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Visiting the Sonoita Wineries

Flying Leaf Vineyard

Photo courtesy of Flying Leaf Vineyard

 

Visitors to the Circle Z know what a delight it is to ascend from the arid desert surrounding Tuscon and into the refreshing mountains around Patagonia. In addition to the magnificent scenery and prime land for grazing livestock, this terrain is also proving ideal for vineyards.

Credit for this discovery goes to Gordon Dutt, a PhD with expertise in soil science from the University of Arizona. Dr. Dutt discovered that the red clay soil of the area (think Red Mountain) was very similar to that of Burgundy, France. In 1973 he purchased land near the tiny town of Elgin, just southeast of Sonoita and planted the region’s first vineyard.

Award Winning Sonoita Vineyard Wines

The success of Sonoita Vineyards started a trend, and soon other would-be winemakers began arriving in the area. Today the grasslands nestled between the Huachuca, Santa Rita and Whetstone mountains are a designated AVA (American Viticultural Area), a federally recognized wine-growing region.

Over forty years later, the Sonoita AVA is thriving. Today there are thirteen wineries in the region, many producing award-winning wines. Several have even been served at the White House. Varieties differ somewhat from one winery to the next, however most focus on grapes that like hot, dry days and cool nights, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo and Sauvignon Blanc.

 

 

Wilhelm Wineyards, Cab Sauv

Cabernet Sauvignon grapes bask in the Arizona sun at Wilhelm Vineyards, photo by Wilhelm Vineyards

 

Visitors are welcome. The Arizona Wine Growers Association has created a Sonoita Wine Growers Trail, with a map highlighting the wineries’ locations in and around Sonoita and Elgin. A tour of the wineries makes a nice half day trip from the Ranch; most are open between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. In addition to wine tastings, many wineries also offer light meals and snacks. Be sure to appoint a designated driver, or ask the ranch for help in arranging transportation—there are several local companies that specialize in wine country tours.

Upon returning from a day of Sonoita wine tasting, take a look at Red Mountain and see if there’s any resemblance to Burgundy, France.

Click for a printable map of the Sonoita Wine Trail, with wineries and opening hours.

Sonoita Winery Picnic

Enjoy a picnic at Sonoita Winery, photo by Sonoita Winery

 

By |August 15th, 2015|Community, Day Trips|0 Comments

Guest Profile: A family reunion and anniversary celebration

Dick and Bert Wolf-Circle Z 2014

A couple that’s been married for a long time must have a few things in common. But interestingly for Dick and Bert Wolf, horses weren’t always one of them. Bert grew up in the horse country near Louisville, Kentucky, but her husband was more of a city guy. According to Bert, “Dick’s only riding experience was on a pony at the Cincinnati Zoo for a nickel when he was a kid.”

But that was 24 years ago. In 1991 Dick, good husband that he is, thought it might be fun to take a ranch vacation, and selected the Circle Z. (He clearly knows a thing or two about a happy marriage!) That started a tradition: the Wolfs have come back to the Circle Z annually for the past 24 years.

Dick and Bert Wolf-60th Anniversary Circle Z

Bert and Dick Wolf: 60 (yes 60!) years of wedded bliss

So when it came time to celebrate their 60th (that’s not a typo, sixtieth!) wedding anniversary, Dick and Bert knew just where they wanted to spend it. But they also wanted to share this special event with family. Everyone in the Wolf family knew what the Circle Z meant to Dick and Bert, so they worked to join them for their special celebration.

After much calendar coordination, the Wolfs determined the best time to get the most family members to Patagonia was from December 19-26, 2014. In total, 20 family members of all ages made their way to the ranch to help Dick and Bert celebrate. “The ranch lends itself very well to this kind of an event,” says Bert. “We had riders of varying ability, and family members of all ages. There was always something for everyone to do.”

Dick and Bert 60th Anniversary, family trail ride

Dick & Bert Wolf 60th Anniversary, family by the fire

 

“Whether riding the trails or just hanging out by the fire, there was always something for the family to do together”

Dick and Bert were happy just having family around them at one of their favorite places, but the family had a few other plans. Working with Jennie, they arranged to have a surprise anniversary party for the Happy Couple. Saturday night the Game Room was transformed with music, decorations and a special cake. “We were surprised and thrilled,” said Bert. “Everyone had a great time–even two other family groups staying at the ranch that week got involved. The atmosphere was such that they were automatically brought into the fold.”

