Rush hour? Over in minutes. Crowds? Not many. Nature? Some of Arizona’s most diverse landscapes. People? Friendly sorts, of course.
That’s what you’ll find in small towns throughout southeastern Arizona’s Cochise County. Small towns can help you get out of your big-city rush and allow you to stop and smell the roses.
If you need to get away from the city, why not plan your next weekend trip to one of Cochise County’s charming hamlets, like Tombstone, Bisbee, Benson, Willcox, Sierra Vista or Douglas? Enjoy the relaxed pace, friendly conversation, wide-open spaces and beauty of rural Arizona.
Stop and Smell the Roses in Tombstone
In spring, you can marvel at the world’s largest rosebush while exploring Tombstone’s Old West legends. The tree was planted just a few years after the famous gunfight between Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and the cowboys.
The Lady Banksia Rose, with its 9,000-square-foot canopy, is the centerpiece of the Rose Tree Museum. The bush has bloomed every spring for more than 128 years, and Tombstone commemorates it with an annual Rose Parade and the crowning of the Rose Queen. The rosebush shows the tender side of the “Town Too Tough to Die.”
Ready, Set, Action!
Gammons Gulch, Tombstone and the Dragoon Mountains have all made
their mark on the silver screen as backdrops for Westerns shot right in the heart of true cowboy country. Recreating those Old West towns requires wide-open spaces, plenty of which are in Cochise County.
Just outside of Benson, the virtual town of Gammons Gulch has been created from old buildings and Western artifacts found by owner Jay Gammons. He gives tours of the place when he’s not filming movies, commercials or music videos. Step into the saloon, and you’ll see photos of Hollywood legends adorning the walls.
In addition, the original 3:10 to Yuma, starring Glenn Ford, was filmed at nearby Triangle T Guest Ranch. And wooden sidewalks remain in Tombstone, where Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday walked in the 1880s.
Digging into History
Bisbee, now laid-back art scene, was a bustling boomtown full of mining activity. Visitors can still drink at watering holes in Brewery Gulch, but they won’t find the ladies of the evening and brothels that were once there! Art galleries and shops continue to honor the town’s mining history with items made of copper and turquoise, along with paintings of the town’s mining shacks and hillsides.
Douglas was a center for the cattle trade before a smelter was built to process Bisbee’s mining ore. Visiting mining executives stayed in the opulent Gadsden Hotel, whose lobby still boasts Tiffany stained-glass murals, an ornate marble staircase and soaring columns topped with gold leaf.
Just east of Douglas is Slaughter Ranch, the homestead of John Slaughter that has been turned into a museum. Slaughter’s successful cattle ranch stretched from Arizona into Mexico. Its idyllic setting features a pond and the ranch house, which is open for tours.
U-Pick Farms and Willcox Wine Country
Willcox is an agricultural center that produces fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts. You’ll find everything from apples to zucchini here in Arizona’s heartland. Visitors from around the country come here for a literal taste of rural farm life, from U-pick produce to wine-tasting rooms.
Apple Annie’s Orchard opens every summer for special event weekends, including Peach Mania and Sweet Corn Extravaganza, and in fall for its Corn Maze and Pumpkin Festival.
Along with peaches, pistachios, pecans and tomatoes, grapes are grown in Cochise County, and vintners from California, Oregon and other notable wine regions have crafted delicious wines that are gaining in popularity. You can call ahead to get a personal tour of a Willcox area or Chiricahua foothills vineyard, or simply visit the tasting rooms on the Willcox Wine Country map.
Birds and Wildlife in Wide-Open Spaces
Cochise County is bigger than the state of Connecticut, but with just more than 130,000 residents. That means birds and wildlife have lots of room to roam. The San Pedro River and the “sky island” mountains in Cochise County are major migratory routes for birds traveling throughout the year.
In winter, Willcox is home to thousands of sandhill cranes, and summer brings hummingbirds through San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, Portal, the Chiricahua Mountains and Sierra Vista’s Ramsey Canyon. Bed and breakfast inns cater to birders, hikers and nature lovers, and offer a peaceful respite.
Exploring Ghost Towns
Talk about small towns! Ghost towns in Cochise County are so small that only a handful of people live there. But, of course, that doesn’t make them any less fascinating. Cochise County’s Ghost Town Trail will take you to places where mining boomed in the 1800s. In many cases, all that remain are adobe structures and foundations, but some structures have been restored.
Gleeson and Fairbank are two popular sites to visit. The privately owned Gleeson Jail, which has been turned into a mini-museum, is open to the public on the first Saturday of each month.
Fairbank, a town from the 1880s, is also open to the public on weekends. Goods bound for Tombstone flowed in and out of Fairbank through its busy train depot. As the automobile gained in popularity, Fairbank faded. The last depot closed in 1966, but the schoolhouse is now a visitor center. You can walk the old railroad tracks down to the edge of the San Pedro River as you learn about the town.
Slow down and smell the roses in Southeastern Arizona. You’ll find plenty of space to relax and unwind in Cochise County.
(Brought to you by the Cochise County Tourism Council, (520) 432-9215, www.explorecochise.com.)