Yesterday was Father’s Day and Ms. Karen & I spent it here. While most of you were roasting in 100+ degree heat, we were enjoying a picnic in 65 degree weather around an alpine lake. We will definitely add this to our List of the Best Picnic Areas in Southern Arizona. To find out more about this recommended cool summer getaway, check out my slideshow on SouthernArizonaGuide.com.
Archive for the ‘Camping’ Category
Last Sunday, Ms. Karen, my mother-in-law Judy, and I traveled from Tucson to Carr & Ramsey Canyons south of Sierra Vista. Our principle goal was to attend a 2 PM performance by Dolan Ellis, the Official Arizona State Balladeer at the Arizona Folklore Preserve. Along the way we enjoyed several beautiful places that most folks don’t even know about.
Carr Canyon is just south of Ramsey Canyon at the southern tip of the Huachuca Mountains. At the Carr House we met Mike Foster, who is the resident expert in these parts. Birds, wildlife, plants, history: Mike knows them all well. Better yet, Mike is a talented videographer. We already have one of his videos about the Carr House and another about the San Pedro River on our Southern Arizona Guide. He will soon be sharing more of his videos about local wildlife on our website. While we were here, we viewed one showing a local black bear climbing a tree. Amazing! This critter climbed a big tree faster than most people can run on level ground.
After chatting with Mike for a while, we headed up the mountain on a rough dirt road to our intended picnic area at Reef Townsite Campgound five miles beyond the Carr House. If you go, you won’t need a 4-wheel drive vehicle, but we do recommend one with fairly high clearance. The road is steep and has many switchbacks. But the awesome views make the journey worthwhile.
Between the late 1800′s and 1950, there was a mining town here. The town was named for the Carr Reef, a tall band of quartzite-bearing cliffs that form the Huachuca Mountains’ dramatic eastern front. Mr. Carr was a local mining entrepreneur. Now the former townsite serves as a fine camping & picnicking area, but do bring your own water.
For future reference, campsites 9 & 12 seemed to us to be the best. Each campsite had a table, a fire pit, and a flat area for tents. Fee: $10 per day. Also, there is one day-use picnic site for a large group with many picnic tables under a ramada and several fire pits with grates.
We are nothing if not picnic people. Love a good picnic. Which is why Southern Arizona Guide offers our viewers a list of the Best Picnic Areas. Here in the woods near the top of Carr Canyon is another of Southern Arizona’s many Sky Islands, a unique ecosystem completely different than the Sonoran Desert below.
In our picnic basket this time was summer sausage, roast beef, Grey Poupon, jalapena cheddar cheese, several varieties of crackers, apple, orange, a couple of Coronas, and a bottle of Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc 2012.
After our picnic and a short walkabout, we headed down Carr Canyon to Highway 92 at the base of the Huachuca Mountains. Turning north, it is only a mile or so to Ramsey Canyon Road. Heading up Ramsey Canyon Road the Folklore Preserve is about 3 miles on the left. If you get to the Nature Conservancy’s Visitors Center at the end of the road, you missed it.
The Folklore Preserve is a small, rustic venue staffed mostly with volunteers. Mr. Ellis is the founder and artist-in-residence at the Arizona Folklore Preserve in Ramsey Canyon, where he performs one weekend a month. Guest country, Western, & folk artists perform on the other three weekends. For upcoming schedule, click HERE.
Balladeers tell stories through their music and Dolan Ellis is an excellent storyteller, songwriter, singer, and guitarist. His one-man show was totally worth the drive from Tucson for the hour and a half performance. Reservations for upcoming performances are highly recommended: (520)378-6165 or email email@example.com.
Of course, there is another good reason to visit Ramsey Canyon. Anyone who has been here knows the natural beauty of the Canyon itself. 170 species of birds, including 14 varieties of hummers, have been spotted in Ramsey Canyon, where temperatures are typically 10-15 degrees cooler than Tucson. A trail parallels Ramsey Creek and further up the mountain are more trails into the Coronado National Forest. Keep an eye out for black bear, coati, wild turkey, white-tail deer, mountain lion, bobcat, and other wildlife.
