Now, where were we? In Part 1, we visited the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve and Paton's Bird Haven for some birdwatching and enjoying nature. After lunch and watching the UNC Tarheels lose in their ACC tournament game (boo!), we hopped into the car and made the 13-mile drive up (and I do mean up!) to Sonoita, aka "Wine Country"!
Although only a few miles up Highway 82, Sonoita looks like an entirely different world from the green trees of Patagonia. At this slightly higher elevation (5000' vs. 4000' in Patagonia), it's all grassland and mountains, with large tracts of lands scattered with Santa Fe style homes. It's very pretty and definitely "big sky" country.
There are numerous vineyards and wineries in the Sonoita-Elgin area of Arizona. According to the Wilhelm Family Vineyards website,
This high desert mountain plateau south of Tucson enjoys a unique climate, soil and growth season similar the wine growing regions of Rioja, Spain and Rhone areas of France.
I certainly didn't know that southern Arizona was a wine-producing area until we traveled here. I love what you learn when traveling. There's even an official "wine trail" here. (Image from arizonawine.org).
Ahead of time I'd picked out a couple of wineries to visit. Unlike some wineries we've visited in the past, there are no free tastings here, so we had to stick to a budget if we hoped to purchase any wine. The going rate for a tasting seems to be $10 (per person) and you get to keep the glass, or $5 if you bring your own glass. Since we don't need any wine glasses to have to transport around with us, we brought a couple of glasses from the house, safely wrapped in a towel.
The first winery we visited was Wilhelm Family Vineyards, a small family-run vineyard and winery (#3 on map above). I was interested in this one because their website notes that they offer some fruit sangrias and sweet ports. Although I generally prefer dry whites and Barry dry reds, we both enjoy a sweet "dessert" wine from time to time, especially with chocolate. And they present an interesting variety in a tasting flight.
The vineyards are dormant this time of year.
This winery was hopping. The small tasting room was filled with people and two gorgeous, large weimaraners (father and son). They really liked Barry!
Since there was limited bar space and Barry was driving, he decided to wait and taste at the next winery. I managed to squeeze in at the end of the bar and do a tasting, and I slipped him a couple of sips of mine.
Although the fruity white peach sangria and the sweet ports were delicious, the wines here are pricey (to me anyway!), so I was practical and stuck to purchasing a few bottles of a dry white dinner wine, their award-winning 2011 Albarino.
Our second winery was the newest and trendiest in the area, Hops and Vines (#12 on map above). From what I read on their website, they eventually plan to brew beer but for now are offering wines only. One wine is made with hops, though, and actually tastes a bit like beer!
Arizona Hops and Vines has already made a splash in this area and have become known for serving non-traditional snack foods to accompany each wine, including barbeque potato chips, peppercorn chips, and cheese doodles! But they really know what they're doing: each snack food tasted absolutely perfect with the wine it accompanied and made the wines taste even better. Smart folks here!
We enjoyed all the wines and had a lot of fun at this winery. They even gave us a shot of their homemade fruit sangria after we were through tasting their selection of wines. We purchased a bottle of their dry rose, Unconditional, and two of their Fluffer, a sweeter white that we both loved, surprisingly. Hopefully it wasn't just the BBQ potato chips that made it taste so yummy!
All in all, it was a really fun afternoon and the end of a perfect "funday Friday".
Fridays have lately been designated as "Emily's Day", which means Barry doesn't ride his bike, and I get to choose the day's activities. Woo-hoo! Last Friday I picked separate morning and afternoon activities since we wanted to get back to the house at lunchtime to watch the UNC Tarheels play in the ACC tournament. (Unfortunately, they lost their game; the only low spot in an otherwise fantastic day.)
Less than two miles down a back road from where we're staying in Patagonia, Arizona is the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, a Nature Conservancy "Important Bird Site" as well as an area rich in biodiversity courtesy of the riparian habitats along Sonoita Creek. So, of course we had to check it out. And on a beautiful morning, what better way to get there but on foot.
