pinal County but shimmering with the same warmth and friendliness.
Sonoita (approximate population 800), Elgin (150) and Patagonia (900)
Less than an hour’s drive south of Tucson at the junction of state Routes 82 and 83, Sonoita and Elgin form Arizona’s original Wine Country in wide-open, breathtaking grass-covered hills. Vineyards and tasting rooms continue to proliferate around these tiny communities, drawing visitors with vintages to suit everyone’s palate and pocketbook.
Spending an afternoon exploring some of the wineries is time well spent, and as of press time Callaghan Vineyards, Flying Leap, Sonoita Vineyards and Elgin Winery and Distillery are all open to the public.
Patagonia, only 15 minutes down the road, has tons of outdoorsy options in Patagonia Lake State Park and the surrounding Sonoita Creek State Park Natural Area, but it’s perhaps best known as a migratory bird haven and a birdwatcher’s dream throughout the year. It’s also got plenty of local shops, eateries and galleries to keep you entertained.
This region is nestled between the Santa Rita and Patagonia mountains at an elevation around 5,000 feet, so its cooler-than-desert temperatures offer four seasons of fun. Fall colors are great in and around the vineyards and there’s maybe a dusting or two of snow per year, nothing we can’t handle!
Tombstone (1,300) and Bisbee (5,200)
Just 25 miles apart, these towns got their start at about the same time as mining camps but quickly sdftook on their own identities.
First you reach Tombstone, about 70 minutes southeast from Tucson and the older by five years, formed in 1875. The riches of the silver mines led to an intense 10-year boom during which it grew to 14,000 residents, had dozens of churches and businesses and the lawlessness which included the gunfight at the OK Corral. By 1890 the community was shrinking fast, after two fires consumed much of the town and the mines began to run dry. After World War II the community decided its future was in frontier-themed tourism, and today draws some 500,000 tourists a year to the OK Corral, Bird Cage Saloon and the original Cochise County courthouse, now a state park.
Bisbee’s mining trajectory was tied to copper and lasted considerably longer than Tombstone’s, peaking in the early 1900s and again around 1960. It started to decline again, but reinforcements from the counterculture of the late 1960s replaced some of the mine employees, eventually leading to restoration of many of its buildings. Today’s attractions include the Copper Queen Mine tours, the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum, the stuck-in-the-‘50s shops and cars of Erie Street and Belleza Fine Art Gallery, one of several in town.
Tubac (1,230) and Tumácacori (400)
Established in 1752 as a Spanish Presidio, Tubac today offers an astonishing array of premium galleries, unique shopping, fine art, and dining. Here, one can find world-renowned birding, hiking (or strolling), biking, holistic health and spa treatments, wine tastings, and art classes. Tubac is also home to 27 gorgeous holes of golf at the Tubac Golf Resort. Its top two attractions, Tubac Presidio State Historic Park and the K Newby Gallery and Sculpture Garden, highlight its dualistic appeal.
Tubac is about 50 minutes south of Tucson down I-19, and in another six minutes you reach Tumácacori National Historic Park in the town of the same name. Here you find the remains of three missions, built at an O’Odham settlement of the same name. Structures were built in 1691, 1752 and 1800, though the third, modeled on the already-famous San Xavier del Bac, was never completed. Their architectural beauty is obvious through their weathered appearance. A four-mile section of the Anza National Historic Trail following the Santa Cruz River connects the Tubac and Tumácacori historic parks.
You can learn much more about these and other Arizona destinations via www.visitarizona.com