Liz Sockness recently retired as manager of the bookstore here. Last year she shared many of her photographs with us and you can view the slideshow by clicking HERE. On this trip we meet Debbie, the new bookstore manager.
The Nature Conservancy’s Visitors Center is open 9 AM to 5 PM, but closed Tuesdays & Wednesdays.
In March I shared with you our adventure to the West Entrance of Aravaipa Canyon. From Tucson, it took us about 2 hours to get there, the last several miles on a very windy but decent dirt road. The following week we drove to the East Entrance. That adventure took us about 3 hour just to get to the entrance and then another 3 hours of hiking, picnicking & exploring before heading back home in Tucson. But we were on a mission to find the cliff dwelling in Turkey Creek Canyon, an offshoot of Aravaipa Canyon.
The distance from the West Entrance to the East Entrance of Aravaipa Canyon is about 10 miles through the main canyon. With the required permit from the BLM you can hike in the Canyon. However, in the Canyon there are no hiking trails or campsites. About 9,000 acres within Aravaipa Canyon are owned by the Nature Conservancy and are jointly managed with the BLM that also manages their 40,000 acres of surrounding near-prestine Wilderness Area.
In the Canyon hikers can find several species of desert fish, and some 200 species of birds depending on the season. Here too are big horn sheep, coati, & mountain lions. Not more than 30 yards from where we were standing we saw 2 black bear cubs walking in the stream. Quickly realizing that were there are bear cubs there surely will be a momma bear nearby, we high-tailed it to the safety of our car.Unfortunately, our cameras were in the car and by the time we were ready to take photos of the furry little critters, they had disappeared into the woods.
Arivaipa Creek flows year ’round, an oddity for Southern Arizona. Aravaipa Creek is a tributary of the San Pedro River.
Most of the hiking through the Canyon takes place in the Creek itself, so if you go, plan to get wet up to your knees. The elevation of the Canyon floor and Aravaipa Creek is about 3,000′. But some of the surrounding cliffs are above 6,000′. Thus, the Canyon is cooler than Tucson. We were there in March so the trees, mainly willow, sycamore, alder, & cottonwood, had yet to sprout their spring leaves.
In order to preserve this wilderness, both the BLM and the Nature Conservancy have restrictions on almost everything: NO FISHING, NO OFF-ROAD DRIVING, NO FIREARMS, NO DOGS, etc., etc. The BLM only issues 50 permits per day, which are about $5 per person.
High-clearance vehicles are recommended. Our front-wheel drive Ford Edge did just fine, even as we crossed the Creek at least 7 times.
At the East end two camping areas are available. Four-Mile Canyon Campground, located about one mile southwest of the Klondyke Store has ten units with picnic tables, grills and a flush toilet. Four-Mile Canyon has a fee of $5.00 per night. The second area is Turkey Creek, a primitive camping area with no facilities. Turkey Creek is located near the east wilderness entrance and has no fee. Primitive camping in the Wilderness Area is OK if you have a permit.
Points of Interest
The beauty of the Canyon is reason enough to go. However, our goal on this trip to the East Entrance was to find the cliff dwelling in Turkey Creek Canyon. Prehistoric people abandoned the area about 1450 A.D. The cliff dwelling is located 1.4 miles south of the east wilderness entrance and is one of the most intact structures of its kind in southeastern Arizona. It was probably occupied for a few months each year by prehistoric farmers around 1300 A.D. A trail leads visitors up to the structure. Please help protect and preserve these ancient ruins. If you are going to explore this area, best to get a topo map. I usually get ours at the Arizona Experience Store on Congress Street. For exploring Arizona, this is a major resource and we highly recommend it for books, gifts, and free, information-packed brochures.
Call (928) 828-3443 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
To get permits online, click HERE.
