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Travel Through the Counties
By: Traci Huttsell/Arizona Sonora News Service
Not only does Arizona house the Grand Canyon, Tombstone and the London Bridge, but it also serves as the home to many hidden gems as well.
Throughout the 15 counties of Arizona, each one has its own distinct personality. Here are only some of the unique attractions this state has to offer.
Located in the Northeast, Apache County is not only filled with historical sites, but also pleasurable outdoor activities.
Many people travel to Apache County for outdoor activities such as skiing, camping, hiking and fishing. Yet there are more unique landmarks in the area.
Lynette Cross, administrative assistant of the Springerville-Eagar Regional Chamber of Commerce, said one of their main tourist destinations includes the volcanic field in Springerville, one of the three largest in the United States.
“You look out and you think you’re looking at the moonscape,” Cross said. “People are really fascinated.”
Adding to its historical essence, Apache County also holds one of the 12 statues of the Madonna of the Trail monuments.
These monuments, established to honor the pioneer women, portray a mother with two small children, one in her arms and one hugging her leg.
Other attractions in Apache County include:
Within Cochise County, the southeast corner of Arizona, are national monuments, parks, caverns, and even an “old western town” that combines history and stardom. And no, it’s not Tombstone.
Serving as both a museum and a movie set, Gammons Gulch, located in Benson, covers the time periods from the 1880s to the 1930s.
“I call it the Antiques Roadshow on steroids,” said Luanne Mattson, an independent contractor handling public relations for the Cochise County Tourism Council.
They have old cars, handmade bars, and they even dismantled old buildings from around the state only to reassemble them on the set, Mattson said.
They really have recreated an old western town, Mattson said.
“I think it’s interesting to see where we’ve come from (and) what’s shaped Cochise County and Arizona,” Mattson said.
Other attractions in Cochise County include:
- Tombstone, Ariz.
- Queen Mine Tour
- Chiricahua National Monument
- Kartchner Caverns
- Fort Bowie National Historic Site
Coconino County is very popular for its outdoor recreations, said Nathan Gonzalez, public information officer for Coconino County.
But one major destination that visitors might miss is the Lava River Cave in Flagstaff.
Discovered in 1915 by lumbermen working in the area, the Lava River Cave is the longest of its kind in Arizona, Gonzalez said.
“Essentially it is just a lava tube that is obviously no longer active and has hardened over time,” Gonzalez said.
“It’s a unique thing,” Gonzalez said. “It’s something a lot of people don’t think they’ll be able to do in their lifetime and it’s here in our backyard.”
Other attractions in Coconino County include:
Gila County is a rich place to visit for outside excursions.
“We have a very rich history … that not a lot of people know about,” said Ellen Kretsch, tourism director of the Globe-Miami Chamber of Commerce.
One place we have is the Besh-Ba-Gowah Archeological Park, Kretsch said.
The Besh-Ba-Gowah Archeological Park allows visitors to take a stroll through an ancient pueblo, as well as explore their cultural museum.
“It’s very hands on,” Kretsch said. “You can actually walk to the second story” of the pueblo with one of the ladders.
Other attractions in Gila County include:
Dedicated monuments fill every state throughout the country, but not every state has their own trail of salsa.
Strewn through small communities in southeastern Arizona lies the path of the Salsa Trail.
Located on the Old West Highway, the Salsa Trail consists of more than a dozen Mexican restaurants featuring their own taste of the Southwest.
Travelers far and wide come to experience this one of a kind mission.
“People just follow the salsa trail,” said Annette Watson, secretary of the Parks and Recreation office in Graham County.
However, with the Salsa Trail spanning over three counties and including over a dozen different places to eat, this is not a quick one-stop attraction.
Luckily Graham County has more attractions to offer:
While some counties in Arizona have established their place in history, others are trying to rediscover themselves.
“We really are working on trying to reinvent ourselves,” said Becky Nutt, executive director of the Greenlee County Chamber of Commerce.
There are also several water recreation activities one can enjoy in Greenlee County.
The Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area, in Duncan, Ariz., is where the Gila River and the San Francisco River meet, Nutt said. “People like to kayak here in the summer.”
Nutt said there are many projects being developed within Greenlee County, including a walking tour of the San Francisco River as well as a Blues Festival in October.
“It amazes me because we have people from all over the world find us by accident,” Nutt said. Now the goal is for “them to find us intentionally.”
Other attractions in Greenlee County include:
- Phelps Dodge Morenci Inc. – Open Pit Mine
- Clifton Cliff Jail
Just outside of Bouse, Ariz., located near the Arizona-California border, rests Swansea, a ghost town.
