Chief of the Chiricahua Apache, Cochise earned great respect from whites and Indians alike for his integrity and leadership skills. He never lost a battle. Even though he waged war against Anglo troops and settlers from 1861 to 1872, government officials named Arizona's southeast corner Cochise County in his honor in 1881. Many historic sites of the Old West lie along a 206-mile loop—the "Cochise Trail"—through this varied country.
When raiding Apache threatened settlers and travelers in the San Pedro Valley in 1877, the army set up a temporary camp near the Huachuca (wa-CHOO-ka) Mountains. In 1886, Fort Huachuca became the advance headquarters for the campaign against Geronimo. Although the army later closed more than 50 forts and camps in the territory, it retained Huachuca to deal with outlaws and renegade Indians near the Mexican border. World Wars I and II and the Korean War saw new duties for the fort; finally, in 1954, it began its current task of testing electronics and communications gear and serving as an information center and intelligence school. Except during rough weather, you'll see an aerostat tethered high above the fort scanning for low-flying smugglers' planes. It also serves as a weather vane. The website http://huachuca-www.army.mil tells of some of the projects at the post.
Sierra Vista (pop. 30,000), the largest and fastest growing community in Cochise County, includes Fort Huachuca (pop. 10,000). It lies on the east side of the Huachuca Mountains at an elevation of 4,623 feet and makes a handy base for exploring the surrounding region.
When driving toward Sierra Vista, you have a choice of taking the bypass route across the north or going downtown on Fry Boulevard. You'll find nearly all motels, restaurants, shopping, and other visitor services on or near this busy street.
Fort Huachuca Museum
The Old West comes alive as you walk by life-size figures of the fort's soldiers, scouts, officers, and wives. Each has a story to tell. Exhibits begin in the main building with experiences of chasing renegade Apache during the fort's early days, then progress to the World War II years. Head upstairs to see the "Black Military Experience in the American West" display. Nearby exhibits show how soldiers, officers, and Apache scouts helped tame the frontier. Period rooms portray family life. You'll get a feel for how tough life in the army could be, yet why many army people developed a fondness for Fort Huachuca. A gift shop sells history, hiking, and regional books as well as souvenirs. The Annex across the street displays additional exhibits arranged chronologically around a campfire scene. Barracks and administrative buildings from the 1880s line the nearby parade ground outside. A sign on the south side of the main museum building gives the dates and functions of the old buildings.
The two museum buildings (520/533-5736 recording or 520/458-4716 gift shop, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Mon.-Sat., $2 suggested donation) lie on either side of Hungerford (at Grierson), about 2.5 miles in from the main gate in Sierra Vista; you'll need to follow signs carefully.
Army Intelligence Museum
Follow signs a short way down Hungerford from the Fort Huachuca Museum to see exhibits on intelligence history and the equipment used to crack the other side's secrets. Life-size figures show intelligence pioneers and personnel at work. The collection even has some aircraft used for spying, as well as radios and cryptography gear. Videos can be seen on request. Open the same hours as the Fort Huachuca Museum.
Henry F. Hauser Museum
This small rotating collection (8 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri.) portrays the history of Sierra Vista and the San Pedro River Valley. It's across the parking lot from the Visitors Bureau in the northeastern part of town; head north one mile on Moorman Avenue/Coronado Drive from Fry Boulevard, or south one block on Coronado Drive from the AZ 90 bypass, then turn east on Tacoma.
To Sierra Vista Practicalities
The Huachucas, south of Sierra Vista, present many hiking possibilities and some very scenic drives. Trails climb from all sides of the range to Miller Peak Wilderness.
Huachuca and Garden Canyons
Each of these canyons offers a scenic drive, good birding, picnic areas, and trailheads from which you can hike into the Huachuca Mountains and south to the Miller Peak Wilderness. The oldest part of Fort Huachuca lies near the mouth of Huachuca Canyon. From the intersection of Hungerford and Grierson Avenues at the Fort Huachuca Museum, head southwest 0.6 mile on Grierson, then turn left 0.1 mile on Hines Road to the canyon entrance. Sycamore, oaks, pines, and junipers shade the canyon floor as you follow the gravel road past several picnic areas in another two miles. The road then becomes too rough for cars, but high-clearance vehicles can continue a bit farther. You may, however, prefer to walk and listen to the sounds of birds and the gurgling creek. Picnic areas are free and don't require a permit.
