In a quiet corner of Arizona, south of the bustling, growing cities of Phoenix and Tucson, sits the small, peaceful town of Cochise. Anyone that travels there today will find one main road, with low-lying buildings settled on either side. Many of them still have the boxed and wooden appearance of the old frontier settlements that we have all become so familiar with through Western movies. Dry grasslands wave golden and yellow in the breeze, and there are mountains in every direction. At the end of the street, on the edge of human habitation here, sits the Cochise Hotel, a stark white historic jewel.
In 1882, the hotel was founded by John Rath, who built and ran the town’s train station, bank, and well. Connected to the man at the center of everything in Cochise, the hotel was said to have become the heart of the settlement. It is even believed that at one point, none other than Big-Nosed Kate (see more discussion of this historical female entrepreneur here ran the place. However, when the mining industry began to falter, Cochise shrunk, as did many of its compatriots in Arizona’s southern valleys. As the town’s population dwindled, the Cochise Hotel began falling into disrepair, and it is likely that the hotel would have continued on this path to oblivion, but for the interest of one, Phillip Gessert.
Gessert’s family had moved to southern Arizona when he was younger, and he developed a passion for the area’s history. In fact, he previously ran an antique gambling museum in Tombstone, and his expertise was even sought after for HBO’s Westworld series. He found himself inspired by the Cochise Hotel, and it was this love for Arizona’s history that led him to purchase the hotel. For the past five years, he has been working on renovating the Cochise Hotel, hoping that he can bring life back to Arizona’s oldest, still-functioning hotel.
The Cochise is still a work in progress, but visitors will now find this place to be a cozy inn. Each room has its own character, and Gessert has not only repaired the building itself, but has used his own collections to create authentic spaces for travelers to experience for themselves. While Tombstone has taken on the spirit of an attraction, Cochise and its hotel offer a more quiet, and contemplative look at the past. It is a place for inspiration as well. In fact, it’s hard not to be inspired by the views, the story and soul of this place.
The Cochise Hotel is sure to be a wonderful experience for anyone interested in the history of the old west, but also for artists, and outdoor enthusiasts seeking to trek through Arizona’s southern wilderness. It is a gateway to an older way of life, to a night sky unmarred by city lights, and hopefully new stories of exploration and self-discovery.
To learn more about the Cochise, please visit its website here. I would highly suggest calling the hotel, rather than trying to email. If you plan on staying at the Cochise, also consider stopping at the Cochise Stronghold, the Chiricahua Mountains, and/or Kartchner Caverns. Cochise is also the first stop on Southern Arizona’s Ghost Town Trail, so you may want to check that out as well.
On December 1st, Nightborn Travel posted about Day One of our Southern Arizona Ghost Town Roadtrip, and this post will finish our guide to this journey through some of Arizona’s (sort of) abandoned and historic towns, including our stay in Tombstone, and our visits to Charleston and Fairbank. This area has a somewhat shared history, as Tombstone was once home to the silver mine that provided ore to the mills of Charleston and Fairbanks, which processed the ore into metallic bars that could be more easily transported for sale and refinement.
After deciding that Gleeson wouldn’t appreciate us snooping around, we drove the short 30 min road to Tombstone, where we were spending the night in the Tombstone Bordello. We wanted to stay in a hotel with some history, and the Bordello certainly has that because it was originally the home of Big Nose Kate. For those of you not familiar with Tombstone’s cast of characters, Kate is primarily known for her relationship to the infamous Doc Holliday, as well as her work in the “world’s oldest profession.” Although she is well known for her illicit activities, I think it is well worth noting that Kate made her way in the world in a time when options for women were extremely limited, and she was an legitimate entrepreneur as much as she took advantage of businesses that some would consider less legitimate. We enjoyed our time in the Bordello. The people working there were friendly, the rooms were very cozy, and the included breakfast was delicious.
