A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit a new area of Arizona. Although Jake and I traveled to Tombstone and Bisbee a few years ago, I had never traveled further in that direction within Arizona. So when Jake’s parents decided to visit Arizona wine country, we were in!
Jake’s parents flew into town and we left Phoenix Thursday morning, with a brief stop at Biosphere 2 near Tucson.
Owned by the University of Arizona, Biosphere 2 was completed in 1991. Originally intended to replicate a space-like environment, the complex certainly looks like something you’d find on the moon. We purchased tickets for a tour, and explored a bit before joining up with our group.
Our tour began with a short video about the complex, then a walk through a few different areas of the Biosphere. Honestly, the tour itself was a bit dry, but it was intriguing to see the biomes and learn a little about how scientists lived within the Biosphere (more on that later).
Below is the first area we were able to see, an “ocean” complete with wave simulations, coral reef, and fish.
We learned that the main mission took place here between 1991 and 1993. A team of eight scientists lived inside the complex during that time, growing food in the agricultural areas, raising livestock, and conducting experiments. There was a second mission in 1994, which came to an abrupt end. We didn’t learn much else about the missions, so after the tour, we looked up more information.
The first mission had somewhat expected issues, including species die-off, problems with invasive insects such as cockroaches, lowered oxygen levels, and social tensions among the crew. They were able to complete the entire 2 years without serious problems, and actually made a lot of scientific progress during that time.
But it sounds like the 1994 mission was an entirely different game. A dispute among the management team led to a switch in power. Stephen Bannon (yes, the one from The White House) was hired to run the company. Two former Biosphere 2 crew members were concerned with the switch, and actually broke into the compound to warn current crew members! This compromised the airtight seal of the Biosphere. Let’s just say a lot of drama happened, including a few lawsuits. The mission was understandably dissolved.
The facility was in danger of being demolished until it was acquired by the University of Arizona in 2007. Now it’s open to the public on guided tours, although many areas of the complex are still being used for experiments.
To read more about the controversy surrounding Biosphere 2, check out the Wikipedia page.
After a few more hours of driving, we arrived in Willcox. We had dinner in town, and then had a quick wine tasting at Flying Leap tasting room. After learning that the winery was started by two former air force pilots, the names made a lot more sense (Fly Girl, etc.)!
Worn out from a long day, we traveled a bit farther south to the place we were spending a few nights. The ranch we stayed on was owned by descendants of two Swedish immigrants, Neil and Emma Erickson, who helped create a national monument we’d visit the next day.
It was so quiet! We spent the evening enjoying the company of a very excited farm dog, confused cows, and an enormous owl silently scaring the crap out of us while hunting from an abandoned barn.
Chiricahua National Monument
The next day we went out for a hike. We drove a short distance back to the highway, and straight to the Chiricahuas! Established in 1924, this area has an otherworldly landscape, full of hoodoos and balanced rocks. We completed the strenuous Echo Canyon to Heart of Rocks trail, and it was worth the effort.
After a quick shower we headed to Bodega Pierce, Zarpara, and Kief-Joshua tasting rooms for some more local vino. We enjoyed BBQ in an old train car, and then headed for bed.
Fort Bowie National Historic Site
For our final hike in the area, we visited Fort Bowie. A bit more off the beaten path, this hike gave us a glimpse into the world of 19th century soldiers. Established in 1862, Fort Bowie was founded after a number of skirmishes between the California Volunteers and the Chiricahua Apaches.
Below was a stop for the mail coach, part of the Butterfield Overland Mail. Many skirmishes occurred in the area between soldiers and the Chiricahua Apaches, and this station was used for shelter and a resting place for people and animals alike.
Here you can see how wide the road used to be. Now, it’s simply a hiking trail.
Fort Bowie was a center for military operations for over 30 years. In 1886, the officers got their way. Geronimo surrendered, and the Chiricahua Apaches were sent to reservations in Florida and Alabama. In 1894, the fort was completely abandoned. Below you can see what’s left of the dining hall.
There was a ranger at the visitor’s center, and she was very knowledgeable about the history and current preservation of the area. We were surprised to learn the fort had a water tank built up in the hills, providing water pressure so the officers could have showers and flush toilets. The Heliograph was used here for communication, until telegraph lines were installed from Tucson.
The ranger recommended we hike up a hill above the site to complete our loop back. Although it was pretty hot, we’re glad we made the effort, because the ocotillo were blooming and the views were fantastic!
We headed home and then continued our wine tour! Coronado was our favorite by far, because of the delicious tapas and lovely patio.
Saguaro National Park
Our final stop on this Southeastern Arizona tour was Saguaro National Park. And the Saguaros were blooming!
The blooms were lovely, and it’s nice to see something so beautiful on something so prickly!
Thanks to the Geigers for a great trip. See you soon!
And for the next adventure… Havasu Part 2!