The History of Tubac Presidio

Conflict has shaped the Southwest since colonizers arrived in the late 1600s. From the earliest presidios to a modern-day Army base, fighting near and far has caused communities to thrive and fall.

Tubac nestles in a high, mountain-framed valley on the banks of the Santa Cruz River. This pastoral landscape of rolling grasslands, shaggy with mesquite, is 47 miles south of Tucson and 25 miles north of the Mexican border.

In 1948, landscape painter Dale Nichols opened an art school and the quiet little burg began an evolution into an artist colony. Today, over 80 shops and restaurants are clustered in the village plaza where old adobes, Spanish courtyards, and ocotillo fences blend seamlessly with a handful of newer buildings. There’s a whiff of emergent Santa Fe here without the jostling crowds.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What’s not immediately apparent in this peaceful setting is that Tubac was born of violence.

The New World Spanish Empire known as New Spain sent missionaries to Christianize the natives.

Father Eusebio Francisco Kino arrived in 1687 and began work among Indians the Spaniards called Pimas. In their language, they were O’odham, or the people. Kino traveled the region he called Pimeria Alta from today’s Sonora, Mexico to southern Arizona establishing missions including Tumacácori, just south of Tubac.

Spanish colonists began to arrive in the Santa Cruz valley during the 1730s, farming and raising cattle, sheep, and goats. Angry over the appropriation of land and harsh punishment doled out by missionaries, the Pimas revolted in 1751. Led by Luis of Saric, they attacked several settlements. When the violence ended, more than 100 colonists were dead.

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As a result of the rebellion, a presidio was founded at Tubac in June 1752, the first European settlement in Arizona. The 50 cavalrymen garrisoned at the Presidio San Ignacio de Tubac were to protect the missions in the area and quell uprisings. The presidio would serve as a base for continued exploration of New Spain.

Soldiers were encouraged to bring their families which gave Tubac an air of permanence. Indians killed the first captain of the post in 1759. The man who would become Tubac’s most famous resident, Juan Bautista de Anza, assumed command.

De Anza led numerous campaigns against the Apaches and achieved a notable reputation as a soldier and leader. However, he is best known for establishing a long-sought overland route through the desert to northern California. Following a successful journey in 1774, de Anza immediately began organizing a colonizing expedition. In 1775, de Anza set out from Tubac with more than 240 men, women, and children on a treacherous trek of 1,200 miles to establish a settlement near the San Francisco Bay.

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The journey emptied Tubac of most of its occupants. Increasing Apache raids drove away others. In 1776, the presidio was moved to Tucson. Without military protection, Tubac languished for a decade. It wasn’t until the presidio was reactivated that the community began to recover.

The Royal Fort of St. Rafael at Tubac was established in 1787. This time the garrison consisted of four Spanish officers and 80 Pima Indians. The viceroy of New Spain, Bernardo de Galvez implemented a policy to settle Indians who sought peace near the presidios on makeshift reservations. The goal was to make them dependent on the Spaniards by giving them gifts, supplies, food, sugar, firearms, and ammunition.

This plan of peace by deceit gained the Spaniard’s allies against warring factions. It also pushed the Indians away from a nomadic lifestyle and toward an agricultural one considered more appropriate by European standards. Tubac enjoyed a period of relative calm.

Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821 and the new Republic of Mexico’s flag flew over Tubac until 1848. That year, an Apache attack caused great loss of life. Months later, men poured out of town streaming for the California gold fields. Tubac was abandoned again.

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tubac was part of the Gadsden Purchase of 1853 and fortune hunters began making their way back. Charles Poston and associates formed the Sonora Exploration and Mining Co. and used Tubac as their headquarters. They repaired some of the old presidio buildings and moved in.

Poston who would become known as the Father of Arizona for his role in procuring Arizona’s Territorial status served as mayor, judge, treasurer, and justice of the peace. By 1859, Tubac was the largest town in the region and Arizona’s first newspaper was established there.

When the Civil War broke out, U.S. troops were withdrawn from Arizona to fight in the East. Tubac residents moved to Tucson and did not return until the presidio was regarrisoned in 1865 after the war.

For the next two decades, Tubac’s fortunes again depended entirely on military presence. This was the heart of the frontier, exposed and vulnerable, and it wasn’t until the Apaches were subdued in the 1880s that Tubac stabilized.

But that also was about the time silver strikes led to booming growth at Tombstone. And the railroad was routed through Tucson sparking that town’s development. Tubac had lost its position of prominence.

Tumacácori National Historical Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Details

Getting there: From Tucson, travel south on Interstate 19 to Exit 34. Cross under the interstate and continue south on the frontage road another half-mile to Tubac.

History walk: The Juan Bautista de Anza Trail is a 4.5-mile pathway connecting Tubac Presidio State Historic Park and Tumacácori National Historical Park. The level trail traces the Santa Cruz River through shady woodlands and follows the route Juan Bautista de Anza took on his expeditions. It’s popular with hikers and birders.

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park: Arizona’s first state park was established in 1958. The Presidio was the final staging area for two expeditions to California, the second of which resulted in the founding of San Francisco and is commemorated in Anza Days every October at the park. Long before colonial days, the site was home to O’odham, Tohono O’odham, and Apache Indians. You’ll see evidence of their contributions and those of other cultures in the park’s museum and archaeological dig.

Tumacácori National Historical Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tumacácori National Historical Park: This is the site of a Jesuit outpost settled in 1691 by Eusebio Francisco Kino. The current building, Mission San Jose de Tumacacori was built in the late 18th century. In 1921, construction began on a roof to protect the interior of the mission. The mission grounds and visitor center are open for exploration and guided tours are offered January through March.

Worth Pondering…

A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.

—Basil of Caesarea, Ancient Greek theologian (330-379)

Arizona State Parks for Every Interest

Try new outdoor things this year

Arizona’s 34 state parks have something for everyone—from contemplative nature walks to stargazing to camping. Here’s my abbreviated look at some of the more niche offerings to add to your bucket list.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Arizona State Parks for hiking

Sedona‘s picturesque wonderland of red boulders is on display at Red Rock State Park, a 286-acre nature preserve. Hikers can pick from several trails—Eagle’s Nest Loop, Coyote Ridge, a guided nature walk, full-moon hike and more—many of which lead to Oak Creek and the iconic Cathedral Rock.

Located in the Superstition Mountains on the eastern edge of metro PhoenixLost Dutchman State Park offers hikers plenty of trails to explore, not to mention an opportunity to seek the gold supposedly hidden in the 1870s by German native Jacob Waltz, aka the Dutchman. You might not find gold but on the Native Trail you’ll spot cholla, prickly pear, and ocotillo cacti. Moderate trails like Treasure Loop or Prospector’s View are available for semi-seasoned hikers while advanced hikers will want to climb Siphon Draw Trail and Flatiron.

Note: Since trails often get overcrowded on the weekend aim to hike on a weekday for a better experience and even better views.

Check out Spring Is the Season to Hike Arizona State Parks for more hiking inspiration.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Arizona State Parks for wildflowers

As you travel I-10 between Phoenix and Tucson, you can’t miss the 1,500-foot distinctive rock formation of Picacho Peak State Park. The peak is obvious but hiking the trails especially during spring will be nature’s eye candy—a blanket of Mexican gold poppies as far as the eye can see.

For more wildflower viewing, Catalina State Park near Tucson is home to around 5,000 saguaros. Between February and April, lupine, desert chicory, penstemon, and more wildflowers bloom into vibrant color.

Read Beauty of the Desert: Arizona in Bloom and Wildflower Season Has Arrived in Arizona! and Where to See the Best Blooms? for more floral inspiration.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Arizona State Parks for family fun

For families who love the outdoors, Fool Hollow Lake Recreation Area is the perfect destination. With more than 120 campsites situated in a Ponderosa pine forest near Show Low plus boating, swimming, Junior Ranger activities, a park store, and a visitor center Fool Hollow offers plenty of opportunities for family fun.

For families not too keen on roughing it but who would still like to enjoy nature, Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Cottonwood (30 minutes from Sedona) has cozy log cabins with heat and air-conditioning. Game night, anyone? Families can also sign up for guided horseback rides, go fishing in the lagoons, photograph birds, or spend an afternoon at the playground complete with a zip line.

Patagonia State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Arizona State Parks for water sports

Water activities reign supreme at Patagonia Lake State Park in southern Arizona. A sandy beach slopes down to the shoreline making it easy to dip in for a swim. To get on the water, rent a canoe, rowboat, or pontoon from the marina. You can also put in your own boat including motorized boats for water skiing at the ramp. Better still, the town of Patagonia lies near one of Arizona’s three wine-growing regions, Sonoita-Elgin. End your day at the lake or take some time away for a tasting room tour of the area’s award-winning wineries.

