Arizona’s Secret Canyon

Remote, lush & diverse, steal away to Aravaipa Canyon. | By Edie Jarolim

Looking to escape civilization and its discontents? Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness, a desert oasis tucked away between Tucson and Phoenix, might just be the place. The Federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) parcels out only 50 permits a day to enter the 19,410-acre preserve, thus minimizing encounters with other humans while maximizing opportunities to ogle wildlife.

Bighorn sheep, mule deer, bobcats, javelina, and more than 200 types of birds are among the species drawn to the year-round stream that threads its way through the dramatic 11-mile-long gorge in the Galiuro Mountains. Prickly pear cacti poke out from impossible perches in sandstone cliffs that soar as high as 1,000 feet, while sycamores, willows, and cottonwoods hold sway below.

This is the natural universe unplugged, with no formal trails or campsites—just a streambed to follow during the day and whatever canopy of trees you choose to rest under at night.

But maybe you’re not soothed by mysterious animal cries after dark, and prefer to sleep on a mattress that doesn’t require inflating. Good news. In a pristine spread near the preserve’s western entrance, Aravaipa Farms Orchard & Inn offers abundant creature comforts while eliminating creature worries.

Both canyon and inn have rich histories.

Early native peoples, including the Hohokam, Mogollon, Salado, and Sobaipuri, lived along the lush banks of the spring-fed stream. The Western Apaches who followed gave the region its name: Aravaipa means “land of the laughing waters.” Settlers in the early 20th century had a heavier footprint: Farmers diverted the creek, miners dynamited fishing holes, and ranchers hunted cattle-eating species.

Concern over these depredations led Congress to protect the vast Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness in 1984. In addition, the Nature Conservancy took guardianship of 9,000 acres adjacent to the BLM land. Author Edward Abbey finished The Monkey Wrench Gang while serving as the first manager of the Conservancy’s preserve. Among the reasons he was sacked: skinny-dipping in Aravaipa Creek.

Although the mines were shuttered, a scattering of the canyon’s farms and ranches remained—including a spread with an abandoned fruit orchard bought by culinary pioneer Carol Steele. In the 1970s, Steele became known in Scottsdale and Phoenix for such ventures as a French bakery/cooking school that numbered as-yet-unknown chefs Jacques Pepin, Diana Kennedy, and Jeremiah Towner among its instructors. Steele’s foodie devotees flocked to the rustic-chic B&B she created at the orchard in 1995, despite—or perhaps because of—its off-the-beaten-path location.

After Steele retired, new owners updated the inn while maintaining its founder’s spirit.

You can feel Steele’s presence everywhere: in the colorful mosaic tiles of the walk-in showers and patios of the guest casitas; in the assortment of handmade bird feeders and metal sculptures that dot the grounds; and, especially, in the converted barn where guests gather for dinner.

Steele’s farm-to-table ethos is alive and well—and carefully planned additions are ensuring a lasting legacy. Last spring, 350 new trees took root alongside their mature cousins. Varieties include peach, plum, apricot, cherry, pomegranate, fig, apple, and more. In addition, a large new garden produces heirloom tomatoes, yellow watermelon, kale...you never know what garden-ripened bounty might turn up on your plate at dinnertime.

Vases of fresh-cut zinnias, sunflowers, gomphrena, and other grown-on-site blooms also appear on the wood plank dinner table, another of the many details that make a stay here special. No question: A little civilization in the wilderness can add a lot of contentment.

Edie Jarolim is a Tucson-based freelance writer who believes in balancing nature and nurture: Great hiking followed by great food.

Finding Her Desert Home

One millennial finds Tucson has a lot to offer

If three years ago you told Quinn Miller that she would not only be living in Tucson, Arizona, but that she would be active in the community and genuinely happy with her life there, she would have given a simple and concise “no.”

Growing up in Los Angeles, Quinn never saw herself leaving the metropolis. Everything she needed was there in her southern California hometown. But once her boyfriend got accepted into a PhD program at the University of Arizona and asked her to move to Tucson with him, she changed her answer to “I don’t see myself living there.”

Thankfully, that isn’t the end of Quinn’s story, and she reconsidered so she could experience life in another city; after all, LA would always be a short drive away if she yearned to return to her comfort zone. So she and her boyfriend packed their bags and headed to sunny Tucson to start their next chapter.

A hidden gem in the desert

When Quinn arrived in Tucson, she saw the sleepy town she imagined. But once she got out of her Armory Park apartment and actually explored Tucson’s revitalized downtown, she saw more than what the moniker “Old Pueblo” suggests.

“People don’t expect all the culture that’s here,” Quinn said, noting the UNESCO-recognized cuisine, history, and art found all around the city.

Quinn thinks one of Tucson’s strongest assets is its people. “When they ask how you’re doing, they actually care.” The genuine nature of Tucsonans gives the city a quality of realness, and adds a lot to Tucson’s easy way of life.

Top-notch cuisine—some of Quinn’s favorite places are 5 Points Market & Kitchen, Seis Kitchen, Reilly Craft Pizza, Cup Café, The Coronet, and Exo Roast Co.—rounds out the offerings downtown, all easily walkable or just a short ride on the Sun Link Modern Streetcar that travels through downtown to the University of Arizona. “I didn’t realize how nice it was to live a life where I didn’t have to spend two hours a day in a car.”

After the sun goes down, vibrant nightlife keeps the urban core alive with awesome breweries like Pueblo Vida Brewing Company, Tap + Bottle, and Crooked Tooth serving up craft brews, mezcals—a Tucson staple—and innovative cocktails. Quinn satisfies her dancing moods at Hotel Congress and Playground right in the heart of downtown, and for live music she heads to the Rialto Theatre.

Quinn found her places to relax in the hustle and bustle, too. Yoga Oasis is one of her top places in Tucson, and pottery classes at the Tucson Clay Co-op provide her with a creative outlet.

Rounding out Quinn’s favorite aspects of Tucson is its Sonoran Desert setting. “The natural surroundings were a really big surprise for me—the desert landscape is so beautiful.” It’s easy to tell the how much Quinn adores being outside here. “Tucson is a green desert surrounded by beautiful mountains—it’s entirely different from what people think of when they picture a desert.” Quinn loves to take visitors to the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum and Saguaro National Park to experience the desert life, and pop up to Mt. Lemmon to cool off during the summer or play in the snow during winter. The Loop—a network of more than 100 miles of paved trails surrounding the city—makes for a perfect way to show off Tucson, too.

Even with all the natural beauty on the outskirts of Tucson, the authentic and colorful casitas in the old barrios always draw her back to downtown. “I love the Tucson architecture. It has such a unique vibe.”

Modern boom town

Quinn isn’t the only one attracted to Tucson’s downtown. Caterpillar has recently moved its regional offices to the urban core and is building a 150,000-square-foot facility—the Caterpillar Tucson Mining Division—at the west end of the streetcar route in the Mercado District. Many high-tech startups and longstanding local businesses also fill the towering buildings of downtown, making it a great environment for college graduates.

Career opportunities aren’t just located in the center of town. Davis-Monthan Air Force Base on the southeastern side of the city is one of Tucson’s top employers. In fact, its presence is the reason the city has such a high number of high-tech industries—Raytheon Missile Systems, Universal Avionics, Honeywell Aerospace, and Bombardier Aerospace all have a large presence in Tucson, as well as Texas Instruments, IBM, and Intuit. That’s not even mentioning the roughly 150 Tucson companies designing and manufacturing optics and optoelectronics, earning Tucson the nickname “Optics Valley.”

Visit Tucson - prominent local business
Visit Tucson - prominent local business
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Visit Tucson - prominent local business
Visit Tucson - prominent local business
Visit Tucson - prominent local business
Visit Tucson - prominent local business
Visit Tucson - prominent local business
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Visit Tucson - prominent local business
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The University of Arizona, located just east of downtown, also attracts highly skilled researchers, and has worked closely with NASA on several missions to Mars. Banner University Medical Center employs many students and graduates of the university, as do Tucson’s other large healthcare employers Ventana Medical Systems and Sanofi-Aventis.

New home

Quinn has connected with Tucson and embraced this new life. “I feel like I’ve found a really nice community.” Compared to living in Los Angeles, life is more relaxed for Quinn here. “I have time to spend on the people and things I love, while also developing my professional skills outside of work.”

And she’s taken her love for the community to new heights by rising up to President of Ad 2 Tucson, a former affiliate of the American Advertising Federation geared toward young professionals who work in advertising, marketing, communications, and media. Ad 2 and another organization, Tucson Young Professionals, helped Quinn get her footing in Tucson when she first moved to the city, and now she is instrumental in doing the same for other millennials in the community.