Our experience of Tombstone itself was less pleasant, so I will preface this short review of the town by saying that many people do enjoy it, so doing some of your own research on the location and what it has to offer would be good. Tombstone has been very transformed by tourism in both good and bad ways. Tourism has allowed this historic town to persist in fairly good health into the modern era, which is wonderful, but it has commidified nearly everything there. There are some spots, like Boothill Graveyard, which are not too expensive, as they only request a donation for entry, but just about everything else has a price tag. The food options in the main tourist area are also subpar in terms of cost, service, and taste. The cool thing about stopping here is that if you walk down Allen Street, it is easy to imagine that you are in a western movie. The buildings are classic, and if you don’t mind spending some money, there are some interesting spots, like the Bird Cage Theater, which I hear is haunted.
Charleston was our first stop on Day Two, once we had packed up and left Tombstone and the lovely Bordello behind. It was actually quite hard to find, because it has been all but destroyed. This is due to the fact that Charleston’s abandonment after Tombstone’s mines began closing was exasperated by an earthquake in 1887, and the remnants of the ghost town were further decimated when the US army used the site to train for urban warfare during WWII. All that we managed to find were the foundations of some of the town’s buildings, and our guide was not specific enough about how to find the site. So, here are some updated directions: If you are traveling from Tombstone, take Charleston Road for 8.3-8.5 miles. Look for a fire danger sign on the right side of the road, and turn onto the dirt road on the same side that is just behind the sign (this will also be before the bridge that crosses over the San Pedro River). You will pass a trailhead there, but we suggest driving a little further past the bathroom and parking at the second trailhead. There are signs there for the Millville petroglyph discovery trail. Take this for a short ways, and then turn left down a small side trail after a warning sign about used munitions in the area. PLEASE HEED THE SIGN! If you want to visit Charleston, you should keep your eyes peeled for anything potentially dangerous left behind from military testing there.
After we snapped a few pictures of Charleston, we also took this opportunity to visit the San Pedro River near the bridge. I would definitely suggest doing the same, and if you are a hiker, you might consider setting aside enough time to hike up to Millville (which we were unable to do). This trail also connects to Fairbanks, but unless you want to hike all day, and/or have a shuttle up there, I wouldn’t suggest it just due to time constraints.
Finally, when we were done in finding Charleston, we drove to Fairbank, which is a ghost town that is now maintained for visitors by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and is free to visit. Due to the fact that Fairbank’s historic nature has been maintained, and is set aside for people to come and experience, it was my favorite ghost town of the entire trip. It was much more comfortable to wander around in than the towns where people still lived, and it lacked the tourist flavor of Tombstone. While many of the buildings here have not been restored to the point that visitors can enter them, the schoolhouse has been renovated and also serves as a museum and visitor’s center. The people working here were extremely friendly and knew all about the history of the town, as well as the wildlife and trails of the area. Besides the town itself, there is a nice loop trail that you can take to the Fairbank graveyard (home to many unmarked graves belonging to people murdered in Charleston and tossed in the river, coincidentally), as well as what is left of the mill that sustained the town in the past. The hike up this trail was beautiful, and overall, Fairbank offered me the best window into this region’s past.
We would appreciate any comments that you have on this post! What do you think about ghost towns? Have you visited any that are discussed here? What was your experience? Also, please feel free to ask us any questions about the trip, as we would be happy to help anyone looking to explore these locations. Finally, come back on the 20th to learn about Katie’s journey to Red Rock Canyon and Zion National Park in Utah.
Ghost towns are a part of Arizona’s unique character, and there are a few really special places that come to mind when people mention these destinations, specifically towns like Bisbee, Jerome, and Tombstone. However, none of these are true ghost towns, because they have survived into the modern era with some vitality due to tourism, and in the case of Bisbee and Jerome, also thanks to artists that have made their homes in these beautiful towns. So, we here at Nightborn Travel were excited when we saw Only In Your State’s Overnight Ghost Town Road Trip. It looked like a chance to see the real ghost towns of historic Arizona, and even though we are Arizona natives, the names of the destinations were unknown to us (besides the ubiquitous Tombstone), so it was also a chance to explore some new places. The trip was a great experience, but there are some key things that the above itinerary was missing that we think bare noting from two female travelers that made the drive.