To view our recommendations for many other adventures around Southern Arizona, go to http://southernarizonaguide.com > Main Menu > Adventures.
On Tuesday morning this week I ventured down to Patagonia Lake State Park. From Tucson I was on the lake in my tiny vessel in an hour and a half. It’s a pleasant drive and this time of year the weather is gorgeous, the fishin’ is good, and it’s not congested like in the summer.
If you subscribe (FREE) to SouthernArizonaGuide.com, you have already received our weekly email newsletter with my slideshow featuring images and comments about my morning adventures around the Lake. If not, click HERE.
Certainly you can camp here, but if you prefer a room with a good bed, check out the Duquesne House B&B (say “Hi” to Nancy, the proprietor) or the Stage Stop Inn (say “Hi” to Cenovia, the innkeeper) in Patagonia just 8 miles north on Hwy 82. About 2 miles from “downtown” Patagonia is the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve. A very fine natural place to hike and spot rare birds. Best to inquire at the visitor center to see if their resident mountain lion has eaten any hikers lately.
At the Stage Stop Inn is their dining room that,until Tuesday PM, has for years been the Home Plate Restaurant. I had an excellent prime rib sandwich for lunch there. And the fries were great, crispy just like I like ‘em. So, you ask, what happened Tuesday afternoon to the Home Plate?
I was informed that as of 3 PM, it would become the Wild Horse Restaurant. I’m sure there’s a story here but my waitress seemed unsure as to why the name change.
The Back Road From Sonoita To Fort Huachuca
Later in the afternoon, I drove the back road from Sonoita to Fort Huachuca’s west entrance. T’was a delightful tour of the rolling hills and grasslands southeast of the Sonoita-Elgin wine country. My quest was Garden Canyon in the Huachuca Mountains on the south portion of the Fort. In particular, I was interested in the petroglyphs in the Canyon most likely created by Apaches in the 18th century for ritual purposes. Archeologist have not found any sign of long-term American Indian settlement here.
In a few days, I’ll post the Garden Canyon slideshow. Next Sunday, I think Ms. Karen & I will head out to Redington Pass and up to Oracle State Park. Also, I have a couple of restaurant and lodging reviews to post from my trip to Patagonia and Sonoita. So stay tuned.
Ms. Karen & I have lived here for 11 years and had never visited Catalina State Park. Last Saturday we discovered what a great Tucson asset it is. There are hiking trails that lead to natural pools, an equestrian center and horseback riding trails, plus several picnic and camping areas. But last Saturday, we went with our guests from New York, Susan & Charlea, to hike the trail that leads to the Romero Ruins.
Around 500 C.E. a band of Hohokam established a village on the ridge that overlooks the wash that became known as Canada de Oro. Here they found year-round water, and plenty of game and useful plants to live a relatively comfortable life for the next 900 years. Around 1450, the Hohokam abandoned this site, but 400 years later Francisco Romero and his family established their cattle ranch on the ruins of the Native American village. The ruins of the Romero’s home are here as well.
This time of year there are many docent-led hikes and exhibits at Catalina State Park on the weekends. I took some photos of our Romero Ruins hike that you can view in a slideshow on SouthernArizonaGuide.com.
In a few days I will share with you last Sunday’s adventure to the West entrance of Araviapa Canyon Preserve. This coming Saturday we plan on enjoying the historical re-enactments at the ghost town of Fairbank about 10 miles west of Tombstone on the San Pedro River. Then, for next Sunday, we have permits to hike Araviapa Canyon Preserve from the East entrance.
More than a hundred years ago, Kentucky Camp was the headquarters for the Santa Rita Water & Mining Company, which was formed to extract placer deposits from the Greaterville Mining District in the foothills of the Santa Rita Mountains 9 miles NW of Sonoita.
Gold, in the form of placer, was discovered here in 1874. Placer is a mixture of gold, sand, and gravel. Separating out the gold required water. But in the Greaterville Mining District, there was no permanent surface water, and the arroyos were usually dry.
