Road Trip – Day 1; Ghost Towns, Slaughter Ranch, & Portal

Tucson to Slaughter to Portal

Route From Tucson To Slaughter Ranch (C) To Portal (D). The next morning, we drove the back road from Portal (D) to Chiricahua National Monument (B) which Google Maps won’t recognize.

Above is the route Ms. Karen & I took on Day 1 of a three-day weekend to Southeastern Arizona. This is a wonderful place for children and adults. Tons of hiking, picnicking, camping, fishing, bird and critter watching. And lots of Native American and Pioneer history.

When we toured Southeastern Arizona in April 2012, we first headed to the Slaughter Ranch, a fine museum dedicated to Texas John Slaughter who, as Sheriff of Cochise County, cleaned out the rustlers, stage robbers, and murderers that remained after the Earps left Tombstone.

From Tucson, take I-10 east past Benson to Route 191 south to Douglas.

On the way, we stopped at a few ghost towns, namely Pearce, Courtland, and Gleeson. These are all located near Sunsites east of Tombstone.

Pearce Arizona: General Store.

Pearce Arizona: General Store.


Pearce, AZ

Pearce was a mining town named for miner and rancher, James Pearce. He discovered gold nearby and established the Commonwealth Mine in 1894. The Pearce Post Office was opened in 1896. The railroad station opened in 1903.

In 1919, Pearce had a population of about 1,500. The town declined in the 1930s, and became almost a ghost in the 1940s, when the mine closed for the last time.

The Commonwealth Mine became one of Arizona’s major silver producers. The mine produced about $8 million worth of silver and $2.5 million in gold at a time when silver was priced around 50 cents an ounce, and gold was $20 an ounce.

Pearce is the home of two properties on the National Register of Historic Places: the old Pearce General Store, which opened in 1896, and Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church. There are a number of other historic structures in and around Pearce, some still in use, but mostly ruins.
From the looks of things, the General Store is open occasionally, but it was closed when we were there.

From Pearce, you can take the Ghost Town Trail Road (paved) south to Courtland and Gleeson. It’s a pretty drive through Old West history.

Courtland, AZ

Courtland-Ghost-Town-Ruin-01-300x200Like all the old towns in this part of the country, Courtland was a rough and ready mining town. At one time it had about 2,000 people living here, and two newspapers, 5 miles of water mains, and a theater.

As elsewhere around here, the mines wore out in the 1940’s and the population moved to better pickings. There are still ruins here worth visiting.

Gleeson, AZ

Gleeson Saloon

Ruins of Gleeson Saloon

Around 1900, Gleeson was a copper mining town of about 500 people. The most prominent structure today is the old jail, but there are many other ruins.

The fire of 1912 burned down most of the town, which was quickly re-built. The mines wore out in 1940 and Gleeson became a semi-ghost town.

Locals Tina Miller and John Weist, are working to restore some of the buildings, including the jail. Visit the website here.

From Gleeson, we drove west a few miles to Rattlesnake Crafts & Rocks, a quirky place to say the least. (Since this writing, John and Sandy have retired.)

Slaughter Ranch Museum

Slaughter Ranch Picnic Area

From Gleeson we re-connected to Route 191 and continued south to Douglas.

The Slaughter Ranch, right on the International Border, is spectacular. A fine museum dedicated to pioneer rancher and Cochise County Sheriff John Slaughter.

This is also a beautiful place to have a picnic along side the lake.

We conducted an on-camera interview with Bob The Caretaker, which you can view on our website. And I’m going to add this place to our Best Picnic Areas section.

Getting To Slaughter Ranch

Home of Sheriff John Slaughter & Family

Home of Sheriff John Slaughter & Family. Now A Fine Museum.

Get to Douglas, AZ. Take 15th Street east. Once out of town, the road becomes unpaved, but it is regularly maintained. This is the Geronimo Trail. Continue for about a dozen miles. Once you see longhorn cattle, you know you’re close.
Texas John Slaughter Ranch and Museum
Located at 6153 Geronimo Trail, Douglas, Arizona 85608

Gadsden Hotel, Douglas

Update Jan 2, 2014: The Gadsden Hotel is in stages of remodeling under new management. Stay tuned or visit their website for the latest news. Gadsden Hotel.
Gadsden Hotel Lobby

I don’t like backtracking, but the only way out is the way we came in. That took us back to Douglas. In this case, backtracking was OK because we wanted to see the historic Gadsden Hotel.

This was once a grand hotel, now shabby after decades of hard times. Douglas is a portrait of an impoverished American city.

Gadsden Hotel Dining Room Adjacent To The Old Bar & Lunch Counter.

I cannot say that I would recommend staying at the Gadsden, I have not stayed there, but if you’re in the area, don’t miss it. We did not dine there, so I cannot vouch for the food, but the dining room looked pleasant, even somewhat upscale. In the lobby preparations were being made for a wedding.

What we did do was have a beer in the old bar adjacent to the old lunch counter. Most enjoyable!

Very sparse human population out here between towns. We seldom encountered other cars. The state highways are very good. We also saw a lot of wildlife and beautiful scenery … and met some terrific people.

Leaving Douglas, we returned to the main intersection and headed east toward New Mexico on Route 80.

Along the way we came across a monument to the 4th and final surrender of Geronimo in nearby Skeleton Canyon.

We continued on to Rodeo, New Mexico, then west to Portal, AZ.

Portal, AZ

Portal Store Lodge CafeThe first night we stayed at the Portal Peak Lodge on the eastern slope of the Chiricahuas. Cave Creek runs behind the Lodge.
Simple, clean, inexpensive. They have a store, cafe’, and lodge. We had dinner at the cafe. It was a Friday night. We think that most everyone within 50 miles was there as well. “Xeroxed” maps of the birding spots were being sold for .25. A bargain. Rumor is: this place is always For Sale. There are Cabins behind the lodge. We did not look at them as we were staying but one night. The cabins must have been somewhat more substantial. Next time we will try Paradise and the George Walker House, recommended by our innkeeper friend from the Simpson Hotel in Duncan, a birder herself.
I think it’s the only place within 10 miles to get supplies and an OK meal. No gasoline here.

On to Day 2 of the Adventure.

Gleeson SaloonFor more Ghost Towns in the area see our page “Ghost Towns and Tours of Southern Arizona” listing stories and sites around Southern Arizona.

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