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The Copper Horseshoe

A 206 mile loop through Cochise County in the Southeast corner of Arizona. Originally towns were a day apart by stagecoach. Today, towns are about a 30 minute drive apart. The loop trip will probably take you a little over 6 hours (more if you stay for awhile sightseeing in one of the towns.) Or, make a weekend of it by staying in Bisbee. You can enter the horseshoe loop via the Willcox or the Benson exits off Interstate 10, either beginning or ending with a tour of Kartchner Caverns (tour reservations required).


Bisbee - Pop. 6,300. Elevation 5,300'. Bisbee became internationally renowned in the 1880's with the discovery of the Copper Queen Lode. By the early 1900s, Bisbee was the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco. But, by the early 1970's most of the mines had closed and the miner's shacks had been replaced with artist studios. Today, over 100 resident artists with more than 25 galleries and studios, and a culture geared to encouraging art and history make Bisbee a year round place to stop on a Quick Getaway. It's a good place to spend the night (click for AAA Approved Lodgings). Plan to take a tour of the Queen Mine, a walk through the downtown shops & galleries and a visit to the Bisbee Mining & Historical museum. For information call the Bisbee Information Center, (866) 224-7233 or (520) 432-5421.

Willcox - Located on I-10 at the eastern end of our "Copper Horseshoe," Willcox is the gateway to the Chiricahua Mountains, Cochise Stronghold and the deserts of southern Arizona. At one time, Willcox was considered the cattle capitol of the nation. The 3,733 residents of Willcox are proud of their cowboy heritage and their favorite cowboy, Rex Allen, who was raised there. The town holds Rex Allen Days on the first weekend of October every year. Visitors will want to see the Rex Allen Museum and Cowboy Hall of Fame (on Railroad Ave).

Benson - Pop. 3,824. Elevation 3,576'. In the early 1900's, the community grew along with the demand for copper and silver, which were mined in the San Pedro Valley and shipped to Benson for smelting and distribution via the railroad. Today, Benson provides important services to travelers on Interstate 10 and is a gateway for tourists visiting southeastern Arizona and Kartchner Caverns. Benson Visitors Center: 520-586-2245 or email at bensonvisitorctr@theriver.com.

Cochise Stronghold - Cochise Stronghold is located west of Sunsites, Arizona in the Dragoon Mountains at an elevation of 5,000 ft. This rugged natural fortress was, for some 15 years, the home and base of operations for the famed Chiricahua Apache Chief, Cochise. Cochise and about 1,000 of his followers, of whom some 250 were warriors, located here. Good hiking and birding.

Getting There: At exit 331 (e. of Benson), take U.S. 191 south from I-10 about 18 miles to Sunsites, AZ. Turn west on Ironwood Rd. 9 miles to campground entrance. No services.

Kartchner Caverns Discovered in 1974, the cave's existence became public knowledge in 1988 when it became an Arizona State Park. Extraordinary precautions have been taken to make the cave accessible to the public while conserving it as a "living" cave. See Soda straw formations, a 58-foot-high column (Kubla Khan) said to be the state's tallest, and first occurrences of turnip shields and birds nest needle quartz formations. The skeleton of a Shasta ground sloth from the Pleistocene period is among the fossil finds. Within the 550-acre park are a discovery center with exhibits and interactive displays, an interpretive nature path and 5 miles of hiking trails. Picnicking is permitted. Food is available. Campgrounds with hookups are available for $22 per night.

Getting There: 9 mi. s. of I-10 on SR 90 (just west of Benson).

Admission: $10 per private vehicle (up to 4 persons and $1 each additional person). Cave tour $14 (ages 7-13, $6). Cameras are not permitted in the cave. Reservations are required.

Hours: Daily 7:30am - 6:00pm. Closed Dec. 25. Guided 1-hour cave tours are given every 15 minutes 8:40-4:40

Chiricahua National Monument - 12,000 acres in the Chiricahua Mountains about 31 miles southeast of Willcox on State Route 186. The mountains rise above the surrounding grasslands to elevations ranging between 5,100 and 7,800 feet. Drive to the top for spectacular views of the surrounding valley and unique volcanic columns. Daily tours of the Faraway Ranch house tell about the Swedish immigrant family that settled in the area. Mecca for hikers (17 miles of trails) and birders (hummers, orioles, more). The Monument is also home to animals not often seen in other parts of the Sonoran Desert--white-tailed deer, bears, and mountain lions.

Bowie - Not strictly part of the Copper Horseshoe drive trip, Bowie was named after Old Fort Bowie. For more than 30 years Fort Bowie and Apache Pass were the focal point of military operations eventually culminating in the surrender of Geronimo in 1886. The Fort Bowie National Historic Site is 14 miles south of Bowie. Remnants of the old Fort have been preserved.

Douglas - Pop. 13,780+, elevation 3,955'. Douglas lies right across the border from the Mexican town of Agua Prieta. In 1901, Douglas was founded as the site of a smelter to process copper from the mines in nearby Bisbee. Maps for self-guided historical tours are available at the Douglas Chamber of Commerce 1125 Pan American Ave., Douglas AZ 85607 or phone (520) 364-2477.

Sierra Vista - Pop 38,710. Established in 1877, Sierra Vista hosts Ft. Huachuca, home of the U.S. Army Intelligence Center. A nature lover's paradise, Sierra Vista lies on the slopes of the Huachuca Mountains, a haven for bird and wildlife, with more than 170 species, including 14 species of hummingbirds. Visit Coronado National Memorial, San Pedro Riparian Conservation Area and Ramsey Canyon Preserve. This area could (and will) be an Arizona Outing all by itself. Visitors Information Center: 1-800-288-3861.  

Tombstone - What exactly did happen at the OK Corral? See the Earps and Doc Holliday fight the McLaurys and Clantons in daily reenactments. "The Town Too Tough to Die" offers numerous tourist attractions, stores, historical sites and museums including:

  • The Bird Cage Theatre at 6th and Allen Street. It remains virtually unchanged since 1881
  • Boothill Graveyard, at the north city limits just off AZ Highway contains 250 marked graves
  • Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park -- Built in 1882, it was a stylish building as well as a symbol of law and stability in those turbulent time

 


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