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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Cochise County Experience


Last Sunday was moving day. We  were headed to Lost Dutchman State Park. 

We spent the last two weeks exploring the many varied and unique attractions of Cochise County. Using the SKP Saguaro Co-op in Benson, AZ as our home base, here are some of our adventures. .

One of our first outings was to the Amerind Foundation Museum and Art Gallery. As their website states their mission, “seeks to foster and promote knowledge and understanding of the Native Peoples of the Americas through research, education and conservation.”

The foundation was started in 1937 by William Fulton as a private archaeological research institution. Since then the foundation has played a significant role in archaeological research and knowledge of the cultural history of the desert southwest. It is a fraction of Fulton’s art and artifact collection that is on display.

This is a gem of a museum and art gallery. The displays in the museum are well done and contain some fascinating artifacts. For example, they have bow and arrows signed by Cochise. The art gallery provides an artistic vision of the west.

The location, the grounds and the buildings that house the museum and art gallery add to the charm of Amerind. More pictures here.

We have been to several caves including: Wind Cave, Mammoth Cave, and Cave of the Winds, Carlsbad Caverns, and Lehman Cave. So, we were not sure we really wanted to visit another cave. You know, “if you see one you have seen them all” mentality – Not! This a remarkable “live” cave full of spectacular features. What we found unique here is the extraordinary effort they take to protect the cave and keep it alive and in near pristine condition. When you enter the cave you go through a series of four air-lock chambers, which help maintain the temperature and humidity level in the cave. You even go through a fine mist which helps cut down on lint by wetting it down.

The 11/2 hour tour is one of the best and most informative we have been on. So, we are happy cavers. If you are in the area this is a “must see”, however no pictures are allowed in the cave.

This area is called a “wonderland of rocks” and indeed it is. This was a day trip for us. We packed a lunch and headed out for a day of exploring this unique area. We took several short hikes and enjoyed a picnic lunch overlooking this distinctive area. More pictures here.

On our way back to Benson we decided to visit Fort Bowie.

Getting to Fort Bowie is an adventure in itself. After turning off of Hwy 186 you travel about 8 miles on a dirt road. For most visitors there is a 1.5 mile hike into the site ruins. However, if you are not able to hike that far there is an alternative  that includes driving several more miles on a narrow dirt road and provides ADA access and gets you with in 500 feet of the ruins. After our hiking in Chiricahua, we opted to take the ADA route.

Fort Bowie played an important role in the conflict with the Chiricahua Apaches. There is a small visitor center and museum that houses some noteworthy artifacts and documents about the history of the Fort and conflict. If you are able to make a 3 mile moderate hike I would recommend that as you pass several historical sites along the way. More pictures here.

Perhaps we should have lassoed one of these guys for our trip into Fort Bowie?

If you want to hike in a scenic area along a historic river with some good birding… this is the place. A perfect place to start your hike is the San Pedro House, which contains a natural history bookstore.

We really enjoyed this outing. So, if you are in the area, grab your binoculars, pack a lunch and spend a few hours in this very peaceful place. More pictures here.

Since childhood, the Cochise and Apache have fascinated me. So, visiting and hiking around this natural fortress was a special treat. It was easy to see how the tall bluffs along the canyon served as lookouts for approaching Calvary. It was also easy to understand how the bizarre rock formations served as shelter and provided protection. More pictures here.

While we had been to Bisbee last year, this is a town that deserves a return visit. First however, we decided to drive about 30 miles past Bisbee to Douglas to visit the historic Hotel Gadsden for lunch. The highlight of the hotel is marble grand staircase and the 42-foot tiffany stained glass mural.

Back to Bisbee…

Our first stop was the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum. This is really a great little museum which is part of the Smithsonian Affiliate network. What made this return visit special was meeting Bisbee Ambassador, 92 year old LaVerne Williams. She has lived in Bisbee 88 years and shared some great stories about Bisbee’s glory days as a mining town. She also shared very personal stories of how the shut down of the mines affected her and her family. We can always read about history but having someone share a personal experience makes it special.

Since Hal and Lois had not been to Bisbee before we spent the rest of the afternoon walking around this charming mountain town. More pictures here.

If this is your first visit to Cochise County, be sure to stop for a visit to Tombstone. While the town is a bit of a tourist trap… the court house is worth the trip.

Our tour of Cochise County was topped off with dinner at Mi Casa Mexican Restaurant in Benson. Don’t let the exterior fool you. This small (28 seat) family owned restaurant serves some of the best Mexican food on the planet. When you go…leave room for the different yet totally amazing carrot cake.

Happy Birthday JoAnne!

We are now settled in the beautiful Lost Dutchman State Park in the Superstition Mountains just west of Apache Junction.

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