Great Southern Arizona Getaways.
Two & Three Day Summer StayCations For Locals
San Pedro River. Courtesy of Tucson Citizen Archives
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.
The Shady Dell: Bisbee, AZ
(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.
Recommended Things To See & Do
(a) A cocktail on the veranda of the historic Copper Queen Hotel.
(b) Copper Queen (underground) Mine Tour.
(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.
Road to Cave Creek Canyon near Portal, AZ
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 Arizona: Lodge, Store, and Cafe
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.
The American Museum of Natural History Southwestern Research Station
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
Faraway Ranch in Bonita Canyon
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.
Bonita Canyon Campground
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.
Coronado Vineyards Near Willcox, AZ
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.