February 24, 2010

A Visit to Fort Bowie National Historic Site

Fort Bowie National Historic Site is one of the only national park units I have seen where you actually have to hike to get to it. It is the site of an old U.S. Army fort located at a pass in the Dos Cabezas Mountains near the Arizona/New Mexico border that was used to exterminate the Chiricahua Apaches from their ancestral lands in the 1860's. It is the land of Geronimo and Cochise.

To get to the old fort takes some effort. It is 20 miles by paved road from Willcox and then 8 miles by dirt road. At the trailhead, you then have to walk 1.5 miles to Apache Pass at the ridgeline. Hilina was very excited to see the "old tiny houses" and ran along the trail for over 1/2 mile before tiring.

All along the way there are interpretive signs explaining the events of the area and you cross the old Butterfield Stagecoach Mail route.

As you approach Apache Pass and Fort Bowie, you see why the fort was built here. A tiny little spring, which just happened to be the only accessible water for dozens of miles. It was this water that sustained the Chiricahua Apaches. It was also this water that made it a critical stop for the stagecoaches, mail trains, and U.S. Army. They built the fort here primarily to deny the Apaches a water supply and to force them out.

Many battles were waged here, including Geronimo's raids on Fort Bowie for some 10 years after the rest of the Apaches had been killed or rounded up and sent to the reservation.  The fort only lasted about 20 years before it was abandoned and torn down. Today, just the foundations remain.

The 1.5 mile hike back go up on the ridge above the saddle to offer spectacular panoramic views of the landscape. The building you see in the lower left is the NPS visitor center. After hiking to get there, you find out the rangers have an access road on the other side of the ridge they use to drive up to the site. But, I didn't mind having to do a little work to visit. It makes the experience much more memorable.

This makes the 17th and final Arizona national park unit we have visited. We can now leave the state...mission accomplished! ;)

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