THE GRAND CANYON STATE offers a variety of terrain and climate, from the vast desert stretches of Yuma, the San Francisco Mountains and aspen forests of northern Arizona, to the wonder of man-made Lake Mead. The wealth of beauty in Arizona is something to be experienced. The narratives that follow describe some of the nearby areas of the state that personnel assigned to Fort Huachuca are likely to visit during their stay. By no means is the list complete.
Adjacent to the post, Sierra Vista, at an elevation of 4,625 feet, boasts a spectacular view of the surrounding mountain ranges. The town is known for its ideal weather, with an average high of 75 degrees and low of 50 degrees. With a population of nearly 43,000, it is one of the fastest-growing communities in Arizona and is the business and cultural center of Cochise County.
Sierra Vista was incorporated in 1956 and is one of the most modern and vibrant cities in the Southwest. Fort Huachuca was annexed by Sierra Vista in 1972, and the military and civilian communities enjoy one of the most cordial relationships of this kind in the entire United States.
The city’s school district enjoys an excellent reputation in the education community, and Buena High School is a state-of-the-art facility. Higher education is available through Cochise College and the University of Arizona Sierra Vista campuses.
Sierra Vista is the shopping center for Cochise County and parts of northern Mexico. Several shopping plazas thrive, and most major retailers are represented. Large, well-stocked supermarkets and pharmacies along with dozens of smaller specialty shops abound. The food service industry is well-represented, and fine dining is available throughout the area. Entertainment and information are also in evidence with first-run movies, cable television, local AM and FM radio broadcasts, and a daily newspaper.
A wide variety of cultural and family-oriented activities are offered during the year, including the Miss Sierra Vista pageant, Art in the Park arts and crafts sale, the Southwest Wings birding festival and the longest continuously running Christmas parade in the state of Arizona.
Sierra Vista is known as the “hummingbird capital of the United States.” In nearby Ramsey Canyon, 14 species of hummingbirds and hundreds of other birds, mammals, reptiles and plants may be observed and photographed. Within an easy drive are the hiking trails and breathtaking scenery of the Cochise Stronghold in the Dragoon Mountains, Chiricahua National Monument and beautiful Madera Canyon in Santa Cruz County.
Just 25 miles south of the entrance to Fort Huachuca lies a local national park — Coronado National Memorial. Established by Congress in 1952 to commemorate the exploration of Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, the first European explorer into the southwestern United States, the memorial offers outdoor recreational activities for all ages. With more than 8 miles of trails, hikers can enjoy treks through canyons and over mountains, taking in vistas of the San Pedro and San Raphael valleys. The memorial also has a large, dry, limestone cave that is open to unguided exploration and is suitable for most ages.
In addition to hiking opportunities, the memorial is host to numerous plant and animal species, which can be viewed by a short hike through the grasslands or into the mountains or from a vehicle. Take a scenic drive to Montezuma Pass, which offers vast and beautiful views into the surrounding valleys. For a wonderful family experience, enjoy one of the many sites in the picnic area directly adjacent to the visitor center. With its Spanish architectural styling, the visitor center is a great place to get more information for your visit. Services include personal information from staff and volunteers, a park film available on park iPads, books and other educational materials related to the memorial and the area, and exhibits on local culture, wildlife and Coronado’s expedition. The visitor center is open to the public 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, and the memorial is open during daylight hours.
To visit the memorial, take Highway 92 south toward Palominas about 22 miles south of the fort. Follow the signs right onto Coronado Memorial Road. The memorial entrance is about 2 miles up the road with the visitor center about 3 miles beyond the entrance. The memorial does not charge an entrance or use fee. Additional information on activities and guided tours of the cave can be obtained by calling the visitor center at 520-366-5515.
Huachuca City is a community just north of Fort Huachuca. The town began to develop with the reopening of Fort Huachuca in 1954 and was then known as Huachuca Vista. The town was incorporated in 1958 under the name of Huachuca City. Currently, it has a population of approximately 1,800.
The city has a mayor-council form of government and provides the residents with local police and fire protection. Huachuca City has one elementary school for students in preschool through eighth grade. High school students attend classes in Tombstone.
Housing available in the area consists of single-family dwellings, apartments and mobile homes. Residents are about 10 to 20 minutes driving time from the post.
Huachuca City’s business district consists of retail businesses, restaurants and industrial properties.
Benson and the San Pedro River Valley are rich in natural wonders and provide a home for deer, javelina, reptiles and many other animals, including more than 500 species of birds. The surrounding mountains and oasis-like San Pedro Riparian areas are a treasure trove of hiking trails for the rock hound, bird watcher, camper, historian or nature lover. The area boasts a beautiful temperate climate year-round, making it a perfect vacation spot.
The valley is also attractive to industry. Dubbed the transportation hub of Cochise County, there is easy access to major highways, rail transit and airports.
