I may have mentioned it before here, but in case I haven’t, road trips are my favorite mode of traveling. Most recently, a friend and I decided that we would take a couple days to travel down to the small town of Safford, AZ. It is about a 4-5 hour drive from Phoenix to Safford, and of course, the best part of road trips is stopping to see things along the way. For this trip, we had planned on stopping by a few road side attractions that we had always thought looked interesting.
The Donkeys at Rooster Cogburns (c) AB Raschke
First on our list was Rooster Cogburn’s Ostrich Ranch, which is a pretty noticeable attraction between Phoenix and Tucson, near Picacho Peak. This roadside attraction, besides being a place to stop and explore, is also the largest ostrich ranch in the United States with over a thousand ostrich hens. It was established in Arizona in 1993, after a move from Guthrie, OK where the ranch had been since 1986. Personally, I remember driving past this place on the way to the University of Arizona all the time, and it always looked intriguing. Our trip to Safford was the perfect chance to check the place out, and we didn’t regret taking the time to visit. I was a little worried that the ranch wouldn’t be all that welcoming, especially because I wasn’t exactly sure what we would be able to do there (despite all the road signs saying “Feed the Critters”). However, after leaving our truck in a nice dirt lot, and walking into an open-air gift shop at the southern end of the parking lot, we were greeted by a very friendly employee who sold us our feed. For $7, I was given two cups, one full of hay pellets, and the other with some peanuts for their prairie dogs, a little container of nectar for the lorikeets, and a token for duck feed.
The deer! (c) AB Raschke
The first little faces that met us through the doorway into the feeding area were a bunch of donkeys. I wasn’t quite careful enough at first, and one of the little guys managed to get its mouth right into my cup. Other than that, I was delighted to see how gentle the donkeys were, and it was hard to leave them for the other animals waiting to be fed. The cup of hay pellets was meant to go a long way, however, as there were still deer, goats, ostriches, and mini-goats to be fed. The deer were the most interesting, as I don’t think that I have ever had the chance to get that close to any before, but they were so intent on the treats, that I actually found them a little intimidating at first. Oddly enough, despite being a bird lover, the ducks turned out to be the most frightening animals to try to feed. That being said, I am oddly proud of the fact that I can now say that I have been bitten by ducks (and it didn’t really hurt). My favorite part of the ranch was the lorikeets. They have their own little aviary, and after they cleaned out our nectar containers, we got to watch them cuddling in the trees, and taking little bathes in their fountain.
(c) AB Raschke
About 45 minutes from the ranch, we passed through Tucson and stopped to get lunch. Of course, Tucson is big enough that it has a bunch of homegrown restaurants that are really great, but after living there for a few years, I have some favorites. First is Guilin, which I love for their veggie potstickers. I was also fond of El Saguarito , which had cheap, tasty Mexican, and it you are looking for something a little more expensive and classy there is Café Poca Cosa, which has a lot of original spins on Mexican recipes. Finally, there is Sushi on Oracle, which is awesome, and while being more expensive than the popular Sushi Garden, the quality of their food is much better.
After grabbing lunch in Tucson, we were back on the road again, this time with our sights set on an Arizona road-side attraction classic- The Thing? Since 1965 this particular stop has been based in the little town of Dragoon, right off of the I-10; it’s pretty impossible to miss with all the billboards. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I will not reveal what The Thing? is (although Google will- so watch out if you want to be surprised), but the $1 price of entry is just right. There is a little eclectic museum that you get to walk through, which I found highly amusing, and after exploring, I was pretty tickled by the place. It is certainly unique, but you definitely get what you pay for. Luckily, there is also a Dairy Queen attached, so we got to top off our encounter with the Mystery of the Desert with some delicious blizzards.
(c) AB Raschke
Heading into Safford, we just happened to see signs for Roper Lake State Park, and since it was still only 3p, we decided to stop by. Our first stop was the lake itself, and I was actually pretty surprised by the place. Most Arizona lakes have very rocky shores, and while they might be a nice place to hang out and cool off in the summer, they lack the nice sand that we all like to associate with beaches. Roper Lake was different, however, and my travel partner and I couldn’t help but wish that we had come prepared with our bathing suits. Exploring the island in the middle of the lake, and watching all of the different birds there turned out to be fun enough, however. We also found the Mariah Mesa Trail, which looked out on Mt Graham to the west, and the lake to the east, and it was a short, fairly easy trail.
Roper Lake (c) AB Raschke
The other areas of Safford that we explored while we were in town were the Discovery Park Campus and the downtown area. The Discover Park Campus is maintained by the Eastern Arizona College, and it is free to visit. There is a nice little astronomical museum to visit, as well as a number of trails that weave their way through a restored wetland area, which was spotted with signs commemorating the various eagle scout projects that had helped improve the park. Safford’s downtown area doesn’t have quite as much to offer, as most of the stores seemed to have closed earlier in the day, or they were empty. However, the architecture of the buildings there were varied and interesting, and we were able to pick up a self-guiding walking tour guide from the Chamber of Commerce (another eagle scout project). I really enjoyed learning a bit more about the town through both of these visits, and I found the obvious involvement of the boy scouts in the town to be a very unique community aspect of Safford.