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)

These Historic Arizona Towns Can Make your Next Road Trip more Fun

Arizona small historical towns each have a unique history and character-perfect for a road trip. See my fave mining, western, and funky artsy spots and work one (or three) into YOUR next road trip.

Visit any of these charming historic towns in Arizona if you want to bask in the rich heritage of the American Wild West. While some are still well populated, a handful of ghost towns are on this list which adds a fun and mysterious element to your adventure. Enjoy the scenic views and well-preserved local history and take a glimpse into American life during the turn of the century. Any or all of these historic towns in Arizona is a worthy visit for history and nature lovers alike.

Williams © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Williams: Gateway to the Grand Canyon

Two things distinguish Williams: Route 66 and the Grand Canyon. Williams describes itself as “the best-preserved stretch of Route 66.” It was the last town on the mother road to be bypassed by Interstate 40 (in 1984) so it hung on to its Route 66 identity. The center of town with its diners, motels, and shops is a designated National Historic District.

We first came here to use it as a base for taking the train to the Grand Canyon but found the town itself charming. The town is the headquarters of the Grand Canyon Historic Railway and Hotel.

Williams © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Because of its proximity to the park, many Grand Canyon tour operators are based in Williams. Kaibab National Forest surrounds the town, with plenty of hiking, biking, and fishing opportunities for outdoor lovers.

>> Get more tips for visiting Williams

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tombstone: Hootin’, hollerin’ Wild West

It would be hard to get more Old West in Arizona historical towns than Tombstone (The Town Too Tough To Die). It is one of the most frequented destinations in the state for history buffs since this is home to the famous OK Corral where the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday gunned down the ornery Clanton-McLaury gang. But there’s a lot more to Tombstone including a rich silver mining history and clashes with the Apaches.

Tombstone Courthouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tombstone has done much to preserve its Old West atmosphere. The main street is still dirt and cars must share the road with horses, Western wear shops, restaurants, and saloons line the wooden sidewalks. Historic sights include the Birdcage Theater and Tombstone Courthouse.

>> Get more tips for visiting Tombstone

Prescott Courthouse Plaza © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Prescott: Epitome of small town America

Prescott is one of the most charming Arizona small towns. A classic old courthouse anchors the central square. (Remember the old Back to the Future movies? It wouldn’t be surprising to see Marty McFly zipping by in his SteamPunk DeLorean.) Pretty Victorian homes and cottages line the downtown streets.

Restaurants, boutiques, antique shops, cafes, and western wear outfitters surround the courthouse square. Visit historic Whiskey Row so called because that’s where all the hootin’ and hollerin’ happened. Today you can do a bit of hootin’ and hollerin’ of your own on Whiskey Row as you don your Western duds—many of the bars feature live music.

Watson Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That western atmosphere is legit: Prescott is also home to the world’s oldest rodeo with the grounds about a half mile northwest of downtown. Nearby Prescott National Forest, Watson Lake, and Lynx Lake provide numerous opportunities for outdoor pursuits. Additionally, four of Arizona’s prominent museums are in Prescott allowing for an educational visit while you are in town.

>> Get more tips for visiting Prescott

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bisbee: Funky, artsy, and historic

Bisbee was established in 1876 as a copper mining town tucked away in the southeastern part of Arizona. The area once known as the Queen of the Copper Camps is home to a charming community among the Mule Mountains, popular with artists and retirees. The mine is no longer operational but Bisbee has now transformed itself into a cool and funky destination with a sort of Victorian-meets-midcentury kind of vibe.

Queen Mine © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Learn how copper helped shape both the town and the nation at the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum and then see the real deal underground on a Queen Mine Tour. Browse Bisbee’s many art galleries and spend the night (or three) at the Shady Dell Vintage Trailer Court or one of the town’s picturesque bed and breakfasts.

Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yuma: An Old West border town

Yuma is a small Arizona town in the extreme southwest corner of the state. Sitting along the banks of the Colorado River made Yuma a strategic location in the 18th and 19th centuries. Initially, it was missionaries who traveled this route. Passing through Yuma became one of the fastest ways to get out west during the California Gold Rush.

Yuma Territorial Prison © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today visitors to Yuma can get the feel of a real Old West town by visiting the historic downtown. The center of town took off during the gold rush years. Yuma was also home to the Yuma Territorial Prison which is now a state park. (The prison figured largely in the classic Western movie 3:10 to Yuma). Visit the Colorado River State Historic Park to learn about the importance of the crossing throughout the past few centuries.

>> Get more tips for visiting Yuma

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oatman: A braying good time

The ghost town of Oatman is a worthy destination to visit for history lovers and you will find businesses operating there despite the lack of residents. A must-stop on a Route 66 road trip, Oatman is another former mining town that offers the chance for visitors to experience the Old West as pictured in so many cowboy films.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While it’s a ghost town, in recent years it’s taken on new life as a popular tourist attraction. Wild burros roam the streets in search of treats, the carrots that are purchased from one of the numerous carrot stands. In fact, more burros reside in Oatman than humans. The population of about 100 people is mainly business owners who make a living off of the steady stream of tourist traffic that runs through the town annually.

>> Get more tips for visiting Oatman

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

Tubac: Artsy historic fun

Tubac is a small historic town 47 miles south of Tucson that today is a thriving artist colony. Unlike most Arizona small towns, the history of Tubac predates mining and cattle. Because of its location along the Santa Cruz River, it was a settlement for native tribes. Inhabited for 11,000 years before being established as a Spanish Presidio in 1752, the area is steeped in history which can be explored in Tubac Presidio State Historic Park. Here, hundreds of years and layers of history mingle together incorporating Native Peoples, Spanish Missionaries, and Mexican and American soldiers. History buffs should visit Tumacácori National Historic Park 5 miles south of town.

Tubac’s multiple art galleries line the sleepy streets of Tubac. The Tubac Center of the Arts hosts rotating exhibits, art workshops, and performances.

