Road Trip – Day 3/Afternoon: Safford & Roper Lakeby Jim Gressinger on Apr. 24, 2012, under Astronomy, Best Southern Arizona Picnic Areas, Camping, Hiking, Restaurant Reviews, Scenic Back Roads, Things To Do With The Kidz
As reported, we started early this Sunday morning and had driven the Black Hills Country Byway from Clifton to Solomon. By 11 AM we were hungry. Fired up ye ol’ mobile device and checked with TripAdvisor to identify the highest rated restaurants in Solomon, a little town a few miles east of Safford.
TripAdvisor could not find Solomon, AZ. So we pulled out our other indispensible guidebook: Arizona’s Salsa Trail; A Foodies Guide To Culinary Tourism – Safford & Southeast Arizona by Christine Maxa and David A. James.
Bingo. Found one. La Paloma on Clifton Street. So, spoke the address into our mobile device and asked Minerva to take us there. Minerva took us the wrong way. When we finally got to the restaurant, there was a small sign in front that announced: Closed Sundays.
(You may inquire as to why I call my GPS’s irritating computer-generated female voice ‘Minerva’. Simple. She has, on occasion, gotten on my nervas.)
No biggy. TripAdvisor identified a highly rated (5-Circles) restaurant right on the highway to Safford: Copper Steer Steakhouse. We arrived and were glad to see a neon ‘OPEN’ sign. They weren’t.
A Review: Manor House & Rock ‘N Horse Saloon
Now we were really hungry and getting desperate. The next possibility would be Manor House & Rock ‘N Horse Saloon. One obvious problem is that this place is rated by TripAdvisor reviewers as not-so-good (2.5-Circles). Nevertheless, Manor House had the advantage of being open on Sundays.
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. I made some inquiries as to why this place was rated poor on TripAdvisor.
I was 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.
Things were looking down. But as far as we could discern, if we wanted to eat now, this was the only open restaurant within 50 miles. We braced for the worst.
Our server, Melissa, brought us chips fresh-from-the-oven and salsa. We chatted a bit. This was her first day on the job. Red flags went up. That might indicate a service issue. On the other hand, besides the two of us, there were only three other tables that required servicing. The fact that this very large dining room only had four parties to serve suggested that the memos ‘dissing’ this establishment had been distributed well beyond just TripAdvisor. And while the chips were fresh, the salsa was bland. Not encouraging.
Ms. Karen ordered the Tostado and a side of spinach dip to go with the fresh chips. I ordered the Steak Fajita Platter with flour tortillas.
To our surprise and delight, once we got past the non-descript 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.
We followed Highway 191 from Solomon, through Safford, and on south a few miles to Roper Lake. We did take a very brief pass at “Historic Downtown Safford”. Saw nothing of interest. Downtown looks like it has seen better days and is not likely to come back to life anytime soon. We moved on. Perhaps we will return during SalsaFest in September when things are hopping. I do like foodie tourism.
A few miles south of Safford is Roper Lake State Park. This is a modern campground and picnic area with all the 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’. On a crowded evening, we could envision campers 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.
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.
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.
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.
And they had an additional area 3 miles south called Dankworth Ponds, with a smaller lake, picnic areas, trails, fishing, and a re-created Indian Village. But now it’s closed indefinitely.
Mt. Graham & Discover Park
The highest, closest peak to the West is Mt. Graham. On the Mid-April day we visited Roper Lake, Mt. Graham was covered with snow from the storm that passed through Southern Arizona the day before.
On top is Mt. Graham International Observatory, an array of highly sophisticated telescopes, including the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope and the Large Binocular Telescope, one of the most powerful on Planet Earth.
Discover Park is the Observatory’s visitor center. We have not yet been there but we understand the drive up the mountain is very scenic and Discovery Park is totally worthwhile.