For me, the most interesting backroads are those that traverse scenic countryside, of course. But more so, I look for many points of interest, usually historic sites, along the way. I hate long, monotonous drives. I appreciate local, esoteric histories.
This means that I tend to meander, stop and chat with the natives, take photos, buy the occasional souvenir or piece of art, and rest overnight at a B&B before wandering toward home.
Taking the backroads from Tucson to Bisbee to Dragoon is an overnighter – maybe two, or more.
Where you overnight is up to you. There are so many excellent options. Here are my suggestions.
1. Tucson (A) to
Sonoita & Elgin (B). I-10 to exit 281. South on Hwy 83 to Sonoita. This is one of 2 Southern Arizona Wine Country areas. The other is near Willcox. Stop at a few wineries, do a little wine tasting, buy a couple of bottles for later.
2. From Sonoita, head east on Hwy 82 to Hwy 90. South on Hwy 90 to Sierra Vista (C). What’s so interesting about Sierra Vista? Fort Huachuca – home of the U.S. Army’s Intelligence Operations AND one fine military history museum, including the illustrated story of the Buffalo Soldiers and the Apache Wars. You will need a base pass. Enter through the main gate just north of Sierra Vista.
3. Not far south from Sierra Vista is the magnificent Ramsey Canyon Preserve (D). You are out of the Sonoran Desert and into a very different ecosystem. This is hiking, birdwatching, bear-chasing wilderness preserved by the Nature Conservancy. Grab your camera. Hike up the canyon. Be thankful for what’s left of wilderness.
Please leave the Nature Conservancy a generous donation. See the slideshow courtesy of Liz Sockness, the former manager of the book store here.
4. Near Hereford is the Casa de San Pedro, a wonderful B&B with breakfast and birds. There are at least 3 great places to overnight in Bisbee (E). Copper City Inn B&B; the Copper Queen Hotel and the Eldorado Suites Hotel. I highly recommend them to you. Click on the links for my reviews.
5. Take your time exploring Bisbee. Do go to the Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum. Here is the best place to understand Bisbee’s historical importance. Say “Hi” to our friend, Carrie. She’s the museum director. You can also see her in one of our Bisbee videos here. You can easily spend more than a day in this historic town and not see everything. Check out our Bisbee dining recommendations here. The best may be Santiago’s, Cafe’ Roka, and High Desert Market. All different. All very good.
6. From Bisbee, you can head north on Hwy 80 to Tombstone (F). You will find several Tombstone videos on our site. If you decide to stay overnight here, I recommend the Tombstone Bordello B&B where your innkeeper will be Ms. Lynda (a transplanted Brit and local rancher). And, yes, her home was a real Tombstone bordello. It’s furnished in period and she serves a good breakfast. Lynda also has an English garden with swimming pool and spa – beyond rare in this Old West town. Tombstone Bordello is on Allen Street only a couple of blocks from the main historic district. Or for a complete package just out of town, Monument Ranch is a wonderful stay, but you might miss the best of Tombstone.
There are a couple of modern hotels on the main highway, but none are in the least authentic. Nor are they easy walking distance to the historic district. The Larian Motel on Fremont Street would be perfectly at home on Route 66.
In season, take Dr. Jay’s Tombstone Walking Tour. The good doctor gives an entertaining and highly informative tour of the real Tombstone as it was in the 1880s. Those who have taken Dr. Jay’s Tombstone Walking Tour experience “The Town Too Tough To Die” very differently than those who don’t. That’s because, like me, Dr. Jay believes the historical facts are far more interesting than the fiction. (When it comes to Tombstone, there is a lot of fiction.)
Tombstone is not known for fine dining. However, “cowboy” dining is another matter. We think Big Nose Kate’s Saloon is the best cowboy bar in America. Good cowboy entertainment. Good food & drinks. And, oh yes! That original bar where drinks were served to Wyatt & Virgil Earp, Doc Holliday, Johnny Ringo, Ike Clanton and the McLaury Brothers.
Near BNK’s is the Longhorn Restaurant, famous for their ribs. And if you tire of cowboy beans, go to Margarita’s Cafe’ for Mexican and Italian. I prefer the Italian dishes, because the Mexican dishes are kinda bland. But if you’re a gringo, perhaps “not too spicy” is what you prefer. Or, you can always spice it up with the hot sauce on the table.
Do not miss the museum at the Tombstone Courthouse or the Tombstone Epitaph newspaper office (get the news flash from late 1881), and the Bird Cage Theater (say “Hi” to Billy). The OK Corral re-enactment of The Gunfight is the most popular attraction in Tombstone. Read my review of the OK Corral here.
Tombstone is a tourist town. That said, you will find surprising bargains in some of the shops on Allen Street, all of which are closed by 6PM. Arlene’s and Shady Ladies are two particularly good shops; but there are others. Go exploring and let us know what you find of interest.
The saloons on Friday and Saturday nights are THE places for Western dance music. Seriously raucous good times! Kids are welcome at Big Nose Kate’s and the Crystal Palace during the day. But the saloons are no place for small children on Friday or Saturday nights. Seriously.
7. From Tombstone, head north on Hwy 80. If you have time, take the short side trip to the ghost town of Fairbank (G). Then continue north to St. David.
8. From St. David, continue north on Hwy 80 to I-10 East. Continue east on the freeway to exit 318 and head south a couple of miles. You will see a sign for the Amerind Foundation Museum (I) – A MUST SEE! Among the best private collections of Native American artifacts. A fine art gallery. And one of the best picnic areas.
You are now in Texas Canyon in the Little Dragoon Mountains, not far from Chiricahua National Monument and Cochise Stronghold to the east. If you have the time, go. Beautiful country.
9. Back north to I-10 and the hour or so drive back to Tucson. Over several decades, we have enjoyed many of our nation’s best backroads, including those from historic Virginia to Gettysburg, and New York and the Hudson Valley. In its own right, this tour from Tucson to Bisbee to Dragoon is just as good. Take your time. Enjoy!