Our first stop, as per the itinerary linked above, was Cochise, which is a very small village just off of the I-10 south of Dragoon on the 191. Seems the census is a little confused on the size of this town, but I can say, after driving through, it feels like it has a population of no more than 50. There is a single road (Rath Ave, named after the town’s founder) that runs past the school, and post office from the 191, and which ends at Cochise Stronghold road. It is a picturesque place, tucked between the vistas of the Dragoon Mountains to the west, the Chiricahuas to the southeast, and Mt Graham to the north. Besides the Cochise Hotel, however, there is really not much to see here. Well, nothing that you can see without feeling like you are snooping, and I really must say, if you are going to go on this road trip, you need to be sensitive to that. Many of these “ghost towns” have become smaller over time, but a few still have people living in them. And as far as I am concerned, when that is the case, you need to be very careful about how you explore. Privacy is important to all of us, and the secluded character of many of these locations is something that residents cherish. Please don’t disrupt that. The Cochise Hotel, however, is open to visitors and is a very historic location. We will cover that in a separate post in the near future, because it is integral to the community and has a very interesting story.
Pearce was the next stop, just down the 191 from Cochise and at the head of the road so fittingly named Ghost Town Trail. Pearce reminded me of a very small artist colony, because the general store is close to a little pottery store and the Prickly Pear Emporium, which sells Arizona souvenirs rather than prickly pear products. Pearce also strikes me as being a little more interested in visitors as the general store is supposed to be a museum (although it was closed and lacked a sign when we visited), and the little historic jail which can be explored on the outside on any day, is open for visitors to see the inside on the first Saturday of every month. Anna Nickell is the local contact for events at the jail and in Pearce. She had her number posted at the site, but I’d prefer to not reveal it to the entire internet. If you would like to visit Pearce, however, please send me a message and I can give her number to you. This little town has some very cool cultural events that it would be worth visiting for.
Once you leave Pearce, you will take Ghost Town Trail south, and just outside of town, it will turn into a dirt road. It is a well-maintained dirt road that we found easy to navigate in a car, but you should be mentally prepared for the dust and this little bit of extra adventure. Courtland itself is down the dirt road quite a ways, tucked along the side of the road as it passes between two hills. It is really little more than a single ruined jailhouse; if there are more ruins here, we didn’t see them. The jailhouse itself is intriguing due to the fact that Courtland is a true ghost town, no one is left here, and thus, the structure that remains is truly an abandoned relic of the past. However, I would not suggest stopping by here with your kids if they are old enough to read, as this was clearly a hangout for the local middle/high schoolers and there is some vulgar graffiti here.
Finally, before we stopped for the night in Tombstone, was the town of Gleeson, which was just off the paved road that the Ghost Town Trail ends at. The itinerary said that people live among the ruins of this town, and to respect their privacy. After our experience there, I would say that this translates to a ghost town that is particularly hard to explore if you want to leave the local residents be. We did not find Gleeson to be a welcoming place, and without any location open to visitors, I wouldn’t suggest stopping here. Best to leave the local people in peace until/if they decide to set a spot up for people to come to without bothering anyone.
Come back on Dec 15th for Day Two of our adventure in Tombstone, Charleston, and my favorite ghost town, Fairbanks!
between Phoenix and Tucson, and I have been wanting to explore this mountain for a very long time. However, the ~1.5 hour drive between Phoenix and the state park has been a bit of a deterrent for me. This spring I finally made it out there, and not only was the hike everything that I was hoping it would be, it really felt like an accomplishment to make it to the top.
Our first stop when we got to the state park, was the visitor’s center, where a friendly ranger told us about the trails that the park offered, and warned about Picacho Peak’s trail to the top- Hunter Trail. She told us the normal things first: bring water, wear good shoes, etc. All the things that experienced hikers are used to hearing before setting out, but then she also told us something that we scoffed at, that Hunter Trail was “extreme.” However, I would like to pause to say that she wasn’t wrong. This trail is very steep at several points, so steep in places that there are cables permanently secured to the mountain to make it safer to climb. It may be easy for some, but I do think it is worth coming to this trail with some amount of respect and caution. Also, bringing a pair of gloves for the cables would make things a bit easier, so consider it.
