As a sometimes photographer in Tucson I am often asked to take outdoor portraits and of all locations available in the city one name comes up more often than any other: Agua Caliente. It is certainly a unique desert oasis, easily accessible yet remote and when the ponds are full it is easily one of the best looking parks in the Tucson area!
Like so many sites in and near Tucson, the history of the park stretches back hundreds and even thousands of years. But for the sake of brevity, let’s fast forward to 1854 and the Gadsden Purchase when what is now Southern Arizona and part of Southern New Mexico was sold by Mexico to the United States. At this time, as army encampments were being setup throughout the area, the springs at Agua Caliente made for a logical location choice and the area was used as such until the 1870’s when James P Fuller purchased the Agua Caliente Rancho for $300 in order to start a cattle ranch. In those days the springs would flow at hundreds of gallons per minute and the value of the hot spring was not lost on Mr Fuller who eventually opened “Fuller’s Hot Springs Resort” on the property to cater to people’s medicinal as well a recreational needs.
It was used as either a ranch, an orchard or a health resort – or often some combination of those – until the 1950s when it began to be considered for residential development. Luckily for Tucson, in 1984 Roy Drachman donated the funds needed to prod the county to acquire the property and begin development of the park we know today which would open in 1985.
So what can you do there? Well – it’s a bit different than most parks in and near Tucson in that it is not dominated by sports fields, gazebos, picnic tables and playgrounds. Rather it is dominated by the ponds and the restored structures from the site’s ranching days with historical markers and educational signage posted throughout the park. There is a nicely groomed lawn area good for picnic and kicking a ball around, and also some trails though nothing that would suffice for an avid jogger. The site is very popular with bird watchers and you will often also come across a wedding party or other event trying to take advantage of the park’s picturesque setting.
Side note: if you’d like to see what the area looked like prior to becoming a county park, check out the 1968 move “The Mini-Skirt Mob” in which the pond area is used as a set.