Hit the road for tour of scenic Southern AZ

Take holiday visitors day-tripping to book shops, a monastery, more
2012-12-26T00:00:00Z 2012-12-26T10:33:09Z Hit the road for tour of scenic Southern AZDoug Kreutz Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
December 26, 2012 12:00 am  • 

One of the wonderful things about the holidays is having family and friends at your house.

Here's something almost equally wonderful: finding an entertaining way to lure everyone out of the house for a while.

Two words: day trip.

Taking your guests on a drive around parts of scenic Southeastern Arizona gives everyone a change of pace - and lets you show off some of our home-turf sights.

Today, to help you plan such a houseguest hiatus, we describe a suggested loop trip. Stops along the way include a big-vista trailhead, back-road bookshop, tranquil monastery, ghost town, rustic winery, hiking trails, a historic ranch and more.

Open the gifts. Serve up a feast. And then, perhaps later in the week, collect the clan and hit the road.

LIFTOFF

Plan on a reasonably early start and a full day of travel and sightseeing if you want to visit all the sites on the suggested loop.

It's about 170 miles of driving - a bit more or less depending on where you start in Tucson. Skip some of the stops if you prefer to make a shorter day of it.

Let's get moving then.

Get on Interstate 10 and head east out of Tucson and keep an eye out for Exit 281. This is the exit for Arizona 83, but instead of heading south on that highway after you exit, cross north over I-10 and get on Marsh Station Road.

Follow the road about three miles and watch for the Gabe Zimmerman Davidson Canyon Trailhead on the right.

The site is dedicated to Zimmerman, who was an aide to former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Zimmerman, 30, was killed along with five others on Jan. 8, 2011, in a mass shooting that wounded Giffords and 12 other people.

The trailhead, with a large image of Zimmerman and information about his life, also provides beautiful views of the surrounding area, access to the cross-state Arizona Trail, and a vantage point for watching trains cross the Rincon Valley.

BREAKFAST IN BENSON

After a stop at the trailhead and maybe a short walk on the Arizona Trail, continue on Marsh Station Road, which connects again with I-10 at Exit 289.

Travelers who didn't fuel up with breakfast before leaving home might take exit 303 in Benson and watch for a restaurant. One option is Reb's Cafe - on the left soon after entering Benson.

Waitress Lin Eliasen says a popular item on the breakfast menu is Number 38: two eggs, potatoes, choice of meat and toast for $5.29.

"The food is good," says Eliasen in what might be a predictable verbal review. "I'd rather eat here than anywhere else in town."

BACK-ROAD BOOK SHOP

Just outside Benson, down a dusty dirt road, is a small book shop so well stocked with books about the Southwest and other topics that readers from far and wide seek it out.

It's called the Singing Wind Bookshop. Owner Winn Bundy guides customers among stacks with "thousands and thousands" of titles.

To get to the shop from Interstate Exit 304 in Benson, drive north on Ocotillo Road about 2.5 miles to a right turnoff for Singing Wind Road. Follow the narrow dirt road about a half-mile to the shop on the left. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week.

TRANQUIL MONASTERY

The peaceful grounds of the Holy Trinity Monastery provide a potential restful stop along the loop trip.

From Benson, drive southeast on Arizona 80 past the hamlet of St. David and watch for the monastery entrance on the right between mileposts 302 and 303.

An Olivetan Benedictine monastery founded in 1974, it's open to the public daily and has a chapel, meditation garden, bird sanctuary, bookstore and gift shop.

Two visitors, Julia Hand and Mark Turbes, stopped by the monastery one day this month to make plans for a special occasion there: their wedding.

GHOST TOWN STROLL

The deserted town site of Fairbank - a booming railroad hub for miners, materials and ore in the 1880s- is right on the way as the loop drive continues.

From the monastery, drive southeast on Arizona 80 to Arizona 82. Turn right (west) on Arizona 82 and follow it about six miles to the well-marked Fairbank site.

Managed as part of the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, Fairbank is open to the public for free self-guided tours.

Old structures, including a mercantile building, lie along the silent main street. A restored schoolhouse gives a look at classroom life in the 1920s.

Hiking trails along the San Pedro River begin near the town site.

INTO WINE COUNTRY

The vineyards of Southeastern Arizona are fallow for the winter, but some of the area's wineries are open for wine talk and tastings.

Drive west from Fairbank on Arizona 82, pass a junction with Arizona 90 and continue west 11 miles to a signed left turnoff for Elgin.

Drive south about five miles to the settlement of Elgin, which is the site of The Village of Elgin Winery.

It's one of several wineries in the Elgin-Sonoita area, and it offers tasting daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

"We think our wines speak for themselves. Try them," says Jim Reed, the tasting room manager.

Tastings at The Village of Elgin Winery cost $5 or $8 for six samples, depending on whether you buy a wine glass, Reed says.

Other well-known wineries in the area include Callaghan Vineyards and Sonoita Vineyards.

OLIVE OIL IN SONOITA

Continue west on Elgin Road or parallel roads to Arizona 83, which leads northwest to Sonoita.

Among several unusual shopping possibilities in Sonoita is Skye Island Olive and Grapes.

Owner Linda Carroll says the shop, on the north side of Arizona 82 in Sonoita, specializes in olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

"I carry 30 different varieties between olive oils, balsamics and marinades," Carroll says.

LAND OF THE COWBOY

Drive north from Sonoita on Arizona 83 and watch for a right turnoff for the Empire Ranch between mileposts 39 and 40.

The ranch dates from the 1870s and is still leased for cattle grazing.

The historic ranch house, part of Las Cienegas National Conservation Area, is about three miles from the highway on an unpaved but well-maintained dirt road.

The no-longer-occupied 22-room building, nearby corrals and a short hiking trail are open to the public free of charge.

Follow Arizona 83 north to connect with I-10 and return to Tucson.

On StarNet: View more photos of this promising day trip at azstarnet.com/gallery

Contact reporter Doug Kreutz at dkreutz@azstarnet.com or at 573-4192. On Twitter: @DouglasKreutz

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