Sonoita, Arizona – August 2022 – From Ranching to Renaissance

After our visit to the Empire Ranch house, we continued to wander the dusty roads to check out the sights. Imagine our surprise when we came across a group of Renaissance Cosplay people.

This event was not one of the more structured Renaissance Festivals that tour the country, rather this is a group of people who like to get dressed up and spend the weekend living in the renaissance period.

After checking with some people near the entrance they assured me we were more than welcome, and that they would be thrilled to have photos taken of them. Say no more!

Sonoita, Arizona – August 2022 – Empire Ranch

In the high grasslands of Southern Arizona lies the Empire Ranch. This ranch at it’s largest covered 180 square miles, larger than the city of Philadelphia. While there are still some cattle still on the land, it is mostly a nature preserve.

Located between the Whetstone Mountains and the Santa Rita Mountains, the land lies at 5000′ in elevation, providing enough rain for the grassy fields to support the cattle.

In addition the Cienega Creek runs through the ranch, providing nearly year round water.

It is not normally this green, Southern Arizona has had an active monsoon season, and everything now is very green.

The original homestead is maintained by a non profit group called the Empire Ranch Foundation. Among other things they maintain the house, and additional buildings.

The home, as well as most of the buildings, is built out of adobe and wood. Many have had a skim of stucco added later.

Inside the ranch house, and attached other buildings, there is a collection of items from when the ranch was active including a butter churn, cowboy spurs and other items.

This view shows evidence of the original adobe walls.

With the green grass, and the old outbuildings, it felt as though you were in the midwest, as long as you ignored the 7000′ to 9000′ mountains in the distance.

This structure is known as the saddle drying barn.

One final look at another of the old adobe buildings before we head off to the next adventure….

Vail, Arizona – December 2021 – Views From The New Neighborhood

Our move to Arizona has found us living in a town called Vail, at the far east end of Tucson. It predates the same named town in Colorado by about 100 years, but for most of it’s time was a small, dusty railroad stop. The Colorado town has nothing on the Arizona one, the mountains here have more vertical gain above the town – just without so much snow (thankfully).

In the last 30 years it has grown tremendously but still has that ‘outpost’ feel, being at the edge of town, next to the mountains and desert. This posting has random views of some sights around Vail and beyond.

While Route 66 is the most famous east-west route in the pre interstate days, in reality more people actually took U.S. 80 west to California. This route made it’s way across Southern Arizona, including a portion between Benson and Vail, on it’s way to Tucson.

U.S. 80 crosses Cienega Creek on a 1921 bridge, next to where two Southern Pacific railroad routes also traverse the creek. A cienega is a wetland unique to the Southwestern U.S., resulting in a landscape unlike the surrounding area because of the constant availability of water, with large trees lining the banks.

Just to the east is the ghost town of Pantano, another railroad stop in the late 1800s, early 1900s. Today only the water tower remains.

About 30 miles south of Vail is the town of Sonoita. As you cross the Empire Mountains the landscape changes yet again, with large fields of tall grasses, instead of the Sonoran Desert look of Vail.

A local propane dealer has a cool collection of decorated tanks.

While Saguaro National Park East has a Tucson address, it is in the Vail area. It was a good day to take the dog for a walk, and take a closer look at the cacti.

The Vail area, and all of Southern Arizona, have spectacular sunsets.

Note the full moon peeking through the clouds.