Agua Caliente park brings visitors a unique combination of history, wildlife, and geology. Sitting on the site of what was at different times a Native American village, cattle ranch, orchard, and health spa, this quiet park transports visitors into an oasis featuring three restored historic buildings, ample birding opportunities, and an abundance of wildlife.
“Agua Caliente” literally means “hot water,” referring to the hot spring that once existed here. However, you won’t find any “Agua Caliente” here anymore. In the 1930s, the spring was blasted in a failed attempt to increase the water flow. Rather than increase the flow, the hot spring merged with a nearby cold spring, collapsing the two into one spring with a year-round temperature of 72 degrees.
Evidence exists for the area in the park being inhabited by humans more than 5,000 years ago, with archaeological evidence showing that the site was likely used by hunter-gatherers, and then was the site of a Hohokam village. In the late 1800s, a ranch and orchard were established in the area, selling agricultural products in Tucson and operating as a resort, advertising the “health benefits” of the hot springs, fresh fruit, and recreational and spa activities.
Today, you might spot a coyote or javelina coming for a quick drink, hear the “chi-ca-go” of quail from the canopies of mesquite trees, or watch a brilliantly white heron hunting for his next meal. Some nights you may be able to look through a telescope (friends of Agua Caliente volunteers run occasional astronomy nights, along with bird and wildlife walks, which you can find the dates for on their website), or you might learn about the history of the ranch and resort from volunteers in the restored 1930s ranch house. Make sure to stop by the “great mesquite” on your stroll through the park—the impressive tree is 200 years old!
As you stroll past the spring, it’s not hard to imagine what drew vacationers to this spot. Tall palm trees, the singing of birds, and beautifully restored buildings really do create the feel of an “oasis in the desert.”
Know Before You Go
Agua Caliente volunteers run occasional astronomy nights, along with bird and wildlife walks, which you can find the dates for on their website.
The ranch house is normally open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.