Did you know that Father Kino first visited the
Santa Cruz Valley in 1691?
For more Santa Cruz County facts, click here.
Rio Rico: Rich River and Rich History
Before the massive 1960s real estate bonanza that gave rise to the community people know today, high adventure, violence, political intrigue, vice, rollercoaster economic booms and busts, pluck, greed and ambition all characterized the community that waxed and waned before finally becoming modern Rio Rico.
While the Sonoran borderlands had been home to thriving indigenous cultures for centuries prior to Spanish incursions, the written history of the unincorporated community of roughly 19,000 begins with Father Eusebio Francisco Kino, the Jesuit Priest who dubbed the first settlements there Calabazas, iterations of which would be the town’s name until rechristened “Rio Rico” by Florida real estate cowboys in the 1960s.
To learn more about the history of Rio Rico, visit the Rio Rico Historical Society at
1060 Yavapai Drive #7, Rio Rico, Arizona 85648.
For more information, please call the Nogales-Santa Cruz County Chamber of Commerce Tourism & Visitor Center at (520) 287-3685.
Peña Blanca Lake
Pena Blanca Lake near Rio Rico offers tourists a pleasant picnic getaway where camping under the starry nights of the Southern Arizona sky is perfect way to spend a summer night.
This medium-sized body of water fills 49 acres of Peña Blanca Canyon in the Pajarito Mountain foothills. It is surrounded by grassy, oak-dotted hills, some of which are topped with bluffs of limestone. Peña Blanca Lake is a popular recreation spot for visitors from neighboring Nogales, Arizona and nearby communities in Mexico as well.
On weekends, and even weekdays, during the peak summer season, this area can be quite crowded. On holidays, especially Easter, it becomes extremely crowded.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department built Peña Blanca Lake in 1957. It provides water-related recreation year round, although its location so close to the Mexican border can be a bit deceptive. Frequently, people who come here during the winter expecting warm, balmy weather are surprised at how cool it can be.
This is a mountain lake located at 4,000 feet above sea level and its climate reflects that fact. Directions: Turn west off Interstate 19 approximately 8 miles north of Nogales at the Peña Blanca–Ruby Road (AZ Hwy 289) exit. Follow this road about
9 miles to Peña Blanca Lake Recreation Area. Turn right (north) on the paved road that leads to the lake and the boat-launching ramp.
Rugged, rustic and surreal are just a few of the words that might describe Rio Rico.
For thousands of years people have found this area along the Santa Cruz River to their liking. But in the post NAFTA era, this planned community of 11,000 just might become a model for bi-cultural communities of the future (the local market still accepts pesos as readily as dollars).
Esplendor Resort at Rio Rico
Once part of a vast land grant from the King of Spain, Rio Rico finds itself in the unique position of balancing a luxury resort with an unspoiled rural residential ambiance. While coyotes still howl under crystalline skies and the cattle roam free, its Esplendor Resort at Rio Rico, par 72 Robert Trent Jones Sr. Golf Course ranks among Arizona's top 25 public courses. Rio Rico's major attraction is a resort lifestyle, affordable housing, and its proximity to Mexico.
The centerpiece of the modern community is the Rio Rico Resort and Country Club, a pampered oasis surrounded by rugged mountains and pristine Sonoran landscape. During the summer months heat-weary guests from Phoenix and Tucson come to enjoy the brisk climate and legendary cuisine. Hiking, horseback riding and golf can be enjoyed year around, even during our summer months of July and August.