Picture yourself strolling among tall cottonwood trees along the banks of a gently flowing river, where you are surrounded by lush greenery all year long, and the air is filled with the soothing melody of an abundance of birds singing happily. Look, across the meadow – do you think you caught a glimpse of a Spanish Conquistador? If you can believe that this tranquil setting is in Southern Arizona, then the chances are more likely than you think.
The abundant natural resources of Santa Cruz County reflect a quality of life from a simpler time, when cowboys roamed the hills and cattle grazed. There is no shortage of activity for the nature lover, with fishing at Peña Blanca Lake and Patagonia Lake State Park, hiking the historic Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, some of the best bird watching to be found along the Sonoita Creek State Natural Area, which could become the largest state park in Arizona, even golfing at some of Arizona’s most beautiful and challenging courses, including some designed by renowned architect Robert Trent Jones, Sr.
Discovered by Spanish missionaries in the early 1500’s, the area was established as an early outpost for exploration, and later gained popularity for its rich mining, ranching and agricultural resources. In 1773, Captain Juan Bautista de Anza received permission from the Viceroy of Spain to find an overland route to northern California. Between January of 1774 and March of 1776, de Anza made two such journeys to the Presidio of Monterey and Mission Dolores in San Francisco. His route took him along the Santa Cruz River through the heart of what is today Santa Cruz County. Today, many outdoor enthusiasts have taken to retracing the footsteps of history along the de Anza Trail, a popular link between Tubac and Nogales, past the historic Tumacacori mission and through the heart of Rio Rico.