Anyway, the first section of the trail up to the saddle of the mountain is steep but not particularly surprising when it comes to Arizona trails. This means the trail is rocky, sometimes slippery, and surrounded by amazing views of the desert. The area around Picacho Peak is also quite breathtaking to look at, I think, because the desert stretches out, seemingly uninterrupted for miles, but for the highway and the farms to the west. If you don’t think you can make it to the top of the mountain, it is worth trying for the saddle. It is still difficult, but not nearly as hard as the second half of the hike. Furthermore, there is a more moderate trail that leads up to the saddle if the base of Hunter Trail is too difficult.
The way up from the saddle is very steep. It first drops down, and then weaves its way up the cliffsides of Picacho’s peak. The cables certainly do help with the ascent, but for anyone with a fear of heights I wouldn’t suggest it. There are a couple places near the end that are so steep, I would say that the cables are the only difference between
hiking and climbing, because they help you scale some nearly vertical sections of the path. Of course, the strain and fear involved with getting to the top make getting there an accomplishment (and getting home safely even more of one). The views from the top are beautiful, but I would say, not much better than from the saddle, although they are 360 degrees of amazing Arizona landscape. If anything, I think it is the trail itself that makes this hike worthwhile. It is dangerous, and although it sounds funny, it is “extreme.” But if you enjoy hiking and climbing, respect the mountain and the dangers it represents, and come prepared, I think it is a worthwhile journey. That being said, I would like to remind all my readers of something, thanks to the Hike Arizona warning: ” WARNING! Hiking, travelling and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.”
Notes: Guilin was my go-to restaurant for Chinese food while living in Tucson, and they are an absolutely great deal for lunch, although their food isn’t a bad choice for dinner either. In terms of quality and taste, I think that Guilin squares up well with the other American-Chinese restaurants that I have been to. What really sets them apart, however, and lends itself to their claim of being “healthy” is that Guilin has a HUGE vegetarian menu. Almost anything that they have a meat option for, they have a veggie option for, and they have plenty of dishes that are veggie-only. My favorite dish there is actually their vegetable dumplings, but I have also thoroughly enjoyed several of their tofu dishes as well as classic meat dishes like Mongolian beef. If you go here for lunch, you can get soup, an egg roll, an entrée, and rice for about $5. So, not only can you get great food here, but it works really well for anyone on a budget.
Second Stop: Sabino Canyon – Bear Canyon’s Seven Falls Trail
Type of Attraction: Outdoor- Hiking and Tram Tours
Notes: Sabino Canyon is a great stop for anyone looking to enjoy some time outside, regardless of skill or activity level. There is a $5 fee to park at Sabino, and if you are willing to walk down the road to the trails, the rest of your experience will be free. People willing to spend a little more money, or needing some assistance exploring can buy a ticket to take the tram down Sabino or to Bear Canyon. The tram for Sabino is more expensive than Bear, but this tram goes further, makes several stops, and includes a guided tour during the ride. Sabino tends to be a little more busy than Bear Canyon for that reason, but anyone looking for a good hike should check out Bear. Sabino is more of a meandering adventure.
The main attraction of Bear Canyon is the Seven Falls Trail, which is about 2.5 miles long from the trailhead (which is 2 miles from the parking lot- total one way hike is 4.5 miles unless you take the tram). The Sabino website warns that the hike takes about three hours, which seems a bit long for a trail only 2.5 miles long, but the trail crosses the creek multiple times, and this can make the going slow at times, especially if the water is high and you have to pick your way across. The waterfalls at the end of the trail are lovely enough to serve as great motivation to get out on the trail, however, and even if you don’t make it to the end, the canyon itself is beautiful, especially when the creek is flowing.
Third Stop: Sentinel Peak/”A” Mountain
Type of Attraction: Outdoor- Outlooks and Views of the City, Picnicking
Notes: This trip was my first visit to this particular Tucson location, but it is one of my friend’s favorite spots to hang out and get some great views of the city. We really only drove up and took a few pictures, but the spot was popular with people coming to just unwind and take in the beauty of this little city. I can’t speak to any of the hikes on the mountain, but it does seem like a nice place to hang out and have a picnic. Lots of people park by the side of the outlook facing the city, but if you stop by and this looks too full, there is a parking lot further down the one-way road.