Early on, miners here had to haul their pay dirt in sacks to the few running streams in the area, or haul bladders of water to their claims on the backs of pack animals.
At first, this laborious effort was worthwhile, but by 1886 the easy pickings played out and most of the miners moved on.
A Bright Idea
In 1902, along came James Stetson, a California mining engineer who had an idea to solve the water problem. He believed it would be possible to collect seasonal runoff into a nearby reservoir, creating a permanent water source, and thus making placer mining once again profitable.
Stetson sold the idea to investors and together they formed the Santa Rita Water & Mining Company. The mining operation took place in Boston Gulch and the company built facilities in neighboring Kentucky Gulch.
From 1902, the company had their headquarters and employee residences in what became known as Kentucky Camp. By mid-1904, the company had begun hydraulic mining and success seemed assured.
One Fateful Day
However, as so often happened in these early mining ventures, fate intervened. On May 20, 1905, Mr. Stetson was in Tucson for a Board of Directors meeting. He had taken a third-floor room in the new and very prestigious Santa Rita Hotel, located at Broadway & Scott.
Around 3 o’clock that afternoon, a maid working on the 2nd floor directly below Mr. Stetson’s room heard a thud on the windowsill of the room she was cleaning. She went to investigate. As she leaned out her window, she saw Mr. Stetson’s dead body on the concrete sidewalk below.
Why Mr. Stetson fell out of his hotel window was never determined. Was he pushed? Was he drunk? We will never know.
The remaining partners tried to keep the mining operation going, but gave up in 1906. By 1912, Kentucky Camp was abandoned.
For information about the restored buildings & overnight stays at Kentucky Camp, click HERE to go to SouthernArizonaGuide.com.
Great Southern Arizona Getaways.
Two & Three Day Summer StayCations For Locals
Southern Arizona StayCations are only a bit complicated because you folks in Sierra Vista may want a mini-vacation in Tucson to see a play or concert or enjoy one of our terrific museums. By contrast, you Tucsonans may want a weekend in and near Sierra Vista to hike Ramsey Canyon or explore the San Pedro River Valley.
Either way works but I have to write from the perspective of a Tucsonan since I live in the foothills of the Tucson Mountains over looking the City and Ramsey Canyon would be a respite from the summer heat. That and there are about a million more Tucsonans than Sierra Visitians.
If you’re coming into Tucson for a great weekend getaway I can happily recommend several excellent establishments for dining & lodging. Just go to Southern Arizona Guide > Main Menu > Dining & Lodging Reviews.
If you’re a Tucsonan headed to the wilds of Southern Arizona, you can do the same in reverse. I have recommended dining and lodging in Bisbee, Tombstone, Tubac, Safford, Duncan, and many other places in Southeastern Arizona.
Well, I need to modify the above slightly. I stay at the Tombstone Bordello B&B when I visit “The Town Too Tough To Die”. At least here I can get a good night’s sleep and an excellent breakfast, fresh fruit and all. Plus I like Ms. Lynda, the innkeeper. As soon as she says two words to you, you’ll know where she comes from.
But there are zero four & five Saguaro restaurants in Tombstone. If you want a better than average dining experience, go to Bisbee. I say this knowing it will upset the good folks of Tombstone who depend for their livelihood on tourism, but if they really gave a damn about us turistas, they would have a better-than-average restaurant. Don’t blame the messenger.
Great Summer Getaway #1: Bisbee
At a mile high, Bisbee is much cooler than Tucson and the lower elevations of the Sonoran Desert. In many ways, most of Bisbee is a living history museum. Just get out in the morning or evening and walk the town with your camera. You’ll bring home a couple of great photos as well as memories.
(a) Sometime this summer I’m going to stay at The Shady Dell. This place just looks too cool not to experience it.
