I’m a ‘mountain’ person in that I tend to re-energize or recharge best surrounded by mountains. If water is nearby in the form of an ocean or a lake, that’s a bonus, but truthfully, get me near mountains any time! The past few months, in the desert of California and Arizona, have certainly delivered on that front… I’m in a mountain state of mind!
Recently (mid-March), we’ve been privileged to spend two weeks at the Saguaro SKP Co-op RV Park, located in Benson, AZ about 50 mi (80 km) east-southeast of Tucson, nestled in the San Pedro River Valley in Cochise County, with glorious views of the Dragoon Mountains to the East.
SKP Saguaro Co-Op, owned and operated by members of Escapees RV Club
From our Benson base, and with the assistance of the very helpful Benson Visitor Center as well as recommendations from ‘local’ SKP RVers—who live there from October to April—we found a vibrant community, several historical sites, more mountains to explore and caves to visit (Kartchner Caverns).
And explore we did. Cochise County is home to no less than 297 summits, ridges, ranges, trails and other mountain features. And where there are mountains, there are canyons. All come with hiking trails for all levels. It’s like ski country in the desert!
Of course for a lot of us, names like “Cochise” and “Geronimo” (famous Apache Chiefs) are reminiscing of old western classics—I used to watch them on TV in my hometown of Montreal (dubbed in French if you please!)—“Fort Apache” with John Wayne and Henry Fonda, or “Broken Arrow” with James Stewart and Jeff Chandler as Cochise, just to name a few. The thought of walking in the footsteps of these illustrious Apache leaders as well as those of the Earp brothers (Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan), was such an exciting prospect!
Tombstone, famous for its 1881 gunfight at The O.K. Corral and infamous for its resident ghosts haunting the Bird Cage Theatre, is but 20 miles south of Benson. Ignoring expensive O.K. Corral re-enactment tourist traps, we went straight to jail… that is to the Court House Museum. Its excellent collection of period objects, photography and documents debunked the O.K. Corral fight myth a little bit and helped us understand the violent history but also the hard life of early settlers in the Wild West.
A stop at the local Tombstone Brewery for a tasting of their excellent draught beers was the perfect end-of-day counterpoint to it all!
Another 25 miles to the south of Tombstone, is the town of Bisbee, Cochise County seat, and a very captivating discovery for us. Voted best small US Cities in 2018 (by Frommer and Trip Advisor), Bisbee is a cool historical, artistic and very colourful place. Nestled in the Mule Mountains, it has a copper-mining past that began in the 1880’s, but unlike other old mining towns, this mining community was considered during its heyday the most highly urbanized town between St. Louis and San Francisco! Given its small size, it is one of the most architecturally diverse in the nation. Developed by European settlers (German in particular), you can see their influence with styles of Pueblo Deco, Carpenter Gothic, Streamline Moderne and Italianate.
Locals spotted in Bisbee (very liberal town btw… almost Canadian! :))
During our time in the area, there were more wine and beer tastings, first in Willcox (Pillsbury Wines—owned by Sam Pillsbury, a New Zealand film director based in L.A.) and in the Huachuca Mountains, near Sierra Vista. Several wineries near tiny Elgin also produce distilled spirits. Flying Leap Wineries and Distilleries for instance, offer grape-based spirits, including vodka, brandy, grappa and eau-de-vie liqueurs.
Another amazing and new activity for this birder wannabe (that’s me!)—although not recommended immediately following vodka tasting (!)—is a stop at the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area (SPRNCA), which provides habitat to 100 species of breeding birds, and provides water, food and shelter for another 250 species of migratory and wintering birds. The bird watching and wildlife areas at SPRNCA are world-renowned. (Sandhill Crane photo by Tom Whetten).
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the mighty wind! I mean real, strong, cool (as in temperature cool) frequent winds at this time of year that usually start in late morning and simmer down at sunset. There were a couple of days of strong wind advisory—we decided to stay put inside the rig on those days. The sound of the wind against the motorhome was just like that of a snow storm. I had to look outside to make sure I wasn’t back in Toronto or Montreal…!
We obviously just scraped the surface of what there is to experience in Cochise County and so we will return next year to finish exploring its many treasures—although I’m not sure one can ever finish exploring Cochise County… it’s more of a lifelong discovery process and it’s fine by this mountain girl!
***Many thanks to my friend Daniel Feeser, who as a Phoenix resident, made some very timely recommendations. Also thanks to my husband and co-photographer… for the pilfered images taken from his collection.
Want to see more images from Tombstone, Bisbee and other Cochise County area treasures? Check out the Picture Gallery tab