When you’re looking for Arizona’s best spring weekend getaway, aim for Cochise County. Never crowded, this far-flung corner of southeastern Arizona contains a spicy blend of scenic beauty, outdoor adventure, intriguing history and artistic expression.
Not long ago Cochise County was the ragged edge of the frontier and that raw history still lingers close to the surface. The entire Wild West didn’t take place here. It just seems that way because of the legendary cast of characters that shot their way into the history books.
This is where the Sonoran Desert gives way to the Chihuahuan Desert with its low-growing cactuses and spiky yuccas and agaves. Long valleys are sprinkled with small towns and framed by rising mountains.
These isolated mountain ranges form “sky islands.” Forested mountaintops float above a vast sea of rangeland and desert. Sky islands are geographic outlaws, creating lush habitats where none should be. These peaceful sanctuaries are cherished by birds and wildlife, as well as human visitors.
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Ride a stagecoach in Tombstone
It’s a touristy thing to do but taking a stagecoach through the streets of Tombstone is also sort of irresistible. It feels like a way to bridge the eras between Old West and new.
Old Tombstone Tours offers 20-minute narrated rides throughout the day. Catch a ride on Allen Street in the heart of downtown. You’ll hear a few tales of the town’s wild and wooly past while clip-clopping through the historic streets. And honestly, when are you going to get the chance to ride a stagecoach again?
Details: $10, $5 for ages 6-16. 520-559-3590, http://www.oldtombstonetours.net.
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Rock climb in the Dragoon Mountains
You don’t need experience or even equipment to tackle the granite walls and boulders that crown the Dragoon Mountains. Just sign up for an outing with Tombstone Adventure Company and let them handle the details.
Operating with special-use permits from the U.S. Forest Service, Tombstone Adventure Company offers 25 climbing routes to accommodate all ability and comfort levels with each outing led by certified local guides.
The Dragoons are a long, narrow range stretching for 25 miles south to north. These ramparts once provided sanctuary for Apache leader Cochise and his followers.
The Dragoons’ sturdy granite, coarse surface and vertical cracks make for excellent climbing. All gear is provided by Tombstone Adventure Company. Guides create a safe and secure two-rope climbing system fastened to bolts anchored in the rock along each route. With plenty of personal instruction, the outings last four to six hours.
Details: 520-457-8514, https://tombstoneadventure.com.
Window shop in Bisbee
At 5,300 feet, Bisbee sprawls in the canyons and gullies of the Mule Mountains. When the mines closed, much of the town was abandoned.
That’s when folks of an artistic temperament moved in. Shops and galleries opened along narrow streets. Houses were refurbished, often set ablaze with color. Murals splashed across walls, sculptures sprang up in tiny yards and music spilled from every open saloon door.
Today, Bisbee’s creative spirit is renowned. Walk the hilly streets. Dip in and out of the galleries that fill downtown. You’ll find the fabulous and the funky. Often the artist is the person running the shop. Absorb the cosmopolitan air of this unique little burg. This is where you come to experience art, to buy art or to see life as an artist does. This is where you come for a jolt of inspiration.
Expect some shops to be closed and be prepared to wear a mask and practice social distancing.
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Drink wine in Willcox
While Cochise County’s rowdy past leads visitors to expect swinging-door saloons, this is also the heart of Arizona’s burgeoning wine industry. The Willcox region produces 74% of the state’s wine grapes. Vineyards dot the valleys and spread across sloping foothills. Tasting rooms are open in downtown Willcox and at wineries where visitors can relax while overlooking rows of vines in the shadow of rising mountains.
The combination of elevation, climate and soil imparts that special flavor to the grapes. In 2016, Willcox was granted American Viticultural Area status. The designation means that the region is recognized as a unique and distinctive wine-growing area.
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Take a scenic drive in Chiricahua National Monument
Don’t miss this exotic landscape, possibly Arizona’s most distinctive cluster of mountains.
Located 36 miles southeast of Willcox, the 12,000-acre national monument shelters an exotic array of sculpted stone, the result of a large-scale volcanic event. Massive columns, slender spires, and impossibly balanced boulders loom above the forest that was once home to the Apache people.
A single paved road winds through the park. The 8-mile Bonita Canyon Scenic Drive climbs through oak and pine forests with multiple pullouts highlighting the haunting hoodoos and walls carved into fanciful formations.
More twists and turns follow, some offering panoramas of distant mountains before finally ending atop the high perch of Massai Point at 6,870 feet with wraparound views. You’ll find a half-mile loop interpretive nature trail here and connections to several longer trails if you have the time.
Details: Free. 520-824-3560, www.nps.gov/chir.
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Over 170 types of birds have been seen in high-walled Ramsey Canyon, a lush defile cut from the eastern slope of the Huachuca Mountains south of Sierra Vista. The Nature Conservancy took over management of the canyon in 1975 and purchased additional acreage.
A single trail starts from the back of the visitor center past several hummingbird feeders that always seem to be buzzing. It moseys alongside Ramsey Creek, a key tributary of the San Pedro River for about a mile.
For almost the entire hike you stay beneath a canopy of shade. Big sycamore trees drape the stream with oaks and pines filling the canyon. Past the small ponds that provide habitat to the threatened Chiricahua leopard frogs, the trail turns into the woods and switchbacks up to an overlook with nice views.
You can continue hiking into the Coronado National Forest, or use this as your turnaround point.
Details: 27 E. Ramsey Canyon Road, Hereford. Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Parking is limited; try to arrive early. $8, free for age 12 and younger. 520-378-2785, https://www.nature.org.
Visit a hidden museum
Tucked away amid the soaring boulders of Texas Canyon, the Amerind Museum seeks to promote understanding of America’s first peoples. Native American artifacts from Argentina to Alaska are on display in this stunning collection, housed in Spanish Colonial-style buildings.
The nonprofit Amerind Foundation began in 1937 to increase the world’s knowledge of ancient man. An art gallery of all Western genres stands next to the museum. The lovely grounds include walking paths and picnic tables set amid the boulder fields.
Details: 1 mile south of Interstate 10 at Exit 318 in Dragoon, between Benson and Willcox. $12, $10 for ages 10-17. 520-586-3666, https://www.amerind.org.
Route 66 podcast from Roger Naylor
Arizona Republic contributor and author Roger Naylor is hosting a new podcast called “Route 66 Road Trips.” He teamed up with broadcaster Stan Hustad for a pilot episode that’s available on Hustad’s “The Creator Entrepreneur Podcast.” New episodes will air soon on multiple podcast platforms. The show will cover the entire Mother Road with a big focus on the Arizona portion.
Article reposted from azcentral.com.