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Welcome back to another adventure of Traveling with Tom. This week I take you to the Fort Bowie National Historic Site located near the Chiricahua National Monument that I wrote about last week. If you recall, we arrived at Chiricahua at around 4 AM (yes in the morning!) to watch the lunar eclipse. After observing the eclipse and watching the sun rise we spent a few hours exploring this beautiful, peaceful part of the world. Since we were in the neighorhood we headed over to Fort Bowie. What we didn’t know was that is the only location in the National Park system where visitors are required to hike 1.5 miles plus one way to reach the Visitor Center! There is alternative access for those visitors who physcially can’t make the 3 mile round walk by calling the Visitor Center for directions.
After turning off the main highway, the road to the Historic Site parking lot and trailhead is by way of the unpaved, dusty Apache Pass Road. In addition to the large parking lot, there are sheltered picnic tables and restrooms of the pit/vault variety. Water is only available at the Visitor Center so it’s important to bring a supply water with you when planning to make the walk. The day we visited, the weather was mild so a bottle of water a piece was sufficient for the walk in and refilled for the return trip.
Before starting our walk, please allow me to provide some historical background. Fort Bowie was established in 1862 by the US Army after some skirmishes with the Chiricahua Apaches. The fort location was near the route of the Butterfield Overland Mail route that originated in St. Louis and terminated in San Francisco. In Arizona, the trail wound through the Apache Pass because there was a steady, reliable source of water at what became known as Apache Spring. The Apaches led first by Cochise and later by Geronimo didn’t take kindly to the pioneers, miners and military types passing through their lands. When established, the fort became the center of operations to subdue the unsympathetic Apaches. The first fort was more of a temporary camp than the permanent fort that was constructed nearby in 1868. Fort Bowie was operational until 1894 then abandoned after the hostilities had subsided. Fort Bowie and Apache Pass were declared a national historic landmark in 1960 and a national historic site in 1972 to honor the sites importance in the development of the Southwest. The site encompasses about 1000 acres and receives around 8000 visitors a year. There is no fee to visit this site.
The trail to the Visitor Center and the ruins of Fort Bowie is of moderate difficulty. The route is through the rolling hills from the lower grassy plains through stands of pines, oaks, and juniper to the historic site.
On our journey, we passed by the ruins of the Butterfield Stage Station.
Down the trail, we passed by a couple of the battle sites and the cemetery that was established after three soldiers were killed by Apaches. Over the years, an estimated 112 people were buried in this cemetery including family members of soldiers, local residents and even a few Native Americans.
Upon reaching the Visitor Center, we chatted with the informative ranger eager to answer our questions. We stamped our passport, checked out the exhibits and rested on the veranda overlooking the site of the Fort. This was our view.
We wandered around the fort site for a while, what remains are some partial adobe walls and foundations of the buildings encompassed within the Fort.
The park ranger suggested we take an alternative route back to the parking lot. It’s called the Overlook Ridge trail that allows hikers to look down on the Fort, the Pass, the Cemetery and valley below. Here was our view.
I really enjoyed this part of our hike back to the parking lot. It did mean that we had to walk up the hill behind the Visitor Center (the most strenuous part of the journey) before it leveled off and eventually sloped down towards the valley through a series of switchbacks. It was past lunchtime when we started back and we were both a little on the hangry side but we knew there was a nice lunch waiting in the truck. My traveling partner didn’t enjoy it as much as I did as the path was narrow and rocky in places with tree roots trying to trip a passerby. At one point, she did take a bit of tumble and barely missed landing in a prickly pear cactus! A good thing there wasn’t a soul around to hear what she said!
After enjoying our lunch back at the trailhead, we spent a little time watching a few folks setting out on their three mile hike and hoping they were prepared. We also took in the fresh, clean air, admired the cloudless, blue sky, let the sun warm our bodies, and listen to the birds sing their melodic songs.
A couple of suggestions if you should decide to visit this site: make sure you have water, even on cool days, the air and environment are very dry. Carry a few snacks because even though it’s only three miles, it’s not a straight path and there are things to stop and see along the way, plan on at least three hours for your visit. Also, make sure you have proper footwear, like good hiking boots, we did and were very glad for it. If it helps, consider a walking stick to help steady yourself in some of the more rugged sections of the trail. We were expecting a bit more at the Fort so while it was a relief to reach the Visitor Center, the site was anticlimactic. For me the journey was the most interesting and fun.
Next week, join me for a tour of Saguaro National Park near Tucson.
Until then, travel safe.