“I feel like I’m in a really good spot.” All of Tucson’s offerings with low price tags have definitely spoiled Quinn. “I now have a house and I have a good job, and I have time and money to go out and do things that I really enjoy, such as hiking with my dog and getting food and drinks with friends.” And she regularly encourages her friends to visit so she can showcase the city and let them be as surprised as she was.

“I love Tucson, and I do feel at home.”

Mix It Up: Tucson Nightlife

Pull up a barstool and sip on a craft cocktail at these six Tucson waterholes. | By Edie Jarolim

Potent potables raised to an art form, craft cocktails bring out the inner geek in many imbibers. Whether re-creating historic recipes or doing contemporary riffs on the tried-and-true, these drinks are exceptionally detail-oriented, down to the shape of the ice and the origin of the garnish. Tucson is a kicked-back desert and university town where we call our shakers and stirrers bartenders rather than mixologists. Nevertheless, you’ll find a lot of distinctive spots to slake a thirst for meticulous sips.

Consider R Bar, a speakeasy-style watering hole tucked into an alley near downtown’s Rialto Theatre. The theater was built in 1922 to screen silent films, but R Bar didn’t join the scene until 2014. The “R” in the bar’s name is a reference to the performance venue, but it could also stand for the color of the decor. The intimate space is relentlessly, radiantly red, from the walls and ceilings to chairs, banquettes, lampshades, and the light fixtures...you get the rosy picture.

The cocktails don’t conform to any particular color scheme, but they’re likely to leave you feeling rosy, too. You might sip the house specialty Rialtor—a blend of ginger-infused vodka, cardamom, lime, and ginger beer—or a Tiki-inspired Painkiller, mixing rum, coconut liqueur, pineapple, and orange juice. The menu is confined to two types of grilled cheese sandwiches—one with cheddar and tandoori spices, the other featuring gruyere—but limiting the need to make complex food decisions can be a bonus at a bar.

There’s a far larger menu at Maynard’s Kitchen, but the choices—and prices—are pared down during happy hour, when poutine, fresh oysters, and potato pizza are among the options. Part of the historic depot complex that includes downtown’s Amtrak station, the Art Deco–style Maynard’s mimics a railroad dining car with its long, narrow shape, faux tile ceiling, and chandeliers encased in mica and steel.

With footrests made of a length of 1890s rail track and studs on its metal siding resembling boxcar rivets, the polished zinc bar is the perfect backdrop for the restaurant’s most popular cocktail: Maynard’s Manhattan. Its key ingredient is Buffalo Trace bourbon infused with vanilla beans and orange peels, and is aged in a Buffalo Trace barrel. Equal attention is paid to the garnish: Italian Amarena cherries, and soaked in cognac for 30 days. Like to drink your dessert? The White Chocolate Martini, made with Stoli Vanilla and Godiva White Chocolate liqueur, packs a sweet punch.

Just across downtown near Tucson Convention Center, a popular dining and drinking drag, The Coronet has a similarly retro ambience—and a similarly interesting history. The restaurant formerly hosted guests of the 1928 Coronado Hotel. The painstaking restoration included installing a bistro classic floor with encaustic tiles arrayed in intricate fleur-de-lis patterns and a 1906 bar from a small Arizona town.

The cocktails produced behind that bar pay similar attention to detail. The wonderfully simple but potent Vesper, for example, blends gin, vodka, and Lillet, while the Old Fashioned has just the right proportions of bourbon, bitters, and simple syrup. Other drinks have more whimsical names, but don’t be deterred. The Rabbi Slept Late, for example—Bols Genever Gin, Velvet Falernum, lemon, almond milk, vanilla simple syrup, and a dash of nutmeg—is seriously good. So are such happy hour nibbles and snacks as warm olives, bruschettas, and housemade patés.

Pizza and stargazing are on the menu at the solar-powered Sky Bar, the country’s only astronomy bar. Staff astronomers (you read that right) are on hand every night to assist with viewing through three high-powered telescopes on the patio. This is an especially popular gathering spot during galactic events like harvest moons or comet showers—and University of Arizona basketball games. In many ways, this is a typical college bar, with karaoke, live music, TVs, pool tables, and the affiliated Brooklyn Pizza Company next door where you can order a slice, calzone, or hero sandwich.

But several of the cocktails celebrate the features that make Sky Bar—and Tucson—such standouts. The Major Tom, for example, defies gravity with whiskey, brandy, fresh-squeezed lemon and orange juices, organic agave nectar, and a flaming orange peel garnish. Locally grown citrus is also a feature of the Sonoran Lollipop, mixing tequila, watermelon schnapps, lime juice, and chamoy—a sweet-and-salty Mexican sauce made with pickled fruit that captures the city’s distinctive south-of-the-border flavor.

