Cochise Stronghold
Cochise Stronghold

By Hannah Dahl

 

Jet ski on a calm lake, explore an underground cavern, and sip wine while surrounded by rolling hills of vineyards – all within a three-hour’s drive from Tucson. If you haven’t seen this side of Arizona yet, what are you waiting for? Day trips are the perfect way to take a break without breaking the bank. You don’t have to plan an elaborate vacation halfway around the world to experience the finer things in life!

Patagonia Lake

If your kids are already bored of the pool or you’re craving beach time, pack up the car and head to Patagonia Lake. You could be jet-skiing under a blue sky in less than 2 hours. The lake spans 265 acres of grasslands bordering the Sonoita Creek Trail and is equipped with a lakeside market, boat rentals and a marina, campgrounds, picnic areas, trails and fishing licenses.

Make sure to pause and enjoy the birdsong while you’re there, as hundreds of colorful bird species inhabit the lake. You’re likely to see a Great Blue Heron or a vermillion flycatcher on the shoreline. If jet skiing isn’t quite your speed, consider going on a pontoon boat tour or a guided bird walk for a less adrenaline-charged view of the lake.

If one day at the lake isn’t enough, reserve a campsite and enjoy a night of stargazing at the water’s edge. The park is open from 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily and offers RV and boat-in campsites.

While you’re in the area…

The drive to the lake is part of what makes this trip so great. Take State Route 83 through the lush grassy valleys and boulder-strewn hills of the Santa Rita Foothills and Coronado National Forest. Stop and enjoy the fruits of Arizona’s wine country on your way, at one of Sonoita’s many vineyards. For a taste of the local craftsmanship, pull off at the town of Patagonia and tour its art galleries.

azstateparks.com/patagonia-lake/

Bisbee

The tight, winding streets and colorful houses built among the hills in Bisbee could easily pass for somewhere in Europe. You can save yourself the money of a plane ticket by hopping in your car and driving 95 miles east on the I-10.

This old mining town was home to the Queen Mine during its heyday and produced some of the world’s finest varieties of copper. Today, you can take a tour of the mine or check out some of the precious copper on display in one of the town’s many art galleries.

Much of Bisbee’s history is preserved in its architecture—buildings like the Copper Queen Library and the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum are must-sees. If you’re ready for a change of pace, check out Bisbee’s nightlife. Many of the popular bars feature live music and local brews. Bisbee also fosters a variety of restaurants serving vegan and vegetarian plates with locally sourced ingredients.

While you’re in the area…

Make a pitstop at High Desert Market Café for a bite of something sweet, like a gooey slice of homemade pecan pie or a tart lemon bar. You can walk off your sugar high by climbing a few flights of Bisbee’s famous stairs. discoverbisbee.com/

Kartchner Caverns

These awe-inspiring caverns are the perfect way to entertain kids on a hot summer day. Book a tour of the cave and experience some of the most impressive nature Arizona has to offer.

Not only will you escape the heat underground, you’ll have the chance to see some of the rarest cave formations in the world. The Throne Room in Kartchner Caverns has a 58-foot tall cave column and one of the longest soda straw stalactites in the world.

The caves aren’t the only thing to see at the park. There’s a discovery center with kid-friendly films and interactive learning displays, hiking trails and campgrounds. The park hosts frequent Star Parties, complete with telescopes and qualified astronomers on hand to answer questions. The skies above the caverns offer pristine views of stars you wouldn’t usually get to see in Tucson. The next Star Party is 2 to 9 p.m. October 13.

While you’re in the area…

If you’re looking for a change in scenery, drive a half-hour farther up the I-10 East to Texas Canyon. The canyon’s imposing lichen-covered boulders look like a landscape out of Lord of the Rings. The rocks are perfect for bird’s-eye views of the valley, climbing and Instagram-worthy photoshoots. azstateparks.com/kartchner

Cochise Stronghold

While it’s hard to find a part of the Coronado National Forest that’s not worth visiting, Cochise Stronghold should be at the top of your list. The mountain range is tucked away in a picturesque corner of Cochise County and has an enigmatic history. The stronghold is believed to be the ancient fort of Cochise, a Chiricahua Apache chief who clashed with the U.S. Army during the mid-1800s.

Today, the stronghold attracts avid rock climbers, hikers and nature junkies. The area is primarily forested with junipers, oaks and towering sycamores that change colors in the fall.

Once you’ve stepped into the shadow of the imposing mountain bluffs, it’s easy to imagine how they once served as the secret hideout of a cunning Apache chief. Whether you want to do some serious rock climbing (there are hundreds of challenging routes for advanced climbers) or relax near one of the forest’s natural streams with a picnic lunch, there’s plenty to see and do to keep you occupied for an entire weekend.

To reach the stronghold, take the I-10 East from Tucson toward Benson. You can access hiking trails from the East Cochise Stronghold campground or through Middlemarch Road.

While you’re in the area…

Check out the nearby ghost towns. While Tombstone is by far the most popular (and populated), you’ll get a spookier vibe if you check out Gleeson, Pearce or Charleston. The abandoned buildings and mineshafts are sure to capture the imagination of kids and adults.

cochisestronghold.com

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