Arizona Ghost Town Loop
This Was Something I've Always Wanted To Do
March 1, 2020
Ever since I read about this loop, I've wanted to do it – the loop takes you through five ghost towns in southern Arizona, and it goes through some seriously beautiful country, too. We made Patagonia our headquarters for this adventure, and we did some great side trips as well. We devoted three days to this trip: a day to drive down to Patagonia with some side trips, a day to do the loop, and a day to drive home, again with some side trips.
Picacho Peak State Park, Madera Canyon
We stopped at Picacho Peak State Park to stretch our legs and let Mochi run around a bit. I found some beautiful bracelets in the gift shop, and picked up a map of the park as well. It only costs $7 to get into the park, but it's more if you want to camp. There are a lot of great trails and very soon, the place will be a riot of wildflowers – they are famous for that.
We drove to the end of the park and took a trail that headed up the mountain, but we didn't go far – just enough to stretch our legs and get a great view. You can see a long way almost as soon as you gain any elevation at all, plus the mountains themselves are incredibly rugged and beautiful. There are hikes for every skill and ability level.
After leaving that end of the road parking area, we decided to go back while driving through every turn off. So many tables and campsites! Then I noticed a short trail that said "Children's Cave" and was just .2 miles long, so we decided we couldn't pass that up. The parking area had nice bathrooms and lots of ramadas as well as a playground. The Children's Cave trail goes over a cute little bridge and has several signs along the way to teach kids about the habitat and the animals around Picacho Peak. It goes up a small hill and ends up at a shallow cave. Again, there are great views from the cave. Nice little walk.
We had lunch at one of the shady ramadas, then headed to Madera Canyon. We hadn't been there for years, and it has really changed. It's $8 to enter, and you need exact change for the pay station. They have added a lot – new picnic areas, an amphitheater, and a lot of amenities. We stopped at the gift shop at the Santa Rita Lodge so I could get a hat, and we saw a lot of hummingbirds and turkeys at the feeders there. Madera Canyon is a world-famous birding site.
Views Were Gorgeous
We drove almost to the far end of the road and parked, then walked down to the trail that follows the creek. Here at the south end they have built a lot of new picnic areas with tables and fire places. They are built on a hill with stairs and trees in between, so each one feels private and cozy. Great place to have lunch and let the kids play by the stream. There was still snow on the Santa Rita Mountains, so the views were gorgeous.
We stayed at the Stage Stop Inn in Patagonia. It's clean, comfortable, and only $10 a day for a dog. The people were awesome. If you stay in Patagonia, be aware that a lot of places close early, even the gas station. There is a restaurant at the Inn, and there is a coffee shop just a few doors down, but they quit serving lunch at 3. There is also a really cute little coffee and pastry shop down the street in the other direction (north). There is a convenience store across the street from the Inn, and also the gas station and a pizza place. Also, there's a nice store almost next door to the Inn where you can buy clothes and hats and things like that.
The park across the parking lot from the Inn is only about a hundred feet wide, but it's a couple of blocks long and they have bags for cleaning up after your dog in case you forgot. They are used to dogs in Patagonia because the quail hunting around there is incredible. We saw a lot of hunters and bird dogs while we were there.
The Ghost Town Loop is super easy – when we were there, even a passenger car could do the whole loop as long as you stay on the main road. You start the loop on Harshaw Road at the corner of McKeown and Taylor, which is just north of the Inn. You basically stay on Harshaw Road the whole time. For the first seven miles or so the road is paved.
The first ghost town you come to is Harshaw. There is a sign there, and you can see an old building right next to the road. That's actually about it. We drove down the road a ways, but it was all private property so we went back. On the other side of the road is a big open area and a huge tree next to a creek.
Across the creek is an old cemetery. We walked up the creek and came across a riparian area that was set apart in 1976. It was really pretty in there. We weren't sure how long the rest of the loop would take, so we went back and continued our trip.
Mowry ghost town is next, at Harshaw Road and Apache Road. Turn left and then take the very first left you come to – 214A. It's only a few yards from the main road. You'll see an old foundation and some old adobe. Park there. The road from there gets bad. Hike up the road and you'll come to a very deep and steep ravine to the right of the road, and just past that is an old stone building with all four walls standing. There are unfenced mine shafts around, so keep kids close and pets on a leash.
After you go back to the car, get back on the main road and keep going south. At a little over 16 miles from the start of the loop you'll come to Duquesne Road – essentially the Harshaw Rd (49) becomes the Duquesne Road (61). The roads are very well signed, so just follow the signs that say Washington Camp or Lochiel. In just a bit you come to Washington Camp, which is actually still inhabited, but there are some cool buildings to photograph.
Next up is Duquesne. Turn right at FR128 and take the loop through Duquesne. It's almost all private property so you really can't get out and explore, but there are plenty of photo opportunities from the road. If you don't take the loop you won't see any of it. It takes you right back to FR61, so turn right and continue south from there.
Stay on FR 61 and soon you'll see the Fray Marcos De Niza monument on your right. We stopped and got out to get some pictures and read the plaque. It's quite imposing. A little ways down the road from here, watch to the left and you'll see a tiny little cemetery fenced in.
The last ghost town is Lochiel, which, like Washington Camp, is actually still inhabited. There is a nice schoolhouse that some former students are restoring, and a cute church on the hillside. On the hill behind the church is a cemetery.
After Lochiel, you can take a spur to the border with Mexico if you want to – at this point you are less than a ¼-mile away. The loop then heads north and passes through a lot of grassland and ranches. If we were doing it again, we would just turn around at Lochiel and head back the same way we came.
It took us about five hours to do the loop, including the little stops and side trips. The forest and grasslands are really beautiful, and although we saw a lot of Border Patrol agents and trucks, we never saw anything that made us feel uneasy or afraid.
Home Via Greaterville Road, Highway 62
The next day we headed home on Highway 82 from Patagonia, then hopped on 83 north from Sonoita. We were stopped at a Border Patrol checkpoint, but that only took a few seconds. We turned left on the Greaterville Road, Highway 62. This road is gravel, but again it is very good and just fine for a passenger car.
This road passes through a beautiful canyon and it becomes narrow and curvy, but it's worth it for the scenery. On the left side of the road, watch for a small gate in the fence (I think it's the second one) – on the hillside opposite it is a big double power pole. We stopped there and walked through the gate and found a pretty spring down there. We surprised a couple of Coues deer. The cows like it down there too, apparently, so watch your step.
A Beautiful Surprise
Back on the road, we were treated to a surprise – on a hairpin turn, there was a cut in a vertical canyon wall with water cascading down it all the way to the shoulder of the road. It was beautiful.
This canyon part of the road is only about six miles, but it's worth the trip. Once it comes out of the canyon it goes through desert and grassland, then intersects with the road to Madera Canyon. Keep going straight and the road becomes paved and you end up on I-19.
So that was our big adventure in southern Arizona. It was a blast and we saw a lot of gorgeous country and met some wonderful people. I highly recommend this fun drive. If you have time left over after the loop, you can visit the Sonoita Creek Preserve, one of the Nature Conservancy sites. But you can't take pets in.
Stage Stop Inn: http://www.stagestoppatagonia.com 520-394-2211
Picacho Peak State Park http://www.azstateparks.com 1-800-MYPARKS
Madera Canyon http://www.friendsofmaderacanyon.org
Sonoita Creek Preserve http://www.nature.org 602-712-0048