Whether you like salsa spicy or sweet or just mildly tangy, Graham County is the place for you. After all, it’s home to Arizona’s Salsa Trail, which boasts more than a dozen Mexican restaurants that would love to give your taste buds a whirl. The trail connects the friendly small communities sprinkled around Graham County – terrific places for touring and exploring, birding, historical tours, hiking, fishing and off-roading.
Here, in one of the most historically significant regions of Arizona, tourism officials have blown the cover on salsa recipes that date back three generations. Once enjoyed mostly by locals, the salsas and their host restaurants are now part of a cleverly devised path known as the Salsa Trail, formed in 2005 between the Graham County Chamber of Commerce and local business owners.
The Salsa Trail is about 170 miles southeast of Phoenix and 130 miles east of Tucson and spreads across the towns of Safford, Thatcher, Pima, Solomon, Duncan, York, Clifton and Willcox. Each restaurant is family-owned and -operated – many have been around for decades – and, of course, they all serve delicious home-cooked Mexican food, from tacos and tamales to burritos, enchiladas and other specialties that keep customers coming back for more.
Every restaurant on the trail has a unique story, ambiance and recipes, including made-from-scratch salsas and sauces that range from mild to extremely hot. But, don’t think you’ll be able to reproduce them at home – the secret recipes are only known to the cooks and owners, and some recipes have been passed down from generation to generation.
Stop by the Graham County Chamber of Commerce in Safford and pick up a Salsa Trail brochure, which maps out the locations of all the restaurants. Because there are more than a dozen eateries on the trail, sensible gastronomes pick and choose, perhaps looking for something new or unusual, knowing that they will have to return soon for more flavorful finds.
SalsaFest is the “hottest” event in Southern Arizona, with live entertainment, delicious food, Chihuahua races, a doggie costume contest and samples of some of the greatest salsas in the Southwest. Every September, SalsaFest celebrates everything salsa, including the opportunity to win prizes and bragging rights in the annual Salsa Challenge, where amateurs and professionals show off their salsa-making skills and unbeatable recipes.
All salsas are prepared on-site, right in the Salsa Challenge tent. Festival attendees purchase chips, and then go to each salsa challenge contestant to sample their awesome and unique salsas. Afterward, attendees vote for their favorite in the People’s Choice competition.
Tastes of History, Wineries, the Outdoors and More
Once visitors get their fill of Mexican food, they’ll need diversions to work off the tamale tummies. All of the great little towns along the Salsa Trail offer a variety of attractions and things to do.
Willcox is home to several museums, such as the Chiricahua Regional Museum and National Monument, the Marty Robbins Museum and the Rex Allen Museum. Wine tastings are also an exciting option at Passion Cellars, Coronado Vineyards, Carlson Creek Tasting Room, Flying Leap Vineyards, Zarpara Vineyard and Keeling Schaefer Vineyards.
In Pima, you can enjoy the Pima Museum and Cluff Pond.
In Solomon, you’ll find a two-third-scale replica of the first Valley National Bank and the streets are lined with historic buildings.
Morenci features the Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold Mine. Although tours are no longer offered, there is an overlook, which allows for great photo ops of the expansive mine.
Some choices in Thatcher include Frye Mesa Reservoir and Trail as well as the Eastern Arizona College Mills Indian Art Collection.
In Safford, visitors can explore Discovery Park, Roper Lake State Park and natural hot mineral springs. Discovery Park Campus serves as the visitor center for Mount Graham International Observatory (MGIO), home to the largest telescope in the world. Discovery Park Campus has multiple exhibits and offers tours that focus on the geology, history and diversity of Mount Graham. Nearby is Dankworth Pond, with a picnic area, hiking trails, a playground and more.
Graham County is home to more than four million acres of National Forest and protected wilderness lands, pristine high-desert beauty, the lush Gila Valley and towering pines on Mount Graham.
There are so many things to do in Graham County’s terrific little communities – and with some of the most scenic terrain in the entire Southwest. It’s no wonder first time visitors frequently come back for more…naturally!
Discover what you’d like to explore by going to www.visitgrahamcounty.com and the Salsa Trail to start your adventure today!
(Brought to you by the Graham County Chamber of Commerce, (928) 428-2511)