>> Get more tips for visiting Tubac

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jerome: Wicked and a little creepy

Jerome is a unique former copper mining town that’s perched up high on Cleopatra Hill, not far from Sedona. It’s a hair-raising drive up a twisty road to get there (Look straight ahead, not down). But the good part is the view of the surrounding valley is spectacular. You can even see many of Sedona’s red rocks in the distance.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jerome once had so many saloons it was dubbed The Wickedest Town in America. Now you can browse its funky shops and wet your whistle at atmospheric bars and restaurants. It also offers history buffs a wealth of experience through the Mine Museum displaying artifacts representing the town past and present. The Jerome State Historic Park, home to the Douglas Mansion, is now a museum.

Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cottonwood: Water & wine

Cottonwood sits alongside the Verde River in the valley just south of Jerome. Due to its location along a river, Cottonwood is a unique small Arizona town: it began its life as a farming community in the late 1800s. The cute main street has a midcentury feel.

Our first visit to Cottonwood in 2000 showed a small town without a lot going on. However, all those storefronts in Old Town with potential couldn’t stay empty for long. On numerous return visits, I’ve been delighted to see a town full of unique shops, cafes, and wine tasting rooms.

Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cottonwood has stayed true to its agricultural roots. Tuzigoot National Monument is just outside of town, the stone remains of this Indian pueblo providing evidence that this has been a prime growing country for centuries. The Verde Valley Wine Trail provides more modern evidence: rows of vines grace the gently sloping hills surrounding town and that musky smell of fermenting grapes permeates the air. Over 20 wineries and tasting rooms are open for sampling in and around the town.

>> Get more tips for visiting Cottonwood

Globe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Globe: Salado pueblo and copper

Globe was founded in the 1870s on copper mining and cattle and both are still important industries today. This central Arizona small town is equidistant from Phoenix and Tucson and makes a nice day trip or weekend destination.

Besh-ba-Gowah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the heart of Southern Arizona sits the former mining camp known as Globe. Founded in 1876 and incorporated in 1907, this lovely town is brimming with century-old buildings, cottages, and hillside houses. The historic downtown area is perfect for leisurely strolls and shopping for antiques while the Cobre Valley Center for the Arts is a great spot to explore and experience the talent of some incredible artists. Other areas of interest include the Besh-ba-Gowah Archeological Park which features stunning ruins of a Salado pueblo along with an accompanying museum.

>> Get more tips for visiting Globe

Kingman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kingman: Cars, trains, and electricity

Kingman was established as a railroad town in the 1880s and soon grew thanks to mining in the surrounding area. Historic Route 66 passes right through town; Kingman is the westernmost Arizona town on the mother road. Andy Devine, one of the early stars of western movies, is from Kingman. To celebrate this celluloid hero, the portion of Route 66 that goes through the center of town is known as Andy Devine Avenue.

Kingman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today Kingman has a real road trip feel and celebrates its motoring and railroad heritage. The multi-purpose Powerhouse Visitor Center is in an old converted power station. You’ll also find the Arizona Route 66 Museum and the Arizona Route 66 Electric Vehicle Museum there.

Across the street in Locomotive Park train geeks will love the ogling historic old steam engine #3579. And there is no shortage of Route 66 photo-ops: the logo is displayed all over town on signs and painted on the street.

Patagonia State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Patagonia: Chill at a bird-lover’s paradise

Patagonia is a small town nestled high in the Santa Rita Mountains about an hour southeast of Tucson. Once a mining town, Patagonia today is focused on cattle ranching and recreation. The wine-growing region of Sonoita is just 12 miles north.

The Sonoita Creek flows through Patagonia year-round (a rarity in Arizona’s dry climate). As a result, the region is a popular flyway for many unique types of birds⏤and is a great spot for birdwatchers. Downtown Patagonia has a few funky art galleries, shops, and cafes. The town’s high altitude (4,500 feet) keeps it cool in the summer, and many visitors like to stay for a week, enjoying nearby State Park at Patagonia Lake or ropin’ and ridin’ at the historic Circle Z Ranch.

Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Sanctuary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A visit to any of these beautiful historical towns in Arizona will let you take a peek into what the times of the Wild West were really like. Visit an abandoned ghost town, a National Historic Site, or a museum in any of these destinations to learn more about the people and life in early American history. You can also appreciate the scenic landscapes and rich biodiversity that Arizona has to offer, including the scenic backdrop of rugged cliffs and mountains at every turn.

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

An Unforgettable 3-Day Road Trip through Southern Arizona

See historic Spanish missions, sky islands, Arizona’s first wine region, and more on this journey from Tucson

The Southwest shines on this route through the saguaro-studded desert up into high mountains where rare birds flit and spectacular sunsets give way to dark skies spangled by stars. Tucson anchors this tour, rich in history, and resonates with the scents of great food and local wines. Consider adding a couple of days to the beginning or end of the trip to explore Saguaro National Park whose two districts are each about 20 minutes from downtown Tucson. ​​​

San Xavier de Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 1: San Xavier del Bac, Tumacácori, and Tubac Presidio (57 miles)

Explore Southwestern history on visits to three Spanish colonial missions and enjoy the opportunity to stock up on spices. En route, you’ll encounter dramatic mountain vistas.

From Tucson, drive south on Interstate 19 for 8 miles and take exit 92 for San Xavier del Bac Mission. Fondly known as the White Dove of the Desert, San Xavier is one of the finest examples of Spanish colonial architecture in the United States. 

San Xavier de Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mission San Xavier is on the Tohono O’odham Reservation. Tohono O’odham means Desert People. The Tohono O’odham were farming along the Santa Cruz River when Spanish Jesuit priest Eusebio Francisco Kino established the original mission here in 1692.

San Xavier de Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This dramatic, sugar-white church with a masonry vault roof was completed 105 years later. A National Historic Landmark, San Xavier Mission is a mixture of Moorish, Spanish, and American Indian art and architecture. Its brick walls are six feet thick in some places and are coated with a limestone-based plaster with a formula that includes the juice from prickly pear cactus pads.

San Xavier del Bac is a magnet to those that appreciate art, statues, sculptures, and paintings of its original times. The interior is filled with brightly painted carvings of apostles and saints and ornate décor statues that are draped in real clothing.

Tumacácori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drive south on I-19 another 39 miles to the serene Tumacácori National Historical Park. Indigenous peoples including the Nde, O’odham, and Yoeme frequented this lush area along the Santa Cruz River for generations.