It is completely desolate, said Betty Bringman, of the Bouse Chamber of Commerce. “There’s not even a caretaker out there. It’s completely as left.”
Swansea, an old copper mining town, eventually crumbled due to the weakening economy.
“When copper prices went down, they shut everything down,” Bringman said.
Now, all that remains are deteriorated ruins that stand as a reminder of what used to be.
It’s a fun place to go visit, Bringman said. There are self-guided tours for visitors, as well as signs that will tell people what exactly it is that they are looking at.
Other attractions in La Paz County include:
Maricopa County offers a variety of attractions from vibrant, multi-colored gardens to its very own olive oil mill.
Queen Creek Olive Mill has been developing their own brand of olive oil, guiding tours, and educating their guests for more than 10 years.
The Mill is a “great spot that not too many people know about,” said Caelen Demos, communications intern for the Greater Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Queen Creek Olive Mill holds daily tours as well as hosts special occasions for their guests.
Other attractions in Maricopa County include:
While Mohave County houses a section of the Grand Canyon, it also offers trips back to the Old West.
“We’ve got a big chunk of old Route 66,” and visitors can then take that all the way down to Oatman, Ariz., said Darryle Purcell, public information director of Mohave County.
Oatman, an old gold mining town, includes the ordinary, yet classic attractions such as antique shops and gunfight shows, as well as the not so ordinary.
Burrows always roam around in the streets, Purcell said.
It gives the people a sense “of the little Old West,” Purcell said.
Other attractions in Mohave County include:
In Navajo County, it’s all about the lakes.
“We have 40 lakes in a 50-mile range of Show Low,” said Len Utt, director of Show Low’s Tourist Information Center. The outdoor activities is definitely “our biggest draw here.”
Yet Navajo County offers its visitors a little more than just lakes.
Outside of Winslow, Ariz., rests “the best preserved” meteor crater, measuring in depth more than 550 feet, as stated on their website.
The Meteor Crater Visitor Center invites its guests to view a short film featuring the origin of the meteor, as well as viewing the crater from its very own rim on a guided tour.
Other attractions in Navajo County include:
One attraction that makes Pima County unique is the Tohono O’odham Cultural Center and Museum.
This museum is really exceptional, said Tom Moulton, director of Economic Development and Tourism in Pima County.
“It was built to preserve the artifacts of the tribe … (and) it was built beautifully and scientifically,” Moulton said.
“We do have attractions that you can’t find anywhere else,” Moulton said. “They’re completely unique to our area, built around nature, our culture and our heritage.”
Other attractions in Pima County include:
- Pima Air and Space Museum
- Titan Missile Museum
- Agua Caliente Park
- Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
- Biosphere 2
The San Tan Mountain Regional Park offers multitudes of landscapes and a unique learning environment.
San Tan Mountain Regional Park is a hidden treasure because not too many people know its history and all it has to offer, said Tisha Castillo, president and CEO of San Tan Valley Chamber of Commerce.
San Tan Mountain Regional Park offers educational programs for kids entitled, “Home School at the Park.” They showcase classes on animal life, plant life, stargazing, and even show movies intended for all ages.
Moonlight hikes are also a special activity the park hosts, Castillo said. “The sunsets are amazing.”
Other attractions in Pinal County include:
Located on the Arizona-Mexico border, Santa Cruz may be Arizona’s smallest county, but it still holds a lot of history.
Tubac Presidio State Historic Park is a place of interest, said Angela Kirkner, executive director of the Tubac Chamber of Commerce.
The Tubac Presidio State Park offers guests the opportunity to explore an underground archeological display.
Established in 1752, Tubac is the oldest European settlement in Arizona, Kirkner said.
Other attractions in Santa Cruz County include:
If Yavapai County is proud of one thing, it’s their wineries.
“Wineries in Arizona are pretty unique,” said Lana Tolleson, president and CEO of Cottonwood Chamber of Commerce. “We’re at just the right climate and the right elevation to have wineries.”
Tolleson describes them as “cute, little boutique wineries,” and it seems they are just that.
“It’s a very relaxing and fun thing to do,” Tolleson said.
Other attractions in Yavapai County:
Come to Yuma and go directly to jail.
Yuma Territorial Prison, Arizona’s first prison, began operation in 1876 with inmates building the cells that would eventually detain them.
“They called it the Desert Alcatraz,” said Jamie Beichler, customer service specialist with the Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park. “It was known as the roughest, toughest prison.”
If criminals were sent to Yuma prison, they weren’t going to get out, Beichler said. “It was a pretty treacherous place to be.”
Other attractions in Yuma County include: