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postheadericon Riding SoAZ Part XI (Route 83 From AZ to Africa in 50 miles)

In Part X, we arrived at Sonoita via several different routes. I meant to cover more territory in this segment, but there is some much to say about little route 83, that another segment will be required. The southern end of 83 is nondescript and not easy to find on a map, but to me, it has vistas and history that match almost any in the state.

My Cartographical Bible

As I mentioned in my personal blog, I realized when I was getting ready to write these next couple of segments, that I hadn’t actually been to a lot of these areas as an adult. I have been to Bisbee quite a few times in the past few years, but generally by the same couple of routes. I saw others on the map, but hadn’t taken them. As for points further east, like Douglas, Elfrida and Portal, to name a few, I don’t know that I have ever been to any of them. Thus, I decided that a couple of road trips were in order before I could write any further. I figured, given the shorter number of hours of daylight, it would take two trips: One to finish the Bisbee routes and another to hit the far southeast corner of the state. I was right.

For some reason, I took the trip to Douglas and the southeast first and delayed when I could write this. I imagine it is because I had never been to those areas and just wanted to do some exploring of someplace unknown, to me, that is.

Since we start everything from Tucson, we will cover Route 83 first. In Part X, we talked about 83 from I-10 to Sonoita, so let’s pick up there. I am very excited about this segment, because I discovered some amazing country.

Turn Before You Get to the Dome

If you’re going to go south or east of Sonoita, I highly recommend a detour though Elgin. It is the heart of the wine country covered in Part X and there are several vineyards open to the public in the area. To go through Elgin on your way south, first take route 82 east for about 8 miles and take Upper Elgin Road. It is well marked. You’ll turn south just before you get to the dome-shaped mountains just south of the highway. (Actually it is the 6100 foot tall, North West Dome.) After about 5 miles of beautiful, rolling grassland, you will arrive at a stop sign.

Turn either direction to return to 83

This is downtown Elgin. You can turn left or right, both ways take you back to route 83 and both ways will take you past at least one vineyard. Turn south (left for those who may be compass-challenged) and continue on 83 toward Parker Canyon Lake.

The next point of interest is the “ghost town” of Canelo. There are still live inhabitants there, so it’s not entirely ghost-like, however, there is an old school house on the north side of the road just after you pass the Canelo sign. Further up the road, you will see the Canelo Cowboy Church on the right. According to the ghost Town website, the Canelo post office opened in 1904 and closed in 1924. Having your post office close is a major step toward ghost-hood.

Here's the Cowboy Church in Canelo

The omni-present Border Patrol at Cimaron Road

At the top of the hill as you pass the cowboy church, you’ll a road on the left. The street sign says Cimarron Road. I mention the street sign because Google Maps calls it Canelo Road until you zoom in close then the name changes to Cimarron. This road leads to a back gate into Fort Huachuca, where its name changes back to Canelo. This road crosses the post, however, you can only ride on the base with a visitors’ pass which, I believe, you can only get at the main gate. So, you may only be able to come back through this way.

Be advised, in order to get a pass to ride a motorcycle or scooter here, you must have attended an MSF course and present your certificate. You must also be wearing long pants, over the ankle boots, gloves, and a helmet with eye protection. They may also require a reflective vest.

Reminds me of the "Big Valley" TV western

Back to route 83: as you continue south, you’ll see a valley to your left. That is Lyle Canyon and there are several points where you get some very nice views of the valley itself as well as of some ranch houses. Beyond the valley, are the Huachuca Mountains which rise to over 7000 feet of elevation. The road, also, continues to rise until you reach the end of Lyle Canyon. At this point Route 83 narrows and road quality declines a bit. You then come to a series of 10-15 MPH switch-backs and some fairly steep climbs.

You can tell I took this pic in the fall.

The sign says it, it must be true

As you reach the top of the hill, you’ll see a dirt road on the left called Coronado Trail. I’ll get back to that in a moment. Continuing on the asphalt, you will soon see the 130 acre, Parker Canyon Lake come into view off to the west. There is camping, fishing, boating, and a small bait and tackle store at the lake. There is no fuel, but I’m sure you can get a snack and something cold to drink should you want it, uh, if you’re there on a weekend. According to the sign on the window, it is Arizona’s only solar powered store and marina.

If you look at a map, Coronado Trail is also called Montezuma Canyon Road. It is an alternative, longer, slower and dustier route to get to Sierra Vista or Bisbee. It entails about 20 miles of dirt/gravel roads but provides some of the best scenery I’ve seen in the state. The road is well marked and well maintained in most spots. It is not frequently traveled, so make sure your vehicle is in good working order and that you have water. Much of the route you will not likely have cell phone coverage.

I wish photos did a better job of showing the beauty of this place.

As the dirt road weaves and winds its way along the west side of the Huachuca Mountains, to Geronimo Pass, you get spectacular views of the San Rafael Valley. The pictures I took simply do not do it justice. I immediately began thinking of it as “the Arizona Serengeti.”

Another view of the "Sarengeti" from Geronimo Pass

Can you see the deer?


I could easily imagine giraffe and wildebeests roaming around in that incredible grassland. Because there is so little traffic, Arizona wildlife abound here. I saw deer, open-range cattle, snakes and many species of birds. At Geronimo Pass itself, there is a nice rest area with bathrooms, picnic tables and hiking trails. There is no water. I believe the border patrol and/or Army have a permanent observation post here, so there is help should you need it.

There’s one of the switchbacks

The road from here goes down an impressive set of switchbacks and the views looking east are also impressive. The border fence is the most striking landmark looking eastward.  It takes about 10 minutes more of dirt before you arrive at pavement. You will pass the Coronado National Monument shortly before leaving the national park. There are some nice displays there and I found the staff to be exceptionally cheery and helpful, probably because they get so few visitors.

That's the border fence crossing the middle of this pic.

From this point, go east out of the visitor’s center and follow the paved road. It intersects with Highway 92 about 10 miles south of Sierra Vista and less than 5 miles west of Palominas. I am try to keep each segment from being too awful long, so the adventure will have to be continued in the next segment.


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