If you want to chill waterside, bring your yoga mat to the tranquil beaches of Cattail Cove State Park or ply the calm waters of the 45-mile-long Lake Havasu with a kayak or paddleboard, available for rent at the park. This Lake Havasu City-area park is renowned locally for its sandy beaches and gets quite popular during the summer months.

Best Arizona State Parks for stargazing

As of 2023, there are more than 200 places in the world designated official dark-sky places by the International Dark-Sky Association. In Arizona, two state parks hold this distinction: Oracle State Park and Kartchner Caverns. This means they “possess an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural heritage and/or public enjoyment.”

Oracle State Park, located just north of Tucson earned its designation in 2014 thanks to star-studded skies so free of light pollution that you can see the Milky Way. Stargazers should head to the American Trailhead Parking Lot for celestial viewing opportunities. Since 2010, Kartchner has been hosting nighttime astronomy programs for visitors and has achieved 99 percent compliance with its Lightscape Management Plan which has improved outdoor lighting codes countywide.

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Arizona State Parks for history

Fort Verde State Historic Park showcases the original buildings used in the 1870 and 1880s by General Crook’s army in the small north-central town of Camp Verde. History buffs will appreciate that this state park near Camp Verde is considered the best-preserved example of an Indian Wars period fort in Arizona.

At Tubac, in southern Arizona, the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park preserves the ruins of a Spanish Presidio site, San Ignacio de Tubac. The on-site museum houses interpretive exhibits, and nearby sits a Territorial school from 1885—the second oldest schoolhouse in Arizona.

Back up north near Winslow, Homolovi State Park is home to more than 300 American Indian archaeological sites from the Hopi people many sites dating to the 1200s. A paved trail to the ruins with interpretive signage makes this a particularly appealing accessible option, too.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Arizona State Parks for camping

Making its second appearance on this list is Patagonia Lake State Park for its camping options—pitch your tent, drive your RV, or reserve one of the furnished cabins. Campsites come with picnic tables and fire rings, some even have ramadas. Cabins boast porches from which you can spot blue heron or whitetail deer. Or, amp up the adventure level by booking one of the boat-in campsites.

If you want a riverfront campsite along the Colorado River, book early at Buckskin Mountain State Park in western Arizona near the California border. There are 80 spots, many of which sit at the water’s edge. While away the hours with picnics, swimming, watching wildlife, playing basketball or volleyball or simply enjoying the views along this 18-mile stretch of river between Parker and Headgate dams.

Overnight camping near Tucson is available at the 120 electric and water sites in Catalina State Park. Each campsite has a picnic table and BBQ grill. Roads and parking slips are paved. Campgrounds have modern flush restrooms with hot, clean showers, and RV dump stations are available in the park. There is no limit on the length of RVs at this park.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Arizona State Parks for Fishing

Couched in the Bill Williams River Valley, 37 miles north of the town of Wenden, Alamo Lake State Park gives anglers an opportunity to catch largemouth bass, black crappie, or tilapia in the 3,500-acre lake.

For a lesser-known gem, Dankworth Pond State Park in Safford—about two hours east of Tucson and three hours east from Phoenix—features a fishing dock and quiet environs for a peaceful day of tossing in a line. You’ll likely snag largemouth bass or rainbow trout in the small but mighty pond.

BONUS: Most unique State Parks

Ten miles north of Payson Tonto Natural Bridge State Park showcases a true Arizona treasure: the world’s longest and largest travertine bridge. Most natural bridges found throughout the world are created from sandstone or limestone which makes the travertine aspect of Tonto especially unique. You can see the bridge from any of the four trails in the park.

Witness the underground beauty of Kartchner Caverns, a living cave that discoverers kept secret for years until they could ensure its preservation. The caverns are carved out of limestone and speleothems, which have been slowly growing for 50,000 years.

Worth Pondering…

The trip across Arizona is just one oasis after another. You can just throw anything out and it will grow there.

—Will Rogers

17 Best Arizona State Parks to Visit in 2024

From escaping city life at Lost Dutchman State Park to the unique vistas at Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, there are so many amazing Arizona state parks to visit

It is a known fact that Arizona is home to some beautiful areas of nature—it has some of the best national parks and hiking trails in the U.S. Arizona is famous for its desert scenery and iconic red rocks especially in its national parks.

But instead of just focusing on the significant national ones and swaying towards the most popular attractions, don’t miss out on Arizona’s state parks. The government protects and manages these stunning albeit much smaller regions as areas of extreme natural beauty or historical significance. While they often get substantially less foot traffic from tourists, these are some of the prettiest ones in Arizona. 

Arizona state parks have many recreational opportunities whether you head horseback riding through red rocks or into the Sonoran Desert for hiking trails. Small but mighty state parks are the way to go if you want to immerse yourself in Arizona’s natural beauty.

In this article, I will introduce you to the best Arizona state parks you can squeeze into an itinerary. You could be biking through forests, hiring a boat to go boating with the family on a picturesque lake, or walking up mountains just outside Tucson. And that’s not to mention the plethora of historical sites including Jerome State Historic Park with its fascinating mining museum. You’ll have an amazing time visiting these Arizona state parks so sit tight and get ready for some serious inspiration.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Alamo Lake State Park 

Alamo Lake State Park is one of the best places to fish for bass in Arizona. The crystal clear lake is surrounded by mountainous terrain speckled with brush, wildflowers, and cacti making for a visually pleasing experience. The park has good wildlife viewing opportunities and you may spot a bald or golden eagle.

Nestled in the Bill Williams River Valley away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, Alamo Lake State Park offers outdoor fun, premier bass fishing, rest, and relaxation. For nature lovers, spring rains bring an abundance of wild flowers and the lake environment attracts a variety of wildlife year round including waterfowl, foxes, coyotes, mule deer, and wild burros. Stargazers are sure to enjoy the amazing views of the night sky with the nearest city lights some 40 miles away.

2. Kartchner Caverns State Park

If you want a more unique park experience, Kartchner Caverns State Park is the one. Visitors take guided tours through a massive cave complex and the park has the longest soda straw stalactite formation in the world—some serious bragging rights. There are also the tallest columns in Arizona to see. Kartchner Caverns State Park is a stunning park to add to your list. It is situated in southern Arizona just a short drive from Benson outside of Tucson. It is a brilliant family site but equally awe-inspiring for adults.

It is more than just underground attractions to see in Kartchner Caverns State Park too. There are above-ground trails to enjoy, too. However, for me, the cave element is what really sells this park. If you are brave, you can even book a night-time Kartchner Caverns bat experience.

Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park

Cochise County was created by a vote of the citizens in 1881 with Tombstone serving as its county seat. The two-story courthouse designed in the Victorian style was constructed of red brick in 1882. The courthouse, a splendid example of territorial architecture continued to serve as a county facility until 1931 when the county seat was moved to Bisbee.

Today, visitors can enjoy a museum full of authentic interpretive exhibits on the history of Tombstone and Cochise County including period sheriff’s office, artist drawings and interpretations of the Gunfight at the OK Corral, Wyatt Earp, mining exhibit area, saloon and gaming room, period lawyers office and courtroom, ranching, and residents of Tombstone.

4. Oracle State Park

Oracle State Park is the state park to choose if you want to explore forest trails by walking or biking. Many of the Arizona state parks involve desert terrain or oasis-style lake scenery so this park is unique; the main thing that caught my eye. The 5,000 acres are fantastic for hiking trails and visitors have excitingly high chances of spotting whitetail deer. Similarly, it is an exhilarating park for cycling with shady tracks that create a welcome break from the scorching Arizona heat on more exposed trails. There’s also the Kannally Ranch House and its preserved family collection artwork where visitors can experience a more historical element of Oracle State Park.

Despite these amazing things about this park, the major winning characteristic is its forest trails. As I said, these trails are a hot commodity so make the most of these leafy, shaded biking and hiking trails. Oracle State Park is less than an hour from Tucson’s city center making it an accessible addition to your itinerary.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Catalina State Park

Catalina State Park is a gorgeous top contender amongst the best Arizona state parks. It is most famed for its almost 5,000 saguaros—iconic cacti associated with the Sonoran Desert. Catalina State Park spreads over 5,500 beautiful acres and is connected by a network of scenic trails with campgrounds should you want to stay overnight and wildlife-watching opportunities galore. You can even go horseback riding or cycling if it takes your fancy. Catalina State Park is just a 20-minute drive from Tucson and sits on the slopes of the Santa Catalina Mountains. Nothing quite hits like views of saguaros and the Santa Catalina Mountains; you’ll see why Catalina State Park made our list just from a few pictures.

6. Slide Rock State Park

Slide Rock State Park is the best family park to explore thanks to its natural waterslide, aka Slide Rock or the most loved rock in Arizona. Out of all the Arizona state parks, Slide Rock is one of the most blessed with fun attractions especially for swimming. A popular family day out consists of hiking to Slide Rock and spending half a day picnicking and slipping down the rock into the plunge pool below. It is a brilliant place for light-hearted fun—how could we miss a reserve with a natural waterslide out of this guide?