Although Benson was founded in 1880, civilization in the valley began long before. The Spanish missionary Father Eusebio Kino established missions in the late 1600s, bringing Christianity and agriculture to the resident Pima Indians. The Pima shared the land with the hostile Chiricahua Apache, who eventually gained control of the area.
The U.S. Army waged a difficult campaign against the Chiricahua to protect the homesteaders that began to make their way to the new territory. It was during this time the Mormons settled in St. David, the Butterfield Stage was founded, and the Indian legends of Cochise and Geronimo were born.
As the dust of the Butterfield Overland Stage Coach and Pony Express cleared, Benson matured into a bustling railroad town. In 1880, the Transcontinental Southern Pacific Railroad opened the way for two more major rail lines. Its lifeblood was the copper and silver flowing from the neighboring mining communities of Tombstone, Fairbank and Bisbee.
Nestled in the foothills of the Mule Mountains of southeast Arizona, Bisbee resembles a European hamlet more than a dusty 1880s Old West town. Originally called the “queen of the copper camps,” Bisbee has a rich history, which grew out of its humble beginnings as a mining camp turned boomtown in the 1880s. In 1900, it was the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco. Bisbee was rebuilt in 1908 after being destroyed by fire, and its homes and the downtown area still hold a Victorian charm.
Bisbee today is rich in architecture and culture, with its numerous art galleries, antique stores, gourmet restaurants, craft shops, museums and period bed-and-breakfast accommodations, as well as hotels. The Queen Mine Tour attracts thousands of visitors each year who ride down into the old tunnels in a string of mining cars. Events and cultural activities include musical presentations from street dances to classical concert series, monthly art walks, a fiber arts guild and performances by the local theater group. Visitors can also enjoy hiking the surrounding area in the cool, mile-high mountain air.
ELGIN AND SONOITA
Elgin and Sonoita are a co-existent community. Much like Sonoita, Elgin was a small railway town. The main difference between the two, and where a lot of people get confused, is that Elgin is the home of the Sonoita Appellation, the only place in Arizona where grapes for wine can be grown. Because of this, there are numerous vineyards all over the Elgin region. Sonoita Vineyards and Callaghan Vineyards are well-known throughout Arizona. These practiced winemakers are bringing home awards to show they really know their stuff.
It may be hard to believe that Sonoita is more than 130 years old. Established in 1882 just east of the old Sobaipuri rancheria, Sonoita was just a P.O. Box location and a stop for cattle along the train line. Since it was established, Sonoita has been a desirable location for Hollywood filmmakers because of its vast beauty, roaming hills and friendly natives. Movies filmed in Sonoita include “The Quick and the Dead,” “Tombstone,” “Tin Cup” and “A Star is Born.”
Today, Sonoita is home to some of the oldest continuous events in the state. People have been coming to enjoy the county fair, rodeo and horse races for nearly a century. Sonoita is also home to many bed-and-breakfast establishments and offers a wide variety of dining options; you can get anything from a full vegan meal to a 16-ounce steak. Just a bit north you will find the Empire Ranch, which offers annual group trail rides, the fall “Roundup and Open House,” which showcases cowboy traditions and Western heritage, and the educational Legacy Day for middle school students.
If you’re looking to get away from the city for a while and are ready to experience a relaxing trip into the beautiful grasslands, check out Sonoita. Sonoita is about 50 miles southeast of Tucson and 35 miles northwest of Sierra Vista and is centrally located for access to many sky islands. Visit www.sonoitaelginchamber.org for more information.
Douglas, on the U.S.-Mexico border, was founded in 1901 as a site for a copper smelter and was incorporated in 1905. It was originally an annual roundup spot for ranches. Agriculture and ranching are still important segments of the area’s principal economy. Because of its location, international commerce is also an important part of the local economy. The lure of shopping and sightseeing in “Old Mexico,” plus nearness to several outdoor recreation areas, has made tourism and retirement significant to Douglas’ economy as well.
The historic Gadsden Hotel, a frontier landmark since 1907, is one of the more popular attractions in the city. Visitors also frequent the Douglas-Williams House, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and is operated as a museum by the Douglas Historical Society.
The city is served by the Douglas Unified School District No. 27, which has five elementary schools, two middle schools and one high school. A private Catholic school serves kindergarten through eighth-grade students. The Douglas Campus of Cochise College provides higher education.
Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, are twin cities separated only by a fence. The two cities are about 65 miles southwest of Fort Huachuca.
Nogales, Mexico, is a shopping paradise, with a host of colorful markets and shops featuring leather goods, ceramics, tinware, fabrics, lacquered wood, tile, silverware, sculpture, paintings, brass and copper. But Nogales, Mexico, is more than just a village of markets and shops. It is a city of about 215,000 people, many of whom are engaged in handling the international commerce that flows in both directions through the gates separating the United States and Mexico. Nogales, Arizona, has a population of approximately 20,000.
