A four-day drive through the rugged country of southeast Arizona brings you in close contact with the natural beauty and exciting history of the four Apache tribes and their contemporaries.
Starting in Tucson or Phoenix, head east to the Amerind Foundation Museum in Dragoon to get an overview of Native American cultures from ancient to modern times. On certain weekends, Native American artists display their skills in the museum’s main gallery.
Next stop is Cochise Stronghold, a craggy section of the Dragoon Mountains named after the Apache chief who fought the U.S. Army until surrendering in 1871. The hiking here is tough but outstanding, as long as you keep the strong sun and high altitude (5,000-6,000 feet) in mind.
If you have time, stop by Kartchner Caverns State Park en route, where guided tours lead you underground past outlandish formations such as Kubla Khan, the tallest and largest cave column in the state at 58 feet high. Spend the night at the Cochise Stronghold Retreat in the town of Cochise.
The next day brings you to Fort Bowie at Apache Pass, built by the army in 1862. For centuries the pass provided water and shelter to groups crossing the harsh Sonoran Desert. In the late 19th century, it became the center of the Apache Wars, when the U.S. Army fought the tenacious Chiricahua Apaches under their legendary leaders Geronimo and Cochise. As you hike around the remains of the original fort, imagine being a soldier stationed in this remote outpost – or an Apache watching it being built in what you considered your own backyard.
South of Bowie is Chiricahua National Monument, one of the state’s “sky islands” – high, isolated ecosystems home to many unique species. Bird-watchers especially love these spots, but anyone can appreciate the vista from the Heart of Rocks viewpoint. An eight-mile scenic drive and 18 miles of hiking trails lead past weird volcanic rock spires with names like Duck on a Rock and Punch & Judy.
After spending the night at the Portal Peak Lodge in the town of Portal, keep going south and west through the border town of Douglas to Bisbee, a former copper mining center that’s been reborn as an artistic enclave with a historic bent. Don a hard hat and miner’s lamp for a tour 1,500 feet deep into the Copper Queen Mine, source of some of the $6.1 billion worth of metals mined in Bisbee over the decades. Peruse some of the town’s many art galleries and reserve a restored antique trailer, including a 1949 Airstream, at The Shady Dell for your last night’s accommodations.
The return to Tucson or Phoenix takes you past Coronado National Memorial, commemorating the 1541 Spanish expedition led north from Mexico by the conquistador Francisco Vasquez de Coronado in (futile) search of the “Seven Lost Cities of Gold.” Just south of Tucson is the stunning white mission church of San Xavier Del Bac, the “White Dove of the Desert” begun by Father Eusebio Francisco Kino in 1700.
If you’d rather not have to worry about planning and driving, Phoenix-based Detours organizes tours along this route with friendly guides and small, comfortable vans.