Of course, there are animals to spot, too, and trout further up the river. However, the waterslide and the potential of Slide Rock State Park as a top camping and family site won us over. It is also just a 15-minute drive from Sedona to get here making it an accessible day out.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Red Rock State Park

Red Rock State Park is a leading park in Arizona for experiencing the aestheticism of red scenery. Nature doesn’t get much better than at Red Rock State Park and while the southern US is world famous for its red rock formations, Red Rock State Park is extra special. Situated just outside Sedona it is easily accessible from one of the world the most popular tourist areas taking just 15 minutes by car. You can check out local wildlife—including animals and plants—and hike the numerous trails to snap photos of the iconic red surrounds.

This iconic destination made my list easily and it is one of the most famous Arizona reserves to experience. Enjoy varied walking routes and abundant nature, all just 15 minutes away from central Sedona in northern Arizona.

8. Fort Verde State Historic Park

Fort Verde State Historic Park is different from your classic walking or cycling type of reserve. Instead, it offers history and a great experience whisking you back to the early 19th century with a fort that dates back to the Apache Wars era. Think of Fort Verde as an immersion in the 19th century old west. It has 10 acres of preserved buildings and exhibits and is located in Camp Verde. If you get lucky, you can even catch re-enactments. It is essentially an open-air museum with state park status.

Fort Verde State Historic Park is just 40 minutes from Sedona and is well combined with a visit to Montezuma Castle National Monument—an 8-minute drive away.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Dead Horse Ranch State Park

Dead Horse Ranch State Park is quite morbidly named after the soon-to-be-owners viewing multiple ranches that arrived at the park’s original ranch to find a dead horse in the field. Don’t let that put you off, though, because now the park is full of life and is most popular for its river activities and camping. Dead Horse Ranch State Park is sliced in half by the beautiful Verde River which is brilliant for fishing and has a hiking trail or two to enjoy. This reserve is where to go to experience a slower pace of life. You can also go riding on horses if you fancy something a bit different.

A 423-acre reserve this park is a generous area of protected natural beauty. It is just a 10-minute drive or 40-minute walk out of Cottonwood situated near Sedona above Phoenix. If you are staying in the Sedona area, it is within easy driving distance and it’s well-combined with other things to do in Sedona.

Jerome State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Jerome State Historic Park

Jerome State Historic Park is one of the most historical reserves and addresses Arizona’s once-thriving mining industry. The park is entirely centered around Douglas Mansion which was built in 1916 by a family in the mining industry and now runs as a museum. Tourists stop by Jerome Park to see it and enjoy the numerous trails around the park. It is a brilliant place to learn about and educate yourself on the past stories of Arizona’s mining.

The reserve is just a 25-minute walk outside of the town of Jerome and is situated in that popular Sedona area sandwiched between the Utah border and Phoenix. It is on the tourist trail already and a super easy attraction to squeeze into a popular getaway.

11. Tonto Natural Bridge State Park

Tonto Natural Bridge State Park has the longest natural travertine bridge in the world; needless to say it attracts a fair few visitors. It is one of the most impressive reserves for hiking trails and wildlife and if you want a wow factor from a natural attraction, Tonto Natural Bridge gets definite brownie points. The bridge was found in the 1800s but nobody knows exactly how old this natural structure is. It has a lot of mysterious geological history; moreover, it is lovely to look at. You can hike to and actually under the bridge and there are plenty of other walking routes to enjoy as well.

To reach Tonto Natural Bridge, it is a 2-hour drive from Phoenix or a 1.5-hour drive from Sedona. It is located in a somewhat isolated region surrounded by small towns and minor attractions so you’ll need to be happy driving long distances.

Colorado River State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Colorado River State Historic Park

The Colorado River State Historic Park is another of the Arizona state parks that are more museums than traditional parks. You will find little in the way of trails and hiking here. Still, this little protected area in southwest Arizona is home to restored buildings that tell the story of its settlement past. At Colorado River Park, you can learn all about the importance of the river, see a restored army supply depot, and see the Yuma Quartermaster Depot.

The reserve is located just outside of the city of Yuma—just minutes away by car or around an hour’s walk depending on where in Yuma you stay. It is located as far west as possible along the California border. Keep it in mind if you plan road-tripping west or onward to California.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Patagonia Lake State Park

Patagonia Lake State Park is—as you may have guessed—entirely situated around a lake. You can expect classic lake activities and scenery across the 265-acre reserve. You can go boating if you have a boat or alternatively rent kayaks or SUPs. Patagonia Lake State Park is an ideal family-friendly site especially if you want that wholesome go fishing by the lake experience with your children.

This park is also ideal for an overnight getaway with waterfront camping areas, stunning cabins overlooking the lake, and boating activities. If the campgrounds caught your eye note that you can camp all year round thanks to Arizona’s mild weather. Patagonia Lake State Park is a beautiful site to visit in the fall and winter not just spring and summer.

This reserve is just an hour and 20 minutes from Tucson’s city center by car. It is located in southern Arizona near the Mexican border so it is easiest to reach for those already in the south.

Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park

Sitting on a bluff overlooking the Colorado River, three miles west of the confluence of the Colorado and the historic Gila River stand the ruins of Arizona’s famous Territorial Prison and a short distance west are the remaining buildings that served as a part of the Yuma Quartermaster’s Depot. 

In 1876, ground was broken and some of the prisoners were pressed into service to build their cells. The first seven inmates moved into the facility on July 1, 1876. The Prison held a variety of law violators including the legendary stagecoach robber Pearl Hart. The Prison continued in operation for 33 years when due to overcrowding all inmates were moved to a new facility in Florence.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Picacho Peak State Park

Picacho Peak State Park is one of my favorite contenders for Arizona’s state parks. In short, it has everything from historical battlefield sites to beautiful stargazing and a peak hike for the ultimate Arizona mountains experience. Oh, and it is approximately just an hour’s drive from Phoenix or Tucson’s city center. Picacho Peak State Park is a beautiful place to hike, stargaze, and learn about the state’s role in the Civil War. Honestly, what more could you ask for from a reserve?

The best way to experience Picacho Peak Park is on foot. You can enjoy the summit trek and even extend your experience by booking a permit to camp. The scenery is stunning with cacti and mountain ridges with sweeping panoramas. And that’s not to mention the stargazing opportunities at night. The lack of light pollution makes it a dream. Picacho Peak State Park is a brilliant reserve for anyone wanting a raw and authentic experience in Arizona’s natural environments.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

16. Lost Dutchman State Park

It makes sense that when looking for Arizona parks you want to experience the desert that the state is so famous for—and if that’s the case, Lost Dutchman State Park is ideal. This reserve perfectly introduces Arizona’s desert regions with tons of classic plants and animals like Sonoran Desert birds.

The park actually gets its name from a legendary lost gold mine and is set in the beautiful Superstition Mountains. You can enjoy paths like Native Plant Trail and Siphon Draw Trail or, alternatively, cycling on the newly added 4-mile bike track. Lost Dutchman State Park is a legendary place to visit with many brilliant opportunities to enjoy the outdoors and impressive trails.

Reaching Lost Dutchman State Park is less than an hour’s drive from Phoenix. The reserve is located in the shadow of Tonto National Forest and just in Phoenix’s outskirts. It is a surprisingly accessible park and one of Arizona’s most convenient desert experiences.

Tubac Presido State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

17. Tubac Presidio State Historic Park

Tubac Presidio has the distinction of being Arizona’s first state park. Tubac played an interesting and exciting role from archaeological times through the Spanish contact and colonization, Mexican occupation, and the westward and territorial expansion periods.

The park’s primary purpose is to preserve the ruins of the oldest Spanish Presidio site in Arizona, San Ignacio de Tubac, established in 1752. Tubac Presidio State Historic Park is the home of the first fort in Arizona, the first European settlement in Arizona, the first American mining community in Arizona and the first printing of a newspaper in Arizona.

Arizona State Parks: FAQs

Mountains or lake, southwest or northern, there’s so much variety in this state and its beautiful reserves that you’ll always have outdoor entertainment. With so many beautiful reserves in southwest Arizona, it’s easy to see why so many people like to plan Arizona road trips.

However, before you rush off on your Arizona park mission check out these common FAQs. Who knows, maybe these will hold the answers to the burning questions lingering in your mind.

How many state parks does AZ have?

Visit Arizona reports that Arizona has 34 state parks.

What is the famous park in Arizona?

Red Rock is a 286-acre park famous for its bright red rocks and serene hiking trails. Grand Canyon National Park is the most famous of the national parks in Arizona.

What is the main national park in Arizona?

Grand Canyon National Park is the leading national park in Arizona and attracts millions of visitors a year—come prepared to explore and outsmart crowds with shoulder season visits and early morning starts.

