San Pedro River area will offer cool respite from desert heat

Cottonwood tree at San Pedro House

Cottonwood tree at San Pedro House

Now that Arizona temperatures have begun their climb, road trippers already may be planning destinations to the higher elevations.  At 4633 feet, Sierra Vista offers visitors many outdoor recreation activities without the harsh Valley heat. Arizona travelers can enjoy both sun and shade at a cool park at the San Pedro River – at the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area and San Pedro House.

This long strip of 57,000 acres along the San Pedro River, maintained by Bureau of Land Management, surrounds one of the largest cottonwood/willow canopies in Arizona. In February, I spent the best part of one Saturday afternoon strolling along the river on a short nature walk – a self-guided tour of the San Pedro House trails. As I started out along the path, I immediately realized why birders flock to this area.  While red-winged blackbirds congregated around the cottonwoods, red-tailed hawks soared above the nearby grasslands. According to the trail map/brochure provided at the entrance about 350 species that either nest here or use it as a migratory stopover.

The visitor’s center at the entrance is the San Pedro House, a one-time ranch manager’s house built by the Boquillas Land and Cattle Co. during the 1930s. Inside is a shop full of local history books, nature guides, maps and gifts.  The store clerk, a volunteer member of the Friends of the San Pedro River, will answer questions about the park and the history of the area. It’s fascinating to learn how the area is being restored to its natural state after years of crop farming and cattle grazing. Trees along the river were cut down during the mining era to provide fuel for area smelters.

As I walked along the river after a day of heavy winter rains, I’m surprised the water level isn’t higher. Recent dry conditions have soaked up the rain water like a sponge. After taking a closer look at the banks, it’s easy to see where significant flood event flows have creased the brush and snapped the branches.

I’d recommend visiting San Pedro House and walking its nature trails to all. It’s a nice quiet picnic spot or rest area away from the busy traffic of the city. Take time to walk the easy path down to the river. Enjoy the cool shade of the cottonwoods. Don’t forget your camera!

San Pedro House near Sierra Vista

San Pedro House near Sierra Vista

San Pedro House gift shop

San Pedro House gift shop

Two mile nature trail weaves along San Pedro River

Two mile nature trail weaves along San Pedro River

Winter provides stark beauty to San Pedro River area

Winter provides stark beauty to San Pedro River area

 

Relive Arizona history Saturday at ghost town’s festival

Fairbank's schoolhouse, restored in 2007, will be open Saturday for Fairbank Day

Fairbank’s schoolhouse, restored in 2007, will be open Saturday for Fairbank Day

It’s festival time in Arizona! Late winter and early spring bring some kind of event to every town all around the state. There’s a festival, show or fair for just about anything and everything — gem shows, coin shows, gun shows, car shows, horse shows and RV shows. There’s a fest for science and technology, beer, wine, pecans and gourds. Chandler — my own hometown — alone claims several this time of year: a science spectacular, a classic car show and fests for barbecue and beer, jazz, ostriches, Easter and St. Patrick’s Day. It would be possible to travel from town to town around Arizona for weeks on end celebrating one festival after another.

You have another option for this Saturday. For a change of pace, consider a road trip to ghost town to celebrate and learn more about Arizona history in one day. Pack up the family and head to southeastern Arizona for Fairbank Day.

Fairbank is a ghost town north of Sierra Vista along Highway 82, 10 miles east of Highway 90. It was primarily known as a railroad stop for trains transporting silver ore from Tombstone to the mill works in Charleston, Contention City and Millville. At its peak, Fairbank recorded 100 residents, several stores, houses, saloon, stagecoach station, and of course, the depot.  River flooding and a rare Arizona earthquake caused the decline of the mines and mills, which trickled down to a decreased necessity for the railroad stop at Fairbank.

f3By the 1940s only a few buildings remained but it wasn’t until about 1974 that Fairbank bid farewell to the last businesses and residents. A few structures from Fairbank’s 1880’s heyday still can be viewed at the site, including the Adobe Mercantile Building, a couple of houses, stable and schoolhouse. Most of these aren’t accessible to the public however. The school building which was constructed in the 1920s to replace one destroyed by fire, has been restored and operates now as a visitor’s center, gift shop and museum.

Fairbank Day observes the long history of the town plus the local area around the San Pedro River. Activities include: townsite tours, guided hikes to the nearby ruins of Presidio Santa Cruz de Terrenate, train robbery reenactments, Spanish settlement recreations, prehistoric settlement archeology presentations, U.S. Calvary demonstrations, book signings and discussions by local authors, plus music and food. Donations from the event will benefit the Friends of the San Pedro River organization, which provides support for conservation efforts, advocacy and education in coordination with the Bureau of Land Management.

One of the standing house structures at Fairbank ghost town

One of the standing house structures at Fairbank ghost town

There's obviously a history of snakes at Fairbank

There’s obviously a history of snakes at Fairbank

Vistors can take a short "hike to history" on one of the nearby trails

Visitors can take a short “hike to history” on one of the nearby trails

 

How Fairbank looked about 1890 (From Wikimedia Commons. Image in public domain - copyright expired.)

How Fairbank looked about 1890

 

Fairbank ghost town has its 'day' this Saturday

Fairbank ghost town has its ‘day’ this Saturday

You can also find AzGetawayTravel.com on Twitter and Facebook.