(b) For a first-rate B&B, definitely Joy Timber’s Calumet & Arizona Guest House. Joy has a lot of valuable local knowledge that will help you enjoy your time in Bisbee.
Breakfast: Bisbee Breakfast Club
Lunch: Jimmy’s Hot Dog Company. The only hot dog joint I know of that is recommended by Gourmet Magazine. Say “Hi” to Jimmy for us at Southern Arizona Guide.
Lunch: High Desert Market. Located a short drive up Tombstone Canyon from Old Town Bisbee.
Dinner: Café Roka (make reservations well in advance) This is one of the few 5-Saguaro restaurants in Southern Arizona.
Dinner: Rose’s Little Italy (ditto on the reservations)
Other: Also I hear Santiago’s has good Mexican food. I’m going to dine here this summer and let you know.
(c) Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum (so good it’s affiliated with the Smithsonian).
(d) Art galleries & other shops along Main Street. It looks pretty much as it did in this old postcard.
(e) Just walk around the hilly streets above this lovely old city, once the most populous between St. Louis and San Francisco.
(e) Check out the Bisbee Events Calendar for special events.
Great Side Trips from Bisbee Coming or Going
Tombstone, of course.
Avoid the OK Corral gunfight re-enactment (rent the video). Don’t miss the Tombstone Courthouse State Park or the office of the Tombstone Epitaph. Eat at Crystal Palace Saloon where you can admire one of the Old West’s finest bars.
Do take Dr. Jay’s Tombstone Walking Tour. You’ll learn many fascinating things about the town you thought you knew all about. Do call for reservation: 520-457-9876. Tell Dr. Jay “Hi” from Jim at Southern Arizona Guide. Maybe he’ll give you a deal.
I did on-camera interviews with Virgil Earp and Tom McLaury just before they left the saloon to head down to the OK Corral. Not surprisingly, their accounts of the events leading up to the most famous gunfight differ somewhat. If you go to Tombstone, don’t miss the tour of the Bird Cage Theater. In 1882, the New York Times referred to the Bird Cage Theater as “the wildest, wickedest night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast.” I have no doubt.
The thing I like most about Tombstone is that the facts, should you do the necessary research, are far more interesting than the legends. Check out my recommended reading about this fascinating remnant of the Old West. Great reads!
Karchner Caverns State Park at Benson.
Excellent exhibits in the visitor center and a fine guided underground tour. Do make reservations. (520) 586-2283.
Holy Trinity Monastery at St. David.
Here the Benedictine monks have guesthouses for you, an RV park, a lovely little chapel, and pleasant tree-lined trails on 92 wooded acres … perfect for bird watching and a bit of serenity.
Fort Huachuca at Sierra Vista.
This old U.S. Army fort was the home of the Buffalo Soldiers and has two outstanding military museums. Today, Fort Huachuca is home to the U.S. Army Intelligence Center.
Ramsey Canyon just south of Sierra Vista.
This Nature Conservancy Preserve is one of the most beautiful places in Southern Arizona. Go to the bookstore, get an orientation from the helpful folks there, then take a hike up the canyon. It sometimes amazes me that a place this wild still exists in our over-crowded planet. Take your camera and send me your best photos of the many bird species and wild critters. Watch out for bears.
The San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area
This 56,000 acre preserve is located 6 miles east of Sierra Vista. Activities include: wildlife and bird watching, picnicking, primitive camping, pre-historic and historic sites, hiking, fishing, biking, horseback riding, guided hikes, interpretive sites, and weekend children’s programs.
Here you will find the Murray Springs Clovis Site, a significant archaeological area that contains evidence of the earliest known people to inhabit North America. An interpretive trail leads visitors to the site. The area also features the ruins of the old mining town of Fairbank. The San Pedro House, a 1930’s-era converted ranch house, serves as a bookstore and visitor center.
Great Summer Getaway #2: Portal, AZ
Sitting at just under 5,000’ elevation on the eastern slope of the Chiricahua Mountains, Portal is the gateway to beautiful Cave Creek Canyon.