Is there a yearly pass for Arizona State Parks?

Yes, there is an Annual Pass that you can purchase for Arizona’s parks. You can just head to the official State Parks website for more information. As of 2023-2024, prices range from $75-200.

To conclude

Whether you choose to explore the Sonoran Desert or the mountains these Arizona parks promise a serene experience in natural environments. It is no wonder that Arizona is world-famous for hiking trails and natural scenery.

With these reserves, you’ll see how there are many more top places to visit in Arizona outside of just the—albeit mesmerizing—Grand Canyon’s grandeur. Visiting parks is one of the best things to do in Arizona so pick a few from this guide and guarantee yourself memories you’ll replay for the rest of your life. Arizona is a paradise if you love hiking and history.

Plan your next road trip to Arizona with these resources:

Worth Pondering…

To my mind these live oak-dotted hills fat with side oats grama, these pine-clad mesas spangled with flowers, these lazy trout streams burbling along under great sycamores and cottonwoods, come near to being the cream of creation.

—Aldo Leopold, 1937

8 Fun Things to do in Tucson…BEFORE it’s TOO HOT

Things to do NOW before it’s a zillion degrees outside in Tucson

Two weeks ago, Tucson hit 90 degrees for the first time in 2022.

The 90-degree day came five days earlier than usual, according to National Weather Service Tucson meteorologist Gary Zell. Unfortunately for locals and visitors, the Climate Prediction Center is currently predicting above-average temperatures every month from now until September.

Obviously that does not mean everyday is going to be above normal but they’re talking monthly outlooks.

Presidio Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s currently no indication of when Tucson will welcome (or should I say reject?) its first 100-degree day. But on average, for the years between 1991 and 2020, Tucson sees its first 100-degree day on May 18. Historically though, from 1895 through 2020, that day has been May 25.

Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As for those brutal 105-degree days that nobody wants to think about right now: From 1991 to 2020, Tucson typically saw its first 105-degree day on June 6. Historically, that day has been June 11.

There is some promising news: The Climate Prediction Center says there’s a 50-60 percent of above-normal rainfall from July to September.

Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But before the arrival of summer and the 100-degree days that accompany it, let’s focus on the cooler days ahead.

Here are eight things to do outside—before it gets too hot. (But most of the places mentioned are open year-round and some even open their doors on summer nights for folks to enjoy the cooler temperatures after sunset.)

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Bask in the desert beauty at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum may not be a hidden gem, but it’s a gem no less.

Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Check out 1,200 kinds of plants, experience the touch of a stingray, walk through a reptile and amphibian hall, and see all kinds of desert animals—bobcats, a mountain lion, javelinas, prairie dogs, gila monsters, skunks, hummingbirds, and more.

Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you visit in springtime, you may even spot colorful cactus blooms in the museum’s cactus garden. 

Hiking Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Put on your hiking shoes and head to your nearest trail

What would this list be if we didn’t include hiking?

Hiking trails are all over—short trails leading up to the top of “A” Mountain, the steep walk up Tumamoc Hill, plus there’s Enchanted Hills Trails Park, Sabino CanyonCatalina State ParkSaguaro National Park, and so many more nearby hiking areas.

While hiking in May is typically significantly cooler than hiking in June, it’s still important to hydrate and protect yourself from the sun with a wide-brimmed hat and sunscreen! Heading out during the cooler morning hours might be best.

The Old Presidio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Take a walking tour of the city

Tucson has a lot to see and a lot to love. The Presidio San Agustín del Tucson Museum knows that.

Each month, the museum hosts a series of walking tours around the downtown area—and they almost always sell out.

Historic Barrio Viejo neighborhood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Guided walking tours include the Turquoise Trail where you’ll see historic buildings and learn a slice of Tucson history, the Mainly Murals Walking Tour which shows off some of downtown’s murals and discusses the artist behind the piece, the Public Art and Murals Walking Tour which explores public art pieces and murals, and the Barrio Viejo Walking Tour which takes you through the historic Barrio Viejo neighborhood.

Riding the tram at Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Ride the tram (and hike) at Sabino Canyon

At the northeast edge of Tucson along Sabino Creek lies Tucson’s worst-hidden secret! Sabino Canyon is a premier place to hike, picnic, or just take in Mother Nature at its finest. The saguaro-draped foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson offer numerous scenic ravines but two of the most scenic are Sabino Canyon and Bear Canyon, ten miles northeast of the city center.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of the two, Sabino is more developed and more visited having a paved road running 3.8 miles up the lower section along which are various picnic sites, trailheads, and viewpoints.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Feel the magic of nature as you ride the Sabino Canyon Crawler, a convenient, narrated shuttle through the wonders of Sabino Canyon. The electric shuttle journey begins at the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area Visitor Center and carries passengers on a one-hour round trip allowing them to exit the shuttle at stops 1 through 9 to soak in the grandeur of the canyon at their own pace. The tram turns around at Stop 9 and heads back down to the Visitor’s Center at which point riders may remain on board or hike back down. 

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Cool off at Madera Canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains

In the northwest face of the Santa Rita Mountains, one of southeast Arizona’s forested Sky Islands the cool refuge of Madera Canyon is just 25 miles south of Tucson and 12 miles east of Green Valley. This is part of the Coronado National Forest.

Mt. Wrightson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Madera Canyon with active springs and a seasonal creek is a lush oasis supporting an amazing diversity of life zones of the Santa Rita Mountains and Madera Canyon. From Green Valley to the 9,453-foot summit of Mt. Wrightson, the mountains rise nearly 7,000 feet. Moisture increases and temperature decreases 3-5 degrees for every 1,000 feet of elevation gain, creating a succession of four life zones. Each life zone has communities of plants and animals adapted to the environmental conditions found in the zone.

Birding at Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A world-renowned location for bird watching, Madera Canyon is a major resting place for migrating species while the extensive trail system of the Santa Rita Mountains is easily accessed from the Canyon’s campground and picnic areas.

Tubac Presidio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Step back in time at the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park

Just 45 miles south of Tucson down Interstate 19, this colorful, postage-stamp-size town is easily enjoyed as a day trip. If you come only to browse through the many galleries, you will be selling yourself short.

Tubac Presidio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Any visit to Tubac is best begun at Arizona’s very first state park—the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park. The site of the Presidio—the oldest Spanish fort in Arizona—is now a museum with fascinating insights into the local history. Visit the museum to learn how different cultures (from Native American Indian tribes to Spanish colonials, Mexicans, and pioneers) all made Tubac their home over the centuries. There is a good reason people settled here. Tours are self-guided so you can spend as long or as little time as you want here.

The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Take a historical walk on the Anza Trail

Having learned all about Juan Bautista de Anza at the museum, now is a good time to follow in his footsteps on the Anza Trail which is accessed near the Presidio and ends 1,200 miles later in San Francisco! A much more manageable 4-mile out-and-back trail is marked and for a single day trip (especially in the warmer months) just a mile out and a mile back may be enough to experience the diversity of this local environment.

It’s an easy trail that starts out wide and flat, meandering through open desert meadow before funneling into woodland. Grasses and trees line the trail. A sudden flash of green is a giveaway that water is near. The Santa Cruz River runs almost all year round.

Enjoy a Sonoran Desert sunset © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Take in the sunset

There is no better way to end a full and varied day than to watch the sun set gently over the desert landscape. Sunsets are particularly vibrant in Arizona due to the fine sand particles in the air. Check out sunset times and have your camera ready to end your picture-perfect day. 

Plan your trip to Tucson with these resources:

Worth Pondering…

Tucson had opened my eyes to the world and given me… a taste for the sensory extravagance of red hot chiles and five-alarm sunsets.

—Barbara Kingsolver

South of Tucson Off I-19

I-19 Interstate Highway is 64 miles long and runs south to north from Nogales to Tucson

The Interstate 19 corridor south of Tucson is hard to surpass for a leisurely day trip from Tucson that combines art, culture, and history. There is so much to see and do between Tucson and Nogales that you’ll need to start early or break the tour into several more leisurely day trips as we did.

For our purpose, I’ll start with our southernmost destination, Mission Tumacácori, 29 miles north of Nogales, and work back to Mission View RV Resort, our home base off San Xavier Road in southern Tucson.

Tumacácori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tumacácori National Historic Park

The oldest Jesuit mission in Arizona has been preserved in Tumacácori National Historic Park, a picturesque reminder that Southern Arizona was, at one time, the far northern frontier of New Spain. The San Cayetano del Tumacácori Mission was established in 1691 by Spanish Jesuit priest Eusebio Francisco Kino beside the Santa Cruz River.

Tumacácori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A short distance east of the mission is the Anza Trail along the Santa Cruz River where you will find dozens of bird species. You can hike the Anza Trail north along the Santa Cruz for 4.5 miles to Tubac.