There are many famous ranches in Nogales on both sides of the border. Some are still owned by families of the Spanish dons who came to the New World with the conquistadores. In the hills are fine riding and hiking trails and good hunting areas. A popular attraction in Nogales, Arizona, is the Pimeria Alta historical museum in the original Nogales city hall building, located downtown.
Patagonia is an artist’s hamlet and international birding destination. Charming downtown shops and galleries feature the work of local and regional artists. The Nature Conservancy’s Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve and Patagonia Lake State Park are known worldwide for the 300 species of birds that migrate through or nest along their creeks and waterways. The Paton Center for Hummingbirds is well-known for its hospitality to hummingbirds and the people who like to watch them.
Visitors come for the spectacular scenery of the valley in which Patagonia is nestled and the clean air that beckons hikers into the surrounding canyons. Patagonia offers access to numerous hiking trails, including the historic Arizona Trail.
The town also boasts a Creative Arts Association, theater and several excellent restaurants, along with a number of unique galleries and shops. An annual fall festival attracts more than 15,000 people for a three-day event featuring arts and crafts, a silent auction and live entertainment.
Perhaps one of the best known and most popular attractions in this area is just a 25-minute drive from Fort Huachuca on Charleston Road. It is Tombstone — “The town too tough to die.”
Fort Huachuca figured into its founding since it was from there that young Ed Schieffelin set out in the late 1800s to find silver in the San Pedro Hills. He was told by Soldiers at the post that all he would find would be his tombstone because of the constant danger of hostile Apaches.
So, when Schieffelin made his first strike in 1877, he named the claim Tombstone.
News of his silver strike spread and quickly brought prospectors, miners, businessmen, fortune hunters, lawmen and the lawless until the population of Tombstone reached 12,000-15,000 in 1881. Today, its population is approximately 1,300.
Surging waters in the mines ended the boom in the late 1890s but not before names like Virgil and Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, the O.K. Corral and the Clanton Gang were household words throughout the nation.
The Tombstone of today is still fascinating to visit, with many of the fabled places — such as the O.K. Corral, Bird Cage Theatre, Crystal Palace Saloon and Boothill Graveyard — much as they were in the heyday of the town.
Those wild days of the 1880s are recreated each year with exciting celebrations, including Wyatt Earp Days on Memorial Day weekend, Rendezvous of Gunfighters on Labor Day weekend and Helldorado Days during the third weekend of October. For information on events in Tombstone, call the visitor center at 888-457-3929 or visit www.tombstonechamber.com.
Tucson, just 75 miles to the northwest and less than 1.5 hours away by car, is a modern, progressive city — yet it retains the culture and flavor of the Old West.
With a history dating back to American Indian settlers in 800 A.D. and later the Spanish conquistadores, Tucson was established as a walled presidio by the Spanish in 1776 — the year the American colonies declared their independence from England. The city did not become part of the United States, however, until 1853, following the Gadsden Purchase.
Tucson is in a desert valley surrounded by mountain ranges on all sides, with an elevation varying from 2,400 feet in the Tucson Valley to more than 9,000 feet atop Mount Lemmon.
Renowned for its superb weather, Tucson is the second-largest city in Arizona, with a population of approximately 530,000. The city offers varied entertainment, recreational facilities, spectator sports, and social and cultural events throughout the year.
Tucson is also the home of the University of Arizona. With an enrollment of more than 44,000 students, the university offers more than 300 undergraduate and graduate degrees through 20 colleges and 11 schools on three campuses. The university is ranked among the top 20 public research universities nationwide. It is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, one of six regional accreditation agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, and is a member of the Pacific 10 Conference.
DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE
Davis-Monthan Air Force Base is a key Air Combat Command installation, within the city limits of Tucson. The 355th Fighter Wing, the host unit, provides medical, logistical and operational support to all Davis-Monthan units. The wing’s missions are to train attack pilots for deployment and to support and sustain attack airpower in support of combatant commanders anywhere in the world. According to the base’s 2015 Economic Impact Analysis, approximately 7,500 military and 3,000 civilian employees work at Davis-Monthan.
Associate units at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base include the 12th Air Force, the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, and the 563rd Rescue Group. The 12th Air Force provides combat-ready forces to Air Combat Command; trains and equips 10 active-duty wings and one direct reporting unit; oversees 18 gained Air Reserve Component units; and employs 818 aircraft with more than 65,000 Airmen. The 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, an Air Force Material Command unit, is responsible for the storage of approximately 4,400 retired aircraft. The 563rd Rescue Group is responsible for the training, readiness and maintenance of one HC-130 squadron, two HH-60 squadrons, two pararescue squadrons and an operations support squadron.
Other federal agencies using the base include the Federal Aviation Administration, Customs and Border Protection, and the National Guard Bureau.