Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area

Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area

Santa Cruz River watershed map courtesy Sonoran Institute

The Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area is the newest designated National Heritage Area in the U.S.! This designation, in December 2018, is dear to Marana because the Santa Cruz River defines the ancient and modern history in Marana and runs for 18 miles through the middle of Marana. 

This river is why the Tucson area (including Marana) was the first to be named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy in the U.S. Starting more than 4,000 years ago, the Santa Cruz River allowed for the introduction of large scale early agriculture, made possible by flood irrigation from the Santa Cruz River. The river supported complex ancient cultures, a unique riparian ecosystem, and a rich agricultural legacy that continues in Marana, with many local farms.

The Santa Cruz River is shaped like a fishhook. It begins in the San Rafael Valley near the U.S. and Mexico border and makes a hook, dipping into Mexico, before flowing in a fairly straight line northwest through Tucson and continuing for 18 miles through Marana. For more background visit Town of Marana and U.S. National Parks.

Fifteen Ways to Experience the Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area (from North to South)

1) Saguaro National Park West (Marana's neighbor to the south)
Named one of the 50 Essential Western Travel Experiences by Sunset Magazine in July 2019, this is a breathtaking National Park that's so easy to get to, it's a good habit to form.

2) Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (Marana's neighbor to the south, inside Saguaro National Park West)
One of the top-rated zoological gardens in the world. Where animals, Sonoran Desert ecosystems, and culture intersect within the majestic setting of Saguaro National Park West.


3) Marana Gastronomy Tours, the first UNESCO City of Gastronomy-approved tours in the U.S. (All around Marana)
The Santa Cruz River, the Rillito, and the Canada del Oro Wash created the conditions for ancient farming in present-day Marana -- where Las Capas, the oldest large-scale corn farm found so far in the U.S., was discovered in 2009. Take one or both of the two Marana Gastronomy tours and taste ancient flavors as reimagined by chefs, brewers, and wild foods masters and see ancient farming sites.

4) Old Pueblo Archaeology Tours and Events (Around Marana and Tucson areas)
Guided tours, talks, and educational adventures for all ages at Old Pueblo Archaeology Center.

5) Archaeology Southwest Tours and Events (Tucson area)
Events, classes, field school, and educational experiences.

6) Tohono Chul Botanical Gardens & Galleries (Northwest Tucson/Southeast Marana)
A 49-acre botanic garden and contemporary art galleries packed with more nature and culture than anywhere else in the Southwest.


7) Arizona State Museum (University of Arizona campus)
The State of Arizona's renowned repository of ancient Southwest artifacts, exhibitions, and education and events center for ancient to contemporary Native American culture and arts.

8) Arizona History Museum (University of Arizona campus neighborhood)
The State of Arizona's museum of Arizona history from Spanish colonial through territorial eras. Changing exhibitions highlight unique facets of Southwest history by focusing on Geronimo, Buffalo Soldiers, and many others.  

9) Mission Garden (West of downtown Tucson)
An evolving demonstration garden that documents Santa Cruz Valley agriculture from ancient to modern. Events, classes, talks, guided tours of the gardens.

10 ) Tumamoc Hill (West of downtown Tucson)
Tumamoc Hill is a National Historic Landmark known for its archaeological significance, biological diversity, and the world's first ecological restoration ecology project.

11) San Xavier Co-op Farm (Tohono O'odham Reservation, south of downtown Tucson)
Continuing the farming tradition of their ancient ancestors here in Southern Arizona, the San Xavier Co-op Farm, on the Tohono O'odham Reservation, cultivates ancient crops such as tepary beans and squash, and sells wild foods harvested on the reservation, such as mesquite meal (ground from mesquite pods) and dried cholla buds. You can drop in at the Co-op Store and pick up these and other delicious Sonoran Desert foods fed by the Santa Cruz River watershed.

12) Tohono O'odham Cultural Center (West of Tucson area on the Tohono O'odham Reservation, in Topawa, Arizona)
The Tohono O’odham welcome you to view and learn about our rich history. Learn how to plan your visit at the Tohono O’odham Cultural Center and Museum with tour times, parking information and more. 

13) Tubac Presidio State Historic Park (Tubac, Arizona)
Exhibits and artifacts that illuminate 2,000 years of history, from Native American and Spanish colonial to early Mexican and pioneer American cultures.

14) Tumacácori National Historic Park (Tumacacori, Arizona)

Tumacácori sits at a cultural crossroads in the Santa Cruz River valley. Here O’odham, Yaqui, and Apache people met and mingled with European Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries, settlers, and soldiers, sometimes in conflict and sometimes in cooperation.

15) San Rafael State Natural Area (Patagonia, Arizona) 
Visit San Rafael State Natural Area, situated in a valley that extends over 90,000 acres and lies at the headwaters of the Santa Cruz River between the Patagonia Mountains, Huachuca Mountains, and the Canelo Hills. 

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