Anza Trail Overnight Stabling
And every spring since 1938, the De Anza Trail Caballeros, a nonprofit organization based in California, have held their annual ride from Calexico to Riverside to honor Anza’s expedition and to encourage the development of saddle horses for pleasure riding.
A Chilly Day
We set out on our journey in late February on a cold, unusually overcast and windy day. The forecast called for rain, but this was our only day to ride here, so we braved it. Fortunately, the weather held.
From Tucson, we drove south on Interstate 19 into Santa Cruz County and through a United States Border Patrol checkpoint. We took Exit #34 at Tubac, then followed signs for the Tumacácori National Historical Park, which is only a mile or so from the interstate.
Adjacent to the mission is the trailhead parking area, which can easily accommodate a half dozen trucks and trailers. Although the area where we parked and unloaded the horses isn’t fenced, we were well away from the road. On the day we rode, we had the entire area to ourselves, likely due to the weather conditions.
A mission employee told us that people do camp here overnight with their horses on occasion, but your best (and safest) bet is to arrange for overnight stabling for your horse and book a hotel room for yourself. (For one overnight-stabling resource, see below.)
A Desert Oasis
Riding from the Tumacácori Mission trailhead to Tubac and back is approximately a four-hour round trip at a walk. (You can also park at the trailhead in Tubac and start from the site of Anza’s original expedition.) Although this trail is in the Southern Arizona desert, you won’t feel that way here.
“One reason I like riding here is that it’s always a few degrees cooler than in Tucson, so even when the heat strikes, you still can ride,” said Kathryn, as we got underway. “The trails are cooler, because of the river and the tree canopy, and because of the higher elevation.”
I felt as though we were riding through an oasis.
The area is rich in wildlife and boasts a great variety of birds. Don’t be surprised to see deer along the trail. During wildflower season in the spring, there’s also an abundance of butterflies. The flora and fauna only enhance this picturesque section of the Anza Trail, making it a favorite of local riders, hikers, bird lovers, and photographers.
Note that to enter the trail, and at several points along the way, your horse must walk through a narrow metal pipe gate with an elevated bottom rail about 15 inches high. This is no big deal for any seasoned trail horse, but take care with an inexperienced mount.
As soon as we went through the gate at the trailhead, the trail meandered through a large stand of mesquite. As we neared the river, we entered a forest of Fremont cottonwoods and Goodding’s willow (also called Goodding’s black willow).
These abundant trees are part of the riparian area. Riparian means an area in-
If you’re planning a trip to ride the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail in the Tubac, Arizona, area, one recommended overnight-stabling facility is Freedom On The Go Ranch (520/444-6481; firstname.lastname@example.org).
This ranch offers private paddocks, an outdoor arena, and electrical and water hookups for living-quarters trailers. There are also adjacent riding trails.
After you ride, you can explore Tubac and other nearby towns, such as Patagonia, Tombstone, Bisbee, and Nogales. fluenced by water, both above and just below ground. Here, I learned that a riparian forest community is the rarest forest type in all of North America.
There are no significant elevation changes along this portion of the trail, so it’s not physically challenging, as long as your horse doesn’t mind crossing water. If he has any issues with water, this isn’t the trail for you.
This portion of the Anza Trail crosses the Santa Cruz River multiple times. Unlike many rivers in Arizona, the Santa Cruz flows year-round. It also has the distinction of being the only river that crosses the Mexican-United States border twice.
At the time we rode, the crossings were no more than two feet deep, but depth will vary depending on the season and how much rainfall the area has experienced.
(Don’t drink the water! River water in the Tubac area contains treated effluent released from the Nogales International Wastewater Treatment Facility.)
Footing was good on the majority of the trail on the day we rode. Because of recent rains, there were some fairly muddy spots in the lowlands, but overall, the footing was fine. I liked the fact that it wasn’t rocky at all. Many trails in the area are hard on unshod horses, unless you use hoof boots.
The trail is closed to cyclists and motorized vehicles, but it’s popular with hikers. However, on the day we rode, we met only one hiker and no other riders. I imagine if the weather had been warmer, we might have run into more people, but personally, I loved having the trail mostly to ourselves.
Tubac, the oldest Spanish settlement in Arizona, is only about 18 miles north of Nogales, Mexico. Today, Tubac Presidio State Historic Park commemorates the site. Tour the small museum, and see one of the oldest territorial schoolhouses still in existence.
The town of Tubac is a fascinating tourist spot and a perfect lunch destination.
Known as an artists’ colony, Tubac has dozens of galleries, boutiques, and shops.
CYNTHIA MCFARLAND PHOTO Kathryn Wade aboard her Paint Horse gelding, Joe, crossing the Santa Cruz River along the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail.