Based on a April 2012 road trip we took to Southeastern Arizona, here are our recommendations for Things To Do In Graham County; including dining, lodging, and a bit of history.
Black Hills Back Country Byway
This scenic drive is the old road from Safford to Clifton. It is partially in Graham County and partially in Greenlee County. Highly recommended. Click HERE for our slideshow.
Safford is the county seat and largest city: population about 10,000. Nearby are several worthwhile attractions: Roper Lake State Park, Dankworth Ponds, and Discovery Park. To the southwest of Safford is 10,000 foot-high Mt. Graham. At the top are some of the most powerful telescopes on earth.
The road to Mt. Graham is as steep, narrow, and winding as you’re likely to find in the United States. There’s a nice picnic area about 8 miles up this road from Rt. 191 a few miles south of Safford.
In opposite directions from Safford are two other noteworthy attractions. South of Safford 12 miles is the St. Paisius Monastery. You can visit IF you wear properly modest attire. The sisters have planted orchards and vegetable gardens to sustain themselves and provide for their many guests.
About 9 miles NW of Safford on Hwy 70 is the little town of Pima, founded and settled in the 1880′s by Mormons. The big attraction here is the little Eastern Arizona Museum & Historical Society. It resides partly in the 1915 Pima Bank building and partly in the adjacent building that housed the local pharmacy. In fact, parts of the pharmacy are still there, on exhibit.
This museum has a lot of photographs and artifacts from the late 19th & early 20th century that depict rural life in Southeastern Arizona. Unfortunately, the museum is grossly underfunded. Consequently, this fine collection is not showcased well. It’s more like walking through a rummage sale. We mention this so that when you go, you will know to make a proper donation to preserve and exhibit this little bit of our history & heritage.
Klondyke & Aravaipa Canyon Preserve
A worthwhile day trip from Safford is to travel about 12 miles NW on Hwy 70 and turn west onto Klondyke Road. After about 32 miles on a decent unpaved road, you will come to the almost-ghost town of Klondyke.
Miners returning from the Alaska gold fields at Klondike around 1900 thought that naming the town after the great bonanza would bring them luck. It didn’t.
Sometimes the General Store is open. Go a few more miles and you will reach the eastern entrance to Aravaipa Canyon Preserve.
Klondyke is home to about a dozen residents and one of the saddest stories in Old West history.
Lodging In & Near Safford
As far as we could determine, Safford & vicinity have a dearth of unique or historical inns or hotels. However, there seems to be no shortage of chain motels. Nothing wrong with them, just not interesting unless you’re exhausted and all you’re looking for is a decent bed.
Dining Near Safford
Dining in & near Safford is somewhat more interesting than the nearby lodging options. As we had never been here before, be acquired a copy of Arizona’s Salsa Trail; A Foodies Guide To Culinary Tourism – Safford & Southeast Arizona by Christine Maxa and David A. James.
They recommend La Paloma on Clifton Street in Solomon. This place is also highly recommended by Deborah Mendelsohn, the innkeeper at the Simpson Hotel B&B in Duncan where we stayed the previous night.
The Copper Steer Steakhouse on Hwy 70 just east of Safford gets good reviews, but on the Sunday morning we were there it was closed, even though their big neon sign in the window said OPEN.
Manor House & Rock ‘N Horse Saloon
In April 2012, TripAdvisor and other review sites did not rate the Manor House highly. But on a Sunday morning, it appeared to be the only restaurant open for business.
The hostess led us past the confectionery at the entrance and into the large main dining room, richly decorated in Old West, including antique, full-size, wooden wagons danging from the ceiling. We made some inquiries as to why this place was rated poor on TripAdvisor.
We were told that the owners had lost the place, then got it back, then lost it again and just got it back again. There were suggestions that, at times, service and food quality had been, what shall I say, inconsistent.
Nevertheless, to our surprise and delight, once we got past the nondescript salsa, both of our meals were very good. And the service was both efficient and personable. The Manor House in Safford: Recommended. Just call in advance to see if the owners had lost it again. But our experience warrants a 4-Saguaro rating.
A few miles south of Safford is Roper Lake State Park. This is a modern campground and picnic area with many conveniences, including RV hookups, ramadas, cabins, and a 30-acre lake with a pleasant beach.
Natural, Stone Hot Tub
It also sports a natural, stone ‘hot tub’. We could envision campers on a crowded evening lined up to take a dip in this little hot pool. It might accommodate 6 bathers at a time. But I doubt the water temperature is hot enough to kill the trillions of germs attendant with such crowded use. The whole idea of being in this ‘natural hot tub’ is just unappealing to me. And I certainly wouldn’t allow my grandchildren to go in it for fear of the dreaded “creeping crud”.
Nevertheless, both the tent and RV campgrounds are pleasant, particularly the ones closest to the lake. And the cabins, while Spartan, are quite nice. Each of the 8 cabins has a patio, large picnic table, a swing, outdoor sink, counter, and BBQ. They do NOT have bathrooms. You have to use the common shower and toilet facilities. About the only things you can do inside a cabin are change clothes and sleep.
Roper Lake is stocked with largemouth bass and rainbow trout. Here you can launch a canoe, kayak, or sail board. Small boats with electric motors are allowed.
A Really Good Picnic Area
The Park also has a day-use island that serves as a delightful picnic area with mature trees, picnic tables, grills, ramadas, and its own beach. Very pleasant.
The Park has 5 miles of hiking trails and offers occasional ranger program.
You can make reservations for the cabins and some of the campgrounds. Call 928-428-6760. Reservations must be made two weeks in advance of arrival. The cabins and campsite closest to the lake are clearly the most desirable, and for good reason: more mature shade trees.
A couple miles south of Roper Lake is a sub-unit of the State Park. Dankworth Ponds is a 15-acre pond surrounded by 150 acres of parkland. This was once the Dankworth family’s commercial catfish farm. Now the fish population is diversified: bass, crappie, bluegill, catfish, and trout.
If you go, you might also see waterfowl, migratory birds, and a typical sampling of local wildlife.
Dankworth has other attractions. The Dos Arroyos Trail begins at the east end of the pond. You can take this 1¾ mile loop trail to a re-created Indian village. This village contains replicas of dwellings, grinding stones, roasting pits, and other tools and artifacts used by a variety of southwestern tribes. The village demonstrates the changing lifestyles starting with the Paleo-Indians and going through to the Mogollon tribes. The area is often used to educate local school groups about Native American history.
Just a little south and east of Safford is the Eastern Arizona College Campus called Discovery Park, an educational facility specializing in science, technology, engineering, and math. There’s ample directional signage along Rt. 191 as you enter Safford proper from the south.
The Campus has exhibits and presentations open to the public and offers special tours that hopefully will stimulate interest among school-age children in both nature and outer space.
The EAC Discovery Park Campus is open to the public Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (except that shuttle rides are not given after 4:00 p.m.) and Saturdays from 4:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. If skies are cloudy, it is very windy, or the Moon is near full on Saturday night, we will close the campus early because it is not possible to safely and effectively use the Tinsley 20″ telescope.
Fly Space Shuttle Polaris
The main attractions available to the public are conducted in the Gov Aker Observatory building. All of these activities are offered free of charge (except for special events). The Gov Aker Observatory houses a series of of galleries allowing visitors the opportunity to ponder the origins of the universe. The first exhibit explains various cultural interpretations of the beginning of life.
Other gallery exhibits demonstrate to visitors how light is composed of many colors and light waves. Visitors learn about the Sun and can enter a room to hear the sounds of space. Another exhibit demonstrates how telescope mirrors are constructed under the University of Arizona football stadium, and another explains part of the history of astronomy.
During the day visitors can see the image created by one of the world’s largest camera obscuras. Visitors can also look through the Gov Aker Observatory telescope to see the Sun through special filters.
The Space Shuttle Polaris takes visitors on a virtual tour through the solar system. This high-tech motional simulator blasts off from the Discovery Park Campus, over the 10,720 foot Mt. Graham, to visit each of the planets in the solar system. The on-board “computer” describes the journey to make it a very educational and entertaining experience.
On the Campus grounds are hiking trails in a natural Southeastern Arizona habitat.