Destination: Fort Bowie: 85 Miles and 150 Years from Tucson
Looking for a different weekend hike when Sabino Canyon, Mount Lemmon, Madera Canyon and other local hikes are clogged with Winter visitors? A visit to Fort Bowie Historic Park may be a perfect day trip. On a recent trip leaving Tucson around 11:00 a.m., we fit in a drive to the park, round trip hike to the Fort, visit to the museum and visitor center, and a quick picnic and still managed to get home shortly after dark.
As a National Historic Site established in 1972 to preserve the ruins of Fort Bowie, the park is billed as a “Walk through History.” However, for Naturalists, the topography, geology, wildlife, and biotic communities hold an equal or greater appeal and an explanation for this area’s appeal to a variety of cultures throughout history. At 5000 feet in elevation the park is situated in the Upper Sonoran life zone and contains desert grasslands, chaparall and riparian areas. Apache Spring which drew Indigenous People, explorers, miners, ranchers, and the military still provides water that supports wildlife in the area including deer, grey fox, coyote, javelina, cougars, bobcat, coati, snakes, lizards, and many bird species. Visiting during the middle of the day, we did not see much wildlife, but saw scat and tracks, and lots of birds in riparian areas and raptors roosting at dusk.
The park can be accessed from a trailhead on Apache Pass Road. There is a handicapped accessible parking area closer to the fort, but it not a trip I would recommend for strollers or those with mobility issues. The hike is a 3 mile round trip to the fort and visitor center, with an optional return loop on the Overlook trail. The hike is listed as “moderately strenuous”, but for most regular hikers should be relatively easy. The trail is well marked with lots of signage about historical sites you pass on the trail. Much of the flora and fauna are also identified. The optional return on the Overlook trail contains signage on the area’s geology and topography and amazing views of the surrounding area and Sulphur Springs Valley.
Be warned, the Overlook trail does contain some loose rock and several switchbacks with tall steps, if you have bad knees you could avoid or take your time and enjoy some of the well placed benches with shade and views. Bathrooms are available at the Trailhead and Visitor Center, but the only water available is at the Visitor Center. The park is open from sunrise to sunset, but you may want to check the visitor center’s hours with a call since it is manned by volunteers. For those who like swag, if the visitor center is open, the rangers will offer you a “Hike Through History” pin for your collection.
Peggy Ollerhead, PCMN Certified AZ Master Naturalist Cohort 3
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