Aravaipa Farms: A wilderness retreat in a canyon hideaway
Aravaipa Farms Orchard and Inn is set amidst a distinctive and remarkable backdrop within the Sonoran Desert of Southern Arizona. What makes this area so special is the perennial stream that flows through Aravaipa Canyon, along the base of the Galiuro Mountains. This spring-fed stream spawns lush and mature vegetation near its banks, while the area co-habitats with the more indigenous cacti landscape, such as giant saguaros, prickly pear and many cholla varieties. Tall willow, sycamore, and cottonwood trees follow the creek, while saguaro cactus are found on the canyon slopes, essentially sharing the same space—a fascinating sight.
Having a constant source of water in the desert creates an extraordinary habitat for wildlife. The trees that grow along the banks of Aravaipa creek shelter more than two hundred species of birds, rare gray owls, mountain lions, wild turkeys, deer, javelina and many others.
Getting to Aravaipa Farms is quite easy, but does require traveling on several miles of dirt road and a shallow creek-crossing just before reaching the desert sanctuary. The Orchard and Inn is located about 120 miles from Phoenix and about 70 miles from Tucson.
Lodging at Aravaipa Farms is spread out a bit over the property, with three lodging clusters that include five rooms and the Farmhouse, for guests needing a bit more space. There is a swimming pool and gathering space where guests meet for dinner during the days of the week it is served. The facility could also be used for gatherings, such as a family reunion.
The rooms are each uniquely decorated in what could best be described as farm chic (or shabby chic), while the craftsmanship showcases intentional imperfection throughout. Lines are often not straight and materials not flush, but that adds to the character of the space.
It is apparent that the building materials are all repurposed and nothing has gone to waste. The ceiling and roofs are lined with galvanized steel, the floor in slate tile. The bathroom has an organic feel with floor-to-ceiling Saltillo tile. The windows are framed out with what appears to be former structural support beams with rusty nails that have been re-used and straightened more than once. A wire mesh screen hides the plumbing of the sink and a heavy Dutch door made of old barn wood closes off the bathroom.
The furnishings complement the space perfectly. A distressed nightstand, a rustic hutch, a colorfully painted head and footboard for the bed, and whimsical artwork and fresh cut flowers adorn a small bistro table, while the sitting area has two button-back leather chairs that look like they’re out of a den, or from an old men’s club or cigar lounge.
At first blush, the craftsmanship and décor may is look haphazard, but you soon see that it is well orchestrated with intent. It’s sort of like a world-class musician who cannot read or write music, but somehow they can make harmonious melodies.
Aravaipa Farms Orchard and Inn was the passion project of Carol Steel, an Arizona culinary legend back in the 70s through early 90s when she owned several boutique restaurants that bore her abbreviated name, C. Steel Marketplace. Today, the Orchard and Inn is owned by Kevin and Jill Madden, two business icons from the Tucson area who are carrying on Carol’s traditions.
Some of Carol’s traditions include food and some of her original recipes. Wednesday through Saturday, guests are invited for dinner where a lovely three-course meal is served. Alcohol is not included, but you’re welcome to bring your own. In the morning, a simple but delicious breakfast awaits in the refrigerator inside each room. While I was there I enjoyed fresh fruit with plain yogurt, homemade granola, fresh juice, homemade muffins, coffee and fresh cream. To stay within the farm theme, most everything is served in old Mason jars.
While I was staying at the Inn, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Carol, who still lives in Aravaipa Canyon (just down the road from the farm), and stopped by for a visit. What made this meeting particularly interesting was that when I was a kid (perhaps a young man), I often visited C. Steele Marketplace as it was just down the street from my school. I have fond memories of Carol’s place and knew it was something special. Back then; there weren’t as many refined culinary options as there are today.
Carol told me a bit of the story of how C. Steele came about. She and a friend were visiting Harrods in London, a place where you could smell, taste and touch the food. This was the inspiration she needed to open her own slice of heaven right in the heart of Scottsdale. She offered over 150 imported cheeses and fine coffees, well before the Starbucks craze, and beyond the mundane of Folgers and Maxwell House from the grocery stores. They also offered gourmet mustards, spices, pastas and jams and had some of the best sandwiches and desserts in town. I also learned from Carol that many well-known chefs in the Phoenix area got their start at C. Steele.
If you’re looking for a truly special weekend-getaway, far from the bustle of Phoenix and Tucson, do yourself a favor and book a trip out to Aravipa, the Orchard and Inn is a fantastic place for some R&R. You can pull up a rock and find a shady spot by the creek, ogle the rugged walls of Aravaipa Canyon on a leisurely day hike, or just relax on your own private patio.
If you’ve ever visited Arivipa Farms Orchard and Inn, please leave a comment below and share your experience.
Aravaipa Farms Orchard and Inn Information
Address: 89395 E. Aravaipa Rd – Winkelman, AZ 85192
Phone: (520) 261-7373
Amenities: Pool, en-suite kitchenette, fireplaces and Wi-Fi
Rates: $219-$449/night (Sun. – Tue.) depending on accommodations and time of the year. Add $110 per night per couple (Wed. – Sat.) when dinner is provided.