Updated: Mar 31, 2021
There is a cherished Arizona Highways magazine from April 1958 about Cochise County. This edition highlights the beauty, mystery, big sky, and rich history of a remarkable southern Arizona county and adventure destination.
At the time of its publication, the now robust vineyard and wine industry's revival and growth was not covered as an attraction. Now, over sixty years later, Cochise County is Arizona's hub for vineyard agriculture and a destination for rural wine tasting and exploration.
An incredible asset to Arizona, the region is now known for the rough and exceptional growing conditions and terroir, as well as the excellent, award-winning wine now coming alive there. Like many, we often feel a longing to make the trek from our central Arizona home to revel in this magical landscape, the long horizons of Cochise County, and the planted varietals that thrive in sandy, desert soil.
More on the vineyards and wineries in Willcox, Arizona and within Cochise County can be found at ExploreCochiseCounty.com.
With a few days available for exploration, we hitch up our own Pin Drop Travel Trailer, a fully self contained, solar powered micro camper made in Arizona, and head south to revisit this Arizona wine region once again, to relive a bit of its history, and to embark upon the many changes of this Arizona stronghold.
As a jump start to the 300 miles that lay between the Verde Valley and Cochise County, we overnighted on the Control Road north of Payson, Arizona. This road cuts a line along the base of the Mogollon Rim and provides fire crews a defensible position to keep fires from climbing up the Rim. It also provides access to cabins hidden among the ponderosa pine trees, and some wonderful recreation and hunting spots accessible only by dirt. It's truly the remote getaway that the Pin Drop Travel Trailer's trusted brand is designed to explore. The night was quiet, with a sky full of bright stars, and the air cool and calm.
Excited for the day ahead and the anticipated scenic changes only found in Arizona, departing cool pine forest and dropping down to the desert floor. We woke early, cranked on the two-burner propane stove in the Pin Drop galley kitchen, and departed our remote campsite with hot coffee and full bellies.
Blazing down the Beeline Highway, we wove our way through the freeway exchanges of the East Valley and headed east on Interstate 10. With a refreshing stop (COVID safe on the outdoor patio) at the employee-owned Barrio Brewery, we stayed on track for an afternoon arrival in the heart of Cochise County.
Arrival at Chiricahua National Monument
The Coronado National Forest has many thousands of acres reserved in Cochise County, most notable is the Chiricahua National Monument, where we landed one of the last campsites at Bonito Campground. Built by the CCC, this quaint campground (made for the conscious camper) has the lovely air and design for a simpler time. The few modern-sized campers that squeezed into the sites seemed out of place, too large for what the 1930’s could have imagined was necessary for a family camp. The Pin Drop Travel Trailer Road Runner model was an ideal companion, with its nimble, maneuverable shape, small footprint, and solar powered amenities that don't require a generator or an outlet.
While awaiting the sunset arrival, we prepared a hot cooked meal, opened cold beverages, and started a serene walk through the campground. Similar to what it likely sounded like 90 years ago, and just how we remember our childhood family camps in tents and a pop-up, this favorite campground was full of gathered families, quiet laughter, kids on bikes, and fireside chats.
The View From Massai Point
Morning sounds of desert birds and the salty smell of bacon and coffee floating through the campground preceded a brisk walk to the ranger station, enjoying the wildlife along the way. Before heading out on our next Arizona adventures, we took the scenic, winding road up to Massai Point for the view, and took another hike along the point’s edge. From this elevation, nearly 7,000 ft, one can see all the other sky islands rising from the desert floor. Beyond is Cochise Stronghold and the Dragoons, an area my wife and I explored many years prior in our historic 1952 Happy Home vintage trailer. It’s fun to now show this to our daughters, and entice them with tales of exploration into our state's history. To the north is an outcropping of granite said to resemble Cochise, though no photographs exist of this great leader. My kids have many questions, and we do our best to interpret this important story and graphic part of Arizona's history.
A Thoughtful Hike
Fort Bowie National Historic Site is our next destination, and a well-graded dirt road leads us to the trailhead. Exactly one year ago my youngest daughter and I camped at the birthplace of Geronimo.
Fort Bowie National Historic Site Hike
Now we were standing at the place of his surrender, which ended the Apache Wars in Arizona. A haunting weight hangs in the air, where military secured a precious spring in this barren landscape, and cleared a path for westward expansion. Afterhe scenic trek past the fresh spring that created territorial wars and out to the monumental remains of a fort and territorial stronghold, all of us, even the toddlers, returned thoughtful and reflective.
Fort Bowie National Historic Site Hike
Sunset at Pillsbury Wine Company and Vineyard
Sunset is a long and beautiful affair in Cochise County. We were lucky to enjoy this sunset from the grounds of a friend and winemaker’s vineyard, Sam Pillsbury of Pillsbury Wine Company and Vineyard. It was a perfect end to such a powerful day. Sam allows passers-through the opportunity to camp in his vineyard free of charge, and we graciously accepted.
His 100-acre property produces some of the finest grapes in Arizona and beyond, and we were very grateful to soak up the views of the surrounding mountains, post-harvest vines, desert flora, and of course, drink his amazing wine!
There is nothing quite like the experience of cooking a great meal out of the rear hatch of a Pin Drop Travel Trailer amongst the rows and rows of grapevines in this unparalleled wine region. The fully loaded galley kitchen allows flexibility and space for food preparation. An amazing meal was followed by a vineyard walk and the sights of fading colors contrasted by the grapevines.
The light faded into stars, interrupted only by the silhouette of the Dragoons Mountains and the Chiricahua Mountains. Deep in the night, barking dogs and the hum of generators operating irrigation wells remind one of the agricultural basin that exists now within Sulphur Springs Valley.
The pink sunlight crested over the Chiricahuas. An owl makes one last swoop across the vineyard for a late snack, as the stars dissolve to greet the sun. A hearty breakfast prepares us for the long Interstate miles ahead, and we say goodbye to our host. A brief stop in Tucson, and we forge ahead for cooler, higher elevations.
Back to the Mogollon Rim
By evening we are cresting the Mogollon Rim for a nice respite from the Sonoran Heat and fast-paced Interstate travel.
To stretch our legs, we all hike along the General Crook Trail, which bisects our camp tonight. This hike provides another opportunity for us to explain the saga of our state and nation’s progression, as 150 years ago the General Crook Trail provided a means for military to move supplies between Fort Apache and Fort Verde, and later served as the Exodus Day route whereby the Yavapai and Apaches were forcibly removed from the Verde Valley to live on the San Carlos Reservation.
Our trip to Cochise County reinforces what the author of the old Arizona Highways article suggested: this county is steeped in mystery and history. And today, it’s even greater with the addition of a well-established wine industry.
A long weekend away feels like we’ve been away for weeks. We are rested, refreshed, and wiser. All thanks to this welcome adventure and of course our Pin Drop Travel Trailer.
The Heart of Arizona Wine Country
While Pin Drop Travel Trailers are designed and built in the historic mining town of Miami, Arizona, the owners and proprietors live, work, and raise their family in Cottonwood, Arizona, the Heart of Arizona Wine Country. Located in the beautiful Verde Valley, along the banks of the Verde River, Cottonwood and its historic Old Town has been revitalized and become a destination for Arizona wine tasting, quaint shopping, and a long list of outdoor adventures including mountain biking, hiking, kayaking and much more. A hub of small, independent businesses, with unique stories that are housed in the historic buildings of a past time, Cottonwood should be on any adventurer's short list.