 Cathy shares family stories at Dick and Bert’s surprise anniversary party

Circle Z has always been about family; whether its aunts, uncles and cousins, the Nash family, the Lorta family, our family of horses . . . or simply the “family” of good friends getting together. We’re delighted that Dick and Bert chose to spend their special event (60 years! We’re still shaking our heads in amazement!) with the Circle Z family. And once you’ve visited the Circle Z, you’re part of our family too.

Dick and Bert, 60th Anniversary cake, Circle Z

By |July 3rd, 2015|Community|0 Comments

Day Trip: Kartchner Caverns

Kartchner Caverns by MRP, flickr

The eerily beautiful “Big Room” at Kartchner Caverns; photo by MRP, flickr

 

The southern Arizona scenery is beautiful, but there are some treasures that lie below ground as well. Visitors to the Circle Z might like to take an excursion to explore Kartchner Caverns, a truly stunning underground wonder.

Located at the eastern base of the Whetstone Mountains near the town of Benson, the caverns were discovered in 1974. Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts were exploring the limestone hills searching for a cave rumored to be in the area. What they found was a “live cave,” where stalagmites and stalactites are still evolving. Despite the fact that the cave was on private property, Tenen and Tufts continued to explore the cave in secret for four more years. In 1978 they shared their discovery with property owners James and Lois Kartchner with the intent of both preserving the unique caverns and making them available for others to see.

The existence of Kartchner Caverns was made public in 1988, when the caverns and surrounding land was purchased by the Arizona State Parks system. Extensive analysis of just how to admit visitors while still preserving the unique geological and eco systems, coupled with political red tape, delayed the opening of the park until 1999.

The entrance to Kartchner Caverns is tucked into the base of the Whetstone Mountains, photo by Lance & Erin, flickr

 

But the caverns were worth the wait! They are divided into several “rooms,” which can be toured separately or together. Highlights include:

  • One of the world’s longest soda straw stalactites: 21 feet 3 inches (Throne Room)
  • The tallest and most massive column in Arizona, Kubla Khan: 58 feet tall (Throne Room)
  • The world’s most extensive formation of brushite moonmilk (Big Room)
  • The first reported occurrence of “turnip” shields (Big Room)
  • The first cave occurrence of “birdsnest” needle quartz formations
  • Many other unusual formations such as shields, totems, helictites, and rimstone dams.

Even if spelunking is not your thing, Kartchner Caverns are magnificent and worth a detour. Tours are about 90 minutes each. There is a Discovery Center/museum, as well as picnic grounds on site. The caverns are about 50 miles northeast of Circle Z Ranch, which make them an excellent day trip destination. Bring a picnic lunch from the ranch, and enjoy a day exploring some of southern Arizona’s underground beauty!

NOTE: In order to preserve the caverns guest admission is limited and reservations are recommended. For more information go to Kartchner Caverns State Park.

For a video preview of the caverns, see below:

By |July 2nd, 2015|Community, Day Trips|0 Comments

Flux Canyon and the Civilian Conservation Corps

Shortly after the Circle Z was established in 1926 America found itself in the grip of the Great Depression. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office in early 1933 he faced a challenge of an economy in a shambles with rampant unemployment. His administration established several New Deal programs designed to get people back to work and energize the economy. One of these programs was the Civil Conservation Corps (CCC), which reached right into Patagonia at Flux Canyon.

CCC Camp at Flux Canyon, taken by Murphy Lloyd Musick

A panoramic view of Flux Canyon Camp, facing northwest toward Route 82. Note the concrete slabs in the left center, which were the foundations for lodging tents. Photo by Murphy Lloyd Musick for the Patagonia Museum

The CCC had a dual goal: to conserve natural resources and salvage America’s out-of-work young men. The National Park Service had been established about 20 years earlier, increasing awareness of the value of the landscape. Yet public land outside the park system sorely needed irrigation, reforestation and overall land management. The CCC and its new workforce provided the perfect solution. In total the program established over 2,600 camps that employed over half a million men to address these public land needs.

Part of the Coronado National Forest group, the Flux Canyon camp operated from 1933 to 1935 and was located on the eastern side of state route 82 at the junction of Flux Canyon Road. Circle Z guests pass through the remains of the camp during the full-day cookout ride.

Camp related projects focused on water infrastructure: stream development, erosion control and well digging. Camp residents also took on firefighting duties. According to the U.S. Forest Service, in mid 1934 “all lookouts on the Coronado were manned by CCC enrollees.”

Mess Hall, Flux Canyon CCC Camp, photo by Musick

The concrete slab foundation is all that remains of the original mess hall, photo by Murphy Lloyd Musick, Patagonia Museum

Perhaps the most significant contribution by Flux Canyon Camp to Patagonia concerned livestock and grazing interests. CCC crews built fences, cattle guards and corrals as part of a U.S. Forest Service allotment program to regulate fencing and grazing among ranchers. These efforts improved overgrazed areas and ultimately improved the quality of livestock.

Flux Canyon Camp closed in 1935, with its residents moving on to Apache National Forest. Today all that remains are a few concrete pads that formed the foundations of lodging tents and the mess hall, along with a former administration building that is now a private home. But the effects of the CCC linger, in the fences, in the curves of Sonoita Creek, and perhaps in the cattle that are descended from those that grazed here during the Great Depression.

CCC Camp, Flux Canyon, original Admin Bldg, by Musick

The original administration building is now a private residence, photo by Murphy Lloyd Musick, Patagonia Museum

For more information about the Civil Conservation Corps, go to www.ccclegacy.org and www.nps.gov/parkhistory

 

 

By |June 5th, 2015|History|0 Comments

Patagonia Lake: A Park and Preserve

16376480791_7757a42326_b

Guests riding the higher trails on the western side of the ranch often glimpse the shimmering blue waters of Patagonia Lake in the distance. Despite blending beautifully into the scenery today, the lake didn’t even exist when Lucia Nash first came to the Circle Z as a child.

Patagonia Lake near Circle Z ranch

Patagonia Lake was formed by damming up a portion of Sonoita Creek

In the late 1960s a group of local citizens formed the Lake Patagonia Recreation Association, Inc. (LPRA) with the intent of creating a lake and recreation area. In 1968 a dam was built on the Sonoita creek west of the Circle Z, creating 256-acre Patagonia Lake.

Over the next several years the state authorities worked to acquire land surrounding the lake, which at the time was owned by oil company Conoco. Eventually the State of Arizona also secured title to Patagonia Lake itself and in 1975 Patagonia Lake State Park was established. So when Lucia acquired the Circle Z in 1976 she knew the land immediately to the west of the ranch would always be protected!

Today the park consists of over 2,600 acres in addition to the lake and abuts the Sonoita Creek State Natural Area along with the Circle Z, all ensuring a stable environment for the unique ecosystem found along the Sonoita Creek and around the ranch. Tracks from the New Mexico/Arizona railroad like beneath the lake, the same railroad that forms some of the well-worn tracks at the Circle Z.

Fishing is popular at Patagonia Lake in southern Arizona

Channel your inner angler at Patagonia Lake

The lake is a habitat for bass, crappie, bluegill and catfish, and is stocked with rainbow trout during the winter months making it a popular spot for fishermen. Kayaks and canoes are available for rental. If your next visit to the Circle Z has you “angling” to do some fishing or paddling, Patagonia Lake would be a good choice. For the rest of us, the lake provides a beautiful reflection of that magnificent Arizona sky.

Patagonia Lake is a perfect spot for canoes and kayaks

Quiet waterways among the marsh grasses provide wonderful spots for kayaking.

By |June 5th, 2015|Community, Day Trips, History, Nature|0 Comments

The Tack Room: a Photoessay

Circle Z Tack Room 9

There is something special about a well-maintained tack room. The saddles, blankets and bridles look so natural tucked away and in their places. The glow of the leather in the late afternoon sun speaks of trails well-ridden, horses happily nibbling on hay after a day out, all ready and waiting to go again tomorrow.