Tumacácori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take Exit 29, turn left under the Interstate. At the frontage road, turn left. You can’t miss it.

Related: 13 Weird and Wonderful Reasons to RV to Tucson

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tubac

A destination for the arts, Tubac features over 100 eclectic shops and world-class galleries. Clustered in the village plaza, old adobes, Spanish courtyards, and ocotillo fences blend with a handful of newer buildings. Meandering streets are punctuated by hidden courtyards and sparkling fountains. Tubac also boasts a luxurious resort experience at the Tubac Golf Resort and Spa—a spot that features the golf course made famous by the 1996 Kevin Costner movie Tin Cup.

Tubac is north of Tumacácori on the east frontage road (or Exit 34 if you get back on I-19.

Tubax Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park

Established as a Spanish presidio in 1752, Tubac was the first permanent European settlement in what later became Arizona. The story of New Spain’s presidios is unique and Tubac is one of the few sites where it can adequately be told. Tubac Presidio State Historic Park preserves the ruins of the oldest Spanish Presidio site in Arizona, San Ignacio de Tubac, established in 1752.

Territorial schoolhouse at Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Park also preserves and interprets one of the oldest Territorial Schoolhouses. Further, the Park exhibits the hand press used to print the first newspaper in Arizona. The Weekly Arizonan was published in Tubac on March 3, 1859.

Mission San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory

There is no way to include a tour of the observatories atop Mt. Hopkins in a day trip and still see the other sites along the I-19 corridor. From the Visitor Center, a shuttle takes visitors with reservations up a very steep, narrow, and winding road to the top. The total time to ascend, tour the observatories, and descend is about five hours. But the view from the top is splendid.

Related: Now is the Time to Explore Southern Arizona’s Gorgeous State Parks

From Tubac, go north on I-19 about 11 miles and exit at Arivaca Road (Exit 48). Follow the frontage road north about 2 miles and turn right (east) onto Elephant Head Road. From here the visitor center is about 8 miles. Just follow the signs.

Mineral Discovery Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Green Valley

Situated just 25 miles south of Tucson Green Valley offers the best of both worlds: quiet residential streets in a stunning desert setting. Factor in gorgeous weather from fall through spring and you have a combo that has long been irresistible to retirees and the snowbirds who visit in the winter to escape the cold weather of northern locales.

Green Valley offers a number of parks, bike lanes, and trails that are typically busy with people enjoying the sunshine. Among the most noteworthy of the trails is the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, a 1,200-mile route, a portion of which passes through Green Valley.

The route commemorates the 1775-76 journey led by explorer and military officer Juan Bautista de Anza from southern Arizona to the San Francisco Bay Area to establish the first non-Native settlement there.

Mineral Discovery Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors to Green Valley can sample a 5.2-mile stretch of the historic trail by heading to the trailhead on Elephant Head Road. The packed-surface trail that traverses classic desert terrain is open to walkers and cyclists; equestrians can use the nearby river wash.

Green Valley is located 26 miles south of Tucson; from I-19, take Continental Ranch Road (Exit 63) or Esperanza Road (Exit 65)

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Madera Canyon

A world-renowned location for bird watching, Madera Canyon is a major resting place for migrating species, while the extensive trail system of the Santa Rita Mountains is easily accessed from the Canyon’s campground and picnic areas. Hiking trails vary from paved, handicap-accessible nature trails and gentle walking paths in the lower canyon to steep, expert trails leading to the top of 9,453-foot Mt. Wrightson.

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located 12 miles east of the I-19 at Green Valley, Madera Canyon makes a delightful stand-alone day trip from Tucson. From I-19, take Continental Ranch Road (Exit 63) east. In about a mile, turn right onto Madera Canyon/White House Canyon Road. Just follow the signs.

Green Valley Pecan Company at Sahuarita © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sahuarita

While the founding of Green Valley dates back to the fairly recent era of the 1960s, the nearby town of Sahuarita and the surrounding region have much deeper roots. The Hohokam and Tohono O’odham people occupied the area for centuries before the 1690s arrival of Eusebio Kino, a Jesuit missionary and explorer.

Green Valley Pecan Company at Sahuarita © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The land on which the Green Valley Pecan Company began boasts a history as deep and rich as the soil that produces some of the finest pecans in the world. This expanse of fertile land in the Santa Cruz Valley belonged to captains of industry and crowned heads of state before being acquired by R. Keith Walden in 1948.

Green Valley Pecan Company at Sahuarita © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With plenty of sunshine, quality water, and rich, sandy loam soil, the conditions were ideal to grow pecans. In 1965, the Waldens began converting more than 7,000 acres from primarily cotton to the largest irrigated pecan orchard in the world. Their pecans are available in a variety of flavors including natural, candied, spiced, and other flavored pecans.

Related: Mountain Island in a Desert Sea: Exploring Southern Arizona Sky Islands

From the interstate heading north, exit at the Sahuarita Road (Exit 75); turn right (east) for several blocks.

Titan Missile Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Titan Missile Museum

This preserved Titan II missile site officially known as complex 571-7 is all that remains of the 54 Titan II missile sites that were on alert across the United States from 1963 to 1987. Able to launch from its underground silo in just 58 seconds, the Titan II was capable of delivering a 9-megaton nuclear warhead to targets more than 6,300 miles away in about 30 minutes.

Titan Missile Museum© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors must be able to descend and climb 55 metal grate stair steps and stand for 45 minutes to participate in the underground tour. The museum suggests wearing walking shoes with no heels or flip-flops. The museum’s website notes: “What was once one of America’s most top-secret places is now a National Historic Landmark.”

From the interstate heading north, exit at the Duval Mine Road (Exit 69); turn left (west) and follow the signs.

Mineral Discovery Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mineral Discovery Center

The ASARCO Mineral Discovery Center offers a fascinating look into the world of copper. On your tour you’ll see how copper ore is mined in the open pit and then at the center you can see how it is processed in the mill to extract the copper minerals.

Mineral Discovery Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Titan Missile Museum, continue north on I-19 and exit at Pima Mine Road (Exit 80). The Mineral Discovery Center and Mine Tour are on the west side. Just follow the signs.

Mission San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mission San Xavier del Bac

Mission San Xavier del Bac is a place both historical and sacred that no visitor to Southern Arizona should miss. San Xavier is one of the finest examples of Spanish colonial architecture in the U.S. The oldest intact European structure in Arizona, the church interior is filled with marvelous original statuary and mural paintings.

Mission San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The mission’s white walls and soaring bell tower can be seen for miles around and the site attracts tens of thousands of visitors a year. Plan to spend an hour or two walking the grounds of the mission and exploring the interior. I was awed by the glowing white walls against the deep blue sky—all set off by rugged desert terrain.

Mission San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Head North from the Mineral Discovery Center and exit at San Xavier Road (Exit 92). Head west and you will plainly see the magnificent church known as the White Dove of the Desert.

Read Next: Everything You Need to See and Do on an Arizona Road Trip

Worth Pondering…

As we explore America by RV, surprises await at every turn of the road. Natural beauty abounds when least expected.

Now is the Time to Explore Southern Arizona’s Gorgeous State Parks

A southern Arizona State Parks road trip

Southern Arizona is not only about saguaro cacti and desert sunsets. Somewhat unexpectedly, the arid region also features several lakes and wetland areas teeming with fish and migratory birds. Add in majestic mountain ranges and fascinating historic sites and you have the makings of a wonderful southern Arizona state parks road trip.

In all, Arizona has 31 state park units. While much of the attention centers on high-profile parks including Red Rock and Slide Rock near Sedona and the Phoenix-area Lost Dutchman, the parks near the southern Arizona community of Tucson along with those in the southwestern corner of the state shine brightly as well. A number of southern park beauties seemed to be fairly unknown to the rest of the state.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Patagonia Lake State Park

Beaches in Arizona are admittedly few and far between and for a sandy swimming beach less than a half-hour drive northeast of the Arizona/Mexico border town of Nogales locals flock to Patagonia Lake State Park. Considered a hidden treasure of southeastern Arizona, Patagonia Lake is a manmade body of water created by the damming of Sonoita Creek. The 265-acre lake cuts a vivid blue swath through the region’s brown and amber hills.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along with swimming which is popular throughout the warm-weather months, Patagonia Lake offers boating, fishing, waterskiing, a picnic area with ramadas, tables, and grills, a creek trail, boat ramps, a marina, and bird-watching. Its unique arched bridge that rises over a lake channel is a great place to spot birds in the reeds along the shoreline or just enjoy the warm breeze. Hikers can also stroll along the creek trail and see birds such as the canyon towhee, Inca dove, vermilion flycatcher, black vulture, and several species of hummingbirds. 

