Big Views, Tall Tales: Sonoita to Tombstone
Outside Tucson, we leave the traffic on I-10 behind and follow southbound Highway 83. The road winds through Davidson Canyon, where gray and rust-colored slopes are sprinkled with spindly ocotillo and thickets of prickly pear. Before long, we emerge into the high-desert grasslands of Sonoita.
"Driving in from the foothills, especially near sunset or early morning, when you see the sun on the rolling hills, the beauty is just overwhelming," says Gail Getzwiller, a transplant from Illinois. "I know I had an emotional reaction. When I first saw it, I immediately wanted to live here."
Getzwiller's husband Steve is a renowned collector of Navajo weaving, Zia Pueblo pottery, and Zuni jewelry. The couple run the Nizhoni Ranch Gallery out of their hacienda-style house high atop a hill overlooking the Babacomari Valley. Steve grew up nearby, on a ranch outside Benson, and, when he was 18, he traded his collection of Winchester .22 rifles for his first Navajo weavings.
In the five decades since, Steve has worked closely with Native craftspeople in northeast Arizona, providing them with hand-dyed Churro wool so that even contemporary works retain the look and feel of traditional textiles. The fruit of that collaboration is on display around the gallery, where elaborately geometric, museum-quality Navajo blankets hang on the walls, and subtly patterned Hopi baskets sit atop antique side tables.
As spectacular as the collection may be, we keep stealing glances at the view. Noting our gazes, Steve looks out the window.
"You can see 14 mountain ranges from here," he says, gesturing to a panorama that extends eastward past the rugged silhouette of the Huachuca Mountains all the way to snowcapped Mount Graham, over 100 miles away. Ever the rancher, he adds, "And this is some of the finest Angus grazing land you'll find anywhere."
From Sonoita we continue east on Highway 82 through the rangelands of the Rain Valley, with a gray, dome-shaped volcanic knob fondly known as the Biscuit rising to the south. The highway then drops from the range into the lush San Pedro Valley, where the cottonwood forest along the San Pedro River traces a green line across the tawny expanse. We pull into the ghost town of Fairbank, once home to Tombstone's railroad stop. Though it's empty today, the place still has an orderly feel, with mesquite-shaded buildings laid out in rows around a dirt plaza. The restored schoolhouse now serves as a museum.