With an average elevation between 4,000 and 5,000 feet, and average annual rainfall around 20 inches, the grasslands and creek beds of the “Mountain Empire” on the eastern side of the Santa Rita range are much cooler than Tucson , and the landscape is unlike any other in Arizona. The towns here are tiny, but they serve as an increasingly popular tourist spot, and little out-of-the-way inns are plentiful .
In Patagonia, the largest town in the area with only about 800 people, there’s a yellow train depot in the center of town, built in 1900, and a nearby butterfly garden. A few shops sell unique locally made items and other treasures.
There has been quite a proliferation of bed-and-breakfasts in this area over the last several years. You can find brochures for most of them at Mariposa Books (436 Naugle Ave., 520/394-9186), a great bookstore in Patagonia with a tourist information desk.
There are two ways to get to the grassland seas and cottonwood forests of the Mountain Empire, a historic ranching and mining district between the Santa Rita, Patagonia, Mustang, and Huachuca Mountains. If you’re coming from the Santa Cruz Valley, take Highway 82 from Nogales 19 miles southeast to Patagonia and then on to Sonoita, where Highway 83 branches off north to I-10. If you’re coming from Tucson , take I-10 east to Highway 83.