Mountain Empire brings visitors back in time - East Valley Tribune: Get Out

Mountain Empire brings visitors back in time

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Posted: Sunday, November 29, 2009 12:05 am | Updated: 1:09 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

When you head to the Mountain Empire, you are stepping back in time to a place steeped in the mining, ranching, and railroad history that built the West. It's a place where residents share stories at the post office, and local businesses are still owned by local people. This area of southern Arizona - which includes the communities of Patagonia, Sonoita, and Elgin - is full of beautiful rolling ranch land and relaxing roadways for your driving enjoyment.

Relax on a leisurely drive along one of the region's many scenic roads. Unwind with a fresh cup of coffee at one of the local cafes or enjoy a glass of wine made in the region while dining at one of the area's restaurants.

Locals Michael and Grace Wystrach have operated the Steak Out Restaurant & Saloon in Sonoita since 1979 with the help of their six children. When all of the kids had grown, the original restaurant burned to ground after a hot water heater malfunctioned. The restaurant was open when the fire started and within minutes the entire dining room was engulfed in flames. Everyone got out safely, but the only memorabilia that survived were cast-iron bean pots and two bronze statues.

In 2000, the Wystrachs reopened the restaurant, mimicking much of the same character and design of old building. The cast-iron bean pots are still used today, and the bronze statues are on display in the dining room and bar. The Steak Out remains the best place to "cowboy up and party down" during your tour of southern Arizona.

Here, ranching is still a way of life, and the cowboy way is celebrated annually with horse races, a rodeo and the oldest quarter-horse show in the nation.

When you plan your trip, stay awhile in a bed and breakfast, inn or retreat center.

I recommend The Sonoita Inn. Its interior rooms, lounges and hallways capture Sonoita's history through photos, artifacts and artwork, and the building itself is a historic tribute to the world's most celebrated thoroughbred, Secretariat. Built in 1980, the building was the fulfillment of a dream for Margaret Carmichael, co-owner of Secretariat - the famed racehorse that in 1973 won the Triple Crown. Today, photographs of Secretariat, press clippings and racing programs are on display in the lobby. Each room is named in honor of area ranches that have been operating in the area for centuries. Historic photos and biographical accounts of these local ranches adorn the hallways.

During your stay, explore the area's many unique galleries and shops. Discover why the Mountain Empire provides the perfect destination for a long weekend getaway or a leisurely day away from the city.

The drive to the Mountain Empire is scenic and beautiful. From the East Valley take Interstate 10 east, then exit at state Route 83. Head south for 24 miles and you will find Sonoita at the crossroads of state routes 83 and 82. Another 12 miles west on state Route 82 will bring you to Patagonia. From Sonoita, continuing east on Route 83 to Elgin Road will bring you to Elgin.

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