t The majestic Superstition Mountains, accessed via the scenic Apache Trail
Heading east from Phoenix, Highway 60 cuts straight across the desert to the suburb of Apache Junction at the start of Highway 88. The road then winds up into the Superstition Mountains. Called the Apache Trail for the Native Americans who once lived here, this stretch of Highway 88 is a scenic 40-mile (64-km) route up to Theodore Roosevelt Lake.
Highway 88 begins by climbing up into the hills, and after 5 miles (8 km) reaches the Lost Dutchman State Park, named for the gold mine quarried here by Jacob Waltz and Jacob Weiser in the 1870s. These two miners found huge gold nuggets but kept the location of the mine to themselves. After their deaths, hundreds of prospectors looked for the famed gold mine but without success.
Beyond the state park, the highway passes by several campsites and through rugged terrain before reaching the tiny hamlet of Tortilla Flat. This settlement is at the east end of slender Canyon Lake, the first of several Salt River reservoirs created to provide Phoenix with water. The lake has a marina and cruises are offered on Dolly Steamboat. As the road climbs higher into the Superstition Mountains it becomes more difficult to negotiate, before reaching the 280-ft- (85-m-) high Theodore Roosevelt Dam, where there is good fishing and water sports.
Three miles (5 km) east of the dam, the Tonto National Monument comprises two large sets of ruined cliff dwellings. The Salado people, who created some of the pottery on display at the Heard Museum, built these pueblos of rock and mud in the early 1300s. A short trail leads up to the 19-room Lower Cliff Dwelling, but the 40-room Upper Cliff Dwelling can be visited only with a ranger.
⌂ Hwy 188 # 8am–5pm daily; Upper Cliff Dwelling: Nov–Apr: Fri–Mon ¢ Dec 25 ∑ nps.gov/tont
With marinas where you can rent all manner of boats and get out onto the water, Apache, Canyon, Saguaro, and Roosevelt lakes are great scenic spots to beat the summer heat.
The mining town of Globe lies about 100 miles (160 km) east of Phoenix in the wooded Dripping Spring and Pinal Mountains. In 1875, prospectors struck silver near here, and Globe was founded as a mining town and supply center. It was named for a large silver nugget, shaped like a globe, unearthed in the hills nearby. The silver was quickly exhausted, but copper mining thrived until 1931. Today, Globe has an attractive historic district with several notable late 19th- and early 20th-century buildings. The Gila County Historical Museum outlines its history.
⌂ 1330 N Broad St § (928) 425-7385 # 10am–4pm Tue–Fri, 11am–3pm Sat ¢ Jan 1, Dec 25
From around 200 BC until the mid-1400s, the Hohokam people farmed the Gila River Valley to the southeast of Phoenix. The distinctive structure that makes up the Casa Grande National Monument was built in the early 14th century and named the “Big House” by a passing Jesuit missionary in 1694. This sturdy four-story structure has walls up to 4 ft (1.2 m) thick and is made from locally quarried caliche, a hard-setting subsoil. The visitor center has some interesting exhibits on Hohokam history and culture.
Casa Grande sits 15 miles (24 km) east of Interstate Highway 10 (I-10) on the outskirts of the town of Coolidge.
Experience Phoenix and Southern Arizona
Southern Arizona’s dark, clear nights have made it an international center for astronomy. Prestigious observatories such as Kitt Peak National Observatory (tel 520 318-8720) and the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory (tel 520 879-4407) can be toured (reserve in advance). However, even without high-powered equipment, anyone can enjoy the constellations in the night skies.
Biosphere 2 is a unique research facility that was set up in 1991. Eight people were sealed within a futuristic structure of glass and white steel furnished with five of the Earth’s habitats: rainforest, desert, savanna, marsh, and an ocean with a living coral reef. Over a period of two years the effect of the people on the environment, as well as the effect on them of isolation in this “world,” were studied.
Today there are no people living in the Biosphere, which is being used as an earth science research facility.
In a strategic position at the confluence of the Colorado and Gila rivers, Yuma rose to prominence in the 1850s, when the river crossing became the gateway to California for thousands of gold seekers. Fort Yuma, built in 1849, also boosted steamboat traffic along the Colorado River.
Today, Yuma’s hot and sunny winter climate makes it a popular winter destination. Two state historic parks highlight its rich history: Yuma Quartermaster Depot, along the Colorado, looks at river transportation and army life in the late 1800s; Yuma Territorial Prison re-creates conditions at this former prison facility from 1876 to 1909.
t Sunrise over the blooming desert landscape of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
The organ pipe is a Sonoran desert species of cactus, which is a cousin to the saguaro but with multiple arms branching up from the base. The organ pipe is rare in the United States, growing almost exclusively in this large and remote area along the Mexican border in southwest Arizona. Many other plant and animal species flourish in this unspoiled desert wilderness, although a lot of animals, such as snakes, jackrabbits, and kangaroo rats, emerge only in the cool of the night. Other cacti such as the saguaro, the Engelmann prickly pear, and the teddybear cholla are best seen in early summer for their glorious displays of floral color.
