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Traveling With Kids

in Southeastern Arizona

Arizona's fascinating Southeast corner is where you can drive from the desert floor to green forests on top of mountains in only a half hour. You can visit Wild West towns -- like Tombstone -- explore a mine in Bisbee, see more birds than almost anywhere else, and walk across two border crossings into Mexico.

It's a great place to travel with kids, because almost everything that happens here -- from the migration of hummingbirds to watching a recreated shootout between the Earp and Clanton brothers -- is interesting to young people, and makes for greeat family memories.

Benson, Bisbee, Tombstone, Willcox, Douglas, Sierra Vista, Patagonia, and Nogales—these are the major towns of Southeastern Arizona. They all provide good launching spots for a tour of the natural and man-made attractions of this Old West part of the state. Benson and Willcox are at the northern edge of the region, on Interstate 10. Tombstone is just south of Benson. Bisbee, Douglas and Nogales are a short drive from Tombstone, and are are close to the Mexican border. Sierra Vista is farther west.

This is a great plaxe to take the kids for a vacation. All of the towns, especially Tombstone and Bisbee -- have a charm left over from the wild west days of the 1800s, when prospectors and miners came to the region and established the tough little communities that are still lively places.

Tombstone is more of a living, breathing museum of Wild West life than it is a real, modern town. Called "The Town Too Tough to Die", Tombstone had tough years following the collapse of mining, and reinvented itself as a kind of Old West theme park. The restaurants and saloons are real, in buildings that date from the mining era. The courthouse became a state museum, and the infamous OK Corral is still there -- the scene of frequent stagings of the Wyatt/Clanton shootout.

Other Tombstone attractions include the Boot Hill Graveyard, the Rose Tree Inn Museum, with the largest rose bush in the world (and over 100 yearss old), and the Silver Nugget Museum -- although you might not want to take the kids into a former brothel and gambling den, but then maybe you would.

Bisbee offers families a mine to tour, as well as many historic buildings that date from its mining age. The Copper Queen Hotel is still in operation, and is a great place to stay and eat. Nearby Douglas is a gateway to Mexico. Nogales offers another chance to visit Mexico. Many visitors just walk across the border crossing into downtown Nogales, Mexico. Here, you';ll find shops with Mexican arts and crafts, and restaurants. Patagonia is a charming Old West town, with several B&Bs and good restaurants, and some of the finest birding in the region.

Outdoor Attractions

Chiricuhua National Monument is perched atop a mountain, east of Benson and south of Willcox. The monument contains myriad fantastic rock pillars in a sky island with fir trees, mosses and ferns, and lots of wildlife. It is reached from either side of the Chiricahua Mountains, via US 666, Arizona Route 160, or US 80 which runs between Interstate 10 and Douglas. Camping provides one of the joys of visiting the Chiricahuas, and you can pitch a tent or park an RV in the national monument campgrtound, or in a national forest campsite.

The San Pedro River flows northward, through Benson and close to Tombstone. Most of the riverside in this area has been preserved as the San Pedro National Riparian Conservation Area. The river habitat is home to more than 130 species of birds, which migrate to the area, with many varieties living here year-round. Trails lead from parking lots along the river to prime birding spots. Other prime birding areas are in Patagonia at the Nature Conservancy's Patagonia-Sonoita Reserve, and at Ramsay Canyon, near Sierra Vista, where you'll see more species of hummingbirds than in any other place in the United States. For detailed information on bird watching prospects in the region, as well as information on historic sites, go to our Arizona Birding Pages.

All in all, Southeastern Arizona offers families a relaxed, fascinating vacation adventure -- exploring natural wonders and re-living early western life in what used to be rough and ready mining towns.

Fraser Bridges


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