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For a unique place to stay in the area, the park features a campground and seven camping cabins with beautiful views of the lake. The 105 developed campsites offer a picnic table, a fire ring/grill, and parking for two vehicles. Select sites also have a ramada. Sites have 20/30 amp and 50 amp voltage. Campsite lengths vary but most can accommodate any size RV.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Arizona State Parks

Park Entrance Fee: $15-$20 per vehicle; camping fee $27-$30 per night

Sonoita Creek Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sonoita Creek State Natural Area

Located downstream from Patagonia Lake along the lower Sonoita Creek, the Sonoita Creek State Natural Area is its own entity within the Arizona State Parks system and has an identity of its own as a world-class birding area. The lower Sonoita Creek, a perennial tributary of the Santa Cruz River has a well-developed riparian forest that fosters a great diversity of birds and other wildlife. The Sonoita Creek State Natural Area consists of thousands of acres and includes a trail easement that connects it to Patagonia Lake State Park.

Sonoita Creek Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Twenty miles of trails are available for hiking and eight miles of trails are shared with equestrians.  A 1.5-mile hike of moderate difficulty called the “Overlook Trail” is close to Patagonia Lake State Park and is a great way to see 360 degrees of spectacular scenery. Most of the trails are more remote and the shortest round trip hike to the creek is three miles on the Sonoita Creek Trail. At all times of the year, boots with good traction, sun protection, food, and water are recommended. The minimum elevation change on any route is 300 feet.

Sonoita Creek Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Sonoita Creek State Natural Area has been designated an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society. During the spring migration from late January through early April, a guided bird walk could yield sightings of more than 60 species and the complete bird list consists of more than 300 species. One of the most sought-after birds is the elegant trogon which might be seen between November and March. Ducks, rails, raptors, and flycatchers are commonly sighted. Other animals in the area include creek squirrels, coatis, raccoons, skunks, deer, snakes, javelina, jackrabbits, and an occasional bobcat or mountain lion.

The Sonoita Creek State Natural Area’s visitor center is located within Patagonia Lake State Park and entry fees for the lake include the use of the natural area.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park

With the Santa Catalina Mountains beckoning in the distance and canyons and seasonal streams dotting the landscape, Catalina State Park provides a delightful respite in the Tucson area. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The park’s 5,500 acres provide miles of equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails that wind through the park and into the nearby Coronado National Forest. More than 150 species of birds call the park home. This scenic desert park also offers equestrian trails and an equestrian center provides a staging area for trail riders with plenty of trailer parking.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located within minutes of the Tucson metro area, Catalina State Park makes a convenient place to camp while exploring the city and its iconic national park, Saguaro National Park. The state park offers 120 campsites with electric and water utilities suitable for RVs of all lengths. The campground is located in the shadow of the Santa Catalina Mountains and offers birding opportunities and spectacular dusk and dawn views.

Related: The Most (and least) Popular Arizona State Parks

Park Entrance Fee: $7 per vehicle; camping fee $30 per night

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park

From military conquests to ranching endeavors to mining claims, the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park runs the gamut of early Arizona history. The story of New Spain’s presidios (forts) is a unique one and Tubac’s primary purpose is to preserve the ruins of the oldest Spanish presidio in Arizona—San Ignacio de Tubac established in 1752. Tubac is one of few such sites that remain and its historic significance is heightened by the rarity of presidio sites.

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, a walk through the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park includes not just the history of the New Spain fort but also of the people who came afterward to live and work in the region. Along with the ruins of the fort the park preserves the 1885 Territorial Schoolhouse, the second oldest schoolhouse in Arizona.

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Tubac Presidio Museum houses interpretive exhibits with many original artifacts and the original Washington Printing Press that printed Arizona’s first newspaper in 1859. The Visitor Center contains Spanish/Mexican-influenced furnishings and an artist mural of the Presidio, a model of the Presidio, historic maps, and a seven-minute video presentation that gives a brief history of the village of Tuba.

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A variety of birds can be spotted on the grounds, including roadrunners. Although large mammal sightings at the park during park hours are rare, the Anza Trail passes through the park, and visitors can catch glimpses of javelinas, deer, and coyotes.

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Tubac Presidio State Historic Park is just one aspect of the artsy community of Tubac. The village of about 1,500 people has over 100 galleries, studios, and shops, all within easy walking distance of each other. You’ll find an eclectic and high-quality selection of art and artisan works that include paintings, sculpture, pottery, metalwork, hand-painted tiles, photography, jewelry, weaving, and hand-carved wooden furniture.

Tumacácori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you are interested in exploring more of the area around Tubac, Tumacácori National Historic Park preserves the ruins of three Spanish mission communities and is less than five miles from Tubac. These abandoned ruins include San José de Tumacácori, Los Santos Ángeles de Guevavi, and San Cayetano de Calabazas.

Related: Focus on Birding in Arizona State Parks

Park Entrance Fee: $7 per vehicle; no overnight parking is permitted

Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park

For most, the name Tombstone conjures up images of the Wild West and the gunfights that occurred there. Certainly, Tombstone is known as the site of a bloody gunfight that occurred at the O.K. Corral Livery & Feed in 1881 that killed three and wounded three others. The legend of the shootout has lasted through the centuries and spawned numerous Hollywood movies.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But a deeper understanding of the town and the region is available at the Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park. The two-story courthouse designed in the Victorian style was constructed of red brick in 1882. The courthouse, a splendid example of territorial architecture, continued to serve as a county facility until 1931 when the county seat was moved to Bisbee.

Boothill, Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, the old courthouse houses information on the gunfight at the O.K. Corral along with artifacts from Tombstone’s mining past including a saloon and gaming room, a period sheriff’s office, and a period lawyer’s office and courtroom. Outside in the courtyard is a reproduction gallows—the site where many convicted murderers met their fate.

Boothill, Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Schieffelin Monument is the last resting place of Ed Schieffelin, the prospector who discovered the mineral deposits that triggered the Tombstone silver boom in 1877. Located in the beautiful high desert 3 miles northwest of Tombstone, the Monument is now part of the Tombstone Courthouse State Park. It is a place where you can feel a direct connection to the Old West days of Tombstone, “the town too tough to die.”

Park Entrance Fee: $7 per vehicle; no overnight parking is permitted

Colorado River State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colorado River State Historic Park

Located in the far southwestern corner of the state, the Colorado River State Historic Park (formerly Yuma Crossing State Historic Park) sits on the bank of the Colorado where river captains once sailed from the Gulf of California to unload supplies then kick up their heels in the bustling port of Yuma. Ocean vessels brought supplies around the Baja Peninsula from California to Port Isabel, near the mouth of the Colorado. From there, the cargo was loaded onto smaller steamships and brought upstream to Yuma. The purpose of the depot was to store six months’ worth of supplies for the forts in the area. The depot operated from 1864 until 1883 when the arrival of the railroad made the long steamship route unnecessary.

Colorado River State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many of the original structures from that time are still standing. Made of adobe, essentially mud and plant material, they have survived well in Yuma’s dry climate. In fact, since their original construction, the buildings have been used by the Weather Service, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Signal Corps, the Border Survey, and the Yuma County Water Users Association as recently as the late 1980s.

Colorado River State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, Colorado River State Historic Park preserves the history of the facility while providing additional information about Yuma as a Colorado River community and the engineering behind one of its impressive canal systems. The park’s visitor center features an exhibit on the military history of the Yuma Quartermaster Depot and includes a model depicting the depot’s appearance in 1872. The park is closed Monday and Tuesday.

Related: Winter Hiking in Arizona State Parks

Park Entrance Fee: $6 per vehicle; no overnight parking is permitted

Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park

Sitting on a bluff overlooking the Colorado River, 3 miles west of the confluence of the Colorado and the historic Gila River, stand the ruins of Arizona’s famous Territorial Prison.

Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fans of Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures know it as “Hell Hole Prison” for the dark and twisted tales which linger long after the last inmates occupied this first prison of the Arizona Territory. For many others, the 1957 and 2007 films “3:10 to Yuma” are what bring this “Hell Hole Prison” to mind.

Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park is open, welcoming convicts of another kind —those guilty of having a curiosity for what it was like to work and live inside the prison walls. The cells, main gate, and guard tower are still standing providing visitors with a glimpse of convict life in the Southwest over a century ago. Turn yourself in for a fascinating experience, which includes a look into “The Dark Cell” and a look back at the men AND women who served hard times in Yuma.

Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And, you don’t have to wait until 3:10; the park is open from 9 am -5 pm so stop in and take a walk through a big slice of the history of the Old West. The park is closed Tuesday and Wednesday.

Park Entrance Fee: $8 per vehicle; no overnight parking is permitted

Worth Pondering…

To my mind, these live oak-dotted hills fat with side oats grama, these pine-clad mesas spangled with flowers, these lazy trout streams burbling along under great sycamores and cottonwoods, come near to being the cream of creation.

