Day Trips

A Day in Tombstone

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If you’re staying over a Sunday at the Circle Z Ranch, there is always the question of how best to spend this unplanned day when horses and wranglers have their day off. There are plenty of options – drive to the historic mining town of Bisbee, tour the Karchner Caverns, head back to Tucson for a little big-city life and shopping, or just enjoy a peaceful day on the ranch, maybe doing your laundry in the new guest laundry, hiking or just kicking back.
This year, however, our group of three decided to spend the day in Tombstone, “the town too tough to die” located little more than an hour’s drive from the ranch on Highway 80 just south of Highway 82. (An added bonus of the trip is some spectacular scenery quite different from that of the ranch as you cross the grasslands on the way east.)
Tombstone has a bit of a reputation as a tourist trap. And there’s surely enough kitsch around to make it a tourist trap if that’s what you’re looking for. You can find remarkable numbers of tacky souvenirs, tours by horse-drawn US mail wagons, and so many “genuine authentic” re-enactments of the Gunfight at the OK Corral that I quite lost count. On arrival in Tombstone, it is both amusing and kitschy to be greeted by numerous re-enactors in the dress of the 1880s walking down the Tombstone streets (and sometimes trying to sell you the virtues of their particular “Tombstone experience”).
But Tombstone can also be a great deal more than that. It was truly the center of life in the Arizona territory for much of the late 19th century, and in a few hours, you can get a wonderful glimpse of the life and history of those times.
We had decided it would be fun to see one OK Corral re-enactment, and (thanks to the reviews on Trip Advisor), we chose the one entitled simply OK Corral Museums, located the closest to the site of the actual 1881 gunfight. The re-enactment was indeed quite entertaining with some reasonably good actors involved, but even more interesting were some of the museum exhibits. I was most intrigued by the replica of a prostitute’s “crib” and the discussion of the lives of these women in days when prostitution was entirely legal.
Best of all, however, was the museum in the old Tombstone courthouse which is now considered a state park. There you can learn about life among the Apaches, the final surrender of Geronimo to end the Indian wars, life in the mining communities, and the justice system of the day, just to name a few topics.
The exhibits are nearly all wonderfully illustrated, mostly by the photographs of C.S. Fly, who with his wife Mollie, was considered one of the first photo-journalists in North American history and the only white person to gain photos of the Apaches during their last battles and final surrender. The black-and-white photos, suitably enlarged, really give a feel of life in those times, all the more remarkable when one considers the huge amounts of equipment required for photography in that era.
If you want to continue learning about the history of the area, instead of buying regular souvenirs, several stores sell accurate and fascinating books describing various aspects of life then.
We all voted it to have been a well worthwhile day, and would recommend it to other Circle Z visitors who would like both a pleasant and an educational Sunday.

Written by Barb Mclintock, long time Circle Z Ranch guest

By |January 22nd, 2016|Day Trips|0 Comments

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

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

Patagonia Lake: A Park and Preserve

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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