The San Cayetano del Tumacácori Mission was established in 1691 by Spanish Jesuit priest Eusebio Francisco Kino, 29 miles north of Nogales beside the Santa Cruz River. 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

Mission life became impossible because of the Mexican-American War cutting off supply routes, an increase in Apache raids, and a severe winter. The community made the difficult decision to leave Tumacácori taking their valuables with them to Mission San Xavier del Bac.

Explore the evocative grounds where many adobe structures have melted back into the earth. Enter the striking ruins. The main chamber has a nave, altar, and remains of a choir loft with links to smaller rooms including a baptistery, sacristy, and sanctuary. Behind the church are a granary, mortuary, and a cemetery with original graves marked by simple wooden crosses.

Tumacácori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Continue on I-19, but pause just one-third of a mile down the road at the Santa Cruz Chili & Spice Company. The wonderfully fragrant store sells everything from adobo to whole sage leaves. Don’t miss the house-made hot sauces which add jalapeños, green chiles, and spices to a tomato base.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Backtrack north 4 miles on I-19 to the artsy town of Tubac for dinner at Elvira’s which serves contemporary Mexican dishes in a chic dining room. Be adventurous and try the hazelnut mole.

This small community has an impressive collection of galleries, studios, one-of-a-kind shops, and dining options.

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © 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.

Where to camp: De Anza RV Resort, Amado (8 miles north of Tubac)

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 2: Madera Canyon, Tombstone, and Bisbee (124 miles)

Start on a sky island, an isolated mountain that steeply rises above the desert daytime heat and overall harsh and dry conditions. Fifty-five of these peaks form the Madrean Archipelago stretching from Mexico into the Southwest and featuring some of the planet’s richest biodiversity.

Driving upward can mimic a trip north to the Canadian border as you pass through dry scrub, grasslands, and oak and pine forests while ascending to where alpine species flourish. These ecosystems provide a refuge for humans and animals alike and offer world-class birding such as Madera Canyon, 12 miles southeast from Green Valley on I-19. This area perched high on the northwestern face of the Santa Rita Mountains attracts 15 hummingbird species including the rare Calliope, North America’s tiniest feathered friend.

Proctor parking area, Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For a good stroll, try the Proctor loop: a paved, accessible, three-quarters-of-a-mile route that departs from the first Madera Canyon Recreation Area parking lot. You may see deer and songbirds along the trail and look for the Whipple Observatory shining off to the west on Mount Hopkins.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amp things up in Tombstone, 65 miles to the east mainly via state routes 83 and 82. During its 1880s heyday, Tombstone, the Town Too Tough to Die, boasted 10,000 gunslingers, gamblers, prospectors, and prostitutes. Sparked by Edward Schieffelin’s silver strike (skeptics warned he’d only find his own tombstone), the raucous town boasted more than 60 saloons.

This town leans into its Western heritage especially the 30-second shootout at the O.K. Corral which pitted corrupt, power-hungry lawmen against cowboys who moonlighted as thieves and murderers.

OK Corral © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The fierce gunfight was quick and when the bullets stopped flying, Billy Clanton, Tom McLaury, and Frank McLaury lay dead. Billy’s brother, Ike Clanton kept his life that day but was eventually murdered near Springerville, Arizona. Virgil and Morgan Earp needed weeks to recover from serious wounds but Doc Holliday was barely grazed by a bullet. Surprisingly, Wyatt Earp was unscathed.

Actors re-create the gunfight three times daily (at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m.) and many locals and visitors wear period dress throughout the compact historic center where stagecoaches still kick up dust.

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience a different slice of Gilded Age history in Bisbee, 23 miles southeast on SR 80. Mining started here in 1887, thanks to one of the world’s richest mineral deposits. The “Queen of the Copper Camps” grew into the biggest city between St. Louis and San Francisco for a spell. It faltered when the mine closed in 1975 though it found new life as a refuge for artists, bohemians, and retirees. Check out its galleries and unique shops such as downtown’s Óptimo Custom Hatworks which sells stylish toppers made from toquilla straw and beaver- and rabbit-fur felt.

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walking the steep streets can be quite a workout. Refuel at Table on Main Street with drunken mushrooms sautéed in a garlic cream sauce made from Old Bisbee Brewery’s European-style pilsner.

Where to stay: Tombstone RV Park, Tombstone. In Bisbee, book one of 12 vintage trailers or even a 1947 Chris-Craft yacht at the Shady Dell, 4 miles southwest of town, primarily reached via SR 80.

On the road to Patagonia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 3: Wine country and Tucson (158 miles)

Wineries don’t readily come to mind when I think of Arizona but the state has a thriving and growing wine industry. Wine making in Arizona dates back to the 16th century during the Spanish occupation of this area. The modern wine era began in the 1970s. Arizona winemaking has grown from a curiosity to a serious scene since then.

Arizona has three wine trails—Sonoita/Elgin, Verde Valley, and Willcox. The Sonoita/Elgin region is where the modern Arizona wine era began. There are 10 wineries on the trail. 

Patagonia State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drive 70 miles west on state routes 80, 90 and 82 to Patagonia, a wine country hub known for its quirky cafés and boutiques. For lunch, stop at downtown’s Velvet Elvis—honoring the Mexican painting style, not the King—which the governor’s office named an Arizona Treasure. Try the Pancho Villa pizza with Asiago, jalapeños, and house-made beef chorizo.

Sonoita Creek State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Patagonia drive 13 miles northeast on SR-82 to Sonoita. Located right off of the main road heading into Sonoita, Dos Cabezas WineWorks has been serving up its wine since 1995. The wines are made with all estate-grown grapes and are mostly blends (except for their single varietal Syrah). Their blends are made using several different varietals and cover the gamut of whites, Rosés, and reds. The La Montaña may be the most memorable because it is a 50/50 blend of the bold Syrah and Petit Verdot. 