Circle Z Tack Room -Saddles

Circle Z Tack Room 6

 

Circle Z Tack Room 2

Circle Z Tack Room 8

 

Silhouette of George at Corrales

 

By |April 25th, 2015|Community|Comments Off on The Tack Room: a Photoessay

Nature at the ranch: April Report

Post by Vincent Pinto

April is a unique time for nature at Circle Z Ranch. While the conventional notion is that Arizona is too hot to visit in late spring, this is certainly not the case at here! An elevation of 4,000 feet combined with lush and shady forests strewn along Sonoita Creek afford ample cooler retreats for guests.

The Varied Bunting brightens up the Arizona landscape; Zak Pohlen, Flickr

The Varied Bunting brightens up the Arizona landscape; Zak Pohlen, Flickr

The entire month of April is punctuated by a spike in the numbers of migrating birds, particularly those that travel later from their wintering grounds. Look for Varied Buntings, Yellow-billed Cuckoos, and Blue Grosbeaks making their first appearances. The Varied Bunting is a “Mexican Specialty” species, much sought after by birders flocking themselves to the ranch. Yellow-billed Cuckoos are riparian specialists, so keep an eye out for them amidst the towering Fremont Cottonwoods and other broadleafed trees lining Sonoita Creek. They often dine upon hairy caterpillars and require intact riparian zones. As such, they are rather rare and are now federally threatened.

The lushness of Circle Zʼs forests are in evidence this May given our ample rains last monsoon season and this Winter. Their cover affords quality foraging and sleeping areas for White-nosed Coatis – tropical members of the Raccoon family that barely enter the U.S. Many guests have been these seeing these special mammals of late, particularly on the old New Mexico and Arizona Railroad bed. Other mammals to look for in May include Coues Whitetail Deer, Mule Deer, Collared Peccary, Arizona Gray Squirrel, and Mountain Lion. Yes, Mountain Lion! Some guests recently spied and photographed an adult Cougar while out on a ride. This is great evidence of a healthy, functioning ecosystem at Circle Z. The ongoing conservation work here has truly paid off with over 5,000 protected acres providing vital habitat for a broad spectrum of flora and fauna.

Gila Monster: look but don't touch! By Dave Govoni, Flickr

Gila Monster: look but don’t touch! By Dave Govoni, Flickr

Plenty of other wildlife abounds at the ranch in April. Many species of lizards can be seen, including Sonoran Spotted Whiptail, Ornate Tree Lizard, Clarkʼs Spiny Lizard, and the threatened Gila Monster. This venomous lizard is the largest in the U.S., but only poses a threat if you pick one up, which is never a good idea! Leave all of the plants and animals at Circle Z to their own devices, taking only photographs and leaving only tracks.

Cane Cholla, by Gem66 on Flickr

Cane Cholla, by Gem66 on Flickr

Despite the dryer weather in April, certain plants literally come into full bloom. Cacti and members of the Asparagus Family in particular have evolved to blossom now. Cane Cholla, several Prickly Pear species, Palmerʼs Agave, and Sotol fall into this warm season flower category, adding color to the landscape.

Truly with one of the highest levels of biodiversity in all of the U.S. the Sky Islands of southeast Arizona and Circle Z Ranch are perfect destinations to enjoy the beauty of Nature – including in April!

By |April 25th, 2015|Nature, Observations|Comments Off on Nature at the ranch: April Report

Circle Z History-Sanford Butte and Sheep Ranching

Visitors to the ranch often use the Circle Z Mountain, looming up behind the corrales, as a landmark while riding the trails. But older maps and topographical surveys refer to it as “Sanford Butte,” a name it was given when Arizona was still a Territory.

DA Sanford 1878 portrait by WL Sbedden Wash DC

A portrait of Don Alonso Sanford from 1878

The butte was originally named for the Sanford brothers, Don Alonzo and Denton, who first homesteaded in the area along the Sonoita Creek in the late 1870s. The brothers had come the Arizona territory from their native New York to make their fortune in cattle ranching. They established what would come to be known as The Stock Valley Ranch, 45 miles east of Tucson.

