Patagonia, 18 miles northwest of Nogales on Ariz. 82, is a historic mining and ranching town that is surrounded by the Patagonia Mountains. If the scenery here leaves you with a sense of déjà vu, that is probably because you've seen this landscape in numerous movies and television shows. Over the years, this area has been a backdrop for such films as Oklahoma!, Red River, A Star Is Born, and David and Bathsheba, and such TV programs as Little House on the Prairie and The Young Riders. Today, however, bird-watching and tranquillity draw most people to this remote town.
The Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve (tel. 520/394-2400; www.nature.org) is owned by the Nature Conservancy and protects 2 miles of Sonoita Creek riparian (riverside) habitat, which is important to migratory birds. More than 300 species of birds have been spotted at the preserve, which makes it a popular destination with birders from all over the country. Among the rare birds that can be seen are 22 species of flycatchers, kingbirds, and phoebes, plus the Montezuma quail. A forest of cottonwood trees, some more than 100 feet tall, lines the creek. At one time, such forests grew along all the rivers in the region, but today, this is one of southern Arizona's best remaining examples of a cottonwood-willow riparian forest. To reach the sanctuary, which is just outside Patagonia on a dirt road that parallels Ariz. 82, turn west on Fourth Avenue and then south on Pennsylvania Street, drive through the creek, and continue about 1 mile. From April to September, hours are Wednesday through Sunday from 6:30am to 4pm; from October to March, hours are Wednesday through Sunday from 7:30am to 4pm. Admission is $5 ($3 for Nature Conservancy members). On Saturday at 9am, there are naturalist-guided walks through the preserve; reservations are not required.
On your way to or from the Nature Conservancy Preserve, be sure to drop by Paton's Birder's Haven. Numerous hummingbird feeders and a variety of other feeders attract an amazing range of birds to the yard, making this a favorite stop of avid birders who are touring the region. If you're heading out to the Nature Conservancy preserve, watch for the BIRDER'S HAVEN sign at 477 Pennsylvania Rd. after you cross the creek.
Another required birders' stop in the area is at the Patagonia Roadside Rest Area, 4 1/4 miles south of Patagonia on Ariz. 82. This pull-off is a good place to look for rose-throated becards, varied buntings, and zone-tailed hawks.
Avid birders will also want to visit Las Cienegas National Conservation Area (tel. 520/258-7200; www.blm.gov/az), which has grasslands, wetlands, and oak forests. This is a good place to look for the rarely seen gray hawk. Access is off the east side of Ariz. 83, about 7 miles north of Sonoita.
Patagonia Lake State Park (tel. 520/287-6965; www.azstateparks.com), about 7 miles south of Patagonia off Ariz. 82, is a popular boating and fishing lake that was formed by the damming of Sonoita Creek. The lake is 2 1/2 miles long and stocked in winter with rainbow trout. Other times of the year, people fish for bass, crappie, bluegill, and catfish. Park facilities include a picnic ground, campground, and swimming beach. Adjacent to the state park, you'll find the Sonoita Creek State Natural Area (tel. 520/287-2791), a 5,000-acre preserve along the banks of Sonoita Creek. This natural area is known for its excellent bird-watching, and guided birding walks are offered on a regular basis. Elegant trogons, which are among the most beautiful of southern Arizona's rare birds, are often spotted here. The park day-use fee is $10. Campsites are $17 to $25; reservations are not accepted.
If you'd like to have a local birding guide take you out and help you identify the area's many species of flycatchers, contact Matt Brown at the Patagonia Birding & Butterfly Co. (tel. 520/604-6300; www.lifebirds.com). For two people, the charge is $30 per hour. If you want to do some horseback riding while you're in the area, contact Arizona Horseback Experience (tel. 520/455-5696; www.horsebackexperience.com), and book a trail ride through the area's grasslands. A 3-hour ride is $95 and a wine-tasting ride to a local winery is $180.
While in Patagonia, be sure to check out the interesting shops and galleries around town. You'll find interesting books and gifts at Mariposa Books, 317 McKeown Ave. (tel. 520/394-9186). Mesquite Grove Gallery, 371 McKeown Ave. (tel. 520/394-2356), has a good selection of works by area artists. At Global Arts Gallery, 315 McKeown Ave. (tel. 520/394-0077; www.globalartsgallery.com), you'll find a wide range of ethnic arts, fine art, jewelry, and women's clothing. Also be sure to visit La Galeria Dia de los Muertos, 266 Naugle Ave. (tel. 520/394-2035). This little cottage, associated with Grayce's Gift and Candle Shop, was the creation of Grayce Arnold, who assembled a collection of hundreds of Mexican skeleton figures that were created for Mexico's Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration. The gallery is usually open on weekends, call ahead on weekdays.
Sonoita is little more than a crossroads with a few shops and restaurants, but surrounding the community are miles of rolling grasslands that are a mix of luxury-home "ranchettes" and actual cattle ranches, all of which have spectacular big-sky views. Out on those high plains, more than just deer and antelope play. Oenophiles roam, as well. With nine wineries between Sonoita and Elgin, this is Arizona's biggest little wine country (there are also concentrations of wineries to the east of here near Willcox and in the Sedona area of central Arizona). Most of the wineries are located in or near the village of Elgin, which is 10 miles east of Sonoita. The following are my favorite area wineries. If you want to try some of the other wineries in the area, pick up a map at any of these wineries. Also, remember that most area wineries will give you a discount on your tasting if you bring a glass from another area winery.
Right in Sonoita, you'll find Dos Cabezas WineWorks, 3248 Ariz. 82 (tel. 520/841-1193; www.doscabezaswinery.com), which is located in the middle of town. The winery's tasting room is open Thursday through Sunday from 10:30am to 4:30pm ($7 tasting fee). Five miles south of Sonoita, you'll find Lightning Ridge Cellars, 2368 Ariz. 83 (tel. 520/455-5383; www.lightningridgecellars.com), which makes several surprisingly good red wines, primarily from estate-grown grapes. The tasting room is open Friday through Sunday from 11am to 4pm, and the tasting fee is $7. Just west of Elgin, you'll find Callaghan Vineyards, 336 Elgin Rd. (tel. 520/455-5322; www.callaghanvineyards.com), which is open for tastings Friday through Sunday from 11am to 3pm ($7 tasting fee). This winery produces by far the best wines in the region and, arguably, the best wines in the state. Next door to Callaghan is Canelo Hills Vineyard & Winery, 342 Elgin Rd. (tel. 520/455-5499; www.canelohillswinery.com), a small winery with a casual tasting room in the winery itself. Owners Joan and Tim Mueller produce some excellent wines in the $20 to $30 range. The tasting room is open Friday through Sunday from 11am to 4pm ($5 tasting fee). Next door to this winery is Kief-Joshua Vineyards, 370 Elgin Rd. (tel. 520/455-5582; www.kj-vineyards.com), which boasts the most ostentatious tasting room in the area. It's open daily from 11am to 5pm ($5 tasting fee).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.