There are two popular scenic routes through the park: the 21-mile (34-km) Ajo Mountain Drive takes two hours and winds through startling desert landscapes in the foothills of the mountains. The 37-mile (60-km) Puerto Blanco Drive leads to a half-hour trail into Red Tanks Tinaja, a natural water pocket, and the picnic area near Pinkley Peak. Hiking trails in the park range in difficulty from paved, wheelchair-accessible paths to wilderness walks. A visitor center offers exhibits on the park’s flora and fauna, as well as maps and camping permits, and there are guided walks available in winter.
Be aware that the park is a good two-and-a-half- to three-hour drive from Tucson. If you want to explore this area in any detail, plan to camp overnight. Ajo, 34 miles (55 km) to the north, has motels and services.
Although seemingly dry, Southern Arizona gets about 11 inches (280 mm) of rain annually. This enables a range of vegetation to flourish, from cacti to colorful wildflowers in spring. In turn, this attracts an amazing variety of birds. The canyons between Tucson and the Mexican border offer the best birdwatching. Just off I-19, Madera Canyon plays host to some 400 bird species, from hummingbirds and warblers, to rare species such as the brown-crested flycatcher. Ramsey Canyon, in the Huachuca Mountains, is the country’s hummingbird capital, with 14 varieties of these tiny, delicate creatures.
t Mission San José de Tumacácori in Tumacácori National Historical Park
Just 3 miles (5 km) south of Tubac lies Tumacácori National Historical Park, with the beautiful ruined Mission San José de Tumacácori. The present church was built around 1800 on the ruins of the original 1691 mission established by a Jesuit priest, Father Eusebio Kino. The mission was abandoned in 1848, and today its weather-beaten ocher facade, arched entry, and carved wooden door are evocative reminders of former times. The cavernous interior has large patches of exposed adobe brick and faded murals. You can also explore the orchard, cemetery, storehouse, and other ruins on the extensive grounds, where there are occasional craft demonstrations October through April.
A small museum provides an excellent background on the mission builders and native Pima Indians. La Fiesta de Tumacácori is held on the mission grounds the first weekend in December, with folk dances, music, and food.
Nogales is really two towns that straddle the US border with Mexico, at the end of Mexico’s Pacific Highway. Arizona’s largest international border community, it is a busy port of entry, handling huge amounts of freight, including many of the winter fruit and vegetables sold in North America. The town attracts large numbers of visitors in search of bargains – decorative blankets, furniture, and crafts are good value. People used to shop on both sides of the border, but the US government has issued warnings over crossing into Mexico, as ongoing drug wars have made border towns potentially dangerous, and visitors are at risk of theft.
If you cross over into Mexico, you are advised to leave your car on the US side, where attendants mind the parking lots, and to walk across the border. Not only is parking extremely difficult, but cars with US license plates are likely targets for thieves. It can also take two to three hours to go through customs by car. Visas are required only for those traveling farther south than the town and for stays of more than 72 hours. US and Canadian citizens should always carry a passport for identification, as drivers’ licenses may not be sufficient proof of citizenship. Foreign nationals should make sure their visa status enables them to re-enter the US; those on the Visa Waiver Program should not encounter any problems.
t Colorful ceramic planter crafted in the artists’ colony of Tubac
The Royal Presidio (fortress) of San Ignacio de Tubac was built in 1752 to protect the Spanish-owned ranches and mines, as well as the nearby missions of Tumacácori and San Xavier del Bac, from attacks by local Pima natives. Tubac was also the first stopover on the overland expedition to colonize the San Francisco Bay area in 1776. The trek was led by the fort’s captain, Juan Bautista de Anza. Following his return, the garrison moved north to Tucson, and, for the next hundred years, Tubac declined. Today, the town is a small but thriving art colony, with attractive shops, galleries, and restaurants lining the streets around the plaza.
Tubac’s historical remains are displayed at the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park, which encompasses the foundations of the original presidio in an underground display, as well as several historic buildings. Also here, the Presidio Museum contains artifacts covering over 100 years of Tubac’s history, including painted altarpieces and colonial furniture.