Denton established the “Sanford Ranch” on the Sonoita Creek in the 1870s. (Riders at the Circle Z can still see remnants of the original adobe ranch buildings on the hill above the corrales.) But his brother “Don” Sanford, as he was known, had other plans for the land near Patagonia. In 1881 he acquired 13,000 head of sheep a bargain price and set out to increase his growing fortune.

Sanford was drawn to sheep ranching for it’s economic potential: sheep were much scarcer than cattle, and had the potential to draw much higher prices. However, this endeavor was not popular with the nearby cattle ranchers. John Cady, who served as Sanford’s manager in the 1880’s, writes in his memoir: 

If There was one man whom cattlemen hated with a fierce, unreasoning hatred, it was the man who ran sheep over the open range—a proceeding perfectly legal, but one which threatened the grazing of the cattle inasmuch as where sheep had grazed it was impossible for cattle to feed for some weeks, or until the grass had had time to grow again. Sheep crop almost to the ground and feed in great herds, close together, and the range after a herd of sheep has passed over it looks as if somebody had gone over it with a lawnmower. 

Cady goes on to relate more than a few “annoyances” that ensued as a result of Don Sanford’s venture: “Sheep were found dead, stock was driven off, my ranch hands were shot at, and several times I myself narrowly escaped death at the hands of the enraged cattlemen.” Whew!

Cady's sheep camp on the Sonoita Creek, built 1884 (photo taken 1915)

Cady’s sheep camp on the Sonoita Creek, built 1884 (photo taken 1915)

Folks were made of stern stuff back then, and despite the hardships Cady stuck with it for the next three years. In 1884 Sanford was able to sell the herd at a $17,000 profit (which would be well over $400,000 in today’s dollars—not a bad profit, but perhaps not worth getting shot for!).

Sanford Butte on a topographical map, showing the Circle Z Ranch

Sanford Butte on a topographical map, showing the Circle Z Ranch

Shortly after that, Denton Sanford died and his brother Don moved his family back east and lived in Washington, DC for the remainder of his life, pursuing various business interests. Despite this, Don Alonso Sanford stayed connected to southern Arizona, returning often until his death in 1915. The ranch stayed in the Sanford family until 1925, when the 5,000-acre spread was sold to the Zinmeisters, who converted the property into the Circle Z (and Sanford Butte acquired the new name “Circle Z Mountain”!).

More information can be found at the Don Alonso Sanford Collection at the Special Collections of the University of Arizona Library in Tuscon. The collection, donated by descendents of Don Sanford in 2011, contains documents and photographs that offer a detailed look at daily life in the Territory of Arizona.

 

By |April 11th, 2015|History|Comments Off on Circle Z History-Sanford Butte and Sheep Ranching

Guest Profile: Sketching the Circle Z

Sketching the Circle Z-Red Mountain-2 by Jane Schwartz

Guests come to the Circle Z Ranch for many different reasons: some simply like to ride horses; others like the scenery, a few just want some peace and quiet. For Jane Schwartz, the Circle Z provides all these things, but the real reason she visits is for artistic inspiration.

Have sketchpad, will travel--Jane Schwartz on the trail.

Have sketchpad, will travel–Jane Schwartz on the trail with trusty artist materials in tow.

Fellow guests might recognize Jane as the woman who always brings artist materials in her saddlebags, and is sketching the Circle Z. An avid rider and amateur artist, she first came to the ranch in 1997 and has returned seven or eight times in the ensuing years. “Red Mountain is my touchstone,” says Jane. “I paint it every time I come to the ranch.”

Art has been Jane’s passion since she was a child growing up in New York City. Although she attended the city’s prestigious High School of Music and Art and later majored in art history at college, her career took her in other directions. Thus it has been while on vacation that Jane has been able to indulge in her love of drawing and painting. “During my travels is the only time I have an opportunity to focus and see a landscape,” says Jane. “I’m always sketching then.” Sketching the Circle Z fits right into Jane’s vacation strategy.

