I was inspired a few weeks back when someone wrote to tell us that she loved our backcountry stories and was trying to save them for when she comes to visit. So I decided to compile another list of great drives we have enjoyed over our years in Southern Arizona. If you have not seen our first installment of Back Roads go here. Keep in mind at the time of this writing (February 2021) there are Federal mandates in place and some areas are not open. Be sure to verify first.
Travel where the Indians did. This is the site of the Fort Bowie ruins. The fort was built to protect the watering hole known as Apache Springs used by the Butterfield Stage. It is in Apache Pass, home to the Chiricahua Apaches led by Chief Cochise. This fort is where Geronimo and Chief Naiche and their band of renegade Chiricahuas were brought after they surrendered to the US Cavalry at Skeleton Canyon just north of the Mexican Border in 1886. A few days later all the Chiricahuas were shipped by rail to exile in Florida. Do park at the restrooms and take the 1.5 mile path to the Visitors Center and the Parade Grounds. If you are in need of assistance, Call and they will tell you where the gate is that you can drive in. Click HERE to view our slideshow on Fort Bowie.
Dragoon Springs, a stage station ruins and watering hole, is on the way from Tucson just west of the town of Dragoon a few miles south of Interstate 10 at Exit 318. Click HERE to view our story on Dragoon Springs Station.
Sitgreaves National Forest
A bit off the Southern Arizona path but a magnificent drive. Take the Black Hills Country Byway, Hwy 191, east of Soloman, Arizona. Head north to Clifton, then to Morenci through the 5 miles of hole-in-the-ground, called the Morenci Mine, one of the largest copper mines in the world. Take the tour if they are open. Stop for the night at Hannigan Meadows, go for a hike. Keep going through some beautiful country you never knew was in Arizona. Then stop in Eager / Springerville and visit the interesting museum in Springerville. Head back either through Show Low and Pinetop or south at Indian Pine to Fort Apache. Be sure to visit. You will need to head north to Route 60 and then down to Globe. Stay at the Dream Manor Inn overlooking the city of Globe. Tell them we sent you. From there you can go to Superior, visit the Boyce Thompson Arboretum or head right down to Kearney, Winkelmann, Mammoth, Oracle and back to Tucson. The trip took us 4 days.
There are two sides to Cochise Stronghold, East and West. Both are spectacular in their own way. This is the Dragoon Mountains, the land of Cochise where he could easily disappear from the US troops. You can get to either side from the Northend or the Southend but you cannot go over the pass except by foot.
The Eastside is a wooded Campground now, where Cochise hid from the troops and is assumed to have been buried. Don’t expect it to be cool in the summer though.
The Westside is called Council Rocks, rocky and open, and the site where Cochise and General Howard shook hands on a peace agreement that lasted until Cochise’s death in 1874. There is a trail that you can follow from one side to the other. Camping on the westside is open to RV’s and tents as well as the open air. Great place for a picnic without the table. Or bring your own. See the Dragoon Mountains Ranger District.
This old mining site at the top of Carr Canyon is just south of Sierra Vista. Getting there requires a high clearance vehicle. Be sure to keep an eye on the weather. Spectacular views are numerous on the way up, a campsite invites you when you get there. There are restrooms but bring your own water. Once at the top, you can hike to Carr Peak, or take a short walk through the old mining site. There are a few signs pointing out some ruins and remains. Even in summer, we have not seen more than two people up there at a time. At 7,000 ft. it is cooler. Keep that in mind. Check the Coronado National Forest Website if you wish to stay the night. No trailers over 12 ft.
Even after 17 years of exploring Southern Arizona, we had never actually been over Montezuma Pass. The one time we had tried there was snow and ice and we thought better of it. So this past October (2020) we headed out to do just that. Having visited the Coronado National Memorial Visitors Center the previous time we were there, we passed it up this time and headed to the top of the mountain for a picnic. The road is unpaved and windy for sure with steep drop-offs. After our picnic at the top where there were a few picnic tables and a restroom, we headed down the other side of the mountain toward Parker Canyon Lake and Sonoita beyond. A beautiful drive. To view our video on the Coronado National Memorial, click HERE.
Head down to Sonoita, grab a bottle of wine and one of the many wineries, continue on to Canelo Road just before the curve to Parker Canyon Lake. The road is unpaved but decent for a standard sedan. In the San Rafael Valley is the headwaters of the Santa Cruz River that eventually runs through Tucson after taking a detour south to Mexico and making a “U” turn north below Nogales. The San Rafael Valley is expansive and beautiful. Click HERE to view our slideshow on Parker Canyon Lake and the San Rafael Valley.
Mt. Graham is another Summer Only drive, (Sorry Snowbirds). It is closed from November through Mother’s Day. From Hwy 191 just north of Artesia take the road to the top of the mountain. It’s 34 miles to Riggs Flat Lake but an hour and a half drive because of all the twists and turns. Once on top, the unpaved road is mostly straight. There are several campgrounds, but no water at any, so bring your own. Also, no restaurants or stores. There is a ranger station with its own ranger to greet you. Riggs Flat Lake is picturesque. Small boats are permitted, but it’s only 11 acres so most of the fishing is from the shore. There are several good campgrounds here as well. And lots of scenic hiking. Soldier Creek Campground is quite scenic but beware of bears. Don’t leave food around that will attract them. Click HERE to view our slideshow of Mt. Graham.
Arivaca, and Ruby, to Rio Rico
From Interstate 19 at Amado, take the scenic road 25 miles to Arivaca. Be considerate of bicyclists, for there are many on weekends. Dine and drink at La Gitana Cantina on the town’s main drag. From Arivaca head south 12 miles to Ruby, a ghost town well worth the visit. Pay the entrance fee of $15 per person and stop and see the caretaker who will give you a site map. Picnic at the south end of the little pond. Continue south on Ruby Road through beautiful Sycamore Canyon to Rio Rico and back to Interstate 19. Ruby to Rio Rico is 29 mile or a little over an hour drive on a good unpaved road. When we went though Sycamore Canyon is was hunting season and the woods were full of men with rifles, so take care, particularly in the fall. Click HERE to view our video on Ruby, Arizona’s Best Ghost Town.