Arizona has about a dozen active military installations. They include two Air Force bases, an Army fort, an astronomy observatory and one of the world’s biggest military sites – the Army’s Yuma Proving Ground for testing weapons.
A military presence has existed in Arizona for more than 250 years. Visit sites – from past to present – to learn how Spain and the United States protected their interests from native and foreign combatants.
Colonial Spanish Influences in Arizona
Tubac Presidio State Historic Park in southeastern Arizona protects the ruins of a 1752 Spanish fort, the oldest in Arizona. Exhibits and demonstrations explain how soldiers fought and controlled the indigenous peoples. Anza Days in October reenact the launch of a historical expedition to the Pacific.
Soldiers from Tubac moved north to Tucson to further protect Spanish interests. Parts of Presidio San Agustin del Tucson, established in 1775, have been re-created at its original spot. Enjoy military drill reenactments – soldiers firing their muskets are a favorite – guided tours and living history demonstrations that depict military and civilian life.
Territorial Life in Arizona
By 1853, after Arizona had fully became a U.S. territory, forts were built to protect Americans from native peoples. The remote sites eventually were supplied with goods arriving by boat through the Yuma Quartermaster Depot along the Colorado River.
Explore the 1864 depot grounds and its buildings, which house period rooms and exhibits both indoors and out. Learn about the military presence in Yuma, as well as the city’s civilian history, in these buildings. Join the January encampment that reenacts Civil War military operations in the Southwest.
Hear the Apache’s perspective of post-Civil War conflicts with indigenous peoples at the Fort Apache and Theodore Roosevelt School National Historic Landmark near Whiteriver in Arizona’s White Mountains. Walk among 27 preserved 1870s buildings that tell the story of Apaches’ attacks on settlers and United States’ efforts to destroy their culture. The attraction, also known as Fort Apache Historic Park, includes an Apache history museum.
Pipe Spring National Monument doesn’t preserve an old military installation. Instead, it protects a late-1800s fortified ranch that Mormons used to guard themselves from marauding Navajos and the U.S. government, which arrested polygamists after enacting a law against the marriage practice. Walk through the imposing stone ranch house called Winsor Castle. Watch period demonstrations of settler and native Kaibab Band of Paiute Indian activities and taste produce from the fall garden.
Cold War Presence in Arizona
Take one of several tours down the underground silo of a nuclear missile site, now the Titan Missile Museum, near Sahuarita south of Tucson. It’s the United States’ only preserved Titan II missile installation out of 54 built in the mid-20th century. See the actual, disarmed missile, the small living quarters and the launch station. You’ll go through a simulated launch, complete with siren and lights. A museum details what was at stake – destruction of the planet.
Arizona’s Military Operations
Get a new scope of understanding military service at the Arizona Military Museum in Phoenix. The Arizona National Guard Historical Society tells the story of Arizona and its residents with artifacts, including vehicles and weaponry, plus photos and newspaper clippings. The museum covers military operations from 16th-century Spanish conquistadores to 21st-century Operation Iraqi Freedom and today’s Arizona Air National Guard. (Note: The museum is only open on the weekends and is closed in the summer.)
Fort Huachuca, established in 1882 in Sierra Vista, keeps a historical museum that’s open to the public. Learn about the Army’s presence in the Southwest frontier, including the famed African-American Buffalo Soldiers of post-Civil War operations. Artifacts extend to today’s unmanned aerial systems. A museum on U.S. intelligence is nearby.