Drive northeast another 7 miles to Rune Wines the state’s only solar-powered off-the-grid vineyard. Rune is located at the top of the hill between mile markers 39 and 40 on Highway 82 in Sonoita (that’s how directions are given around here) and overlooks the beautiful Arizona landscape.  It offers tastings outside under a shade canopy where you can soak up panoramic views of the high desert grasslands. For a well-balanced red, the 2019 Wild Syrah pleases with bold berry notes.

The Old Presidio, Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since 82 percent of Arizona land is owned by Native tribes and state and federal governments large roadless stretches remain on the map. Since you can’t head directly west, backtrack 55 miles northwest to Tucson for the night mainly on SR 82 and I-10. Head to Tito & Pep, a bistro known for mesquite-fired cuisine for dinner. Seasonally shifting vegetable dishes dazzle here especially the roasted carrots with labneh, pomegranate, and sunflower seeds.

Where to stay: Tucson/Lazydays KOA or Rincon West RV Resort

Plan your road trip through southern Arizona with these resources:

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

Beautiful Experiences Extraordinary Places

My ever-growing list of Extraordinary Places will help take your road trip planning to the next level. Hand-picked, I promise each one is worth the detour.

While it’s entirely possible that one person’s travel treasure can be another’s trash, sharing insider tips with others is one of the best parts of returning from any road trip. For me, the lure of the road is constant and my travel bucket lists are infinite. Picking favorites is almost impossible but I’ve tried curating a list of Extraordinary Places to enhance your next road trip.

Painted Churches of Fayette County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What is an Extraordinary Place?

Extraordinary Places are the places that stay with you long after visiting. They are the places that fill you with wonder. They are epic natural wonders, weird roadside attractions, and deeply meaningful locations. Simply put, Extraordinary Places turn a great road trip into an unforgettable adventure.   

Here are just some of the places that I love the most—that is, until I hit the road again and discover new favorites. Explore my list and start planning your next road trip today.

The Breakers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Breakers, Newport, Rhode Island

The Breakers is a Vanderbilt mansion located on Ochre Point Avenue in Newport along the Atlantic Ocean. It is a National Historic Landmark, a contributing property to the Bellevue Avenue Historic District, and is owned and operated by the Preservation Society of Newport County. The Breakers is the grandest of Newport’s summer “cottages” and a symbol of the Vanderbilt family’s social and financial preeminence in turn of the century America.  Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877) established the family fortune in steamships and later in the New York Central Railroad which was a pivotal development in the industrial growth of the nation during the late 19th century.

The Breakers is the most famous of the Gilded Age Newport Mansions for good reason. It’s breathtaking in scope and scale. The design of this grand home was inspired by European palaces and every room is more lavish than the last.

Blue Bell ice cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Brenham, Texas

The main attraction in Brenham is the Blue Bell Ice Cream factory which opened in 1907. Visitors can stop by the creamery’s Ice Cream Parlor for a generous scoop, learn about the history from the visitor’s center, shop at the Country Store, and watch the production from the observation deck. Be sure to take a photo with the statue of the brand’s iconic logo, a little girl leading a cow on a rope.

Related article: Extraordinary Places

Blue Bell ice cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While the ice cream alone is worth the trip, the town is also the main hub of Washington County with a plethora of attractions within in a 12-mile radius. Highlights include the Texas Cotton Gin Museum and Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site where the Texas Declaration of Independence was signed on March 2, 1836, liberating the state from Mexico. Located on the scenic Brazos River, the park includes The Star of the Republic Museum, which details the Texas Republic period, and Barrington Plantation, the home of the last President of the Texas Republic.

Gettysburg National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania

The Battle of Gettysburg was a turning point in the Civil War, the Union victory that ended General Robert E. Lee’s second and most ambitious invasion of the North. Often referred to as the “High Water Mark of the Rebellion”, Gettysburg was the Civil War’s bloodiest battle and was also the inspiration for President Abraham Lincoln’s immortal “Gettysburg Address”.

Gettysburg National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gettysburg is the kind of place you could make a quick stop or spend a full day exploring. The battlefield has roads so it’s easy to drive from one monument or site to the next. There’s an audio tour and there is even an app you can download to help add dimension to what you’re seeing and to find the highlights at the park.

Related article: 10 Amazing Places to RV in October

It’s especially haunting thinking about the brave and dedicated men who walked into certain death across open fields during battle. It helps to have an appreciation for military history but even families will enjoy a visit. Some recommended reading beforehand: The Red Badge of Courage for background and The Killer Angels.

Painted churches © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Painted Churches of Fayette County, Texas

The term “Painted” comes from the elaborate faux-finished interiors—painted by itinerant artists who advertised in church bulletins and newspapers. Gold-leafed, stone, and polished marble columns and ceilings are (upon closer examination) finely-fitted woodwork. The paint—mixed on site—is still vibrant and bright—even after all these years.

Painted churches © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the mid-1800s, thousands of German and Czech immigrants left Europe due to poverty in search of a new dream and landed in Central Texas.  These communities embraced America and the promise of their new future while still preserving the traditional values, culture, food, and faith of their homelands. Each community of ~600 families came together to build their community church—purchasing the statues and donating them to the churches. They decorated the interiors with colors and symbols to remind them of their homelands.

The Painted Churches are in a tight cluster (relatively speaking) in southern Fayette County near Schulenburg. The tour can easily be a day trip from Houston, Austin, or San Antonio.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tubac, Arizona

In Arizona, several villages have been preserved in their original state; however, none are quite as untouched as the beautiful artist colony of Tubac. Located on the Santa Cruz River in Southern Arizona, it was founded in 1752 when the Spanish army built the Presidio of San Ignacio de Tubac, in other words, the Fort of Tubac. It was established to protect the Spanish missions and settlements which were located around the Santa Cruz River Valley. Today, Tubac Presido is a state historic park.

Tubac Presidio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With a population of nearly 1,200, the town has become famous for the Festival of the Arts in February. As an artist colony, Tubac is home to 100 art galleries, home decor shops, jewelers, potters, and artists of all kinds. You can purchase clothing, paintings, sculptures, and many other hand-crafted items which have been made by the locals.

