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A Guide to the Wonders of SE Arizona and SW New Mexico

-or- Things to Do Within 100 Miles of Duncan

In this section, we've tried to cover all the most important bases in acquainting you with the Upper Gila River Valley and the Town of Duncan. We know that our readers are astute members of their various disciplines, so we welcome all comments and critiques.

  • Scenic drives
  • Bicycling
  • Bird watching
  • Wildlife viewing
  • Historic viewing
  • Hiking and walking
  • Hot springs
  • Swimming
  • Floating
  • Sailboarding
  • Rock-hounding
  • Wheelchair accessible

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument (NM)

Near Silver City, NM. Spectacular Mogollon culture cliff dwellings from 1200s AD above the Gila River.


Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness (AZ)

Its 19,410 acres southwest of Safford, includes 11-mile-long Aravaipa Canyon, surrounding tablelands and side canyons. The area supports native desert fish, desert bighorn sheep, and over 200 species of birds.


Black Hills Back Country Byway (AZ)

Rich with wildlife and historical sites, and fascinating geology. Unpaved road; do not attempt this after rains or with a trailer longer than 20 feet.


Black Hills Rockhound Area (AZ)

A haven for rockhounds and geologists close to Highway 191, between Safford and Clifton.


Blue Range Wilderness (AZ-NM)

29,304 acres with little evidence of human impact is crossed by Mogollon Rim and deep rugged canyons. The American Hiking Society calls it one of the Ten Hidden Gems of the National Landscape Conservation System.


Blue River Complex (AZ-NM)

Of the total 400,000-acre Blue River watershed, 99% is managed by the U.S. Forest Service for the public. Half of the watershed is a designated Primitive Area.


Catwalk National Recreation Trail (NM)

Set deep in southwestern New Mexico`s rugged Mogollon Mountains, this meander takes you along the Whitewater Creek Canyon and across an historic metal catwalk. Much of the trail is wheelchair-accessible.


Cave Creek Canyon

Nestled into the eastern slopes of the Chiricahuas, with spectacular soaring cliffs and other scenery, world class birdwatching, a riparian area teeming with unique wildlife, and a number of forest recreation amenities.


Chihuahuan Wildlife Heart Bar Riparian Area (NM)

The Heart Bar Ranch, acquired by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish more than four decades ago, includes access to two riparian areas along the West Fork of the Gila River. One area is Little Creek Pond, with rushes, willow thickets, and cattails, flanked by tall cottonwoods on the west and rocky hills overlooking the river to the east. Another 1.5 miles down the road, an unmarked dirt track leads to a riverside cottonwood grove. Wildlife animal activity includes black-headed grosbeak, yellow-breasted chat, mallard, common merganser, even the common black hawk.


Chiricahua National Monument (AZ)

Seventeen miles of maintained trail in a monument that is 90% wilderness, tours of a homestead.


Chiricahua Wilderness (AZ)

10,290 acres containing an extinct volcano with exotic black lava formations and are considered a mecca for bird watchers.


City of Deming (NM)

An interesting, renewed historic district with restaurants, antique shops and galleries.


Cluff Ranch Wildlife Area (AZ)

Its 788 acres at the base of the north slopes of the Pinaleno Mountains cover cottonwood-willow riparian woodland habitat, agricultural fields, and wetlands and ponds. Open to hunters in season so wildlife viewing is off-season only.


Coronado Trail Scenic Byway (AZ)

Climbs from semi-desert into a sub-alpine zone, past the Blue Range Mountains, and over the White Mountains, passing through the historic Morenci mining district. In the fall, the colors are spectacular.


Eastern Arizona College Discovery Park (AZ)

Free exhibits on the origins of life from a variety of cultural perspectives, the composition of light, the sounds of space, how telescope mirrors are constructed (under the University of Arizona football stadium), and the history of astronomy, including a 130-year-old Mertz telescope and 400-year-old astrolabe, both on loan from the Vatican. Special events are listed on the website.


Essence of Tranquility Mineral Hot Springs (AZ)

Charmingly kitchy but well-maintained private pools of water flowing continuously from an artesian flow well?not pumped, heated or cooled. The temperature of the water at the source is 108 degrees.


Floating the Gila River from the New Mexico line, at Southwest Paddlers

A very useful resource for floating the Upper Gila from Virden, NM to Solomon, AZ (right through Duncan).


Geronimo Trail Scenic Byway (NM)

From the desert to ponderosa cliffs, traverses the Gila National Forest and the Aldo Leopold Wilderness.


Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area (AZ)

Hot springs, river rafting, birdwatching, and miles of trails make this accessible National Conservation Area popular but rarely crowded. Bonita Creek wildlife viewing area is accessible and has numerous interpretive displays and shade shelters.


Gila Lower Box Canyon Wilderness Study Area (NM)

Managed as a biological Area of Critical Environment Concern by the Bureau of Land Management. Remote and lovely.


Gila National Forest and Gila Wilderness (NM)

The nation?s first designated Wilderness Area, championed by the famed naturalist Aldo Leopold. Spectacular Indian cliff dwellings and a couple of ghost towns are tucked in amidst 3.3 million acres of unspoiled cactus deserts, forested foothills, and aspen-covered peaks.