—Aldo Leopold, 1937

A Southern Gem: 14 Reasons to Visit Tucson

No matter what season you visit, Tucson has a lot to offer

While Phoenix may offer a more metropolitan nightlife experience, Tucson can definitely hold its own when it comes to outdoor adventures and unique sights. In fact, in many ways, I prefer the relative quiet of this southwestern town over its larger cousin to the north.

Tucson is located less than two hours southeast of Phoenix and the Mexican border is roughly one hour to the south. Its proximity to Mexico has earned Tucson’s food scene major recognition—in 2015, UNESCO designated it the first “City of Gastronomy” in the United States.

The real, natural southwest captivates the imaginations of visitors fortunate enough to spend time in Tucson. Located in the Sonoran Desert, Tucson is the only place in the world the majestic saguaro cactus grows. The tall and stately cactus, stand like silent sentinels in the shadows of the five mountain ranges surrounding the Tucson valley. Tucson provides a stunning array of possibilities, satisfying culture seekers, outdoor adventurers, and fans of cowboys and cacti.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park is a well-known Tucson attraction. The park is split into two by the city. The Rincon Mountain District is located to the East of Tucson and the Tucson Mountain District is located to the West. Both districts have their own visitor center, scenic drives, and hiking trail systems. In the west part, you will see plenty of the namesake cacti—the saguaro. In the east part, you will see colorful red rocks and more rugged terrain.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I highly recommend choosing several Saguaro National Park hiking trails to make the most of your time. There are both short, paved, accessible trails and day hike out in the wilderness. It all depends on what you are looking for.

Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is one of the most popular attractions in town. A world-renowned zoo, natural history museum, and botanical garden, all in one place, this is a solid introduction to plant and animal life as you’ll find in the region.

Related: Explore Tucson Naturally

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Exhibits re-create the natural landscape of the Sonoran Desert Region so realistically you find yourself eye-to-eye with mountain lions and Gila monsters. Other species found here include prairie dogs, tarantulas, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Most of this museum is outdoors, so plan accordingly. Dress comfortably and bring a hat and sunscreen.

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Sabino Canyon

On the northeast edge of Tucson, Sabino Canyon offers a variety of terrain including a paved path for the lighter option, or miles of rugged ground to explore. Nestled in the Santa Catalina Mountains, Sabino Canyon offers a wide range of hiking adventures for beginners and experts alike. Enjoy a relaxing stroll along the paved Sabino Canyon Trail or ride the tram along the wide, scenic path.

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Sabino Canyon Tours offers a narrated, educational 45-minute, 3.8-mile tour into the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains. The trams have nine stops along the tour with several restroom facilities and picnic grounds located near Sabino Creek. The tram turns around at Stop #9 and heads back down to the Visitor’s Center, at which point riders may remain on board and hike back down. Trams arrive on average every 30 minutes.

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Catalina State Park 

One of my personal favorite stops, Catalina State Park sits at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains in northwest Tucson. Catalina is chock-full of epic mountainous backdrops, lush landscapes, towering saguaros, and trails for horses and hikers. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. If you visit in early spring, bright Mexican poppies and colorful wildflowers will greet you.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invite camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. The park provides miles of equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails that wind through the park and into the Coronado National Forest at elevations near 3,000 feet.

Related: Why Tucson Is Your Next Great Outdoor Adventure

Catalina Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Lemmon

Mount Lemmon is named after Sara Plummer Lemmon, a botanist who trekked to the 9,000-foot-plus summit with her husband in 1881. Today, it’s a great spot for outdoor adventures like hiking, camping, rock climbing, and even skiing. Yes, skiing in the Sonoran Desert.

Catalina Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Lemmon is located in the Catalina Mountains. Follow Catalina Highway (Sky Island Scenic Byway) to explore the mountain to your heart’s content. One of the most scenic drives in southern Arizona, the paved road provides access to a fascinating land of great vistas, natural rock sculptures, cool mountain forests, and deep canyons spilling out onto broad deserts.

Tohono Chul Park

Translated from the Tohono O’odham language, Tohono Chul means “desert corner.” This 49-acre desert preserve is a leading Southwest center of desert nature, arts, and culture. This oasis in the desert provides an informative look at the region’s fascinating cultural traditions and its flora and fauna.

Old Tucson Studios © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Old Tucson Studios

Plenty of cowboys can be found at Old Tucson Studios. John Wayne and Clint Eastwood are among the Hollywood legends that starred in some of the 300-plus movies and TV projects that have been filmed at Old Tucson since 1939. Today it’s a movie studio and theme park.

Old Tucson Studios © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s been just over a year since Old Tucson Studios closed its doors. The famous western attraction was shuttered because of the pandemic. Now, after a long process, Pima County is getting ready to announce who will take over the lease. Be sure to check the current status before planning a visit.

Mission San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mission San Xavier del Bac

Fifteen minutes south of Tucson sits an important piece of the city’s history: Mission San Xavier del Bac. This is one of the most awe-inspiring of all of the area’s attractions and is definitely worth the short drive. Mission San Xavier del Bac, also known as the White Dove of the Desert, is a magnificent building that blends Moorish, Byzantine, and late Mexican Renaissance architecture.

Mission San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1692 Father Kino, a Jesuit missionary came to the area. Eight years later he laid the foundation for the first church. This building was named for Francis Xavier, a pioneering Christian missionary. The current church, completed in 1797, serves an active parish. Today, this site is used as both a church and a school.

Titan Missile Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Titan Missile Museum

A National Historic Landmark known as Complex 571-7, the Titan Missile Museum is the only remaining Titan II missile site. On one-hour guided tours you’ll descend 35 feet below ground to marvel at the intercontinental ballistic missile that in about 30 minutes could have delivered a nine-megaton nuclear warhead to a location more than 6,000 miles away.

Related: 13 Weird and Wonderful Reasons to RV to Tucson

Tumacácori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tumacácori National Historic Park

The oldest Jesuit mission in Arizona has been preserved in Tumacácori National Historic Park. The San Cayetano del Tumacácori Mission was established in 1691 by Spanish priest Eusebio Francisco Kino. Jesuit, and later Franciscan, priests ministered to the O’odham Indians and Spanish settlers until 1848.

Tumacácori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A self-guiding tour booklet for the Tumacácori Mission grounds can be purchased or borrowed. The walking tour of the site leads through several interlinked rooms with open doorways, and to the enclosed courtyard garden, filled by mature trees and Sonoran desert plants.

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Tubac

A destination for the arts, Tubac features eclectic shops and world-class galleries. Clustered in the village plaza, old adobes, Spanish courtyards, and ocotillo fences blend with a handful of newer buildings. Meandering streets are punctuated by hidden courtyards and sparkling fountains.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This village of about 1,500 people has over 100 galleries, studios, and shops, all within easy walking distance of each other. You’ll find an eclectic and high-quality selection of art and artisan works that include paintings, sculpture, pottery, metalwork, hand-painted tiles, photography, jewelry, weaving, and hand-carved wooden furniture.

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park

Established as a Spanish presidio in 1752, Tubac was the first permanent European settlement in what later became Arizona. Those early ruins are visible in an underground exhibit at Tubac Presidio State Historic Park. Visitors also will see a museum that houses Arizona’s first printing press (demonstrations are offered), a furnished 1885 schoolhouse, and living-history exhibits.

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Outdoor patio exhibits show how people lived, cooked, and worked in Spanish colonial times. The Park is home to three buildings on the National Register of Historic Places: an 1885 schoolhouse that is the third oldest in Arizona; Otero Hall, built as a community center in 1914 and now housing a collection of paintings; and a mid-20th century adobe vernacular row house.

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Madera Canyon

Madera Canyon is known for exceptional and varied hiking trails. The Mount Wrightson trailhead provides access to several trails including the Super Trail and Old Baldy trail where experienced hikers can climb to higher levels. These two trails to its summit cross one another twice and make a figure eight.

Related: Mountain Island in a Desert Sea: Exploring Southern Arizona Sky Islands

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Madera Canyon is a famed wildlife location, in particular for birds with over 250 recorded species. The resident birds include hummingbirds, owls, sulfur flycatchers, wood warblers, elegant trogan, wild turkeys, and quails, as well as numerous migrating birds. Other notable wildlife includes coati, black bear, raccoon, mountain lion, bighorn sheep, bobcat, and ring-tailed cat.

Old Pueblo County Courthouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Old Pueblo

Tucson has preserved a flair of its American Indian and Spanish-Mexican past of a pueblo in the Sonoran Desert. The days of the Presidio de San Agustin del Tucson, the original fortress built by Spanish soldiers during the 18th century, seem not that long ago. Wandering through the recreated structure, it is easy to imagine what life was like when members of the Tohono O’odham Nation, Native American people of the Sonoran Desert, mingled there with Spanish soldiers and early Territorial Period settlers.

