For More Details
The Arizona Office of Tourism will send a free travel kit that includes Southeastern Arizona. Call 1-888-520-3444 or log on to www.arizonaguide.com
Patagonia Visitor Information Center, 1-888-794-0060
Tombstone Visitor Center, (520) 457-3929, www.tombstone.org
Bisbee Chamber of Commerce, 1-866-2BISBEE (866-224-7233), www.bisbeearizona.com
Douglas Visitor Center, 1-888-315-9999, www.discoverdouglas.az
Sierra Vista Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1-800-288-3861, www.sierravistachamber.org

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Adventures in Arizona
Arizona’s southeastern corner is filled with historic treasures, spectacular scenery and restored hotels perfect for warm winter getaways

By Judy Wade
Published: Nov/Dec 2000


The elements have sculpted the enormous buttes and columns of Chiricahua National Monument into a fantasy landscape (above). /National Park Service photo. A window at the Copper Queen Hotel in Bisbee recalls the area’s Wild West days (top). /Richard Cummins, The Viesti Collection
There’s much to be said for the velvety golf courses and sybaritic spas of Scottsdale. Tucson’s luxury resorts are legendary for warm, sunny winter days and upscale restaurants. But there’s another part of Arizona that’s equally interesting and surprisingly affordable.

The state’s southeast corner is filled with historic treasures and spectacular scenery. Restored hotels, bed-and-breakfast inns and offbeat hostelries offer memorable overnights.

The area once was home to Geronimo, Cochise and the colorful Chiricahua Apaches. In 1540, Don Francisco Vasquez de Coronado and the Spanish conquistadors crossed this part of the Sonoran desert in shiny armor, confident that the area held undiscovered riches.

Present-day travelers have an easier time searching out the treasures and pleasures that southeastern Arizona hides.

Shades of Cochise

One of the most stunning examples of nature’s handiwork is the Chiricahua National Monument about 36 miles southeast of Willcox. Cochise and Geronimo were some of the first to walk among the purple shadows cast by its pinnacles and spires.

Today, a two-lane road weaves between the sheer walls of Bonita Canyon, with the creek of the same name creating a silvery trickle along the canyon floor. The monument’s enormous buttes and columns were created 27 million years ago by an eruption of gases and magma below the earth’s surface. The elements have sculpted them into lifelike shapes and balanced rocks that seem to defy gravity, creating a fantasy landscape that attracts hikers and photographers.

The park has picnic tables scattered throughout its acres, or you can spread your lunch at Faraway Ranch, a historic site near the monument entrance that includes the 1886 Erickson homestead. For information call (520) 824-3560.

Historic Bisbee

For a different perspective on the natural world, south of Chiricahua in the town of Bisbee, the Queen Mine Tour affords an insider’s look at nature. It also documents what man has done to extract nature’s wealth.

Visitors don hard hats, slickers and battery packs to straddle padded seats on a small train that heads 1,500 feet into the Copper Queen Mine, inactive since 1943. As the train enters the narrow tunnel, it makes a stop in time for the faint of heart to head back to the entrance. Former miners conduct tours. With humor and insight, they divulge the methods of drilling and blasting that dislodged the copper ore from the rock.

Dot’s Diner in Bisbee is a total blast from the past. In a genuine 1957 stainless steel diner, with a green malt machine and hand-lettered signs, chef Charles Lewis presents traditional diner fare along with vegetarian burgers and inventive salads.

Next to the diner, Shady Dell Vintage Trailers takes visitors back to the era of the tin-can tourist. Trailers from 1930–50, restored and permanently placed, are ringed by picket fences and pink flamingos. They may be rented overnight or for a week or longer.

More upscale digs are found at the historic Copper Queen hotel. Built in 1902 to accommodate mining executives, its 47 rooms have been carefully updated with antiques that blend well with the comforts of today. The pleasant dining room, with lace curtains and fresh flowers, overlooks the town.

Douglas

Other notable historic hostelries in the area include the Gadsden Hotel in Douglas, on the Mexican border. Built in 1907 and rebuilt in 1929 after a fire, it once was the hub of the Douglas cattle and mining industries.