Garden Canyon lies farther south on the east side of the Huachucas. If you're driving in from the main gate toward the Fort Huachuca Museum, you'll see a signed turn two miles in for Garden Canyon. Head south five miles, following signs, past the Fort Huachuca Sportsmen's Center, firing ranges, and an aerostat site to a group picnic area at the mouth of the canyon. An information kiosk here has information on the canyon and its history and bird life. Garden Canyon's picnic areas require a permit and fee. You'll pass a few more picnic areas in the thickly wooded canyon along the next 1.2 miles to where pavement ends. Depending on road conditions you may be able to continue driving several more miles or you can walk or mountain bike. A pictograph site is 3.3 miles from the group picnic area. The Fort Huachuca Museum's gift shop sells a guidebook and map for hiking in the Huachucas.
Arizona Folklore Preserve
Dolan Ellis, Arizona's Official State Balladeer and an original member of the New Christy Minstrels, organizes highly enjoyable programs of acoustic and folk entertainment. The shows run at 2 p.m. Sat.-Sun. and are very popular—you'll need to make reservations at 520/378-6165 or www.arizonafolklore.com. The delightful theater has a beautiful setting along Ramsey Creek. Head 3.5 miles up Ramsey Canyon Road from AZ 92; the turnoff is six miles south of Sierra Vista.
Ramsey Canyon Preserve
The Nature Conservancy operates this 380-acre sanctuary for hummingbirds and other wildlife (520/378-2785, http://nature.org/arizona, $5, $3 members and Cochise County residents, free ages under 16 and for everyone on the first Sat.). Up to 14 species of hummers congregate here from spring to early autumn. Butterflies also appear in the warmer months. A year-round stream and a wide elevation range provide habitats for many other kinds of creatures as well, including white-tailed deer, coati, javelina, black bear, and turkey. The Hamburg Trail goes through the preserve one mile, then continues a short way to an overlook (6,380 feet) in the Coronado National Forest. Guided nature walks depart at 9 a.m. on Tues., Thurs., and Sat. from March to October. The Ramsey Canyon bird observation area, Hamburg Trail, and visitor center are open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. daily March-Oct., then 9 a.m.-5 p.m. the rest of the year.
Begin at the visitor center, where a gift shop sells hiking maps and an excellent selection of natural history and regional books. The Preserve can be crowded mid-March-Sept.; groups should call ahead. The parking area has an 18-foot vehicle-length limit and cannot accommodate RVs or trailers. No pets, smoking, picnicking, or camping, please. From the turnoff on AZ 92, six miles south of Sierra Vista, head west four miles up Ramsey Canyon Road.
Carr Canyon Road
This scenic road ascends 7.8 miles up the east slopes of the range to the cool pine forests at over 7,000 feet. You'll enjoy spectacular views over the San Pedro Valley and distant mountains at overlooks along the way. Cautiously driven cars can do the trip if the road is dry; no vehicles over 20 feet or trailers over 12 feet long are allowed. Snow may close the road in winter.
The turnoff from AZ 92 is seven miles south of downtown Sierra Vista between Mileposts 328 and 329. Pavement ends after 1.5 miles where Forest Road 368 continues to the heights. A picnic area and trailhead are 1.8 miles in. At 2.4 miles, look on the left for Carr House (9 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat.-Sun. May-Oct.), which has exhibits and a nature trail.
About 6.5 miles in, Reef Townsite Campground (7,150 feet) lies at the site of a former mining camp. It has a $10 picnicking/camping fee, but may not have water. The nearby Reef Group Area can be reserved for day use. Reef Historic Trail makes a 0.7-mile loop from the far end of the campground; signs point out mine and mill sites and relate their history. Prospectors filed claims here in 1893, then mined gold and silver until about WW I. Large mills processed the ore, but operations never proved very profitable. Some tungsten and quartz were mined later, but all operations ceased by the end of the 1950s. The trail descends several hundred feet and affords fine views of the Huachuca Mountains and its canyons. For longer hikes, start at the trailhead opposite the entrance to the campground, where Old Sawmill Trail climbs to Carr Peak Trail, which in turn leads to Carr Peak (three miles), Crest Trail #103 (3.5 miles), and Miller Peak (6.5 miles).
Ramsey Vista Campground (7,200 feet), 1.3 miles farther at the end of the road and near the wilderness boundary, has a $10 picnicking/camping fee but no water. From the trailhead just before the campground, Carr Peak Trail #107 heads up to Carr Peak (2.75 miles) and connects with Comfort Spring Trail #109 (0.25 mile) and other destinations; another trailhead lies at the far end of the campground. There's no charge for trailhead parking outside the campgrounds, though donations are accepted. Contact the Sierra Vista Ranger Station (520/378-0311, www.fs.fed.us/r3/coronado) of the Coronado National Forest for information on exploring the Huachucas; the office is on AZ 92 just half a mile north of the Carr Canyon Road turnoff.