Here you can indulge in all kinds of outdoor activities, including camping, picnicking, bird watching, hiking, plus great photographic opportunities.
Fair warning: services, particularly gas stations, are few and far between out here.
Portal Peak Lodge
520 558 2223
We stayed here April 2012. Clean, simple rooms, adjacent to the Portal Store and Café. Free WiFi. Only restaurant in these parts as far as I know.
Aside from a good night’s sleep, the most important thing to know about this place is they sell a fairly detailed copy of a map to these parts for $0.25. Buy one! You’ll thank me later.
No cell phone service or GPS out here.
We have not stayed here, but it looks lovely. A 1930’s renovated stone guesthouse with two spacious rooms, each with private baths and patios, private phones with
modem setups. Both rooms are located close to Cave Creek. One room
has a queen-sized bed, sofa bed, shower and dressing room.
The other is a handicapped accessible studio apartment with queen-sized bed, king-sized sofa bed, fully equipped kitchen, large bath with jacuzzi, and fireplace. Breakfast prepared to order.
Cave Creek Ranch
I have not stayed here either, but this place gets rave reviews. Three cottages, two lodges with three apartments each, and the Ranch House. Some units have fireplaces. Each unit sleeps from 2 to 6 people. All have fully-equipped kitchens.
Bring most of your groceries with you as the nearest super market is in Willcox, except for a few items available at the little Portal Store.
This is a working research center well up into the canyon. Occasionally they have rooms for non-resident researchers who just want to enjoy this beautiful setting.
To the extent it’s a drawback, meals here are served at specific times. During the day, I can only imagine you will want to be picnicking along one of the many trails above the canyon.
The George Walker House in Paradise.
This cabin, 5 1/2 miles from Portal and Cave Creek, is a 100 year old house with two bedrooms, a dining room, a living room, a bathroom with shower and tub, a well-equipped kitchen stocked with coffee, tea, breakfast cereal, muffins, and juice, and a laundry room with washer and dryer. There is also a screened-in front porch, and a shady patio area with picnic table and a barbecue grill. The yard is completely fenced. We have friends who think this place is wonderful.
As far as I know, this is the only restaurant for miles around. I gave them a 3-Saguaro rating.
Great Side Trips From Portal Coming or Going
Chiricahua National Monument is just over the mountain from Portal via Forest Service Road 42. On the way from Portal to the Monument or vice versa, you will see evidence of the Horseshoe 2 Fire of 2011. Not pretty. But there are other rewards along this back road.
Plan on about a two hour drive over the mountain. It’s worth it.
Once you enter the Monument, stop at the visitor center to get oriented and find out the schedule for guided tours of Faraway Ranch. Take the tour.
You can camp beside the creek in Bonita Canyon, one of the best AZ campgrounds I’ve seen. From the campground and visitor center, continue up the mountain to the Wonderland of Rocks. Quite a sight. And excellent hiking trails. Keep an eye out for the elusive coatimundi.
Coming from or going to Portal or Chiricahua National Monument, you’re likely to go through Benson and Willcox on Interstate 10. Between Benson & Willcox, just off I-10, is Texas Canyon, a place of massive boulders and one of America’s finest private museums featuring rare artifacts found throughout North and South America. The Amerind also has one of Southern Arizona’s best art galleries and picnic areas. Highly recommended.
Out this way along I-10 you will be annoyed by dozens of billboards enticing you to stop and see THE THING. Avoid the temptation.
Last chance to fill the gas tank before heading up to the Chiricahua National Monument. Also tank up on groceries. If you’re a huge Rex Allen fan (who?) Willcox has a museum to this singing cowboy. If you were born after 1960, you won’t have a clue.
Big Tex BBQ Dining Car by the railroad tracks. Excellent BBQ ribs.
Recommended Wine Tasting
Coming from or going to Portal or the Monument, do stop at Coronado Vineyards. For very few coins, you can sample some of the best wines produced in Southern Arizona.