The hummingbirds were active this morning as we walked along the road. This one appears to be a male Anna's.
It took us quite awhile to get to the preserve as we saw plenty of birds while walking so made numerous stops.
We had never seen Broad-Billed Hummingbirds before coming to southern Arizona. The male is incredibly striking, with his cobalt throat and turquoise/green breast! As is often the case in the bird world, the female is more muted in color.
Map in hand, we then headed out on the trails in search of more birds.
The centerpiece of the preserve, Sonoita Creek, actually has flowing water here, while it's simply a dry wash in town this time of year. According to the brochure, there is five miles of perennial flow in the creek, two miles of which are in the preserve. Watercress and other greenery grows in the creek, providing a much-needed (and endangered) resource in such a dry part of the country. The host told us we might see javelinas eating watercress, but unfortunately we did not.
The cottonwood trees along the creek are massive in size and very impressive. According to the link above:
"The preserve protects a magnificent example of the rare Fremont cottonwood-Goodding willow riparian forest. Some of the trees are among the largest (more than 100 feet tall) and oldest (130 years old) Fremont cottonwood trees in this country. "
To put the tree's size in context, just look at how big this trunk is compared to me!
We saw plenty of birds in the preserve and added two new ones to our life lists: Bridled Titmouse and Bell's Vireo.
We could have spent much longer at the preserve, but since we wanted to get home for part of the game, we left. We will definitely get there another time while our pass is valid, though.
On the way back, we stopped in at the the Paton House, aka "Hummingbird Haven". This is a residential home in Patagonia with a yard absolutely filled with bird feeders of all types and thus a perfect area to see birds. The former owners, Wally and Marion Paton, loved feeding and watching birds, and invited one and all to come into their yard to watch any time. The Patons have now passed away, but the house was recently purchased jointly by several birding organizations and is maintained as a bird sanctuary. What a wonderful legacy left for us -- and the birds -- to enjoy!
We added a couple of new birds to our life lists here, including the Violet-Crowned Hummingbird (below) and Lazuli Bunting.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this Funday Friday, where we head up the road to Sonoita to visit a couple of wineries!
I kept looking for the start of the trail beside the Health Clinic and the Post Office, both shown in the map above, but it just isn't there. Undeterred and with the map in mind, I crossed the Sonoita Creek bridge on Highway 82 heading northeast, and right at the end of the bridge, I saw the trail marker.
Blink and you'll miss it; the trail (or what I think of as a trail) actually starts immediately at the north end of the bridge on the east side of the road. I was pretty excited and felt as if I'd found a real treasure. And actually I had!
As stated on the sign above, the trail follows the old Southern Pacific railbed as closely as possible, then enters Nature Conservancy and Native Seed Search land.
I had the trail all to myself -- well, just me and the birds. The trees were gorgeous!
The trail crosses Sonoita Creek, this portion of which is dry this time of year -- good for me!
There are stern warnings before you enter Nature Conservancy lands.
As you can see, the views all along the trail are breathtaking. There was still a tiny bit of snow visible on this mountaintop.
The first time I walked the trail, I came back on the second crossing of the wash rather than completing a short run of trail back to downtown. The huge cottonwood trees were beautiful. They were just beginning to show green the first time I walked the trail; now, one week later, they're totally green.
I've had the trail to myself both times I've walked it. Well, except for Paisley! I took her along on my second walk. She had fun but had to drink a LOT of water along the way. The temperature was only around 70, but it's dry and very sunny.
This is an easy, flat trail, just a couple of miles in length. If you plan to walk it, bring binoculars, water, and sunscreen!
Emily & Barry
We're a long-married, early-retired couple who are currently traveling as nomads with no fixed home base. After years of living in North Carolina (Emily's home state), we spent 18 months living oceanfront on Ambergris Caye, Belize, a year road-tripping the US in a Honda CR-V, a year in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, and are now roaming North America in our 32' motorhome, Pearl, following warm weather whenever possible.
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