Notes: I have never been to the original Zeman’s, but Zeman’s Too is probably the best Ethiopian that I have ever had. That being said, I have only been to one other place in Phoenix, but I go there fairly regularly, and I really enjoy Ethiopian. Zeman’s staff was really friendly, and they were pretty quick, although we ate a little early so it was just us and one other group. The atmosphere of the restaurant is pretty nice and airy as well, and it is built Tucson-style in an old house with decorative accents of Eithiopian origin. Most importantly, however, the food was great. I got the meat and veggie sampler- the veggies were all super flavorful, the meat was succulent, and the sauces were all smooth and delicious.
I have a life goal to see all of the national parks in the United States, which is easier said than done, because there are a lot of them! But so far, this has led me to visit more than a few places that I didn’t previously know existed, and I haven’t regretted any of them. One of the national parks that I had never heard of was Great Basin, which seemed fascinating based on its name and its location north of Las Vegas in Nevada, an area that I had never explored. My dad and I were further intrigued by this place after learning that it is home to the Bristlecone Pine, one of the longest lived life forms on the planet. Finally, when we had a few days free, we decided to take a road trip up to Great Basin, and without much planning we ended up visiting several beautiful and intriguing places. The following account will mostly cover the places that we visited during this road trip, but I will also highlight a few places along the way that would be worth stopped at but which we didn’t have the time to visit.
Day One: Setting Out
The first day of our road trip didn’t start until 15:00, so our only goal was to make it up into Nevada for our first night. Luckily, the drive between Phoenix and the Las Vegas area is pretty nice, and it would actually have several good stops along the way for travelers with a full day. First, Lake Pleasant is worth a stop for anyone that hasn’t been, as it is a good example of Arizona’s artificial lakes, even if it isn’t one of the most beautiful. After living in the desert for a few years, it is hard to not appreciate water where-ever you find it, and besides some good desert winds for sailing, Lake Pleasant also has some nice hikes nearby in the Hells Canyon Wilderness. Furthermore, this area is home to wild burros, which I have seen on several occasions, and they are some great charismatic megafauna to see in the Sonora.
Further down the road, there is also the Hassayampa River Preserve just outside of Wickenburg. I actually haven’t made it to this area before, so I don’t have any personal experience with it yet, but it is somewhere that I hope to visit in the near future. Another oasis in the desert, the river preserve protects something that is rare now in Arizona, a river still flowing in its banks, thanks to the Nature Conservancy. There are plenty of trails here, and like Lake Pleasant it is good to experience any water that the desert has to offer, even more so, in places where some natural riparian ecosystems remain.
Of course, the biggest attraction between Phoenix and Las Vegas is the Hoover Dam, which we hit around 20:00. When I initially envisioned this trip last year, I had hoped to visit during the day and take a tour of the Dam. There is actually quite a bit there to see and do during the day, and in any case, this place is a major historical landmark for the country, and it has also shaped the Southwest in a very serious way. Las Vegas certainly owes its size to the resources provided by the dam, and the life-line of the Central Arizona Project shows the link between Phoenix and the Colorado River. Sadly, I didn’t get to take a tour this time around, but the dam is open to visitors until 21:00. So, we at least got to drive across the dam, park and take pictures of the landmark at night. It was a very peaceful place without the crowds, and there were some good views of the stars to boot.
Our day ended in Boulder City, where we spent the night in a Quality Inn a mere five minutes from Lake Mead National Recreation Area.
Day Two: Through the Desert to the Great Basin
Before we hopped in the car for the day, I dragged my dad to Lake Mead, because I had to get my national parks passport stamped and I wanted to go on a little hike before our journey. As it turned out, we found a really great little trail outside of the fee area, and we both really enjoyed this stroll. The Historic Railway Trail is right by the entrance to the park, and as its name implies, this trail follows the former track of the railroad that brought materials from Boulder City to the site of Hoover Dam as it was being built. Besides the great views of lake from the trail, we really enjoyed getting to see the massive tunnels that were built through the mountains in order to fit the large pieces of dam equipment through. From the trailhead to the first tunnel is about a mile, so it was a great section of the trail to walk when we only had a limited amount of time.
From Boulder City to Baker was quite a drive. Most of the towns that we passed, besides Las Vegas, were quite small. Alamo, which is perched just north of Pahranagat Lake, didn’t have much to offer along the side of the road, and when we asked about places to grab lunch there, the gas station attendant only told us about two different restaurants. We ended up at the Windmill just north of the town, and it was quiet enjoyable. Not only did they have some good standard American fare, but they also had a nice little bakery where we got a fresh cookie and a lemon square.