The grand staircase, Italian marble columns and 42-foot span of Tiffany murals attest to its one-time elegance. It is said that the chip out of one of the marble stairs was made in 1911 by Pancho Villa’s horse as he rode the animal into the lobby during a clash with federales. The hostelry is open as it undergoes a gradual refurbishment process. The hotel’s El Conquistador restaurant pulls off white-tablecloth dining with style, offering a typically American menu that also includes excellent Mexican dishes.

One tough town

Prospector Ed Schieffelin, upon being told he would find only his tombstone in the San Pedro Valley, boldly used black humor to name his first silver claim. Today, Tombstone is Arizona’s most glamorized mining town.

Memories of the days are found on Boot Hill, a cemetery closed since 1884. More than 250 graves trace a rough-and-tumble history, with the authenticity of clever epitaphs somewhat in question. The Bird Cage Theater down the street is named for the 14 bird cage crib compartments that hang from the ceiling, used by ladies of the evening to entertain their clients. The theater is open for self-guided tours.

The famed Gunfight at the OK Corral is regularly re-enacted on the site of the notorious Earp-Clanton shoot-out, with crusty cowboys and salacious saloon girls lacing historic accounts with a good bit of contemporary humor. Authentic history is found a few blocks south in the Tombstone Courthouse, a state historic park now filled with Western memorabilia. The adjacent courtyard, with gallows, assured that justice was swift, if not always sure.

Underground exploring

Eons before cowboys and gunfights, the limestone caves that riddle Southeast Arizona were being formed. Archaeologists have found clear evidence that American Indians used the caves for protection and storage. The most recently opened is Kartchner Caverns State Park south of Benson.

Labeled a live cave because its formations are still growing, it has two enormous 1,200-foot rooms and more than two miles of tunnels. Stalactites and stalagmites stand like icicles against a background of limestone walls colored by natural chemical reactions. Air-lock doors protect its sensitive ecosystem, keeping it at a constant 68 degrees with 100 percent humidity. Reservations are required for cave tours, but none are needed to enter the park for birding, hiking and picnicking, or to visit the Discovery Center. Call (520) 586-2283.

Four miles south of Benson, the Skywatcher’s Inn, The Arizona Astronomy and Nature Retreat, may be one of the state’s most unusual inns. Part of Vega-Bray Observatory, guests can arrange an astronomy lesson with an amateur astronomer, using the inn’s seven major telescopes. Its remote location practically precludes light pollution, so planets and stars are easy to spot in an inky sky. Call (520) 615-3886.

Military presence

Sierra Vista grew up as a support system to U.S. Army Fort Huachuca. Re-enactors, as well as a museum on the post, recall the Army’s history on the Southwestern frontier. /Sierra Vista Convention & Visitors Bureau photo
Half an hour south of Kartchner, Sierra Vista, the largest city in Southeastern Arizona, owes its existence to U. S. Army Fort Huachuca (wah-CHOO-ca). The town grew up as a support system for fort personnel, and has developed into a retirement destination with golf courses and performing arts center.

The Fort Huachuca Museum on the post provides a sense of U.S. Army history on the Southwestern frontier. An area dedicated to the 10th Calvary (Buffalo Soldiers) traces the history of these famous black regiments, who were commanded by white officers to help control American Indians.

Marking Sierra Vista’s eastern edge, the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area is a river environment rich in wildlife. Plan a morning hike to appreciate some of the 400 bird species that include green kingfishers, and gray and red-tailed hawks. Watch for giant bullfrogs and for beavers, recently re-introduced to the ecosystem.

Seven miles south of the city of Sierra Vista, the Nature Conservancy’s Ramsey Canyon Preserve is home to up to 14 species of hummingbirds. The birds’ migration occurs April through September. Benches provide quiet places for viewing the iridescent, jewel-like hummers that hover and dart around well-placed feeders.

An easy path leads into the canyon, where maples and sycamores shelter flycatchers and occasionally elegant trogons. Deer often are seen as they graze placidly among the trees. Go early in the day, as limited parking is first-come, first-served.

Ramsey Canyon Inn, adjacent to the preserve, has six bed-and-breakfast rooms, plus two one-bedroom housekeeping units.

Unlike the hapless conquistadors, present-day visitors to Arizona’s far southeastern reaches are deluged with rewards. Most of them are products of nature’s creative hand. When viewed as a background for the historic sites and buildings that form the state’s more recent past, the composition is irresistibly intriguing.

Judy Wade is a new contributor from Phoenix, Ariz.

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