The Perfect Escape

A Southern Arizona Threesome of Communities

by Staff Reports

Looking for cooler temperatures and ready to get out of town for a day or two? Not a problem. This summer you might want to consider packing up the car and heading south towards Patagonia, Sonoita and Elgin.

First up, Patagonia

Don’t go to Patagonia looking for big city lights. Instead, you probably want to wear your jeans and boots. But, bring your bathing suit. For a town with a population of less than 900, there’s a surprising amount to do here.

At an elevation of about 4000 feet, summer temperatures won’t be as low as some of the high country up north, but they’ll be cooler than most of Pinal County, Phoenix or Tucson. On the map, Patagonia is about 18 miles northeast of Nogales.

Want to experience the rodeo lifestyle up close and personal? Plan to be in town at 7:30 am on a 3rd Sunday of the month for the Ranch Family Fun Day at Canelo Cowboy Church. This free (yes, free!) event will allow you take your shot at running the barrels, pole bending, chute dogging and breakaway. They even provide the horse! Lunch is served around noon with a quick sermon. Even lunch is free, although you are welcome to donate towards the cause if you like.

After that wild west adventure, you may want to cool off a bit at the Patagonia Lake State Park, where you can actually go swimming, boating or fishing. Be warned, there is no lifeguard on duty, keep a close eye on your little ones. If you didn’t eat your free lunch at the Canelo Cowboy Church Ranch Family Fun Day, you’ll want to bring snacks and sandwiches to munch on.

There is a Park entrance fee of $15-20 per vehicle. Campsites and cabins are available, but advance reservations are highly recommended. As of this writing, weeknights were open for reservations, but weekends were pretty full. The campsites will cost around $30 a night. Cabins run around $130 a night. Pets are welcome at the campsites, but not in the cabins.

When you pay your entrance fee to the Patagonia Lake State Park, it includes the use of Sonoita Creek State Natural Area. Here you can find picnic areas and shelters; several permanent exhibits and Hike-in Camping Sites (prepare for about 4 miles each way).

Are you a birdwatcher? Patagonia Lake and the Sonoita Creek area are designated as Important Bird Areas by the Audubon Society, with a complete bird list of over 300 species. There are plenty of other wild critters to be seen, too – squirrels, coatis, raccoons, deer and jackrabbits with gigantic ears.

Back to birdwatching, a must-see is the Paton Center for Hummingbirds owned and managed by the Tucson Audubon Society. There is no entry fee, but donations to the “Sugar Fund” go towards grounds maintenance, bird food and educational and recreation programs.

Check out their website for some live webcams!

While you’re in town, be sure to check in at the Patagonia Museum, and meander through the downtown shops and art galleries.

Finally, Patagonia is just 15 minutes away from the Sonoita/Elgin area.

At nearly 5000’ high in elevation, Sonoita’s summer temperatures are usually just in the high 80’s, a nice change from the lower desert areas of the state. Even when the communities of Sonoita and nearby Elgin are considered together, the population is still under 1000.

That being said, these communities stay busy, with many annual activities. This summer you may want to enjoy:

  • Arizona Ranger Days/Heritage Festival during the Memorial Day weekend. Expect music, fiddle contests, a Saturday night dance, a Sunday Rotary pancake breakfast and a homemade dinner hosted by the Patagonia Senior Citizens.
  • The first weekend in June is when the Sonoita Quarter Horse Show takes place at the Sonoita Fairgrounds. According to the Chamber’s website, it’s the oldest in the nation.
  • The Sonoita American Viticultural Area (first in Arizona) was established in 1984, now there are 13 wineries with open tasting rooms. The Blessing of the Harvest takes place in early August at Sonoita Vineyards.
  • The 44th Fireman’s Annual Steak Fry takes place on the last Saturday in June at the Patagonia Town Park. The funds raised help support the local volunteer fire department.
  • The Santa Cruz County Fair opens during the last weekend in September from Friday – Sunday at the Sonoita Fairgrounds.

You can probably visit all three of these communities by car in about a five hour round trip from Casa Grande. However, with so many things to do and places to visit, no worries if you decide to stay for a day or two. There are plenty of hotels and restaurants to accommodate your exploration.

Here are some websites to get you started: