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National & State Parks
Tumacacori National Historical Park nps.gov/tuma
More than just adobe, plaster, and wood, these ruins evoke tales of life and land transformed by cultures meeting and mixing. Father Kino’s 1691 landmark visit to an O’odham village when he established Mission Tumacacori was just one event among many waves of change at this site. A quick trip through the mission ruins makes a 30-minute visit possible. Joining a guided tour, walking a bit of the Anza Trail, or exploring the depths of information in the museum can keep a visitor busy for a few hours. Explore the grounds, hike, take a tour, discover the museum, or chat with a cultural demonstrator at this unique park. Open 9:00 am to 5:00 pm daily.
Patagonia Lake State Park azstateparks.com/Parks/PALA
Southern Arizona’s premier water getaway is located just a few miles northeast of Nogales on SR 82. This exciting State Park boasts full service campgrounds, grills, a beach, gift shop, hiking trails, ramadas, picnic areas, spectacular views of the mountains and sunsets, and much more. Slow trill motor boats are allowed on the water, and kayaks and other boating equipment can be rented at the park. Hiking trails include a bridge over the lake giving you a perfect view of the park. Campground spots fill quickly on holidays and weekends, so call ahead to reserve your perfect adventure.
Sonoita Creek State Natural Area azstateparks.com; sonoitacreek.org
Sonoita Creek is a spectacularly scenic place filled with wildlife, interesting vegetation, history, and opportunities to explore. Much of the area is public land, either Federal or State, and is open year-round. Located at the northern end of migratory paths, this area is a special haven for bird watching with its array of unique species. Tours and nature hikes are available for a small fee at the park through the Friends of Sonoita Creek Organization.
Tubac Presidio State Historical Park azstateparks.com/Parks/TUPR
The church and the military were the vanguards of Spanish frontier expansion throughout New Spain. The Jesuit, Eusebio Francisco Kino, established missions from 1687 to 1711 to Christianize and control Native Americans in the area. He established nearby Tumacacori in 1691. Tubac, then a small Piman village, became a mission farm and ranch. Spanish Colonists began to settle here during the 1730s, irrigating and farming the lands along the river and raising cattle, sheep and goats on the northern frontier of Spain's New World empire. Today the park is open for tours. Open 9:00 am to 5:00 pm daily.
Peña Blanca Lake www.azgfd.gov
This medium-sized body of water fills 49 acres of Peña Blanca Canyon in the Pajarito Mountain foothills. It is surrounded by grassy, oak-dotted hills, some of which are topped with bluffs of limestone. It is a popular recreation spot and can become crowded on weekends and holidays. Built in 1957 by the Arizona Game and Fish Department, it provides water-related recreation year round. Frequently, people who come here during the winter expecting warm, balmy weather are surprised at how cool it can be given its elevation of 4,300 feet, so plan accordingly.
San Rafael Valley State Natural Area azstateparks.com/Parks/SARA
The San Rafael valley extends over 90,000 acres and lies at the headwaters of the Santa Cruz River between the Patagonia and Huachuca Mountains and Canelo Hills. The valley is an intact landscape, unfragmented and relatively undisturbed. The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service estimates this valley harbors the greatest diversity of mammal species in North America. At the heart is the 9,000 square foot territorial ranch home, which has been featured in many movies. The park and ranch are currently not open to the public, but a dirt road traverses through the park so those interested in seeing the landscape can drive through.