Tag: Ruins

Guide to the Southern Arizona Ghost Town Road Trip

Base made with Google Maps

Base made with Google Maps

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.

Cochise Hotel (c) K. Arrington

Cochise Hotel with its owner, Phillip Gessert (c) K. Arrington

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.

The Prickly Pear Emporium in Pearce (c) K. Arrington

The Prickly Pear Emporium in Pearce (c) K. Arrington

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.

The Courtland Jailhouse (c) K. Arrington

The Courtland Jailhouse (c) K. Arrington

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.

Gleeson mines and water tower (c) K. Arrington

Gleeson mines and water tower (c) K. Arrington

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.

The Pearce jail (c) K. Arrington

The Pearce jail (c) K. Arrington

Come back on Dec 15th for Day Two of our adventure in Tombstone, Charleston, and my favorite ghost town, Fairbanks!

 

The Apache Trail and Tonto National Monument

From Google Maps

From Google Maps

Going to the Tonto National Monument is an all-day trip from Phoenix, especially if you want to take the most scenic road to Roosevelt Lake. Google claimed that the drive was about 2 hours long on Apache Trail (88), but the drive down the twisting, dirt roads is more realistically between two and three hours long. It takes longer if you stop along the way, of course, and taking your time is a good idea on Apache Trail for both safety and your enjoyment.

Just before the Apache Trail turns into a dirt road, you will see three small buildings near the edge of Fish Creek. The buildings are somewhat ramshackle, and their boxy architecture and wooden walls is purposefully reminiscent of a small historic Western town. This is Tortilla Flats; and it is one of my personal favorite places to stop whenever I am on the 88. There isn’t much here- a small restaurant, a gift shop, and a country store. The restaurant has a great atmosphere that fits the area to a T. The walls are coated in layers of signed dollar bills, most from the US, but I always like to peek around for money from all over the world. The bar is also lined with horse saddle stools, and the bathrooms are surprisingly humorous but I won’t spoil why. The food here is good, mostly sporting American classics. As much as I enjoy stopping by the restaurant here, however, I mostly come to Tortilla Flats for its delicious prickly pear ice cream, which I like to eat next to the (sometimes) gurgling stream that runs right by the area.

(c) AB Raschke

(c) AB Raschke

Past Tortilla Flats the dirt road begins, and while this area is breathtakingly beautiful, anyone who wants to drive this road needs to take their time, and keep their eyes on the road. There are cliffs along long stretches of the road, and at times the road narrows until vehicles will need to stop and pull over in order to let each other pass. Along this part of the Apache Trail is the small Apache Lake, and the Roosevelt Lake Dam. After stopping to view the dam, the road curves up one final hill, and at the top the largest lake in Arizona expands out to either horizon- Roosevelt Lake.

For some reason, I was expecting there to be a sizeable town around Roosevelt Lake, but in the direction from Roosevalt Dam towards the Tonto National Monument all I saw were a few small settlements. One was a high-end gated community perched on the edge of the lake, some looked like a mix of large camp grounds and RV grounds, and about eight miles from the turn off by the dam was a small collection of low buildings including a gas station, and an all American restaurant called Boston’s Lake House Grill (that seemed surprisingly far from the lake for its name).

From the lake to Tonto National Monument was a short drive up from the relatively flat desert surrounding Roosevelt up into a small box canyon. The visitor center here was under construction when I visited, so there wasn’t much there to see, and we immediately headed out onto the trail leading to the Lower Cliff Dwelling. This is the only trail accessible to visitors without a ranger or guide, it is a mile long (round-trip), and it is nicely paved and thus welcoming to most people, although it is steep.

(c) AB Raschke

(c) AB Raschke

I got winded a few times on the way up, but it was a good excuse to stop and take in the scenery, which was always worth the pause. The plant communities surrounding the path up to the Lower Cliff Dwellings was amazingly rich, and was so lush that I almost felt like I was taking a stroll through Phoenix’s manicured Desert Botanical Gardens. All of the charismatic plants of the Sonoran Desert were represented in vibrant greens on either side of the trail, and any time spent at one of the trail’s benches would reveal a variety of bird, mammal, and reptile life as well.

(c) AB Raschke

(c) AB Raschke

Of course, the crowning jewel of the trail and the national monument itself are the ruins. Unlike Montezuma’s castle, Tonto National Monument allows visitors to carefully climb inside of the ancient Salado ruins here. They are watched over by a volunteer, who dutifully reminds visitors to not lean or sit on the stone walls tucked into the mountain-side, and who is prepared to answer any questions that visitors may have about the people who once lived here, as well as the surrounding area. Inside the warm, stone and mortar walls of this ancient Native American village, it is easy to see what drew people to this place. The shallow cavern that the buildings were constructed in makes the place feel safe and protected. The walls are dark with the remains of fires from hundreds of years ago, but the closeness of those ancestral families doesn’t seem to have abandoned this place. Just over the remaining walls, or through the surviving doorways and windows, visitors can catch glimpses of the Salt River Valley and the lake, beckoning with its life giving waters, and the lush desert around it.

In short, Tonto NP is a must-see for anyone interested in Arizona history, or in the ingenuity of our ancestors. There is a second set of ruins in the park as well, but visitors must join a tour in order to see them, and the hike is more difficult than the trek to the Lower Cliff Dwellings. If what I saw was any indication, however, I think that the trip to the Upper Dwellings would certainly not disappoint anyone with the time and ability to make the journey further into the mountains.

And if you have any questions about Tonto or my travels feel free to leave me a comment. 🙂

My next update will be on December 1st; about the Organ Pipe National Monument!

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