From there on out, we entered the Great Basin region, which gave us a taste for what we would see and learn more about in the National Park. This region is characterized by parallel ranges of mountains, which remind me of the sky islands in Arizona, rising up out of the dry lowlands to peaks of lush forests. The lowlands, instead of being Arizona desert, however, were large, flat plains of sagebrush and grasses, where we spotted herds of cows and even a few ranchers on horseback.
Once we got to Baker, we were somewhat surprised at how small the town at the gateway to Great Basin NP was. In fact, since we traveled to the park out of season, there were no open restaurants, and according to Wikipedia the population is 68. That being said, we had a reserved a great little place to stay for the night called the Get-Away Cabin. The owner was very friendly and welcoming, and she even bakes her guests delicious little loaves of banana bread.
After getting some tips about what to do in the park the at the visitor’s center for the next day, we drove a few miles out of town to check out the Baker Archaeological Site, which wasn’t much more than a few outlines of Fremont buildings among the sagebrush. There was some good information in a little guide book that the BLM provided at the site, however. After a short stop there, we made it out to the Border Inn where we enjoyed a delicious dinner, and picked up some groceries.
Day 3 and 4 to come on April 1st! And Washington DC… someday!
If you have any questions about my experience in Nevada and Arizona or my travels feel free to leave me a comment. 🙂
So, once again, I am going against my last entry’s claim about what I would be writing about next. I did want to write about my time in Washington DC, but the past couple weeks have been a little crazy between some health issues and trying to plan for my potential field season this summer. Due to all of this, I decided that I would highlight Matsuri in a short entry (featuring the photography of one of my very talented friends) rather than skip a post.
Matsuri is, in my opinion, one of the best cultural festivals of Phoenix, and this year was its 31st anniversary, so it also has a lot of history and love behind it. For the past four years, since I have been going, the festival has always been held downtown, outside of Phoenix’s Science Museum. The grounds where it is held are filled with small, tarped stalls where Japanese food and gifts can be procured. There are also several large stages for demonstrations and performances. Getting into the event is free, which is wonderful, but anyone who visits should be sure to come with cash in case they find anything that they want to buy from one of the vendors.
My personal favorite performance of the festival is that of the Taiko drummers. I could sit and listen to that music for quite a long time all by itself, but the musicians are wonderful on the stage. They use a variety of different kinds of drums, as well as some other instruments such as a conch shell and small symbols. They rearrange their drums with every song; these formations play a role in the songs, but they also allow the drummers to act out a variety of entertaining interactions. In one of my favorite songs, several players drum on a line of smaller drums, while the other half of the group plays a line of larger drums behind them. During the song, the small and large drums seem to compete with eachother, rising and falling in turn, and the players themselves glance back and forth between each other, pretending to drum harder and louder than the other. The energy of the musicians makes the entire performance playful and very entertaining.
Some of the other demonstrations that I try to visit every time are the Japanese dancers and the martial arts demonstrations. The Japanese dance stage hosts performers of a wide variety of ages. The cutest, of course, are the young children, but the most skilled are the older women. This form of dance is quite different from the many forms of Western dance. The women are often very solemn, and their movements are skillfully controlled as they all but float across the stage- graceful despite the confining nature of their kimonos. Besides the dancing itself, the Japanese dance stage is a great place to see some beautiful, traditional Japanese dress and makeup. The martial arts demonstrations, alternatively, feature a variety of different forms- including karate as well as several forms samurai swordsmanship. Each form is distinct, and watching the students highlights the intriguing variety of traditional martial arts.
Finally, while I do not participate, there are also many people who cosplay at Matsuri. I am not entirely fond of this pattern, because I find it somewhat distracting, but this is certainly a draw for many people. Costumes of varied quality can be seen throughout the festival, and there have also been festival competitions for the cosplayers in recent years.
And if you have any questions about my experience at Matsuri or my travels feel free to leave me a comment. 🙂
My next update will be on March 15th, and I think I will be writing about my budget travels in Washington DC. We’ll see. Hahaha.