Mark D Stephens: Adventurer, writer, photographer, ambassador of the sonoran desert
Exploration Though Las Cienegas Conservation Area
Expedition by Nissan Frontier and Range Rover

Cows of Sonoita Ranches of ArizonaThe highlight of Las Cienegas Conservation Area is a tough call. Empire Ranch might take the cake, since it's so well in tact and expansive.

But I also thought that a little place called Ramsey Well was fascinating. Two old rusty vehicles are there. One is a van. The other is a Chrysler Fluid Drive. Both have been shot and stripped, but they're intersting nonetheless. Plus, there is a large windmill with blades about 8-10 feet long has crashed to the ground at some point.

Then the roads out here are many. And wildlife.

Las Cienegas Conservation Area also contains a little place called "Bootlegger's Spring." And I wanted to go there. According to the maps, it would require a hike along a river and into some canyons; that sounded fun.

The reason for this idea? As silly as it sounds, Roger Clyne and The Peacemakers do a song called The Ballad of Lupe Montosa, and it tells a story. I'm a sucker for stories, and in this song is a little mention of a place called Bootlegger's Spring. Let me share the lyrics, because I think it's good:

Well, they shot poor old Lupe Montosa
They gunned him down about the bootlegger's spring
They stole his only silver ring
They wrecked all his distilling things
And made a widow of his sweet little wife Rosa

They found an old curandero, to bury the mescalero
While his family cried for thirteen nights and days...
When Lupito asked his momma why his papa had to go and die,
She said, "Dios works in the most loco of ways"

So, the Padre tried to settle down, the angry mob that gathered round
He said, "Let no more tears flow, let's let no more blood spill.
People don't you take revenge, in time the lord will surely avenge this crime
For Lupe, and the untimely death of our still."

Well, they shot poor old Lupe Montosa
They gunned him down about the bootlegger's spring
They stole his only silver ring
They wrecked all his distilling things
And made a widow of his sweet little wife Rosa

When they found the man who shot down poor old Lupe,
You know their lives were just barely a-flicker...
See they'd all lost their minds,
Each one was permanently blind,
With drinking too much of poor Lupe's good liquor

Yeah, they shot down poor Lupe Montosa
They gunned him down about the bootlegger's spring
They stole his only silver ring
They wrecked all his distilling things
And made a widow of his sweet little wife Rosa

Rang Rover on expedition near Sonoita ArizonaNot that I expected to run into an unnamed rockstar writing songs at this infamous Bootlegger's Spring, but it just popped off the map at me when I was researching the area. It just seemed like a fun idea to go to some place that comes from some cowboy tale. Every trip needs a purpose, a challenge, or an inspiring cowboy story.

And by the way, there's another place there called Montosa Canyon. Pretty interesting . . .

The towns of Sonoita and Patagonia will always have my attention. First, Sonoita is some kind of a funky mix between real-live working cowboy ranches and a handful of bed and breakfasts that are up for sale. While there are mountains in the area, most of Sonoita sits on an open plain of rolling hills. Then, down the road, you'll find Patagonia. Here, another funky mix exists. But this time it's the people. Artists, musicians, and phoenominal cooks live here. It's like this select group of people live with some kind of "wink" going on between one another. Like they're telling each other, "We've got the rest of the world fooled. They think Sedona is neat? Patagonia tosses that place on it's keester, and we're not going to tell anyone about it."

Empire ranch at Las Cienegas Conservation areaLet's talk about Las Cienegas Conservation Area, again. First, it's a fantastic refuge with rivers and classic desert wildlife. Several dirt trails traverse the entire area, although many have been closed off. This makes sense, since it is a conservation area. The eastern side of the area ends at the base of the Whetstone Mountains where you can have sweeping views of the entire area and find ranches on the fringes.

There are so many roads that I stopped to chat with two cowboys loading up a dually with hay. When I asked about the roads, one looked at the other then said, "Um, yeah. You just go on up that-a-way and you'll run into a few more forks. One'll take ya to Bear Spring. That's a rough road, but you'll make it."

The other broke in, "So, you campin'?"

"Yeah, are there good places to camp up there?"

"Sure. But it's a-gonna be a cold one tonight. We go up there from time to time, but I like it warm."

* * *

Velvet Elvis PizzaOne time Brooke and I went into Patagonia and Mision de San Miguel. We'd heard there was going to be some live music, which always sounds fun. At Mision, they let me wander around the place and shoot some photos. While I did that, a local sat down with Brooke and chatted for a little while.

He had a long gray pony tail and wore a cowboy hat. With a deep voice, he explained that Patagonia is "going to shit" no thanks to the "fuckin' vegetarian jackasses at Tree of Life Rejuvenation Center." His language blew me away, as I didn't expect anyone to say something so coarse off the bat.

But I still kicked back with a few Negra Modelos and shot photos of the band and the wild art on the walls. Close to 9:00, the doors opened and a crowd piled in. This crowd was composed of young men wearing cowboy hats and boots with shiney belt buckles. They began hugging one another and ordering Bud Lights.

Ranch hands, I thought. We were hanging with local cowboys.


Las Cienegas Conservation and Sonoita/Patagonia Info
Map of our route:
Interesting info: Empire Ranch rsides within Las Cienegas. Here, several old movies were shot and today artists come here to paint. Visitors can wander around the ranch and read about the movies and actors who have been there. More importantly, the ranch has a ton of old artifacts and good structures still standing.

The area also hosts many vineyards and wineries, which are also open to visitors.

Websites: Patagonia website
La Mision de San Miguel
Las Cienegas BLM website

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Mark D. Stephens: Adventurer, Writer, Photgrapher and Ambassador of the Sonoran Desert