By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Judy Hector saw an ad for a Sierra Vista public affairs manager and instantly fell in love—even before seeing the southern Arizona city.
“I flew into Tucson and rented a car,” she says. “The closer I got to Sierra Vista, the more I loved it. I loved it here and I wanted to be here.”
Needless to say, Hector got the job. Hector—who also serves as marketing and tourism manager—is championing for others to consider Sierra Vista. In Cochise County, Sierra Vista is best known for its variety of birds, thanks to the high elevation and moist climate.
Southeastern Arizona is an eco-crossroad with five life zones within 5 miles. Habitats and species from the Sierra Madres of Mexico, the Rocky Mountains, and the Sonora and Chihuahuan deserts can all be found in these “Sky Islands.”
“Sierra Vista is one of the top birding places in the world,” she says. “A lot of birds are coming north in the summer from Mexico. Birders from all over the United States come here to birdwatch. The variety of birds is really incredible.”
The League of American Bicyclists named Sierra Vista a Bicycle Friendly Community for its support of bicycle safety education opportunities, access to bicycle amenities like its 30-mile network of multiuse paths, and community events. There are 450 recognized Bicycle Friendly Communities and more than 100 honorable mention communities.
“There are 12 bike-friendly communities in Arizona,” Hector says. “We’re perfect for people who enjoy distance bicycling. U.S. Bicycle Route 90 comes through Sierra Vista and across the state. It dips down through Sierra Vista and over to New Mexico. It’s a really nice ride.
“Within the city of Sierra Vista, there are 30 miles of paved, dedicated and assigned bicycle paths. We take our bicycling paths seriously.”
About 20 degrees cooler than Phoenix, Sierra Vista boasts Ramsey Canyon Preserve, an interplay of geology, biology, topography and climate that provides a diverse habitat for plants and animals.
The 280-acre preserve provides a haven for more than 170 varieties of birds, including 14 species of hummingbirds. Inside the visitor center at Ramsey Canyon Preserve is the kid-friendly “Please Touch Room” with bird nests, snake skins and other wildlife bits.
Another of Hector’s favorites is the 56,000-acre San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, which offers more than 40 miles of riparian vegetation. It’s popular with bird watchers and docent-led tours are available. For a little creepiness, visit Fairbank, a ghost town along the San Pedro River in the conservation area.
Sierra Vista’s hidden attractions are the ethnic restaurants in town, many of which are courtesy Fort Huachuca soldiers.
“It has been a military and Army post since 1877, and soldiers there have been through every war and conflict around the world,” she says. “So when they return, they bring tastes and hankerings from other countries. We have food here from everywhere the soldiers have been in the world.
“Fifty percent of our restaurants are ethnic restaurants. We have one of the best German restaurants, The German Café, in the state. We have three German places here. There is Italian, of course, as well as Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese and Mexican. We’ve had some really great authentic-style Mexican restaurants here—not Tex Mex.”
Fort Huachuca is Arizona’s last active Army post and the U.S. Army’s center for electronic weaponry, U.S. Army communications and military intelligence training. U.S. citizens without a valid Department of Defense credential will be subject to a background check before receiving a photo ID pass, valid for up to 30 days. Allow 30 minutes to complete the entrance requirements. Current vehicle registration and proof of vehicle insurance may be requested.
Fort Huachuca is also home to the Military Intelligence Soldier Heritage Learning Center. It displays surveillance and espionage tools from the Civil War, the Enigma Machine, a Cold War-era U.S. espionage Jeep, a surveillance and a section of the Berlin Wall.
Guests to the Brown Canyon Ranch can see a windmill that still pumps water, a tree-surrounded pond that provides a cool view and home to wildlife.
Sierra Vista isn’t without special events like Art in the Park on Saturday, October 6, and Sunday, October 7, at Veterans Memorial Park. The nearly 40-year-old festival features about 200 vendors from across the Southwest.
“It’s one of the state’s oldest and most varied markets,” Hector says. “I love to go. It’s all juried and you can find anything from fine art to doilies. There’s something for everybody.”
The most important thing to know about Sierra Vista is the pleasant nature of the city, Hector says.
“A lot of people say this, but what really struck me was the people are so friendly,” she says. “I know a lot of people say that, but I think it’s that way because it’s such a transient population. They don’t fool around with getting-to-know-you games because of Fort Huachuca. They’re really friendly and helpful.
“I think we just need to get the word out about Sierra Vista. They haven’t been telling anybody about themselves. I’m trying to change that.”