A Sojourn in Southeastern Arizona
Tombstone, Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Geronimo, Cochise, the O.K. Corral. The names are familiar, but what you might not know is that these are all names from southeastern Arizona. This corner of the state may not have the major natural attractions that northern Arizona has, but it does have loads of Wild West history; plenty of natural beauty; and great resorts, restaurants, and museums in and around Tucson. With the exception of the Tucson area, the climate here is mild year-round, so you'll be comfortable whether you visit in summer or winter. Southeastern Arizona is also one of the best bird-watching regions in the country. Many bird species reach the northern limits of their ranges in this area.
Days 1, 2 & 3: Tucson
Spend your first few days exploring Tucson and, if the weather is warm, lounging by the pool. On your first full day in town, head first to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, which is more zoo than museum and is the state's best introduction to the flora and fauna of the Sonoran Desert. The museum is just a few miles down the road from the west unit of Saguaro National Park, so once you've gotten familiar with life in the desert, strike out on the trail or on a scenic drive to get up close and personal with some gigantic saguaro cacti. If you're in good shape, I recommend hiking the Hugh Morris Trail to the summit of Wasson Peak, which has superb views across miles of desert. Try to stick around until sunset so that you can watch the light of the setting sun on the petroglyphs at Signal Hill, which is within the national park. The next day, visit the Tucson Museum of Art and wander around downtown Tucson's historic neighborhoods to get a feel for the city's mix of Spanish, Mexican, and Anglo history. On Day 3, hike, bike, birdwatch, or swim in a swimming hole at Sabino Canyon Recreation Area.
Day 4: Tubac
After you've gotten a feel for Tucson, take a day trip south toward Mexico. Just south of Tucson, you'll come to Mission San Xavier del Bac, a historic Spanish mission church that is known as the "White Dove of the Desert." If you're hungry, this is a good place to try Indian fry-bread tacos; there's a little walk-up food window in the plaza across the parking lot from the church, and Native Americans often set up grills and sell food from stalls in the parking lot. Continue south to the historic town of Tubac, which was founded by the Spanish two centuries ago and now filled with art galleries. Just south of Tubac is Tumacácori National Historical Park, where you can see the ruins of another mission church. Spend the night at the Tubac Golf Resort & Spa.
Days 5 & 6: Bisbee or Sierra Vista
From Tubac, drive down to the border town of Nogales and then head east to Patagonia, a small town best known for its great bird-watching, and Sonoita, which is both wide-open ranch country and Arizona's own little wine country (Callaghan Vineyards is my favorite area winery, but there are several other good places to sample local wines). Birders should be sure to stop at Patagonia Lake State Park/Sonoita Creek State Natural Area, the Nature Conservancy's Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, and Paton's Birder's Haven. Try to time things so that you can have lunch at Patagonia's Velvet Elvis Pizza Company. If you're a birder, you'll want to stay a couple of nights at one of the inns south of Sierra Vista. Several inns cater specifically to the birders who flock to the area to see hummingbirds at Ramsey Canyon Preserve and a wide variety of other birds at area birding hot spots such as the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area. If you're not a birder, continue to the funky historic town of Bisbee, which is full of countercultural types who have turned this former copper-mining town into the most interesting small town in Arizona. Be sure to eat dinner at Cafe Roka. While you're in the area, visit Coronado National Memorial to learn about the Spanish explorer who passed through this region between 1540 and 1542. And, of course, you shouldn't miss Tombstone, home of the famous shootout at the O.K. Corral.
Days 7 & 8: The Chiricahuas
From Bisbee or Sierra Vista, head northeast to Chiricahua National Monument, in the Coronado National Forest. Hike part or all of the Heart of Rocks Trail, which is one of the most memorable hikes in the state. If you have an interest in Western history, save time for the 3-mile round-trip hike to Fort Bowie National Historic Site. You'll be hiking with the ghosts of Apaches, soldiers, and stagecoach travelers. On your last day in the area, visit the remote Amerind Foundation Museum, which has an outstanding collection of Native American artifacts and is set amid huge granite boulders in Texas Canyon. On your way back to Tucson, be sure to detour south from Benson to Kartchner Caverns State Park. The caverns here are among the most spectacular in the country.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.