The Santa Rita mountain range, named after Saint Rita, holds a fascinating history that stretches back millions of years. Volcanic activity formed these mountains 20 million years ago, creating a 26-mile range running north to south, now nestled within the Coronado National Forest. Despite their natural beauty, the Santa Ritas were not spared from human exploitation, witnessing mining activities by both Spanish and American interests.
Mining Legacy in the Santa Ritas
These mountains, rich in lead, copper, silver, and gold, hosted numerous mining locations. Helvetia, near Sahuarita, housed miners working at the Salero Mine, Sweet Mine, Alto Mine, and World’s Fair Mine. Today, all that remains is a cemetery, but the town gained recognition in 1967 as a filming location for the Western “Hombre,” starring Paul Newman. The Empire mountains, an offshoot, were also used in several Western films, named after the Empire Ranch where a foreman discovered the Total Wreck Mine.
Hollywood and the Santa Ritas
Hollywood took notice of the Santa Ritas, with Glenn Ford filming “Lust For Gold” in the region. The Empire mountains, an offshoot of the Santa Ritas, hosted numerous Westerns, contributing to the legacy of these picturesque landscapes.
Apache Dominance and Historical Events
The Apache people dominated the Santa Ritas for decades, forcing out tribes like the Pima, Tohono O’odham, and Hohokam. In 1861, Apaches attacked the Canoa Inn, leading to conflicts and the eventual retreat of Apaches. The Tubac presidio also witnessed Apache attacks, repelled by Confederate soldiers in a fierce battle. Notably, the Santa Ritas were the backdrop for the survival story of Larcena Pennington Page, who endured a brutal attack and was left for dead in the mountains.
Tragedy and Triumph
The region faced tragedy in 1958 when three boy scouts lost their lives during a climb, caught in a sudden snowstorm. On a brighter note, in 1968, the Whipple Observatory was completed atop Mt. Hopkins, showcasing human ingenuity and determination. The Maxon brothers, Don and Norm, purchased land below the Santa Ritas in 1964, giving birth to Green Valley, an area that witnessed a new wave of residents, often referred to as snowbirds, arriving each winter from various Midwestern states.
Modern Times and Santa Rita Mountains
Today, the lordly Santa Rita mountains continue to attract sightseers to the wonders of Madera Canyon, showcasing the rich flora and fauna. The legacy of mining, Hollywood films, Apache conflicts, and triumphs over adversity all contribute to the intricate tapestry that makes the Santa Ritas an enigmatic and captivating mountain range in southern Arizona.