Old Presidio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The neighborhood surrounding the Presidio, the Presidio Historic District, is a charming, eclectic assembly of adobe and brick buildings in Spanish-Mexican, Anglo-American, and other architectural styles of the 1920s. Many houses have been restored to their former beauty, in brilliant colors of bright green, brick red, plum-purple, and hues of blue and yellow, and their original masonry.

Worth Pondering…

Once in a lifetime, you see a place, and you know, instinctively, this is paradise.

Discover Art and History in Tubac

Established in 1752 as a Spanish fort, Tubac is an exquisite, brightly painted town with more than 100 galleries, shops, and restaurants lining its meandering streets

Located in south central Arizona 40 miles south of Tucson in a valley along the cottonwood-lined Santa Cruz River, Tubac describes itself as a place where “art and history meet.” This small community has an impressive collection of galleries, studios, one-of-a-kind shops, and dining options. Tubac was established in 1752 as a Spanish presidio, the first colonial fortress in what is now Arizona.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tubac started to develop as an art colony in the 1930s and ’40s. Dale Nichols, a painter and illustrator best known for his rural landscape paintings, played a significant role in shaping Tubac’s evolution into an art center. In 1948, he bought and restored a number of Tubac’s historic buildings and opened an art school.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, this village of about 1,500 people has over 100 galleries, studios, and shops, all within easy walking distance of each other. You’ll find an eclectic and high quality selection of art and artisan works that includes paintings, sculpture, pottery, metal work, hand-painted tiles, photography, jewelry, weaving, and hand-carved wooden furniture.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s not just the goods inside the shops that are beautiful. The village of restored buildings and landscaped walkways is a delight to walk through. Old, red brick buildings and adobes with wood beams jut out near the top. Wood pillars support terracotta-tiled roofs to create covered walkways in front of buildings. Pillars as well as door and window trim are painted in bright hues of blue, turquoise, yellow, or red. Mexican tiles decorate buildings. Hidden courtyards contain more shops or bits of historical information.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

High-desert vistas and views of the Santa Rita Mountains form a backdrop. Scenic views to inspire the creative spirit! It is easy to see how artists would be drawn to Tubac’s combination of stunning landscape and history.

Tubac Festival of the Arts debuted in 1964. The annual five-day February event attracts thousands of visitors each day. The juried show features 150 to 200 artists from all over the country. Booths line village streets that are blocked to vehicular traffic. The festival also features musicians and roving entertainers. The festival is free but there is a charge for parking. Horse-drawn trolleys ferry people to and from parking lots and throughout the town.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visiting and resident artists display their works in harmony. You can weave your way past temporary booths and into and out of permanent shops as you walk through the village but you may also want to consider visiting at another, quieter time to properly appreciate the resident galleries and shops.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The area around Tubac is believed to have been inhabited for over 11,000 years. The Spanish Colonial Era began when Jesuit missionary Father Kino came to the Santa Cruz Valley in 1691. By 1731, Tubac was a mission farm and ranch. The Spanish established a fort in 1752. Tubac Presidio State Historic Park is located on the site of the former fort. This is Arizona’s first state park hosting a world class museum and bridging Tubac’s past life to its destiny as an artist colony.

Tubac Presido State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Excavated portions of the walls, foundation, and floor of the Commandant’s quarters can be viewed from an underground archaeological exhibit. Outdoor patio exhibits show how people lived, cooked, and worked in Spanish colonial times. The Park is home to three buildings on the National Register of Historic Places: an 1885 schoolhouse that is the third oldest in Arizona; Otero Hall, built as a community center in 1914 and now housing a collection of paintings; and a mid-20th century adobe vernacular row house.

Tubac Presido State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Museum on the grounds showcases the timeline of human settlement with information about the Native American, Spanish Colonial, Mexican Republic, and Territorial Eras. Among the variety of artifacts, you’ll find ancient pottery, Spanish cookware, mining tools, nineteenth century costumes, and the original Washington Printing Press that printed Arizona’s first newspaper in 1859.

Tubac Presido State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you are interested in exploring more of the area around Tubac, Tumacácori National Historic Park reserves the ruins of three Spanish mission communities and is less than five miles from Tubac.These abandoned ruins include San José de Tumacácori, Los Santos Ángeles de Guevavi, and San Cayetano de Calabazas.

Tumacácori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The mission San José de Tumacácori first was listed in 1691 as an outlying visita by Father Kino, and is one the oldest in Arizona. Tumacácori contributed a herd of cattle to the Anza expedition and Father Font, a member of Anza’s colony, stayed here while Anza marshaled his forces at Tubac. The mission San José de Tumacácori is open to the public. The other two mission ruins are much more fragile and are only accessible through special guided tours. The Park also offers a visitor center and museum.

Worth Pondering…

Crafts make us feel rooted, give us a sense of belonging and connect us with our history. Our ancestors used to create these crafts out of necessity, and now we do them for fun, to make money and to express ourselves.

—Phyllis George

Tubac: Where Art & History Meet

An historic destination for the arts, Tubac features over 100 eclectic shops and world class galleries

Established in 1752 as a Spanish fort, Tubac is an exquisite, brightly painted town with more than 100 galleries, shops, and restaurants lining its meandering streets. A quaint haven for artists, Tubac was the first permanent European settlement in what later became Arizona.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Driving south from Mission View RV Resort, our home base in southern Tucson, the spiny desert softens and becomes downright pastoral. Cactus-dotted slopes give way to rolling grasslands with mesquite.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tubac nestles in a high mountain-framed valley on the banks of the Santa Cruz River where water flow is intermittent. Around these parts, even good intentions are enough to create a riparian habitat.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the late 17th century, Spanish missionaries traveled from Mexico up the Santa Cruz seeking to convert native tribes. Spanish Jesuit priest Eusebio Francisco Kino entered the Santa Cruz Valley in 1691 and founded the mission at Tumacácori, building missions, ranches, and farms.

By 1732 nearby Tubac was a vista of Mission Guevavi and a mission farm and ranch by 1738.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Pima Revolt of 1751, stirred by many grievances during a half-century of Spanish domination, caused widespread destruction. In 1752, Spanish troops defeated an army of 2,000 Pima warriors and established the Presidio of San Ignacio de Tubac (fort), the first European settlement in what would become Arizona.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fifty cavalrymen were garrisoned at this remote military post to prevent further rebellion, protect settlers from Apaches, or at least try to, and further explore the Southwest.

Repeatedly attacked, the soldiers and settlers abandoned Tubac in 1775 and built El Presidio San Agustín del Tucsón in what is now downtown Tucson.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tubac was part of the Gadsden Purchase of 1853, and was soon resettled and developed by Eastern entrepreneurs. Charles D. Poston was instrumental in forming the Sonora Exploring and Mining Company, and used the abandoned Commandant’s house as his headquarters. He performed marriages, granted divorces, baptized children, and printed his own money to pay company employees. His company acquired a press in 1859 which printed Arizona’s first newspaper.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tubac’s population steadily grew until, in 1860, it was the largest town in Arizona. The American Civil War, however, drained the region of troops, leaving it unprotected from Apaches, and Tubac was again deserted. Although the region was resettled after the war, silver strikes in the Tombstone area and the routing of the railroad through Tucson drew development interests away from Tubac, and the town never regained its earlier importance.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perhaps Tubac’s most famous person was soldier and explorer Capt. Juan Bautista de Anza II. During his tenure at Tubac (1760-1776), Anza led two overland expeditions to the Pacific, resulting in the founding of San Francisco.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Anza’s second expedition to the Pacific coast departed from Tubac on October 23, 1775. Several hundred colonists from the provinces of Sinaloa and Sonora, along with sixty from Tubac, made the trip. Over 1,000 head of cattle, horses, and mules transported food supplies and tools and provided food on the journey.

It was in 1948 that landscape painter Dale Nichols opened an art school in Tubac and the quiet little burg began its evolution into an artist colony.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An historic destination for the arts, Tubac features over 100 eclectic shops and world class galleries, clustered in the village plaza, where old adobes, Spanish courtyards, and ocotillo fences blend with a handful of newer buildings. Meandering streets are punctuated by hidden courtyards and sparkling fountains.

There’s a whiff of emergent Santa Fe here without the crowds. Tubac doesn’t even have a traffic light and I find myself falling into a relaxed rhythm as I wander the district. A half day can easily disappear wandering amongst this wealth of painting, sculpture, ceramics, and photography, as well as unique regional fashion, leather, crafts, antiques, and jewelry.

It’s no wonder the town coined the slogan, “Where Art and History Meet.”

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here also is the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park. Located in Tubac’s Old Town, the park’s museum offers a fascinating look at the history of the Santa Cruz Valley and Arizona’s first printing press.

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park is Arizona’s first state park and marks the location of Arizona’s first European settlement. An underground archaeological site displays the adobe presidio ruins.

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

History, although sometimes made up of the few acts of the great, is more often shaped by the many acts of the small.

—Mark Yost