By Lowell & Kaye Christie, F47246
This is a terrific time of the year to visit southeast Arizona. You’re likely to have good weather, and encounter fewer tourists. Those who do come can pursue their interests in geology, history, nature study, and shopping at a slower, more pleasurable pace. We’ve spoken with many who dearly love the area, and we, too, have spent considerable time there over the years. It just keeps drawing us back. Here are 13 reasons why.
Spain and Mexico both contributed to the history of this area. Back in 1752, the town of Tubac began as a Spanish presidio. Visit today and you’re more likely to see artists than a military garrison. Much of its military history has been preserved at Tubac Presidio State Historic Park, where crews of volunteers demonstrate life as it was there in the 18th century. Should you be in Tubac in February, you can enjoy the town’s annual Festival of the Arts.
Down where Nogales, Arizona, meets Nogales, Mexico, shopping is the big draw for tourists. Shoppers from north of the border usually park their cars on the United States side and make the crossing on foot. Most of the stores and restaurants are within easy walking distance. In the colorful markets, shopkeepers vie for your dollars, whether for pottery, leather goods, silver, or other mementos. It’s well worth a stop.
This quaint hamlet rests well north of the border, between the Santa Rita and Patagonia mountains. The Nature Conservancy’s Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve is a nature lover’s delight. Patagonia is also an artist’s haven, with an array of shops and galleries right downtown. The nearby ghost towns of Mowry, Harshaw, and Duquesne testify to the importance of mining in the past. Patagonia Lake State Park not only provides excellent camping, it’s also a great place to kick off your shoes and get your feet wet.
4. Kartchner Caverns State Park
Next door in Cochise County, check out these spectacular caves, do some hiking, and visit the Discovery Center. Reservations are recommended, because of the park’s popularity. A new attraction at Kartchner Caverns is the impressive “Big Room,” open between October and April. The rest of the year the Big Room serves as a nursery for the 1,000 or so bats that return to raise their young.
5. Sierra Vista
This small city, called the “Hummingbird Capital of the U.S.,” is beloved by birders and nature lovers in general. Situated at the base of the picturesque Huachuca Mountains, it’s right next door to several lush canyons. One of the most popular nature spots is the Nature Conservancy’s Ramsey Canyon Preserve. Nearby, you’ll find the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, home to more than 350 species of birds. You aren’t required to carry binoculars to gain entry, but if you have them, don’t leave them in the coach.
6. Fort Huachuca
Located next to the town of Sierra Vista, Fort Huachuca has, and still does, play a major role in U.S. Army intelligence. Built in 1877, its original Victorian-style officers’ quarters are still in use. The Fort Huachuca Historical Museum and the museum’s annex across the street showcase nearly a century and a half of military heritage. Also notable is the Buffalo Soldier’s Memorial, a tribute to African-American soldiers.
Every October Benson celebrates the role it played in the Butterfield Overland Stage Route, which carried mail between St. Louis and San Francisco in the late 1850s and early 1860s. The route through Arizona headed west/southwest to Dragoon Springs (approximately 20 miles north of Tombstone), and crossed the San Pedro River just north of present-day Benson. That was no small feat, and it’s the focus of the Butterfield Overland Stage Days celebration that occurs in Benson each year. You also can see the ruins of the Butterfield Station at Apache Pass, now part of Fort Bowie National Historic Site.
8. Amerind Museum, Dragoon
The Amerind Foundation has established a private, nonprofit museum/research center dedicated to preserving and interpreting American Indian cultures. Arrive on a Native Arts weekend and you’ll see Indian artists demonstrating their skills in the museum’s main gallery. Amerind is located near Interstate 10, between Benson and Wilcox.
9. Chiricahua National Monument
Twenty-seven million years ago, a massive volcanic eruption created the lofty spires, the huge balancing rocks, and other rock formations so basic to the beauty of Chiricahua. Yes, the birding is excellent, but it’s the walking, hiking, and photo opportunities that draw us back to these sky islands again and again.
This 19th-century mining town was almost as well known for its rowdy saloons as for the mines. Today visitors take the Queen Mine Tour and ride deep into a former copper mine, their trip narrated by a former copper miner. If you aren’t interested in going that far underground, check out the Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum. You also can visit beautifully restored neighborhoods of Victorian and European-style homes perched on the hillsides. Obviously, big money was coming out of those mines.
Anyone who has ever watched a Western movie or television show has heard of Tombstone, another mining town that’s gained the moniker “The Town Too Tough To Die.” Gold and silver lured miners and magnates, as well as thieves, cardsharps, and rustlers. Tombstone is best known for the Gunfight at the OK Corral. That’s where the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday shot it out with the Clanton/McLaury gang. You’ll see original buildings with the bullet holes from historic times. If you’d like to see a gunfight firsthand, they occur every day in Tombstone, staged by actors.
Douglas, another popular border town, caters to visitors who cross the border into Agua Prieta, Mexico, to shop for handmade crafts and other bargains. But Douglas has its own share of Wild West heritage. It was home to legendary Texan John Slaughter, who was Cochise County sheriff shortly after the Gunfight at the OK Corral. Considered a force in taming the area, Slaughter lived on San Bernardino Ranch 20 miles east of Douglas; the house is now preserved as the Slaughter Ranch Museum. The city’s most notable edifice is the historic and ornate Gadsden Hotel, built in 1907 and known for its 42-foot Tiffany stained-glass mural, and for the friendly spirits rumored to haunt its hallways.
13. Camping In Coronado National Forest
As you probably have already figured out, we love camping in this area. You’ll find more than 30 Forest Service campgrounds in Coronado National Forest at elevations ranging from 3,000 to 9,000 feet. That makes the area a year-round pleasure. Not all campgrounds provide full service, of course. Most have potable water, and many are located near paved roads, but not all can accommodate big RVs. Your best bet would be to check with the local ranger district in the area where you want to stay. They’ll be able to answer your questions. For more information, visit www.fs.fed.us/r3/coronado.