Experience southwestern heritage, culture and cuisine while learning to rope and herd cattle, trail ride through the wilderness or make prickly pear syrup. With roots dating back to the mid-1800s, Southern Arizona’s historic guest ranches and farm stays include Spain’s first mission in the continental United States, a former World War II prison camp, a boys’ boarding school and a Butterfield Stagecoach stop. Intimately connected to Arizona’s land and legacy, these unparalleled retreats have hosted countless artists, movie stars and politicians and continue to enrich their present-day communities through food, education and conservation. Pack your bags and join travel writer Lili DeBarbieri for a journey into the rural west south of the Gila River.
Region Your Book Covers: Southern Arizona, Southwestern United States
What Inspired You to Write History Books?
It was a combination of a natural interest in everything to do with the Southwest as well as a preference for unique, non-commercialized vacation opportunities that contributed to my interest in writing a historical guidebook to our region’s ranches and farms for travelers. If you grow up in a large urbanized part of the country like I did (Philadelphia), the word and concept of a ranch out West is very exotic, filled with adventure, iconic imagery, great and maybe not so great stereotypes (but great material for a story) and what traveler doesn’t love that? I’m a very curious person and I think there was that “hmmm just what is that?” aspect at play. About seven years ago, I took a seasonal position one summer at a historic guest ranch property in New Mexico so there was also a foundation of some life experience that would later influence my interest in the subject and the content of the book.
What Advice Would You Give Aspiring Writers?
I really like when Melanie Griffith’s character in Working Girl explains that she reads everything because you never know where a good idea will come from…I think that’s a great approach and attitude to have in any field.
Writing About US History Must Be Difficult, How Do You Do Your Reseach?
It was a little difficult at first but I think the experience of living and working abroad for so many years gave me some confidence with being out of my element. There was definitely a learning curve though without the advantage of being a native Arizonan, especially with bringing to the table a general understanding of historical events and concepts here since they just didn’t happen in the same way on the East Coast where the early colonial influence tends to be more British or French. For instance, I didn’t have a working knowledge of what a land grant was or even name recognition (it took a while to wrap my mind around that one) from doing school projects and such or familiarity with Spanish language terms that are commonly used in conversation here. I remember asking one of the farm owners in an interview to define “hacienda” for me (this inspired a resource in the book for readers like me entitled “Lingo of the Land”)! It took a lot of trips to the Arizona Historical Society’s archives and public library to get a handle on the material. I also conducted interviews with ranch owners and guests, experts on Arizona history/guest ranching/local tourism and used personal experiences to write each chapter.
Lili DeBarbieri is a Tucson-based non-fiction author and librarian. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, she has traveled extensively in the U.S. and abroad before settling in the Southwest. Lili’s writing and photography have been featured in dozens of publications over the years including Fine Books and Collections, the Los Angeles Times, and E/ The Environmental Magazine. She is currently at work on a second book “Location Filming in Arizona: From Stagecoach to Star Wars, the Screen Legacy of the Grand Canyon State” forthcoming from the History Press in 2014.