Granite Gap Ghost Town (NM)

A rockhounder's paradise, an adventurer's enticement, a child's fun fix. Open October 1 to June 1, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday and by appointment.


Guadalupe Canyon (NM)

A remote but easily accessed wildlife preserve in the southern Peloncillo Mountains, said to be a bird watcher?s dream.


Historic Town of Clifton (AZ)

Some stunning historic sites to be seen, especially along Chase Creek. Clifton could be as beautiful and viable for tourism as Bisbee but it?s mostly undeveloped. There's very good home-cooked food at the Chase Creek Emporium.


Hotwell Dunes Recreation Area (AZ)

The 500,000-acre San Simon Valley draws not just hot springs enthusiasts but hikers, rockhounders and ATV riders. Not a quiet retreat.


Morenci Open-pit Copper Mine (AZ)

The largest mine and copper producer in North America, now owned by Freeport-MacMoRan, offers a three-hour tour. Or you can just drive to the overlook on Highway 191. Watch out for Bighorn Sheep on the highway. And don't miss the old miners' cemetery on a hillside to your right as you climb.


Mt. Graham Wilderness Trails (AZ)

Soaring to nearly 11,000 feet, Mount Graham in the Pinale?o Mountains is the loftiest of Southeastern Arizona?s ?sky islands,? with unique plant species and abundant wildlife. A mountaintop lake stays icy cold even in the hottest months of summer. Snowy north slopes almost half the year. A short drive from Safford.


Notes on floating the rivers

Rivers in SE Arizona and SW New Mexico are highest January through April, when snowmelt and rain prevail. Flows can be very low in May and June and then rise again during the monsoon season of July, August and September. They tend to be low again October through December. Water temperatures are very cold in winter.


Peloncillo Mountains Wilderness (AZ)

This 19,440 acre high-country wilderness is rich in archeological sites, including the more recent ruins of the Butterfield Stage Line.


Pinaleño Mountains/Swift Trail Tour (AZ)

The ecological equivalent of driving from Mexico to Canada all in one leisurely afternoon on a sky-scraping, switch-backing mountain road. South of Safford.


Reay Lane Reclamation Ponds and Marsh (AZ)

This wastewater reclamation facility in the Town of Thatcher on Highway 70 provides excellent waterfowl and shorebird habitat and has yielded numerous rare bird sightings. Close to Safford and adjacent to the Gila River.


Red Rock Wildlife Area (NM)

Very remote wildlife viewing area on the Gila River, and a refuge for desert bighorn sheep. Bicyclers are allowed on some roads.


Roper Lake State Park (AZ)

Beautiful man-made lake of 30 surface acres, a boat ramp, natural stone hot tub, a swimming beach, a day use island with picnic tables and grills, and five miles of hiking trails. Boats are limited to small electric motors, so it?s great for a sail board or canoe.


Round Mountain Rockhound Area (AZ, via NM)

Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor grew up here on her father;s Lazy B Ranch. Prehistoric horses and turtles have been unearthed in the vicinity. The rockhounding area, accessed through the Lazy B, is on BLM land.


San Francisco ("Frisco") River (AZ)

An easy drive out of historic Clifton, AZ, with mountain vistas and two public river access points (they;re not marked so ask us). Easy floating after monsoon season with beautiful views and few if any people. Big Horn sheep may make an appearance.


Shakespeare Ghost Town (NM)

Walk streets trodden by Billy The Kid, John Ringo, The Clantons and others. Special Living History Performances this year on April 25-26, June 27-28, August 24-25 and October 25-26. Otherwise open ONLY ONE WEEKEND PER MONTH, so plan carefully.


Silver City (NM)

Lively old-town district that borders a gorgeous riverside park. Good restaurants, many galleries, a few historic sites, including the birthplace of Billy the Kid.


Sundial Hot Springs (NM)

Natural, sulphur-free, private hot springs in Bighorn Sheep country.


The Carlisle Mine historical site (NM via AZ)

Now a ruin in the Steeple Rock foothills overlooking Duncan, the Carlisle Mine, opened in 1893, was a booming concern overseen for a time by a young Herbert Hoover. A favorite of historians and rockhounders, but well off the beaten track.


Trail of the Mountain Spirits Scenic Byway (NM)

Views of old volcanic mountain ranges and the wild, undammed Gila River, abundant wildlife including 337 species of birds, and the presence of seven of the eight distinct ecological zones.


Village of Virden (NM)

Take the 26-mile loop from Duncan and back, or turn off and continue on into New Mexico. This is a hidden agricultural paradise along the Gila River. The ruins of the old Mexican settlement of San Antonio are there. There is excellent bird-watching at the Virden Bridge. Nelda?s Quilt Shop is open most afternoons. Buy fresh produce in season at a roadside stand. No public facilities.


White Mountains Scenic Byway (NM)

Travel through dense Ponderosa pine forests into Apache Tribal lands, with stunning views of Mount Baldy and the Mogollon Rim.