On the topic of south-of-the-border flavor, Reforma Cocina y Cantina, named for the wide boulevard that sweeps through the heart of Mexico City, has it on lock down. The restaurant’s location in the Spanish village-style St. Philip’s Plaza also evokes Mexico’s capital, as do from-scratch preparations of traditional central Mexican recipes like carnitas tacos; everything from grinding the corn masa for the tortillas to butchering pork shoulder for the filling is done on site.

With more than 300 varieties, Reforma has Southern Arizona’s largest selection of distilled agave spirits—bacanora, sotol, and mezcal, as well as tequila—and you can expect unexpected things to be done with them. For example, in the Paloma—Mexico’s most popular tequila cocktail—fresh grapefruit juice and Pamplemousse grapefruit liqueur take the place of grapefruit soda. The Maestro Gentry, named for a leading botanist of agave studies who taught at The University of Arizona, uses housemade pomegranate molasses to offset the smoky taste of mezcal. Even the house margarita does a spin on the tequila classic, using salt foam rather than a crusted salt rim for salinity without the grit.

Also in St. Philip’s Plaza, Union Public House is a sprawling gastropub that serves updated versions of traditional American comfort food—meat loaf that incorporates pork belly, say, or a grilled chicken sandwich with fig jam and Cambazola—as well as such newcomers to that category as ramen noodles with bacon dashi.

The bar is known for its vast selection of whiskey, but the mixed drink that dominates is the Moscow Mule, combining vodka and ginger beer. Even before the cocktail became ubiquitous around town, it was a Union staple—so much so that the copper cups in which it’s served began disappearing at alarming rates. Putting the restaurant’s name on the metallic souvenirs didn’t stop the theft but at least balanced it with free advertising.

Now a variety of mules turn up on the shifting menu, each highlighting a different spirit. The London Mule, for example, incorporates gin, the Brazilian Mule is made with rum, and the Irish Mule uses Jameson. The latest kick is the frozen Moscow Mule, which is produced by a state-of-the-art slushy machine. It’s the quintessential cocktail for a casual city that puts a premium on staying cool.

Tucson Guide Contributing Dining Editor Edie Jarolim found it difficult to choose from all the city’s terrific cocktail spots, so she is continuing her research on the subject, hoping to be assigned a follow-up piece in the future.

Sailing in the Desert

Learn the ropes and set sail with a welcoming community of sailors | By Heather Wuelpern

When people think of Tucson, images of saguaros, roadrunners, or Sonoran hot dogs might come to mind. But sailing?

It’s not a joke. In fact, the Tucson Sailing Club set anchor in the Old Pueblo back in 1970 and has been tacking into the wind ever since. The club has a mission to “promote, protect, and foster the sport of sailing” as well as to encourage its members to “adhere to the rules of navigation and seamanship.” And perhaps the most important portion of the mission statement for the Tucson community is their goal to “promote and encourage sociability and friendship among its members.”

COME SAIL AWAY

Kerie Seamans and Dan Prevost moved to Tucson from Boston. After feeling a bit landlocked, they longed for the ocean and the camaraderie that came along with boating. They remedied their need by purchasing a sailboat and started to learn the ropes together. While sailing in Lake Pleasant one sunny afternoon, they caught wind that there was a sailing club out of Tucson.

“We showed up to a monthly meeting out of curiosity and the club welcomed us with open arms, giving us sailing tips, inviting us to regattas and parties. It was fantastic!” Kerie said.

They have since joined the club and plan to move their boat to San Carlos, Mexico, where many of the members dock, sail, and race their boats.

CATCH THE WIND IN YOUR SAILS

Don’t feel intimidated if you don’t know the difference between the port and starboard sides of a boat because Tucson Sailing Club offers sailing lessons for beginners at Silverbell Lake in Tucson. Before you know it, you’ll feel the wind in your hair on your maiden voyage.

Or, if you’ve had your sea legs since you learned to walk, join the club’s active racing program with two regattas each year in San Carlos, Mexico. You might be lucky enough to win a trophy—even if you don’t, it will be a lot of fun simply being out on the water.

WELCOME ABOARD

Whether you are already an avid sailor, a bit rusty, or would love to learn the basics, show up at a Tucson Sailing Club meeting at 7 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of every month at Brother John's at 1801 N. Stone Ave. It’s a great way to socialize with people with whom you already have something in common.