Also they serve dinners there Thursdays – Saturdays starting at 5 PM.
Located a few miles east of Willcox just off the I-10.
More Recommended Summer Getaways to come.
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.
On the third and final day of our Southeastern Arizona adventure, we started early. Deborah Mendelsohn, our Simpson Hotel B&B innkeeper in Duncan, had prepared a delicious take-along breakfast for us the night before.
Normally, we would have slept in and enjoyed breakfast with her and the other guests, but we had a lot of ground to cover if we were to see all that we wanted to explore and still get home to Tucson in time to pick up our two dogs.
Since leaving Willcox and passing through Safford on our way to Duncan, we had been on the Salsa Trail.
The Salsa Trail extends about 240 miles and unites the towns of Safford, Pima, Thatcher, Clifton, Duncan, Willcox, and York. It also unites about a dozen Mexican restaurants, a chili farm, and a tortilla factory.
You can take it any time of year to sample the best Mexican food in the area, and more particularly, many varieties of salsa. But every year, the Graham County Chamber sponsors SalsaFest, sort of a block party that extend over 3 counties: Graham, Greenlee, and Cochise.
The next SalsaFest is September 28th & 29th, 2012. In addition to great Mexican food, there will be a jalapeño-eating contest (not for me), the Salsa Challenge were you can help determine the winner (this I can do), hot air balloons, Chihuahua races and Best Chihuahua Costume contest, plus a classic and hot rod car show.
Leaving Duncan, we headed north to the once-vibrant mining town of Clifton. Clifton is an old copper mining town. No mine, no town. Rich copper deposits were first discovered here soon after the Civil War.
The San Francisco River runs through town. Over the last century, it has flooded and decimated Clifton several times. Now there’s a fine RV park along the river where houses used to be before the most recent flood.
While taking photographs around town, we met Marla who, with her husband, owns several historic building. She was kind enough to point out some of the more impressive features in and around Clifton, including the Potter Ranch B&B.
On the National Register of Historic Homes, Potter Ranch was built in 1901 by a wealthy miner and the grandfather of the present owner and innkeeper, June Palmer.
You wouldn’t know it just by looking at it, but this lovely home was abandoned after a 1983 flood, and vandalized during the six years it sat vacant. Ms. Palmer, an acclaimed artist, reclaimed the property in 1989 after a 50-year absence, and restored the home to its original Victorian décor.
And you couldn’t ask for a more beautiful natural setting.
Most of the buildings along the narrow main street that runs through what was once a thriving downtown district are boarded up now. But at the north end is the museum and offices of the Greenlee County Historical Society.
The exhibits chronicle the long history of this area, from paleo-Indians and Coronado’s Expedition, to Apaches, and most recently miners, ranchers, and other pioneers.
There are 3 places to dine out in Clifton: PJ’s, El Corralito (Pizza & Mexican), and Tyler’s Taste of Texas BBQ. All were closed the early Sunday morning we were in town.
As for lodging, if there’s no room at the Potter Ranch, I suggest the Simpson Hotel B&B in Duncan.
Today, the big copper mining activity is at Morenci’ just up the road. They say it’s the biggest open pit mine in the Western Hemisphere. But the ‘pit’ is not just a hole in the ground like the Lavender Pit Mine in Bisbee.
The mine in Morenci’ is vast, leveling whole mountains for as far as the eye can see. The Morenci’ Mine offers a tour, which undoubtedly would have been interesting, but we didn’t have time.
You may decry the wholesale destruction of the environment up here, but modern civilization depends as much on copper as it does on fossil fuels.
Much of our early Sunday morning involved taking photographs of old Clifton, and there’s a lot of old Clifton to photograph. In a few weeks, I’ll have a slide show about all this on our Southern Arizona Guide website.
