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Rugged, rustic and surreal are just a few of the words that might describe Rio Rico. For thousands of years people have found this area along the Santa Cruz River to their liking. But in the post NAFTA era, this planned community of 11,000 just might become a model for bi-cultural communities of the future (the local market still accepts pesos as readily as dollars).
Once part of a vast land grant from the King of Spain, Rio Rico finds itself in the unique position of balancing a luxury Four Diamond resort with an unspoiled rural residential ambiance. While coyotes still howl under crystalline skies and the cattle roam free, its par 72 Robert Trent Jones Sr. golf course is listed as one of the finest in the state. Rio Rico's major attraction is a resort lifestyle, affordable housing, and its proximity to Mexico.
Long before Geronimo and Will Rogers walked these trails, Rio Rico was home to a pre-historic race known as "The Forgotton Ones." When the mastodons and swamps disappeared, sometime between the birth of Christ and 400 AD, they gave up their caves for primitive dwellings. An 18-acre village constructed by the Forgotton Ones was rediscovered in 1954. Fortunately the village was partially rebuilt by the Upper Pima Indians, providing the first link to modern history.
Points of Interest
IN SANTA CRUZ COUNTY:
Ghost towns with names like Harshaw, Mowry and Washington Camp near Patagonia and Oro Blanco and Ruby along route 289 (Ruby Road) bear mute witness to the boom and bust of the railroads and mining industry. Some, like Ruby, are so perfect that it seems the residents mysteriously disappeared while having breakfast. Washington Camp is one of the ghost towns being restored and some have fallen into disrepair with only remnants to remind us of their once bustling past.
Consider a day trip off the beaten path and get a feel for the old west with a drive around the Ruby Road loop through the Coronado National Forest. When Oro Blanco and Ruby were thriving mining communities, the primary stage and wagon route to Tucson was along this now primitive road. The only bank between Nogales and Tucson was in Arivaca, a nearly forgotten community just outside Santa Cruz County where you can still pay for lunch at the local restaurant with gold dust. Pack a lunch and picnic along one of the streams and enjoy the beauty in the safety that the pioneers never had-no Apaches will attack in the narrow canyons or rush from the volcanic cliffs. The road is rough but passable for passenger cars. In Sycamore Canyon, you may find the sparse remains of Hank and Yank, 2 mule skinners and army scouts who operated the Bartlett cattle ranch near the upper reaches of the canyon in the early 1880s. A trail leads down-canyon from the old homestead into an area of sculpted cliffs, clear pools and lush vegetation within the Pajarita Wilderness. Birdwatching can be especially rewarding here with as many as 130 frequent visiting species.
San Rafael Valley
Approximately 20 miles southeast of Patagonia is the San Rafael Valley, one of the few intact high elevation grasslands left in America. The headwaters of the Santa Cruz River are in the San Rafael Valley, which has significant biological value. There are numerous rare and endangered species, high quality riparian and grassland habitat and unfragmented wildlife corridors. Stretching into Mexico, this breathtakingly beautiful valley has supported cattle ranching for centuries. As it becomes increasingly difficult for ranchers to subsist in the cattle industry, conservation groups have purchased parts of the valley. Pack a picnic lunch and tour the valley. It is truly magnificent.
Madera Canyon with its easy trail access, campgrounds and picnic areas lies in the northwest side of the Santa Rita Mountains where the higher elevation means cooler temperatures during the hot months and snow during the winter. The canyon has a long and colorful history which you can learn more about by obtaining a booklet produced by Friends of Madera Canyon. Contact them at: P.O. Box 1203, Green Valley, AZ 85622.
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