If you’re visiting the Chiricahua National Monument area, be sure to take some of your time to visit the Fort Bowie National Historic Site. Located less than 30 miles from the Chiricahua National Monument’s visitor center, Fort Bowie makes for an interesting day trip, or even half day trip. If you’re looking for a nice mild hike, and you want to know more about the history of the area and the “westward expansion,” Fort Bowie is a must visit.
Take a walk
The parking area for Fort Bowie is not located right at the historic site. In fact, you will be up for a 1.5 mile hike into the site. That’s not a negative thing, as the scenery is right out of Western lore, and as visitors make their way to the historic site they are treated to many informational signs about the location.
There is handicap access to the site as well which does not require the hike in. And the rangers on site can fill in any information missed if you are unable to do the walk in.
As we made our way into Fort Bowie we found ourselves stopping often. We weren’t tired or worn from the hike, instead we kept stopping to read each piece of information offered to us. Some of the names of western tales were written on each sign, and I was brought back to my childhood thoughts of “Cowboys & Indians.”
One such informational sign was about the Battle of Apache Pass, July 15-16, 1862.
“An advance guard of 96 California Volunteers, marching toward the San Simon River to establish a supply depot for the California Column, followed the Butterfield Road through Apache Pass. As they approached the abandoned stage station, Cochise and his ally, Mangas Coloradas, with a combined force of 140-160 warriors, ambushed the rear of the column…….”
Cochise. One name I remembered well from my childhood and all those books I read. Walking into Fort Bowie walks you right into the real history of the westward expansion. So much for the old films, seeing it for yourself is all the better!
Plan to take a little time as you make your way into the historic site. It may only be a mile and a half, but you really must read everything as you make your way in. The history really does come to life as you see battle locations, the spring that supplied water and was contested for a time, the path that so many followed Westward….. So many events in such a short distance.
The Historic Site
Shortly after passing a fresh water spring along the trail, visitors will come to the historic fort location. Very little remains today. A few walls, many foundations, and the ghosts of all who lived here. As you make your way up the rise you’ll see a large American Flag blowing in the wind in the middle of the remains of the fort.
The Visitor Center is located next to the remnants of the Fort. It’s a newer structure and is a pleasure to visit after your walk in. The Ranger on duty, Brandon Cadwell, was extremely informative. He has a vast knowledge of the Historic Site, and for those visiting he can fill you in on all of the history of the region.
While guided tours are offered, we wandered out into the remains of Fort Bowie on our own. There were no buildings to walk in and out of. Foundations, some walls, more remains of the Fort’s Hospital, and small traces of what once was.
Old coins, nails, and other artifacts still remain in the Historic Site. If you come across any, don’t pick them up or relocate them. The Park Services is aware that there are still items in the ruins, and that’s where those items should remain.
In total, with the hike in and out, we spent the better part of the day visiting the Fort Bowie Historic Site. Our hike in started around 8:30 a.m. And with all of the reading, touring, and exploring, we didn’t return to our truck until 2:00 p.m. The round trip hike isn’t difficult at all, and most visitors should be fine with the walk.
Be sure to pay attention to your surroundings as you make your way in. According to the Ranger and volunteer on location several visitors saw Gila Monsters! Also Coatimundi were seen in the area while we visited. While we didn’t see either of these elusive creatures, we did come across several Horned Toads meandering across the trail so slowly, it was obvious they wanted their photos taken!
Where to stay?
The Fort Bowie Historic site is relatively close to the Chiricahua National Monument. If you’re staying at Bonita Campground in Chiricahua you have an easy ride to the historic site. That’s the most obvious option
The town of Willcox Arizona is also a relatively short drive. For RV’ers with larger rigs, this might be an option worth exploring as well.
Finally, there’s a really interesting spot a short drive from Fort Bowie (depicted in the map). It’s a BLM location, and is known as Indian Bread Rocks. To get there you’ve got to drive a few miles on a dirt road through private ranch land. When you reach the BLM area you will find a relatively sharp turn through a gate that may make some RV’ers concerned. As far as our most recent trip we opted to not stay at Indian Bread Rocks. We took our truck in without the Airstream in tow. And crossing the very narrow gated area (it would be a tight squeeze for the Airstream) we bottomed the truck out.
Recent bad weather had created a wash out right behind the gate, and bottoming out our hitch we knew the Airstream would also bottom out.
We’re aware of many people who stay at Indian Bread Rocks, and love the location. My suggestion is relatively simple. Check the area out ahead of time prior to bringing larger trailers and motorhomes into the area.
For further information on where to stay, please refer to the two other articles we wrote about the Chiricahua area. “Chiricahua from the other side,” and “Chiricahua National Monument,” both contain additional suggestions for camping in the area.