Related article: Discover Arizona’s Extraordinary Verde Valley

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Canyonlands invites you to explore a wilderness of countless canyons and fantastically formed buttes carved by the Colorado River and its tributaries. Rivers divide the park into four districts: the Island in the Sky, the Needles, the Maze, and the rivers themselves. These areas share a primitive desert atmosphere but each offers different opportunities for sightseeing and adventure.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands National Park preserves one of the last, relatively undisturbed areas of the Colorado Plateau, a geological province that encompasses much of the Colorado River and its tributaries. Carved out of vast sedimentary rock deposits this landscape of canyons, mesas, and deep river gorges possess remarkable natural features that are part of a unique desert ecosystem. With elevations ranging from 3,700 to 7,200 feet Canyonlands experiences very hot summers, cold winters, and less than ten inches of rain each year. Even daily temperatures may fluctuate as much as 50 degrees.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia and North Carolina

Are you in the mood for a leisurely, legendary drive? If so, head for the Blue Ridge Parkway where the speed limit sits at a comfortable 45 mph, and commercial vehicles are strictly prohibited. Snaking through the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia and North Carolina, the 469-mile route connects the Shenandoah and the Great Smoky Mountains national parks. For prime leaf-peeping, visit in autumn when foliage explodes in a brilliant display of crimson, auburn, and golden leaves. 

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Can’t-miss pit stop: Spend some time at Mount Pisgah in North Carolina, famous for its extensive network of hiking trails and the storied Pisgah Inn which dates back to 1919.

Mount Dora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Dora, Florida

Time slows down in this quaint Florida town filled with unique shops and delicious eateries.  Located approximately 45 minutes north of Disney World, Mount Dora is like a real-life Main Street U.S.A. This small town is known for its boutique stores and the downtown area is filled with eateries, and tasty coffee, and ice cream shops. Cruise on Lake Dora, sip on a signature cocktail while enjoying the spectacular sunset, and slow down and take in the relaxing atmosphere. 

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia

There’s no experience quite like the untamed beauty of Cumberland Island National Seashore, a barrier island only accessible by boat from the small town of St. Marys. Home to a handful of residents and a whole lot of wildlife, it’s an incredible place to go off-grid. Visitors can hike the miles of trails sharing the space with wild horses, alligators, and birds.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tours are available of historic Carnegie mansions like Plum Orchard and the ruins of Dungeness. On the northern side of the island, you can see the First African Baptist Church, a historic African-American church where John F. Kennedy Jr. was famously married. To spend the night, choose from the multiple tenting campsites or the luxurious Greyfield Inn set in another Carnegie home with chef-prepared meals and naturalist tours.

Mission San Jose © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Antonio Missions National Historic Park

Four of the original six Spanish colonial missions built along the San Antonio River make up the park. The missions continue to be used as places of worship by parishioners and can be toured daily by park visitors, Learning about the craftsmanship of the architecture, the extensive acequia system (irrigation canals), and the grist mill built in the 18th century takes visitors beyond the religious aspects and into the past lifestyles of the people who built and lived in these missions. The visitor center at Mission San Jose has museum exhibits and an introductory film about the establishment of the San Antonio missions.

Related article: Texas is BIG—Beautiful & Diverse

Worth Pondering…

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.

—Albert Einstein

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.

10 Amazing Places to RV in February 2022

If you’re dreaming of where to travel to experience it all, here are my picks for the best places to RV in February

The past year and a half have been marked by tragedy, upheaval, and loss. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, our lives have been locked down, our freedoms curtailed, our hospitals brought to the brink, and children forced from their classrooms.

“Freedom is something that dies unless it’s used.”

—Hunter S. Thompson

Hunter S. Thompson refused to be bound by any conventions, especially in his writing. As a reporter in the 1960s and ’70s, he made no attempts at objectivity and often anointed himself the main character in narratives he was dispatched to just observe. This quote derives from one of the last career-spanning interviews he granted, a 2003 conversation with “Salon.” Thompson was speaking not about how he emerged as gonzo journalism’s leading voice but about complacency in general. Exercising our liberties is how we build a better world for ourselves, our communities, and future generations.

Enjoy your journey—RV living is the freedom lifestyle.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in December and January. Also, check out my recommendations from February 2021.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camp at Alamo Lake

Alamo Lake is perhaps the most remote of Arizona State Parks. The lanky piece of water stretches along the base of desert mountains down a dead-end road 37 miles north of Wenden.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A legendary bass fishing spot, the lake is often dotted with boats. This is where you come for peace and solitude. Nearly 250 campsites ($15-$30 per night) and four cabins ($70 per night) overlook the water.

Related Article: 10 Amazing Places to RV in February

Even though there are no official hiking trails, the wild burros will lend you some of their routes. The sparse terrain makes cross-country travel fairly easy. And just about every hilltop affords a beautiful panorama of the lake.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yet as impressive as the daytime vistas are, the ones at night are even more amazing. Alamo offers an incredible night sky with a canopy of glittering stars stretching from horizon to horizon and punctuated by the frosted river of the Milky Way.

Park admission is $10 per vehicle.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Southeastern Wildlife Exposition

The largest wildlife and nature event of its kind, the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition (SEWE) features artwork by 500 wildlife artists, educational wildlife shows, falconry, and retriever demonstrations. SEWE is a celebration of the great outdoors through fine art, live entertainment, and special events. It’s where artists, craftsmen, collectors, and sporting enthusiasts come together to enjoy the outdoor lifestyle and connect through a shared interest in wildlife. The largest event of its kind in the U.S., SEWE promises attendees unforgettable experiences every February (17-20, 2022) in Charleston, South Carolina.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since the inaugural event was held in February 1983, SEWE has become an important event in Charleston, kicking off the city’s tourism season and becoming synonymous with Presidents’ Day weekend celebrations. The original show hosted 100 artists and exhibitors and 5,000 attendees. Now SEWE welcomes approximately 500 artists, exhibitors, and wildlife experts and 40,000 attendees annually.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience the nation’s premier celebration of wildlife art and the great outdoors at the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition. Hunt for your next piece of fine art, collect handcrafted goods, witness live demonstrations, and get a taste of the Lowcountry.

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Greater Palm Springs

Surely, this one doesn’t require much convincing. Along with the weather—which stays in the 70s and 80s year-round—and the gorgeous desert vistas, you can basically get anything you want during your visit to Palm Springs. Spa getaway? Check. Hiking adventure? Check.

