San Rafael State Natural Area is a unique area with rolling hills, native grasses, and oak and cottonwood trees. This beautiful valley is the headwaters of the Santa Cruz River, which flows into Mexico then turns north back into the United States and eventually joins the Gila River. The riparian areas and native grass prairie are home to many species of plants and animals. One of the endangered plants, Huachuca Water Umbel grows in the river area. One can also see mule deer, javalina, antelope, bobcats, cougar, coyote and many birds unique to the prairie.
The ranch was a Mexican Land Grant, San Rafael de la Zanja, purchased by Colin Cameron and partners in the late 1800s. In 1903 it was sold to William C. Greene, better known as Colonel Greene the “Copper Skyrocket”. William Greene had many properties totaling over 600,000 acres. This ranch extended into Mexico and at one time it was recorded that over 4,000 calves had been branded on this ranch in one year. Registered Hereford cattle were raised here for market and breeding.
In 1998 the ranching era ended here. The ranch was sold to The Nature Conservancy after the passing of William Greene's daughter Florence Greene Sharp. Arizona State Parks purchased 3,557 acres of the property in 1999, as a Natural Area. The purchase was made with Heritage Funds which are used to preserve open areas. State Parks also owns a conservation easement on the remainder of the original ranch. In 2008 the ranch headquarters was designated as a National Historic District.
The territorial style ranch house, built in 1900, is over 9,000 square feet. The landscape and house have been featured in many movies.
At this time there are no plans to open the park to the public. Forest Service road 61, a dirt road, traverses through the park so those interested is seeing the landscape can drive through.
San Rafael State Natural Area is currently not open to public. The Natural Area preserves a native grassland area that has not suffered problems of shrubs and cactus invasion, nor has it been taken over by exotic plant species that affect so much of this vegetation type elsewhere in Arizona and the Southwest.