Scroll to Content

This year my parents were gracious enough to take me on a holiday road trip to Southern Arizona to prove that the characters of the Southwest are still there. . . unique individuals, free spirits, hippie types, creative souls. . .

Creative Souls

Black fingernails, chipped; one 4 inch dangling earring, not sure what was in the other ear; wearing a dress thing-a-ma-jig over horizontal striped leggings; long grey hair pulled in a loose pony tail; lots of eyeliner; a big smile; and cookies, just for me! He was one of the dudes serving coffee every morning at the yummy Bathtub Coffee shop. Really, “Better than Bathwater!” I’ll say.


Welcome to Bisbee, Arizona. Founded in 1880 by Judge DeWitt Bisbee a financial backer of Bisbee’s Copper Queen Mine. Gold, copper and silver drew characters seeking their fortune and by 1910 the population was almost 10,000. Houses creep up the steep hillsides and today over 1,000 steps remain to get around the community. In October, if you’re feeling fit “The Bisbee 1,000 Stair Climb” is also an option. It is a 4.5 kilometer run through the city ascending and descending the stairs all connected by winding roads.

Speaking of steps, there were 78 from the car park up to our sweet guesthouse, the Doublejack. Great views, awesome hosts, private patios and a claw foot tub I even wanted to get into. In the evening, Mom and Dad would head down a hill to one of the many great restaurants and bars. St. Elmo’s is the oldest continually operated bar in Arizona. It transformed into a soda shop during Prohibition, but the handy mine cart system with an opening under the flooring directly behind the bar makes me think there was more than just soda going on. Located in the former red light district of Bisbee, it attracts a cadre of local characters and visitors alike pretty much all hours of the day and night.

San Pedro River

Bisbee was home, and each day we’d venture out to hike. Our first trip was to the San Pedro National Conservation Area. It is forty miles of riparian corridor along the San Pedro River, one of the last free flowing rivers in the Southwest. There is lots of sniffing and giant Fremont cottonwood trees for me to call my very own.

Murray Springs

The Murray Springs Clovis Site is also in this area. Apparently the Clovis Civilization lived here 13,000 years ago! If you look at the soil sediment in the arroyo, the black line is them. It’s where archaeologists found the evidence. Tools, kill sites of megafauna, and artifacts. Can you imagine mammoth, bison, and camels roaming in Arizona?

Wyatt Earp

Apparently my great-grandmother (the human one) was born in Tombstone, Arizona at the turn of the century, that would be the 19th century. Although Wyatt Earp had left Tombstone by the time she was born, her family described him as a “drunk and a scoundrel” and just one of the many characters that landed in the west during the silver-mining boom. We stopped in Tombstone and these days the characters of the Southwest are people dressed up like Wyatt Earp reenacting the shootout at OK Corral. Really.

Huachuca Mountains

Miller Peak Wilderness in the Huachuca Mountains west of Sierra Vista was our next area to explore. Once you gain some altitude here, you can see the Dragoon, Chiricahua, Whetstone and Galiuro Mountains. Does it ever end? The hike is rolling hills covered with native grass, oak trees and manzanita.

The Anza Trail

Time to head west, and instead of miners with gold fever, we are headed to where the Spanish had a lust for conquest. In 1775, Captain Juan Bautista de Anza set out from Tubac with 300 immigrants, 340 horses, 165 pack mules and 302 cattle in route to San Francisco (Alta California) to expand the power and reach of Spain. It took eighty days. The Presidio State Park (the old Spanish fort) is cool and dog friendly. Mom really liked the photos and clothing exhibit of the Rodeo “lady” characters. That Rose Smith is really hot!

We walked on part of the Anza Trail along the Santa Cruz River. The hike however, sounds more romantic than it was, because the Santa Cruz River consists of treated effluent released from the Nogales International Wastewater Treatment Facility. After the first three miles, where the riverbed widens, loads of trash piles up each year when the river runs high. The water was low and the site was just devastated. We turned around and went back to where we came. So, it all worked out for the best as I got to lounge on our patio in Tubac. Awesome.

Creek Crossing

Talk about out of the way, next stop was Sycamore Canyon in the Pajarita Wilderness on the Mexican border. Good thing our friends Linda and Neil from Tucson came down to give us a ride. Almost to Nogales, we turn west on highway 289. So, 9 miles in, the pavement ends and then after another 12 miles on rutted roads we arrive at the trailhead. Out of the way, but so totally worth it. Hiking along a creek is the best for me, especially when the water is clean and free flowing and Mom doesn’t freak out when I stick my nose in it. One of my best days ever!

Finishing the trail, we continued west on the dirt road to a little place called Arivaca and straight to La Gitana Cantina for a frosty mug. Built in the 1880’s as a dance hall, now the hangout for local characters of the Southwest and tourists alike. Along Arivaca Road, we found several interesting establishments.

Linda and Neil are a couple of real characters my folks have known for a very long time. Eggheads (dog speak for professor/scientists) who love to hike and have fun. That night, we all went to the Tubac Golf Club for a really yummy meal and a spectacular view of the sunset on Mount Wrightson.

Funky Fun

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, the next day we headed to Madera Canyon. Whoa. Pines, oaks, water and to top it off we sighted a coatimumdi – a very cool, sorta cat, sorta raccoon, sorta monkey lookin’ critter. Fascinating.

After our hike, we were off to Oracle, Arizona. To Triangle L Ranch. Homesteaded in the 1880’s it eventually became a cattle ranch. It was then purchased in 1924 and transformed by New York financier William Trowbridge into one of Southern Arizona’s earliest dude ranches. Today it’s a bed & breakfast. With a sculpture garden. And goats. And an art gallery. Oh and did I mention the best breakfast in Arizona (that’s Jim, a real character, in the picture with me, our chef and host extraordinaire). And hiking. And the Ore House Hilltop Tavern. Oh, and two giant bunnies on a motorcycle.

I’m beginning to think my parents are a just couple of characters too!

If you go to visit the Characters of the Southwest

Bathtub Coffee 
Bisbee 1000
Doublejack Guest House
St. Elmo’s Bar 
San Pedro Riparian National Conservation 
Murray Springs Clovis Site 
Tubac Presidio State Historic Park 
La Gitana Cantina
Tubac Golf Resort 
Triangle L Ranch 
Ore House Hilltop Tavern 


  1. What a cool trip! I wish I could have come along …. BTW, my folks saw a coati mundi in our neighborhood in Phoenix! If I had seen it – well, you know!

  2. Louie, you and your pack sure get to explore some cool, off-the-beaten-path places! This AZ native enjoyed the photos and stories in your post.
    Love, apple slices, and ear rubs
    from Auntie Kay

  3. Wow, Louie, you get great sniffing time all over places that most of us might never see! Your parents must be pretty awesome. Don’t you have broken black fingernails too, lucky boy?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.