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re staying in Palm Springs proper, there’s no need to leave Highway 111, which has everything within walking (or free trolley!). If you’re in one of the neighboring cities, you’re probably there for relaxation. Make the quick jaunt out to the trippy paradise that is Joshua Tree National Park and the equally weird town of Joshua Tree proper.

Related Article: The Ultimate RV Travel Bucket List: 51 Best Places to Visit in North America

Tabasco factory © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Avery Island

Louisiana’s Cajun Country is home to the world’s favorite hot sauce. Avery Island is the birthplace of Tabasco Brand Products including TABASCO pepper sauce. Lush subtropical flora and live oaks draped with Spanish moss cover this geological oddity which is one of five islands rising above south Louisiana’s flat coastal marshes.

Tabasco Country Store © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 2,200-acre tract sits atop a deposit of solid rock salt thought to be deeper than Mount Everest is high. Geologists believe this deposit is the remnant of a buried ancient seabed, pushed to the surface by the sheer weight of surrounding alluvial sediments. Although covered with a layer of fertile soil, salt springs may have attracted prehistoric settlers to the island as early as 12,000 years ago.

After the Civil War, former New Orleans banker E. McIlhenny met a traveler recently arrived from Mexico who gave McIlhenny a handful of pepper pods, advising him to season his meals with them. McIlhenny saved some of the pods and planted them in his garden on Avery Island.

Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Around 1866 McIlhenny experimented with making a hot sauce from these peppers, hitting upon a formula that called for crushing the reddest, ripest peppers, stirring in Avery Island salt, and aging the concoction he then added French white wine vinegar, hand-stirring it regularly to blend the flavors.

Jungle Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After straining, he transferred the sauce to small cologne-type bottles, which he corked and sealed in green wax. That hot sauce proved so popular with family and friends that McIlhenny decided to market it, growing his first commercial crop in 1868.

Jungle Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, Avery Island remains the home of the Tabasco Factory, as well as Jungle Gardens and its Bird City waterfowl refuge. The Tabasco factory and the gardens are open to the public.

In addition to the original red pepper sauce, other hot sauces available for purchase in the TABASCO Country Store include green jalapeño, chipotle pepper, cayenne garlic, habanero pepper, scorpion, sriracha, sweet & spicy, and buffalo style. TABASCO hot sauces can also be purchased online.

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

Art and History of Tubac

In Arizona, there are several villages that have been preserved in their original state; however, none are quite as untouched as the beautiful artist colony of Tubac. Located on the Santa Cruz River in Southern Arizona, it was founded in 1752 when the Spanish army built the Presidio of San Ignacio de Tubac, in other words, the Fort of Tubac. It was established in order to protect the Spanish missions and settlements which were located around the Santa Cruz River Valley. Today, Tubac Presidio is a state historic park.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With a population of nearly 1,200, the town has become famous for the Festival of the Arts in February. As an artist colony, Tubac is home to 100 art galleries, home decor shops, jewelers, potters, and artists of all kinds. You can purchase clothing, paintings, sculptures, and many other hand-crafted items which have been made by the locals.

Related Article: Best Places for RV Travel this February

Kenedy County Courthouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sarita, Texas

You may have passed this county seat because you were too busy looking at your fuel gauge. It’s on Highway 77 on route to The Valley between Kingsville and Raymondville. Sarita was once part of the Kenedy Ranch and John G. Kenedy named the town after his daughter Sarita Kenedy East when it was established in 1904 as a center for the ranch and the Kenedy Pasture Company. Kenedy Ranch Museum is worth a visit. Take a picture of the Courthouse as I did, nobody will bother you. Look for gophers on the courthouse lawn. There isn’t much more to do. The population is up from 185 in 1993.

Atchafalaya National Heritage Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area

From upland forests to Cypress/Tupelo swamps, to an active land-building river delta, the Atchafalaya has lots to see. The Atchafalaya National Heritage Area, known as “America’s Foreign Country,” is full of opportunities to take advantage of the great outdoors. Whether it’s paddling on the sparkling waters, hiking through the lush greenery, biking on winding paths, or keeping an eye out for that elusive bird you’ve been looking for­—the Atchafalaya National Heritage area has everything to offer. 

Atchafalaya National Heritage Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An American-Indian word, “Atchafalaya” (Think of a sneeze: uh-CHA-fuh-lie-uh) means long river. Established in 2006, the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area (NHA) stretches across 14 parishes in south-central Louisiana. It is among the most culturally rich and ecologically varied regions in the United States, home to the Cajun culture as well as a diverse population of European, African, Caribbean, and Native-American descent.

With a story around every bend in the river and music from every corner, the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area is an ever-changing landscape.

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Discover the Wild Side of Florida

Meet a manatee face-to-face without even getting wet at Florida’s Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. Underwater viewing stations allow visitors to see the manatees—and other fish they swim with—up close and personal at this showcase for Florida’s native wildlife.

Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Known as a year-round home for West Indian manatees, the park is also an animal education center with mammals such as panthers, bobcats, foxes, deer, wolves, black bears, and otters; birds such as eagles, hawks, flamingos, vultures, and owls; and, of course, plenty of alligators.

Related Article: RV Travel Bucket List: 20 Places to Visit Before You Die

Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors enter the preserve by taking a tram or a boat ride. You also can walk to the main entrance via the ¾-mile Pepper Creek Trail. The tram is the fastest way to go and it may be your only option if the weather is not cooperating. If the weather cooperates you can opt for the boat. You may see alligators, raccoons, and deer; birds small and large, such as nesting ospreys; and turtles, including the alligator snapping turtles, painted turtles, and red-eared sliders.

Mobile Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mardi Gras

“But, after all, if, as a child, you saw, every Mardi Gras, the figure of Folly chasing Death around the broken column of Life, beating him on the back with a Fool’s Scepter from which dangled two gilded pig bladders; or the figure of Columbus dancing drunkenly on top of a huge revolving globe of the world; or Revelry dancing on an enormous upturned wine glass—wouldn’t you see the world in different terms, too?”

—From The Untidy Pilgrim by Eugene Walter 

Mobile Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mobile is the birthplace of America’s original Mardi Gras? That’s right, Mardi Gras originated in 1703 in Mobile, Alabama. It was revived after the Civil War when citizen Joe Cain, fed up with post-war misery, led an impromptu parade down city streets. The city has been doing it ever since and marks the annual occasion with spectacular parades, colorful floats, and flying Moon Pies. Mardi Gras celebrations begin two and a half weeks before Fat Tuesday (March 1, 2022) and the Port City comes to life. Elaborately themed floats manned by masked mystic societies; mounted police, and marching bands wind through downtown Mobile and surrounding areas, entertaining nearly a million revelers each year.

Mobile Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Mobile Carnival is a family-friendly time of parties, balls, parades, and revelry. Find your spot and get ready to catch Moon Pies, beads, and trinkets. And not to forget the man who kept Mardi Gras alive, Joe Cain Day is observed the Sunday before Fat Tuesday. 

Start your Mardi Gras adventure in Mobile at the Mobile Carnival Museum. The Mobile Carnival Museum highlights the history of Mardi Gras in its true birthplace—Mobile, Alabama. The museum features 14 galleries, video presentations, a pictorial hallway, and an interactive float area—all in a restored historic mansion.

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Slice of Paradise

Get back to nature with an unparalleled experience at the Padre Island National Seashore. With more than 70 miles of unspoiled coastline and 130,000 acres of pristine sand dunes and grassy prairies, it’s fair to say there’s no place quite like the Padre Island National Seashore.

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the beach to the bay, Padre Island National Seashore offers countless opportunities to discover and enjoy the amazing recreation and resources of the park. Take a dip in the Gulf of Mexico or build a sandcastle. Swim in the recreation area at Bird Island Basin or in the Gulf of Mexico. Use caution when swimming and never swim alone. Strong currents flowing parallel to the beach, tides flowing to-and-from the beach, and sudden drop-offs in the Gulf floor can be dangerous for swimmers and waders alike.

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Padre Island National Seashore has access to the Laguna Madre waters through the boat ramps at Bird Island Basin. The boat ramps are located separately from the campground at Bird Island Basin limiting traffic through the campground. There is plenty of parking at the boat ramps for day use but the boat ramp parking can still fill up quickly. Spring and fall usually are the busiest as anglers use Bird Island Basin as a closer entry point to access the legendary Baffin Bay in search of trophy trout.

Read Next: The Best RV Camping February 2021

Worth Pondering…

Always maintain a kind of summer, even in the middle of winter.

—Henry David Thoreau

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.

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

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.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

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.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

Most Beautiful Towns in the Southwest

An area full of history, the American Southwest is dotted with beautiful towns worthy of exploration

From former mining town gems to desert beauties, and mountain charmers, here are seven of the most beautiful towns in the Southwest.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tubac, Arizona

Colorful architecture and mountain backdrops define Tubac’s Southwest scenery. See both at Tumacácori National Historical Park, where O’odham, Yaqui, and Apache people once dwelled. Tubac Presidio State Historic Park offers a glimpse at 2,000 years of Arizona history. Tubac features over 100 eclectic shops and world-class galleries situated along meandering streets with hidden courtyards and sparkling fountains.

Bryce Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Panguitch, Utah

Panguitch captures the enduring pioneer spirit of Utah with its welcoming rural charm and a strong sense of heritage. Much of the town’s main drag sits on the National Register of Historic Places and offers quaint, Western-themed local shopping and dining options.

Related: American Small Towns Can’t-Wait To Visit Again

Panguitch is an important base camp for many of Southern Utah’s top natural attractions including Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks, two vast expanses of national forests (Fishlake and Dixie), two national monuments (Cedar Breaks and Grand Staircase-Escalante), and several state parks.

Lake Powell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Page, Arizona

A small town in northern Arizona, Page is located on the southern shores of magnificent Lake Powell in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The location is ideal for exploring many of the American Southwest’s national parks and monuments and discovering the unique culture of the Navajo Nation. Marvel at the beauty of the slot canyons as you hike with a Navajo guide in Antelope Canyon. Enjoy the majesty of the lake and surrounding red rock desert. Explore hundreds of miles of shoreline by houseboat powerboat, or kayak.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jerome, Arizona

A charming National Historic Landmark on Cleopatra Hill, Jerome is a former mining town. Meandering around the hilly, winding streets, visitors will discover galleries and art studios. Not forgetting its past, Jerome offers history buffs a wealth of experience through the Mine Museum, displaying artifacts representing the town’s past and present, and the Jerome State Historic Park, home to the Douglas Mansion.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oatman, Arizona

There is perhaps no better small-town welcoming committee than a group of friendly donkeys. Such is the case in Oatman where visitors will see the wild burros that freely roam the streets.

Related: Must-See under the Radar Small Towns to Seek (Out)

The oldest continuously-inhabited mining settlement in Arizona, the town has stayed (relatively) populated thanks to its desirable location on Route 66—which it pays hearty homage to with the main street full of themed souvenir shops. It’s also notably home to the Oatman Hotel where actor Clark Gable and starlet Carole Lombard are rumored to have stayed after getting hitched in the nearby town of Kingman. 

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesilla, New Mexico

Although the town of Mesilla, in Southern New Mexico, is home to a mere 2,196 people, it’s a fascinating place to visit. Here you’ll find well-preserved architecture, history worth delving into, and high-quality restaurants. The plaza is the heart of Mesilla and that’s a good place to start exploring. In fact, it’s a national historic landmark. The San Albino Basilica dominates one side of the plaza. This Romanesque church was built in 1906 although its bells are older, dating back to the 1870s and 1880s.

Patagonia State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Patagonia, Arizona

Spectacular scenery, Old West culture, mining history, and ghost towns meet art galleries and Arizona’s Wine Country vineyards. Patagonia is a renowned destination for birders attracted by the area’s spectacular array of exotic and unusual birds.

Related: Fascinating Small Towns You Should Visit on Your Next Road Trip

The Nature Conservancy’s Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve and Patagonia Lake State Park are known for the 300 species of birds that migrate through or nest along their creeks and waterways. The Paton’s house is well known for its hospitality to hummingbirds and the people who like to watch them.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Moab, Utah

This eastern Utah town serves as a gateway to the otherworldly rock formations found in Arches National Park and the numerous canyons and buttes in Canyonlands National Park. One of the top adventure towns in the world, Moab is surrounded by a sea of buckled, twisted, and worn sandstone sculpted by millennia of sun, wind, and rain.

Borrego Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Borrego Springs, California

Smack in the middle of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park lies the unpretentious town of Borrego Springs, population 3,429. It’s the only California town that is completely surrounded by a state park, and that’s just one item on its list of bragging rights. It’s also an official International Dark Sky Community—the first in California—dedicated to protecting the night sky from light pollution.

Borrego sculptors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The downtown area has a passel of ice cream shops, restaurants, and lodgings, but the local art scene evokes the most community pride.

Here, in the middle of the desert, is a magical menagerie of free-standing sculptures that will astound you. Supersize prehistoric and fantastical beasts line area roads, the work of metal sculptor Ricardo Breceda.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tombstone, Arizona

Tombstone is a notorious, historic boomtown. Originally a mining hotspot, Tombstone was the largest productive silver district in Arizona. However, since that was long ago tapped dry, Tombstone mostly relies on tourism now and capitalizes on its fame for being the site of the Gunfight at the O.K Corral—a showdown between famous lawmen including Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday and the Clanton brothers.

Related: Most Delightful Small Towns to Visit

East Allen Street is worth exploring: its boardwalks are lined with shops, saloons, and restaurants. Visit the Cochise County Courthouse and gallows yard which is now a museum.

Worth Pondering…

Oh, I could have lived anywhere in the world, if I hadn’t seen the West.

—Joyce Woodson

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

Thanksgiving Road Trip: See the Best of Arizona in these 8 Places

There’s a lot more to Arizona than the Grand Canyon which is why these eight places are the perfect excuse to take a Thanksgiving road trip

This Thanksgiving, be grateful not just for the four-day weekend, but how it allows plenty of time to see Arizona at its best—winter to the north, t-shirt weather to the south.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The state’s scenic variety shines through as fall edges toward winter. Even as snow blankets the high country, the desert sun continues to warm snowbirds who bask in it on desert hikes.

The long Thanksgiving weekend provides the perfect opportunity to spend a day or two on the road, seeing areas that have perhaps escaped your view. Here are some suggestions to get you on your way.

Sandhill cranes at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Willcox

This up-and-coming town in southeastern Arizona is attracting visitors who come for its wineries and tasting rooms, but you’re here to hike in Chiricahua National Monument and see the sandhill cranes. The majestic birds winter in the Sulphur Springs area, and Willcox is the perfect hub. Thousands of cranes roost in Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, a shallow lake that is a flurry activity at sunup and sundown, when birds depart and return in a swirling cloud of feathers.

Tumacacori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tubac and Tumacacori

Head south on Interstate 19 to Tumacacori National Historical Park, where a stately though incomplete mission stands as a reminder of the Spanish Franciscans who settled in the area two centuries ago. After soaking in the history, head 3½ miles back north for lunch in Tubac, a charming arts colony. Stroll among dozens of galleries and studios where you’ll find pottery, jewelry, paintings, and works in all sorts of media.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boyce Thompson Arboretum

See just how lush the desert can be at this oasis of more than 3,000 types of Sonoran Desert vegetation. At 392 acres, Boyce Thompson is Arizona’s largest and oldest botanical garden founded in the 1920s. There are 3 miles of trails and the most popular is the 1.5-mile main loop that offers a perfect overview. 

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Montezuma Castle National Monument

You’ve lost count how many times you’ve whipped past the off ramp for Montezuma Castle as you head north on Interstate 17. But go ahead, angle right at Exit 289 and be rewarded with a look at a work of ingenuity and architectural design, circa 1200. The ancient dwellers carved a 40- to 50-room pueblo into the cliff and lived there for 400 years. Visitors in the early 20th century scaled ladders and explored the rooms, but ruins are off limits today. No matter, because the view from below is stunning.

Cathedral Rock at Red Rock Crossing © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock Crossing, Sedona

Among the dozens of Instagram-worthy sites around Sedona, this is one of the best. Its official name is Crescent Moon Picnic Site but it’s commonly called Red Rock Crossing. Cathedral Rock soars in the distance, its two towers book-ending a slender spire offering the perfect backdrop to Oak Creek, which flows along rocks worn smooth by water and wind. It’s also said to be home to a powerful spiritual vortex. For something more palpable, pack a lunch and dine in one of Arizona’s prettiest places.

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bisbee

For a few years, Bisbee was the “it” destination, named Arizona’s prettiest small town by a number of travel sites. That level of attention may have dwindled, but the former mining town is as beautiful as ever. A stroll down Main Street reveals buildings that look much as they did a hundred years ago, now occupied by restaurants and boutiques rather than miners and speculators. If you head 3 miles south to Lowell, you’ll find a strip of former service stations and garages repurposed as stores and restaurants.

Courthouse Plaza, Pewscott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whiskey Row, Prescott

Park the car and enjoy the kind of afternoon once experienced by cowboys, miners, and ranchers looking to blow off some steam around the turn of the 20th century. While the bars aren’t nearly as numerous as they once were, you can still duck inside one of Whiskey Row’s three saloons (Bird Cage, the Palace Saloon, or Matt’s) and revel in the history. Special treat: Just across the street, Courthouse Plaza will be decked out for the holidays one of the reasons Prescott is the Arizona’s Christmas City.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park

To experience the magic of the giant saguaro cacti up-close, look no further than Catalina State Park near Tucson. There are easy nature trails here and also longer and more challenging trails for experienced hikers. The park spans 5,500 acres of foothills, streams, and canyons and is home to over 150 species of birds. RV camping is available.

Western scrub jay at Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

This was as the desert should be, this was the desert of the picture books, with the land unrolled to the farthest distant horizon hills, with saguaros standing sentinel in their strange chessboard pattern, towering supinely above the fans of ocotillo and brushy mesquite.

—Dorothy B. Hughes