⌂ 1 Burruel St # 9am–5pm daily ¢ Dec 25 ∑ tubacpresidiopark.com
t An old Wild West stagecoach on the dusty streets of Tombstone, a National Historic Landmark
The site of the 1881 gunfight at the OK Corral between the Earp brothers, Doc Holliday, and the Clanton gang, Tombstone was founded by Ed Schieffelin, who went pros-pecting on Apache land in 1877 despite a warning that “all you’ll find out there is your tombstone.” He found a silver mountain instead, and his sardonically named shanty town boomed with the ensuing silver rush. One of the wildest towns in the West, Tombstone was soon full of prospectors, gamblers, cowboys, and law-men. In its heyday, it was larger than San Francisco.
In 1962 “the town too tough to die” became a National Historic Landmark. Allen Street, with its wooden boardwalks, shops, and restaurants, is the town’s main thoroughfare. The OK Corral is preserved as a museum, and regular re-enactments of the infamous gunfight are staged daily at 11am, noon, 2pm, and 3:30pm.
Tombstone Courthouse, the seat of justice for the county from 1882 to 1929, is now a State Historic Site. It contains a museum featuring the restored courtroom and historical artifacts, including photographs of some of the town’s famous characters.
Those who perished in Tombstone, peacefully or otherwise, are buried in the famous Boothill Cemetery, just north of town.
⌂ 326 E Allen St # 9am–5pm daily ¢ Thanksgiving, Dec 25 ∑ ok-corral.com
⌂ 223 Toughnut St # 9am–5pm daily ¢ Dec 25 ∑ azstateparks.com
EXPERIENCE Phoenix and Southern Arizona
Tombstone Monument Ranch
Designed to resemble an Old West town, this ranch with rooms has a saloon with swing doors.
⌂ 895 W Monument Rd, Tombstone ∑ tombstonemonumentranch.com
Tombstone Bordello Bed & Breakfast
A former bordello with tasteful rooms.
⌂ 107 W Allen St, Tombstone ∑ tombstonebordello.com
The discovery of copper here in the 1880s sparked a mining rush, and by the turn of the 20th century Bisbee was the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco. Victorian buildings such as the Copper Queen Hotel dominate the historic town center, while clusters of houses cling to the surrounding mountainsides.
Visitors can tour the mines that once flourished here, such as the deep underground Queen Mine. Exhibits at the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum illustrate the realities of mining and frontier life here.
The worth of the silver that was extracted from the mines in Tombstone between 1880 and 1887.
Located in the Whetstone Mountains, the Kartchner Caverns were discovered in 1974, when two cavers crawled through a sinkhole into 7 acres (3 ha) of caverns filled with colorful formations. They kept their discovery a secret for 14 years, as they explored these cave formations made of layers of calcite deposited by dripping or flowing water over millions of years. In 1988 the land was bought by the state.
Visitors are not permitted to touch the features, as skin oils stop their growth. Along with stalactites and stalag-mites, there are other types of formation such as the 21-ft (6-m) soda straw, the turnip shields, and popcorn.
t Unusual rock formations dotting Chiricahua National Monument
The Chiricahua Mountains were once the homeland of a band of Apache people. This 19-sq-mile (49-sq-km) area now preserves stunning rock formations, which were created by a series of volcanic eruptions around 27 million years ago. Massive rocks balanced on small pedestals, soaring rock spires, and enormous stone columns make up the bizarre landscape.
The name Amerind is a contraction of “American Indian.” This private archaeological and ethnological museum contains tens of thousands of artifacts from different Native American cultures. All aspects of Native American life are shown here, with displays covering Inuit masks, Cree tools, and sculpted effigy figures from Mexico’s Casas Grandes.
The adjacent Fulton-Hayden Memorial Art Gallery has works by Western artists such as William Robinson Leigh (1866–1955) and Frederic Remington (1861–1909).
Once known as the “Cattle Capital of the West,” the small town of Willcox is surrounded by the grasslands of Arizona’s ranching country. Its heritage is on show in the frontier-era buildings of downtown and the old railroad depot. The Rex Allen Cowboy Museum pays tribute to this native son and singing cowboy of old Hollywood Westerns. There are excellent displays on Geronimo and the Chiricahua Apache at the Chiricahua Regional Museum.
Willcox grows the majority of Arizona’s wine grapes. You can taste a variety of local wines at Willcox Commercial Store, the oldest retail shop in the state.
⌂ 150 N Railroad Ave # 10am–1pm Mon, 11am–3pm Tue–Sat ∑ rexallenmuseum.org
⌂ 127 E Maley St § (520) 384-3971 # 10am–5pm Mon–Sat
Southern Arizona has three wine regions with more than 100 vineyards. The Sonoita and Elgin Wine Trail features over a dozen tasting rooms where you can sample award-winning wines and meet local winemakers.