Southern Arizona Scenic Drives Guide
Tucson to Happy ValleyThe unpaved road leading to the grassy terrain of Happy Valley gives visitors a vast perspective of what Arizona's landscape has to offer. Surrounded by the Rincon Mountain Wilderness just a short distance from Tucson, Happy Valley remains a nearly unpopulated spot in the canyon. The back road drive begins at Mescal Road, showcasing the familiar primitive desert scrub, including yucca plants and bundles of granite boulders. The road casually changes just past the cut off for Ash Canyon Ranch near Ash Creek to reveal winding creeks, huge oak, ash and cottonwood trees and the rolling, grassy hills that make Happy Valley so pleasant. Along the road, a small-scale re-creation of an Old West town marks the site where some of the final episodes of the Bonanza television series were filmed. Traversing the back road to Happy Valley may require a high-clearance vehicle.
Tour GuideRoute: From Tucson drive east on Interstate10 and take Exit 297, Mescal Road. Turn left (north) onto Mescal Road and the start of a 16-mile drive to a trailhead in the Coronado National Forest. Cross the railroad tracks in 2.4 miles and continue for 5.5 miles to the Ash Canyon Ranch turnoff, staying on Mescal Road. Continue for another 8 miles to a sign directing travelers to the Miller Creek Trail No. 28. Turn left at the sign and drive 0.2 mile to the trailhead. Mescal Road ends a few miles beyond the sign. Taking it past the trailhead turnoff leads to a fine picnic spot. Retrace the route to return to I-10.
Additional Information: Coronado National Forest, 520-749-8700; www.fs.fed.us/r3/coronado.
Portal to the Chiricahua National MonumentTraveling this route through the scenic Chiricahua Mountains, you'll venture briefly into New Mexico to reach the town of Portal at the mouth of Cave Creek Canyon, where Geronimo and his warriors hid among a "wonderland of rocks," as Chiricahua National Monument is sometimes called. The mountain is known as a sky island, the term applied to a mountain rising from a desert and grassland floor. Animal life here includes a huge variety of birds, including the elegant trogan, hummingbirds and the blue mockingbird, and all sorts of mammals ranging from black bears, mountain lions, bobcats and gray foxes to deer, raccoons and chipmunks. In these mountains, autumn brings out the reds, oranges and golds of maples, sycamores, Arizona cypress, cottonwoods and, of course, aspens. Portal — the name means "door" — is a delightful village with a cafe, lodging and art gallery.
Tour GuideRoute: Begin in New Mexico on Interstate 10, U.S. Route 80 at Exit 5. Turn south onto U.S. 80 and drive about 28 miles to Portal Road (also called Forest Road 42) and turn right (west). For an alternate start begin in Douglas and drive about 51 miles northeast on State Route 80 (through Rodeo, New Mexico) to the Portal Road turnoff and turn left (west).Go west on Portal Road for 7 miles to Portal and turn left at the junction of FR 42 and 42B. Follow FR 42 for about 21 miles to a paved road that is about 4 miles east of the junction of State routes 181 and 186. Turn right for a brief ride to the entrance of Chiricahua National Monument. The road ends in about 13 miles at Massai Point. Backtrack to the junction of SR 180-186 and turn right onto 186 for a 35-mile drive to Interstate 10 in Douglas.
Additional Information: Chiricahua National Monument, 520-824-3560; www.nps.gov/chir.