All-day rides are generally Jane’s preferred rides for drawing. “There’s plenty of time to rest during the picnic or cookout, and I can sketch then,” she confirmed. Occasionally on some of the shorter rides she’ll grab a few moments as well. “We’ll go loping for a while, then rest for a few minutes,” says Jane. “My fellow riders have been kind enough to wait and enjoy the scenery while I make a quick sketch for fifteen or twenty minutes.”

Jane likes to sketch during all-day rides. Here she is in the San Rafael Valley

Jane likes to sketch during all-day rides. Here she is in the San Rafael Valley

Late afternoon is also one of Jane’s favorite times of day for sketching the Circle Z. “Red Mountain is easily visible from the lawn, and I can frame out a general sketch, then fill in the colors later. The sun and shadows create changing color patterns every few minutes.”

Jane has worked with colored pencils and pastels, but lately she’s also been working with watercolor pencils. These special pencils, when dipped in water, create a watercolor effect on paper—and travel well in her saddlebags.

Take a look at some of Jane’s most recent drawings of Red Mountain. Most of us will probably never be able to paint it as well as she can. But her work sketching the Circle Z will certainly give us an appreciation for the wonderful play of colors that nature paints on the scenery surrounding the ranch every day.

Sketching the Circle Z-Red Mountain-1 by Jane Schwartz

By |April 10th, 2015|Community|Comments Off on Guest Profile: Sketching the Circle Z

Wrangler Kelly Training Our Young Horses

Following is the first of our monthly news updates on training our young horses for life at the Circle Z. We breed 2-5 mares each year, and with this comes many hours of teaching and loving each and every one or their babies. Our wranglers are all experienced to differing degrees in training horses, and I have asked them to share their thoughts on wrangling and training at the ranch. Enjoy!! . . . Diana

“Howdy, my name is Kelly and I am in my third season as a wrangler at the Circle Z Ranch. Our guests know me as Wrangler Kelly. It’s hard to describe what my actual “job” is, at it is certainly not the typical career path. Some of my daily duties include picking up horse poop, cleaning trails for our guests to ride on, cleaning the tack for the horses, picking up horse poop, picking up poop, pick up poop. It might sound like a “crappy” job, but everything else I do as a wrangler is pure fun: I get to play with horses six days a week! It’s not all roses, but my roses don’t have many thorns.

Kelly-early saddle work with Mima

Kelly doing some early saddle work with Mima

My first season working at the Circle Z, we had two fillies born; their names are Mima and Lavina. At first, they lived in the “mare pasture” with their moms, so I didn’t get to see too much of them. That was OK, because it’s important for the little ones to just be with Mom, and not fussed over too much by humans. Besides, I was busy learning trails and horse names. Not an easy thing at Circle Z–with over 100 miles of trails and over 100 horse names!

My second season at the Circle Z Ranch, I helped with halter training these fillies, first saddling and just basic gentling of these little ones. The fillies are both of the Quarter Horse breeds. Lavina is a reddish-brown color, called Sorrel. (If she were either a Thoroughbred or Arabian breed she would be called Chestnut.) Lavina is very active, and has not had a whole lot of interaction with people. I prefer to train babies with this disposition, as they tend to have fewer bad habits.

Kelly and Jennie discussing Mima's training. Notice, little miss Mima is the only one posing for the camera!

Kelly and Jennie discussing Mima’s training. Notice, little miss Mima is the only one posing for the camera!

Now little miss Mima, on the other hand, is very pretty. She is a Palomino in color, which is a golden colored body with white mane and tail. I have a saying, “pretty is as pretty does.” Mima is a spoiled little brat. Everybody sees and wants to touch and feed the pretty baby. So now, she treats humans like they are horses. She will nip or grab to see if you have a treat. She will bump into you to make you move out of her way. She is basically LAZY.

My professional background is the racetrack, so I prefer to train horses that are a little more lively. But as luck would have it, I ended up with the job of training the lazy baby. And I love her. I will talk more about progress with Mima in my blog post next month. In the meantime, take a look at this video, only my third time in saddle after doing ground work.

By |February 15th, 2015|Horse Talk|Comments Off on Wrangler Kelly Training Our Young Horses