Guide to Area Daytrips
Here are a few hints for easy half- or whole-day excursions, most within an hour's drive of Bisbee or less. For more information, you can also consult the web sites of the AZ Office of Tourism [http://www.arizonaguide.com] , or AZ State Parks [http://www.pr.state.az.us] . The country surrounding the historic Hotel La More/The Bisbee Inn is full of possibilities for you and your family to experience not only our fabulous natural resources and historical sites, but also to encounter different living cultures at work and play. Remember that the century-and-a-half since the Gadsden purchase acquired this southern section of Arizona for the U.S. is only a drop in the bucket of time! Early tourists, such as the 16th c. Spanish adventurer Coronado, and a century later the intrepid Jesuit missionary Father Kino, inevitably found the things they least expected. You will too!
The River Ran Through It
And the San Pedro river still runs, albeit fitfully at times, through a chunk of history ranging from a prehistoric Clovis-point archeological site, to the 18th century Spanish Presidio Santa Cruz de Terrenate, to the ghostly remains of some of the meanest mining towns of the 'old' west. Take hwy. 80 towards Tombstone, turn left on 90 (towards Sierra Vista). In a few minutes, you will see a dip in the road, adorned with a vast stretch of cottonwood and greenery. Just across the bridge, turn left onto the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area (458-3559). Not merely a Mecca for hikers and hummingbird-watchers, this north-flowing river shelters a myriad of flora and fauna, some very rare or endangered. The visitors' center has information for the Riparian area [=riverbank], but also some of the Arizona Bureau of Land Management [BLM] maps that you will need in order to visit local ghost towns. For train buffs, the San Pedro & Southwestern Railroad [520-586-2266] offers a 54-mile train-tour of the river valley, starting in Benson.
Tombstone (yes, you know... the O.K. Corral) still evokes an era of western history like few other places. Considered a bit on the commercial side by some, Tombstone still has one or two original gems, such as the infamous Birdcage Theatre, where the local hell-raisers might have heard the likes of Jenny Lind, Enrico Caruso or Sara Bernhardt, if they happened to look up from their cards (or whatever). The rustic wit of Boothill Cemetery's grave markers is certainly not to be missed. And a 'cowboy pizza' at Big-Nose Kate's saloon always hits the spot after the local cap-gun shoot-'em-up performances. Earthquakes in 1886 flooded the area's silver mines [and incidentally sent much of the mighty San Pedro's waters underground], ironically preserving this 'Town Too Tough to Die'.
North of Tombstone [take hwy. 80, then left on 82] are the easily-accessible remains of Fairbank Townsite. The resident site-host can give you some history, hiking, and camping information. Charmingly unrestored (and consequently more evocative, in a way), this 1880's railroad town was inhabited into the 1930's. Also worth a look is Gleeson [16 m. E of Tombstone].
Two fascinating (and still less well-preserved) ruins are found along the river south of Fairbank. [From Tombstone, take Charleston Road SW towards Sierra Vista, then pull into the parking area on the left just before the bridge]. Nothing like the Hollywood film sets that most first-time visitors bring to mind at the mention of 'ghost towns', Charleston and Millville were both abandoned not long after the floods in Tombstone. Practically unknown today, Charleston at least had the reputation of being even 'tougher and livelier than Tombstone' at the time. There is a BLM trail [fairly well marked, though the map is still very useful] to Millville on the east side of the river (across the road, to the right of the train tracks). Fantastic stone walls and a few four-sided structures remain, but both sites were used in W.W.II for bombing and house-to-house combat training with live ammunition, so little else remains, besides the odd heap of SPAM cans. Charleston is on the other side of the river, and rather more difficult to find. As with most hiking in the southwest, it's a good idea to bring sunscreen, a wide-brimmed hat and a bandanna for dust, a non-melting snack (juice-boxes and granola bars work well, provided you pocket and pack out the wrappers) and at least a quart of water per person! It's smart to turn back before you've finished the water. And as with all sites, do not take anything away with you, no matter how tempting, don't damage what little is left, and do keep an eye (and ear) peeled for the occasional rattlesnake.
South of the Border
For a quick dip into Mexico, your options begin with Naco, the closest and smallest of the nearby border towns. [Take hwy. 92 SW toward Sierra Vista, turn left on Naco hwy at the sign for Naco; for the border check, a U.S. drivers' license will suffice, or a passport for non- U.S. citizens. For trips farther than 10 miles into Mexico, special car insurance (available at the border) may be necessary.] Very modest, but charming in a rustic way, Naco gives you a chance to exercise your language skills ( though many locals speak English), wander, and have a very good, inexpensive meal.
Also nearby [a little less than ½ hour east of Bisbee on hwy. 80], more ample resources and a larger population enrich the twin cities of Douglas [U.S.]/Agua Prieta[Republic of Mexico.]. Once a smelting-center for the copper mines, Douglas hosts interesting curio shops, a spectacular Saddlery, and the historic Gadsden Hotel [1907-1928], as well as the lovely Iglesia de Guadalupe in A.P.
Nogales [to the west: see your hwy. map] is the largest, farthest, and in some ways the most aggressively tourism-oriented of the three. One can easily park in the U.S. and walk across the border.
Nestled in the Huachuca mountains are some of the most beautiful canyon environments in the state. [About ½ hour west; take 80 towards Tombstone, left on 90 for Sierra Vista, then left [S] on 92, then right on Ramsey Canyon Rd. just after the Texaco station] They would be worth visiting just for the scenic drive, but there's more: Ramsey Canyon hosts the Arizona Folklore Preserve (call 378-6165 in advance for a visit/performance) and further up, the Ramsey Canyon Preserve [378-2785], whose ravishing natural resources and hiking trails defy description in one line. A must for birders! Further south on 92 are the lovely Carr and Miller canyon roads, paved for a bit, then dirt. Finally, visit the Coronado National Memorial Visitors' Center [great for kids] and another partly-paved drive up to the Montezuma Pass overlook [it was here that Coronado's mid-16th c. expedition crossed over from Mexico, heading north]. Return to Bisbee on 92 east.
For cavers - Coronado National Memorial has a small but beautiful cave up the hill from the visitors' center (you must check in with the park ranger there, and carry at least 2 flashlights per person). Just opened [north of Sierra Vista on 90] in the Whetstone mountains, Kartchner Caverns State Park promises more than just whistling in the dark. Lastly, the charmingly 'developed' Colossal Cave [off I-10, exit 279 north] is dry as a bone and nestled in a Saguaro-filled setting.
If you've seen this 1950 Jimmy Stewart/Max Chandler Technicolor west-fest, you'll recall the story of Cochise Stronghold [off rte. 191], bastion of the Chiricahua Apaches. While you're in the area, don't miss mind-boggling Texas Canyon, and the Amerind Foundation museum [586-3666; take the Dragoon exit off I-10; one mile east]; the staff are friendly and the shop fantastic.
Fort Huachuca [just west of Sierra Vista, non-military cars must sign in at the gate; map available] owes its existence to a disgruntled Apache named Geronimo, whose raids into Mexico were blocked by the placement of this military outpost, established in 1877. The Fort Huachuca Museum (533-5736/7111) and diorama give an invaluable picture of the area's history in the 19th century, as well as the little-told story of the Buffalo Soldiers.
©1997 Marc C. Bellassai
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