South of Tucson, AZ

Tucson is lovely this time of year. The weather is warm during the day but it cools down nicely at night. After my return from N.C., we stayed in this area for a couple of weeks. We have visited some of the more well-known sites here but have never ventured south of Tucson. Our friends, Judie and Mark, who were staying at the same campground, took us to some new and interesting areas in southern Arizona.

About 45 miles south of Tucson and 20 miles north of the Mexico-U.S. border is the small town of Tubac. Situated on the Santa Cruz River, this was the site of a Spanish fortress called the Presidio of San Ignacio de Túbac. Established in 1752, it was built to protect those traveling from Mexico to California. It also provided protection for the Spanish settlements along the Santa Cruz River. After Mexico gained its independence from Spain, the Spaniards abandoned Tubac. It was not until American settlers heading west to California in search of gold settled in the town that it came under U. S. jurisdiction.

Today Tubac is a small town with a vibrant arts community. When we arrived, we went to La Entrada de Tubac which has a collection of more than 100 shops, art galleries, and restaurants.

We began our visit at the famous Elvira’s restaurant and we sampled some authentic Mexican cuisine. Named for the family’s grandmother, Elvira’s has been in business since 1923. Originally, this fine eating establishment was located in Nogales, Mexico but in 2009, they moved it to Tubac. The food here is excellent. They offer five different types of mole and many other Latin American fusion dishes.

We enjoyed dining outside on their patio but the interior is breath-taking. Hanging from the ceiling are an amazing number of glass drops which makes for a unique dining environment. Even if you do not choose to dine there, it is worth stopping in and taking a look around.

We had a wonderful lunch at this award-winning restaurant. Although Elvira’s is a bit pricey, we highly recommend it. If you should decide to try it, be sure to call for reservations because it is a very popular place.

After lunch we poked around the colorful specialty stores and art galleries. As you might expect, there are a number that feature Mexican décor and Talavera pottery. Sprinkled throughout Tubac are art galleries that sell jewelry, pottery, oil and acrylic paintings, handcrafted leather goods, photography, glass blown pieces, and much more. Local and international artists’ artwork is on display here.

Every year the Tubac Chamber of Commerce hosts an Arts Festival which is southern Arizona’s longest running arts festival. Over 250 artists and crafts people come to exhibit and sell their artwork. Next year the 64th annual art festival will be held from February 8th -12th, 2023. People from all over Arizona make a point to come to this event every year. We will have to put this one on our wish list too.

We had a fun-filled day in Tubac. Many thanks to our friends Judie and Mark for introducing us to this historic and artistic town.

During our stay in Tucson, we visited with our friends Sally and Peter who now live in Green Valley, south of Tucson. We had tried to get together with them two years ago. That was about the time COVID that hit so we chose to wait to see them. It was so good to finally catch up with them. Thanks Sally and Peter for your kindness and warm hospitality.

Las Cienegas

After a two-week stay in a campground in Tucson, we relocated to a boondocking site in Las Cienegas National Conservation Area (More on this area in our next post). David and I decided to take a day trip to Patagonia Lake State Park. It was about an hour away but some of our friends had told us that this park was lovely so we decided to go check it out.

Patagonia Lake State Park is a hidden gem in southeastern Arizona. Formed when they dammed the Sonoita River, the lake covers 265 acres and is 2.5 miles long. Initially, it was developed by the Lake Patagonia Recreation Association fifteen years before it became a park. Since it is located in the Sonoran Desert, it became very popular in the region. Many people flocked there to participate in boating, water skiing, fishing, swimming, and camping. Soon it became apparent to the Association that they would not have the resources necessary to maintain the lake. As a result, they decided to offer the lake and the surrounding acreage to the Arizona Parks Board. It took a number of years to negotiate terms and to get it approved. Finally, on April 1st, 1975, Patagonia Lake State Park opened to the public.

Today the park has a marina, a camp store, a beach area, a campground, numerous picnic tables, grills and ramadas, and a Visitor Center. On weekends, the park offers boat tours, a Twilight Tour and a Birding Tour, for a fee. You can sign up for these at the Visitor Center. They are also a number of rental cabins if you don’t want to camp.

We brought a picnic lunch so we went to the Day Use Area. Sheltered from the sun under a ramada, we had a great view of the lake. We saw lots of fishermen who were hoping to catch some bass, crappie, sunfish, catfish or trout. Every three weeks from October-March, the park stocks the lake with rainbow trout. The fishermen were not alone out on the water though. There were kayakers, paddleboarders, and boaters. Surprisingly, we even spotted a large pontoon boat out on this relatively small lake.

Patagonia Lake State Park is known to be a great area for bird watching. More than 300 resident and migratory birds can be spotted in the Sonoita River basin and near the lake. The Creek Trail that hugs one end of the lake is one of the best places to see birds. There are ranger-led hikes along this trail every day. In fact, the Visitor Center publishes a weekly list of the birds seen along that particular trail. The week we were there, there were 93 different bird sightings! David and I are not “birders” but we did see a couple of Vermillion Flycatchers, a Great Blue Heron, several Sonoran Yellow Warblers, a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, some Cardinals (male and female), and lots ducks. There was even a great big bullfrog that checked us out as we walked past. We had a fun time trying to spot some of the birds on the list with our binoculars. David also tried to get some photos of them but they were very hard to photograph as they flitted among the trees.

Perhaps the most photographed feature of the park is the tall wooden bridge over one of the inlets. Built in 1975, it has a unique structure. Its high arch makes it a bit difficult to walk over but it does offer a great view from the top of it.

A day trip to this park was perfect for us. One of the drawbacks of this park is the lack of reliable cell phone service; it was spotty at best. Also we felt that the campground is best suited for smaller rigs. There were only a few sites that would accommodate our rig. The campsites are also very close together. According to the rangers, the park and campground can be very crowded on weekends and during Spring Break season so you will need to call early to secure camping reservations.

Overall we had a good time at Patagonia Lake State Park. Next time, we will have to bring our kayak and get out on the water.

Arizona has so many interesting places to explore. Tubac and Patagonia Lake State Park, which are both within easy driving distance from Tucson, are two of them. So glad that we made day trips to both of these “new to us” parts of Arizona.

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