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postheadericon Riding SoAZ Part VIII (Willcox to Steins)

Looking east, down the hill from the THING? (remember The THING? from the last episode?) Interstates 10 leaves the Dragoon Mountains down to a long flat valley which extends until you get to the New Mexico state line.

Approximately 20 miles further east on I-10 (95 miles east of Tucson.) is the town of Willcox. An agricultural community, Willcox only has a population of about 4000 but it is known to be a good destination to pick your own apples and peaches. Apple Annie’s is a popular place.

Willcox is also the birthplace of Rex Allen, singer, songwriter and film actor from the 50’s to the 80’s. For those of us who grew up watch the “Wonderful World of Disney” on Sunday nights, you’ll remember Rex as the narrator from all the shows with animals in them. Remember “Yellowstone Bears

A cowboy and his coffee

Let’s talk agriculture for a minute. Although we hear a LOT about the desert’s of Arizona, the fact is that AZ is a big farm and ranch state. Here are a few facts:
  • Willcox was once known as the “Cattle Capitol” of America.
  • Beef is AZ’s leading agricultural product and AZ produces enough beef per year to feed almost 5 million Americans.
  • Arizona ranks second in the production of lemons, third in tangerine production, and 4th in the production of oranges and grapefruit.
  • Arizona ranks second in the U.S. in head lettuce, leaf lettuce, romaine lettuce, cauliflower and broccoli production.
  • Go to the AZ Farm Bureau for more info if you want it.
Willcox has three exits. The second one, exit 340, is named Rex Allen Drive  south of I-10 and Fort Grant Road if you turn north. Going north, the road is two-lane and is in fair condition. Fort Grant itself, is 33 miles north of Willcox and is one of those old west forts originally built to protect settlers, was abandoned for a number of years and in 1973 was reopened as a state prison facility. I believe there are tours of what is left of the original fort, but I have been unable to locate that information as of this writing. Fort Grant’s most famous soldier was probably Edgar Rice Burroughs, author of Tarzan. It’s most famous inmate, back in the day, at least, was probably “Billy the Kid” although he was known as Henry McCarty at the time. If you turn east from the fort, onto Route 266, you will be led to US 191.

Willcox is the intersection of several roads that either lead to, or are themselves, great destinations. About 7 miles east of town is the junction with US 191 north. Also know as the Coronado Scenic Byway, 191 leads to some great places, but is, itself, a destination.

Talk about tight turns and no guardrails

Prior to 1993, it was designated US Route 666 and was locally known as the “Devil’s Highway.” The name is appropriate not just because of the obvious Biblical reference, but also because of how remote it is and how treacherous it can become. According to one reference I found, there are more than 1100 curves and no services in the 95 miles between Clifton and Pine Top. There are extremely tight switchbacks and I noticed only a single curve with a guardrail out of all 1100, and it wasn’t the most dangerous curve I negotiated.  Remoteness aside, 191 is a riders dream.

Road snaking down the valley

Because of the massive number of curves and the natural beauty, US 191 is known as an exceptional road for motorcycles. There is even an annual motorcycle run there called the Devil’s Highway Run. I may have to check that out next year.

ADVISORY – The scenery along 191 is some of the most beautiful in the state, however, there is an average of a mere 70 vehicles per day that travel here, making it the least travelled highway in the state of Arizona. Make sure your vehicle is in proper working order This is NOT a road for your giant RV or truck with a long trailer, either. I believe vehicles over 25 feet are restricted from this road because of how sharp some of the corners are. I realize that most of Route 191 is north of our SoAZ area, but it is too good of a road to skip.

The next services going east on Interstate 10 are at Bowie, AZ. Bowie is a small community of about 3000 souls. Historic Fort Bowie, after which the town is named, is located about 20 miles southeast of town. It is a 1.5 mile hike to the remains of the fort, from the designated parking area. There is only one paved road leaving Bowie to the north. It is Central Ave off of Business 10. It turns into Hackel Road about 10 miles from town and eventually intersects with US 191 about 8 miles outside of Safford, AZ. This road is paved but is narrow and not well maintained. There are no services in the 40 miles between Bowie and Safford.

About 15 miles further east is the tiny community of San Simon which has a single gas station. It is most noteworthy because it has a weigh station and the state border station there. When I was a kid, every vehicle had to stop there and declare whether or not you had any fruit, vegetables or live plants that were not from Arizona. I believe is an intermittent Border Patrol checkpoint nowadays. I went through there recently and only trucks with livestock on board had to stop.

From San Simon, you are only about 15 miles from the New Mexico state line. There is a rest area about two miles before crossing into New Mexico. There is one place of note just over the state line and that is the ghost town of Steins. Take the first New Mexico exit (#3) and go north. Steins is located right on the north side of I-10. There were a few buildings open the last time I went there a few years ago and some were in the process of being restored. It’s a fun little place to visit and it’s right on the highway, so it’s easy to get to.

This completes my coverage of northeast Southern Arizona. I had no idea, when I started this section, that it would take two segments to cover it. I thought that since there wasn’t very much territory north of I-10, that it would be brief. There really are quite a few things to see, places to go and cool roads to travel north of I-10.

The next few segments will cover that part of the state east of I-19 and south of I-10. It is one of my favorite area to ride or drive with beautiful scenery and interesting towns.

Did I mention that you also have to watch out for these on 191?

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