Southern Arizona’s Top 10 Agri-Tourist Excursions

July 13, 2012

Arizona, Author Feature

With the publication of the History Press’ first Arizona title on the horizon, History Press West invited author Lili DeBarbieri to share some of her Southwest travel tips.

Southern Arizona’s Top 10 Agri-Tourist Excursions

Lili DeBarbieri

In this year of Arizona’s centennial, reconnecting with the cultural backbone of the state—our family farms and ranches—is an unbeatable getaway and history lesson to boot. As the agricultural hub of the state, Southern Arizona’s diversity of agri-tourism offerings is just exquisite—from food to recreation to cultural enrichment to overnight stays.

This summer cool-off, learn a new skill, sample mouth-watering local fare, and embrace the spirit of the country with this list of some of the region’s and season’s best:

#1 Cowboy Up

Embrace your inner cowboy (or cowgirl) and stay on a guest ranch. One of the largest guest ranches in the country, Tucson’s Tanque Verde Ranch offers all- inclusive summer specials through July (starting at $179/night). Three sumptuous meals, a supervised children’s program, trail riding and lessons, guided hikes, nature programs, mountain biking, fishing and many outdoors and family-oriented activities are included. Or channel Thoreau at Double Check Ranch’s newly built guest cabin in small-town Winkleman. Bargain “hot season” rates ($75/night) include overnight accommodations amidst more than 200 acres of Cottonwood/Willow habitat, also an Audubon-designated Important Birding Area as well as a supply of free grass-fed beef. Take a dip in the perennial spring-fed flow of the San Pedro River during your stay.

#2 Soak Up the Flavors

Soak up some Provence reminiscent ambiance (no passport needed) and Arizona wine history. About a half hour drive from downtown Tucson, family-owned Charron Vineyards and Winery has the distinction of being one of Southern Arizona’s oldest vineyards. “Santa Cruz and Pima Counties are the true vineyard experience to be had in this state,” remarks dedicated owner and winemaker Milton Craig. Sample six different varieties and blends for only $5 (price includes a large wine glass) at Charron’s on-site winery. Visitors can also enjoy picnics with spectacular views of the Empire and Santa Rita mountains.

#3 Dates & Drinks

Discover Yuma’s majestic Bard Valley date gardens (try Martha’s Garden Date Farm or Imperial Date Gardens). Dates are the oldest cultivated tree crop in human history and the key ingredient in delicious, thick, nutritious and wallet friendly shakes made right on the farm.


#4 Cheese from the Spread

Sample Chiva Risa Ranch’s fabulously creamy European style, artisanal goat cheese at farmers markets and restaurants throughout Tucson (herb is a personal favorite) or at their location near Bisbee. Chiva Risa’s cheese varieties are made by hand on this lovely off-the-grid, sustainable farm spread.

#5 Seasonal Markets

Stock up on high-quality baked goods, raw honey, tea, cheeses, produce, natural soaps and more every Saturday at the Tucson Farmers’ Market. Located behind Maynard’s Market and Kitchen in downtown Tucson, this eclectic outdoor market is a low-key agricultural buffet of products and samples from many farms, ranches, and specialty food producers throughout Southern Arizona. Not sure what’s in season? The Arizona Farm Bureau’s Fill Your Plate website posts easy-to-read charts of what to purchase and when.

#6 Peaches & Homemade Preserves

Cook up your own homemade jams and preserves at Aravaipa Farms Bed and Breakfast Country Inn right next door to the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness Area. Organic peaches are in-season all summer at this farm, orchard and artist’s haven and used as a teaching tool in the farm’s kitchen.

#7 Music under the Stars

Listen to live music under the stars at a centuries-old hacienda and former Spanish colonial mission— the Hacienda Corona de Guevavi’s summer concert series in Nogales.


#8 Celebrate in Dragoon

Celebrate 90 years at the Triangle T Historic Ranch in Dragoon during the ranch’s annual Garlic Festival (July 28-29) and contribute to the Wounded Warrior Project. Festival visitors can also munch on organic foods from neighboring farms and take in scenery of gorgeous Texas Canyon.

#9 Tour the Farm

Tour Sleeping Frog Farms in Cascabal, a traditional farming and ranching community and gain a first-hand look at the region’s organic, local agricultural scene supplying many stores, restaurants and markets in Tucson. Locally owned and distributed, Sleeping Frog’s 75-acres are planted along the San Pedro River’s lush riparian habitat. The farm is best known for its winter squash, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, garlic, honey bees, dairy goats and laying hens. Admission…free!

#10 Be Inspired

Be inspired by the Triangle L Ranch Bed and Breakfast’s GLOW Festival close to the full-moon every September. Oracle is a former mining town turned guest ranching mecca just north of Tucson. With over two hundred artists in attendance, this event features illuminated sculpture, multi-media art, music, performances and local foods.


A librarian and travel writer specializing in wildlife, the environment and historic preservation, Lili DeBarbieri’s writing and photography have appeared in dozens of publications worldwide, including the Los Angeles Times, Fine Books and Collections Magazine and Earth Island Journal. Lili has traveled extensively in more than thirty countries, across five continents and over forty U.S. states. Based in Tucson, she is a stringer for Agence France-Presse, and chair-elect of the Arizona Library Association’s International.

A Guide to Southern Arizona’s Historic Farms & Ranches: Rustic Southwest Retreats by Lili DeBarbieri will be available from the History Press and Arizona bookshops July 2012.

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