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Best Weekend Adventure

Best Weekend Adventure

Mount Lemmon

READERS' PICK: If you need to get perspective on your life, head to the top of Mount Lemmon. Looking down on the urban sprawl from the cool pines is a refreshing reminder that there's more going on than your neighbor's barking dog or the unfathomable emotional needs of your significant other. Whether you make a driving tour of the Santa Catalinas' scenic pull-outs, venture onto the mountains' many hiking trails with an overnight pack, go for broke scaling some of the best rock-climbing in the area, or enjoy the view from the ski lift, you'll find something to thrill over up here. In Summerhaven, treat yourself at the Mt. Lemmon Café. We recommend the quiche and the Viennese Cold Cherry Soup; and definitely save room for a piece of homemade pie. The open deck is an ideal listening post for the trill of the hummingbirds. One word of caution: The road on this two-hour drive to the summit is narrow and winding, so decide ahead of time who's driving and who's sightseeing. Residents are advised to get the $20 annual pass, rather than pay $5 per day. After your fourth trip, you can enjoy each journey as an act of personal rebellion. From Tanque Verde Road, head east to the Catalina Highway intersection. When you start heading uphill, you'll know you're on the right road.

READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: Going to Bisbee used to be a short checklist of: 1) gawk at the Lavender Pit; 2) take the Queen Underground Mine Tour; and if spending the night, 3) stay at the Copper Queen Hotel. In recent years, however, the town has begun to actualize its potential as one of the most stunningly beautiful locations in the Southwest. It now nurtures a cadre of creative lodging options, like the Shady Dell RV Park (1 Douglas Road), where you can sleep in a vintage Airstream trailer. There are also a growing number of cozy inns and even friendlier B&Bs. So rather than a quick, Griswald-like visit, plan on spending a relaxing weekend sojourn. Set a slow pace and stroll up and down the steep streets of Old Bisbee, enjoying the changing views and the colorful Victorian-era miners' shacks. Tombstone Canyon and Brewery Gulch have plenty of restaurants, stores and galleries that range from the quaintly unique to the seriously wacked. There's even a world-class restaurant, Café Roka (35 Main St.). Attune yourself to the leisurely rhythm of this one-of-a-kind, mile-high enclave. For more information, call the Bisbee Chamber of Commerce at 1-520-432-5421.

Take I-10 east to Highway 80 at Benson, head south through Tombstone, go up the long hill into the Mule Mountains, and through the "Time Tunnel" to Bisbee. Drive time from downtown Tucson is approximately two hours.

CLUE IN: When the great Apache leader Geronimo was being shipped off to live out the last of his days in Florida, the train carrying him and a number of his followers went past the Chiracahua Mountains. One of Geronimo's lieutenants, Bigfoot Massai, apparently sensing they were on a one-way greased track toward nowhere, leapt from the train. Bigfoot eluded his pursuers in the labyrinth-like hoodoos of what is now the Chiracahua National Monument. It's believed he spent the rest of his life living in the area--a free, albeit hunted, Apache.

When the madness of this runaway train called civilization is too much, we make a run for these same mountains. A broad and sprawling range, the Chiracahuas include both National Forest (managed by the extractive Forest Service) and a National Monument (managed by the protective National Park Service). The road in the monument steals much of that area's wildness by providing easy access to lots of folks--the double-edged sword of modern-day land management. The vast tracts of Forest Service Land are far less protected, but they're also more difficult to get to and therefore less trammeled. Take your pick, but wherever you go in the Chiracahuas you can find breathtaking views, hidden meadows and deep forests. If you listen carefully, you might even hear the whispers of a long-dead Apache telling you to make your escape while you still can.

CLUE IN: Well, heck, there's a lot happening in Safford. Cotton growing, for example. And Mt. Graham is right there too, for hiking, camping, and spiritual retreats from Tucson. But on a recent weekend, we discovered even more to love about Safford. Our first stop was at the Chamber of Commerce, where the folks are darned friendly. We gathered lots of information about trips, flora, fauna, and local hot springs. The one thing Safford can truly brag about is their hot springs. We visited one where the water felt like it was 1,000 degrees. Now that will cure what ails you, cowboys and cowgirls! There are several spas that'll provide massages, reflexology, and cleansing wraps along with the soaks in the hot waters. Having treated ourselves with total abandon (i.e., all the above-mentioned items), we were almost too mellow to drive. But we managed to proceed to an old and popular restaurant, The Branding Iron, famous for premium steaks and succulent catfish dinners. Hot damn!

We were so fortified that the next day we set out for a scenic backroad adventure along the Black Hills Backcountry loop, which was worth every dirt mile. Along the way, we learned some history of the area, walked where Native Americans planted crops, drove over a gloriously green river, and even discovered a hot springs that's free. Best of all was the detour, which took us to an area where fire agates abound. In a 20-minute walk, we picked up handfuls of these unique rocks. The Chamber of Commerce folks have a convenient display rack of BLM rockhound area maps, as well as extensive information about other cool--and hot--things to do in Safford. You don't need to spend a fortune on an exotic "eco-tour." You just need the smarts to know how to enjoy a quiet corner of Arizona, where you can recline with your private parts into some really fine, really hot mineral water.

Case History

1997 Winner: Mount Lemmon
1996 Winner: Mount Lemmon
1995 Winner: Bisbee

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