Our Lady of the Sierras Shrine
This peaceful spot high on a hillside offers space for reflection amidst grand views of the Huachucas and the San Pedro Valley. A stone pathway winds up a hillside past the Stations of the Cross. You can step inside the stone chapel to see its art. A 75-foot Celtic cross and 32-foot statue of the Madonna stand nearby. Open 9 a.m. to sunset daily with free admission; call 520/378-2950 or surf to www.ourladyofthesierras.org for more information. Head south about 12 miles on AZ 92, turn right (between Mileposts 333 and 334) on Stone Ridge, which curves to the west and becomes Prince Placer Road; you'll see the entrance on the left 0.7 mile from AZ 92.
Miller Peak Wilderness
High summits surrounded by sheer cliffs and deep canyons distinguish this rugged area of 20,190 acres in the Huachuca Mountains. Elevations range from 5,200 to 9,466 feet at the top of Miller Peak. Trails wind up the slopes from the east off Ash Canyon, Miller Canyon, Carr Canyon, and Ramsey Canyon Roads, from the south at Montezuma Pass in Coronado National Memorial, and from the west via Oversite, Ida, Bear, and Sunnyside Canyons. The 11.5-mile Crest Trail between Montezuma Pass and Fort Huachuca ties all of the trails together. Although the long climbs are challenging, the mountains offer outstanding views and chances to see birds and other wildlife. The Sierra Vista Ranger Station has descriptions of trails and sells maps and a hiking book for the Huachucas.
Francisco Vásquez de Coronado marched through this area in 1540 in search of the mythical Seven Cities of Cíbola. Although his backers judged the quest a failure, Coronado led the first major European expedition into the American Southwest, and the names of both this park and the adjacent national forest honor him.
Coronado National Memorial (520/366-5515, www.nps.gov/coro, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily except Thanksgiving and Christmas, free) offers hiking and a scenic drive in the Huachuca Mountains just north of the Mexican border. You'll experience the grasslands and woodlands typical of "sky islands" in the region and have a good chance to see birds and other wildlife. The visitor center has an information desk, bookstore, and exhibits on the area's history, plants, and wildlife. A video introduces Coronado and the memorial, and other videos can be seen on request.
Outside, a nature walk identifies local flora. There's a picnic area in an oak grove across the road. The turnoff for Coronado National Memorial lies about midway between Sierra Vista and Bisbee on AZ 92. Turn west 4.7 miles on Coronado Memorial Drive to the visitor center and another 3.2 miles and 1,345 feet higher for Montezuma Pass; the last 2 miles are unpaved and not suited for vehicles or trailers over 24 feet. You can also take very scenic back roads—mostly dirt or gravel—from Patagonia or Nogales. Snowstorms occasionally close the pass in winter. Although the memorial closes at night, the road remains open 24 hours. There's no place to camp here. Pets can go only on the Crest Trail to the boundary of Miller Peak Wilderness.
Coronado Cave Trail
This 1.5-mile-roundtrip trail winds up the hillside behind the visitor center to a limestone cave with some formations; the first quarter mile is gentle, followed by a steep half mile with some stone steps to the cave entrance; elevation gain is 470 feet. The cave is about 600 feet long, 70 feet wide, and up to 20 feet high, with some short crawlways. All cave visitors must carry a flashlight (sold at the visitor center); a spare flashlight is recommended, and essential for solo travelers. To preserve the cave's environment, no food, candles, flares, or lanterns should be brought in. Visitors are asked not to disturb wildlife, such as the several species of bats that inhabit the cave at times.
Montezuma Pass and Hiking
Outstanding views of Arizona and Mexico stretch to the horizon from the top of 6,864-foot Coronado Peak, reached by the 0.8-mile-roundtrip Coronado Peak Trail south from Montezuma Pass. The path ascends 290 feet with many benches for resting. Signs along the way describe Coronado's expedition in his own words along with accounts by his men and later historians. In one-tenth of a mile, you'll reach the turnoff for Joe's Canyon Trail, 3.1 miles one-way, which connects Montezuma Pass with the visitor center in the valley below; elevation change is 1,345 feet.
The southernmost section of this trail begins at the Mexican border. There's no access from the Mexican side, so hikers begin by taking Joe's Canyon Trail southwest 2.1 miles from the visitor center or southeast one mile from Montezuma Pass, then following Yaqui Ridge Trail south one mile to International Border Monument #102. From here the Arizona Trail leads generally northward across the state to Utah.
You can reach Miller Peak (9,466 feet), the highest point in the Huachuca Mountains, by hiking 5.3 miles (one way) on the Crest/Arizona Trail north from Montezuma Pass. With a car shuttle, you could continue down from the summit into Miller Canyon in 11.6 miles. Mountain bikers may not ride trails in the memorial or wilderness, but they have many options in the Coronado National Forest to the west.
On to San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area