Black Hills Country Byway
After several hours exploring Clifton and Morenci’ we headed south a ways and picked up the Black Hills Country Byway. This unpaved road was once the main thoroughfare between Safford and Clifton. Now it’s a scenic back road that takes adventurous people through rough, beautiful backcountry and across the Gila River.
Along the way are 2 campgrounds with ramadas, and several exceptionally fine picnic areas that we will add to our ‘Best Of’ list.
We noted several primitive side roads that beckon off-road enthusiasts. We were driving a high-clearance vehicle, but lacked both time and four-wheel drive capability. Another time, perhaps.
We strongly suggest you not tow a trailer or take a vehicle exceeding 20 feet in length on this byway.
The Byway crosses the Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area between mileposts 17 and 18. This conservation area includes 22,000 acres of scenic desert canyons and several perennial rivers and creeks.
Here you will find a 15-mile segment of Bonita Creek and 23 miles of the Gila River, including the steep-walled Gila Box. Two other perennial waterways, Eagle Creek and the San Francisco River, flow into the Gila Box. Rafting, backpacking, hiking, birding, horseback riding, photography, and camping are popular activities in the area.
There’s even an area set aside for rock hounds. Here you may find fire agates, but the predominant geological feature is volcanic rock. This special rock hound area makes a great day adventure for collectors. The site is open for digging by the public without fees or permits. Camping throughout the area is allowed for up to two weeks. Access is easiest from U.S. Highway 191, just east of milepost 141.
Just on the south end of the old Safford Bridge, which was built with convict labor in the ‘30’s, is were you can launch your inflatable raft or kayak and float down the Gila for miles.
Lower Eagle Creek
Most of this area is BLM land, but there are several cattle ranches long the Byway, and more than a few stray cows in the road.
Little Eagle Creek Road, which you can access just above the Morenci’ Mine, is another gateway to off-road adventures.
At the south end of the Byway is Highway 191/Route 70 and the little town of Solomon, named for the gentleman who made a fortune clear-cutting the surrounding hills to make charcoal for the smelters.
By this time we were hungry, but there were no restaurants open in Solomon or on the way to Safford on this Sunday morning.
Next Stop: Manor House Restaurant and Roper Lake
As I posted several days ago, Ms. Karen & I were headed for a three-day weekend in Southeastern Arizona. Now we’re back and have a couple hundred photos, some of which I will share here. Others you can view on our Southern Arizona Guide website in a few days. Here’s is the route we traveled. All told, a little less than 700 miles.
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.
Slaughter Ranch Museum
The Slaughter Ranch right on the International Border is spectacular. A fine museum dedicated to pioneer rancher and Cochise County Sheriff John Slaughter. A beautiful place to have a picnic along side the lake. We conducted an on-camera interview with Bob The Caretaker. You can view it in a few weeks on our website. I’m going to add this to our Best Picnic Areas section.
Gadsden Hotel, Douglas
This was once a grand hotel, now shabby after decades of hard times. Douglas is a portrait of an impoverished American city.
Very sparse human population out here between towns. We saw a lot of poverty, a lot of churches, a lot of prisons. We also saw a lot of wildlife and beautiful scenery … and met some terrific people.
The first night we stayed at the Portal Lodge. Simple, clean, inexpensive. They have a store, cafe’, and lodge. I think it’s the only place within 10 miles to get supplies and an OK meal.
Taking the back road from Portal over the top of the Chiricahua Mountains to the Monument, we also saw the devastation caused by last June’s (2011) Horseshoe 2 Wildfire which burned almost a quarter million acres of remote forest.
Make sure you have plenty of gas. Gasoline is very scare around here.
Saturday morning we left Portal Lodge and headed up the east side of the Chiricahuas. Our destination was the Chiricahua National Monument on the other side. The pavement eventually gave way to a well-maintained dirt road that took us over the mountain top.
This was one of the most spectacular scenic drives we have ever experienced.
Tomorrow or the next day I will post more photos of our tour of Cochise, Graham, and Greenlee Counties almost to the Arizona-New Mexico border.