Divided by the International Border from Sonora, Mexico, the little town of Lochiel Arizona is about 25 miles east of Nogales and about a mile and a half west of the Santa Cruz River in the beautiful San Rafael Valley.
Several years ago, Ms. Karen & I went in search of the headwaters of the Santa Cruz. It begins as a small stream in the San Rafael Valley and flows south into Sonora, Mexico. Not far below the border the Santa Cruz makes a “U” turn and flows north through Nogales, Tubac, and Tucson. To the extent the river is flowing, its waters reach the Gila River near Phoenix, then flow west to the Colorado, then south into the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California). But we never got to Lochiel. Friend and amateur photographer Sally Reichardt took these Lochiel photos recently (2017).
Lochiel (pronounced Low – Keel) was named by rancher Colin Cameron in 1884 in honor of a place in his Scotland ancestry. The Mexicans called it La Noria, meaning “wheel-drawn well”. Now La Noria is on the Mexican side of the border.
In 1885, Cameron established the San Rafael Ranch. In the early 20th century, this vast Ranch was acquired by Col. Green, whom we have written about. Pancho Villa and his revolutionary army rustled cattle from the San Rafael ranches. San Rafael Ranch remained in the Green family until 1998 when it became the property of the Nature Conservancy and Arizona State Parks. Currently, the San Rafael Ranch is not open to the public. So do not go there without written authorization from the State. (Good luck with that!)
At one time, Lochiel had about 400 residents and served the ranches of the San Rafael Valley and the Washington Camp and Duquesne mining towns of the Patagonia Mountains about five miles to the northwest up Washington Gulch.
Most of the residents worked in the smelter or in the mines, or the town’s five stores, three saloons, a brewery, a butcher shop, a bakery, livery stables, and a boarding house operated by a one Dr. Luttrell, for whom the town was originally named.
In addition to Lochiel and San Rafael Ranch history, this is also the location of the point that Fray Marcos entered into what became Arizona in 1542, the first European to walk the land west of the Rocky Mountains. You can read about Fray Marcos in our story about the Coronado Expedition. Today, there is the remains of a monument to Fray Marcos erected in 1939. Watch a video about Fray Marcos by Mike Foster.