Surrounded by the rugged Pinaleņos, Gila, and Peloncillo mountain ranges, Safford (elev. 2,900 feet) lies in the broad Gila River Valley. Hohokam, Mogollon, and Anasazi sites in the valley date from about 300 B.C. to A.D. 1200. The Apache arrived about 1700 and managed to discourage European settlers until 1874. In that year four Civil War veterans founded a town named after Anson P. Safford, territorial Arizona's third governor. Five years later Mormon settlers arrived to farm the valley, founding Smithville, later renamed Pima. Mormons also settled in the towns of Thatcher, Central, Eden, Graham, and Bryce.
Though small, Safford (pop. 9,500) serves as the Graham County seat and as the main retail and service center for a large area of southeastern Arizona. Cotton, especially in Pima, is king, but the irrigated bottomland also supports wheat, barley, alfalfa, and other crops.
Visitor highlights include Discovery Park science exhibits, the Graham County and Pima historical museums, the scenic Mt. Graham Drive into the 10,000-foot-plus Pinaleņos Mountains (hiking, fishing, and camping), Aravaipa and Bonita Canyons (wildlife and scenery along a perennial stream), and the Galiuro Wilderness (for adventurous hikers).
Safford's science center continues to develop on 200 acres at the south end of town. Exhibits in the Gov Aker Building (928/428-6260, www.eac.edu/discoverypark, open 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Mon.–Fri. and 4–9:30 p.m. Sat., free admission) illustrate the history of astronomy from early concepts of the universe to cutting-edge research. Videos and interactive exhibits explain the workings of telescopes and the nature of the waves received from space. The Shuttlecraft Polaris motion simulator "departs" for tours of the solar system. You can view surroundings by day through the world's largest camera obscura, and by night with a 20-inch astronomical telescope. A gift shop sells posters and science toys.
A wildlife area has a wetlands with bird blinds. Tours of the Mt. Graham International Observatory are available Fridays and Saturdays from about May to October and require advance reservations. From US 70 on the west side of town, take 20th Avenue 2.4 miles south to the entrance; or, from US 191 south of Safford, turn west on Discovery Park Boulevard to 20th Avenue, then turn left.
Graham County Historical Museum
Native American artifacts in the Prehistory Room include pottery and stone tools from early residents. As you continue through the rooms, you'll see displays of pioneer home life and ranching, school and community. Other galleries display vintage clothing and a doll collection. The museum (3430 Hwy. 70 in Thatcher, 928/348-0470, 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Mon., Tues., and Sat., free) is in the 1917 Thatcher Public School building just west of Safford; park on 4th Street.
Cotton Gin Tours
All that cotton in Graham County fields comes to two cotton gins in the Safford area. Both offer tours during the ginning season, from early October through December and sometimes into January. Call in advance to Safford Valley Cotton Growers Co-op (120 E. 9th St. off US 191 in Safford, 928/428-0714) or Glenbar Gin (9845 W. US Hwy. 70, just west of Pima, 928/485-9255).
On to Safford Practicalities
On to Vicinity of Safford