Day trip : Monday, January 6, 2014
From: Tucson, AZ
To: Sonoita, Fairbank and Contention City, AZ
150 mile Round trip
On Monday, January 6 my husband and I took off for a day trip to SE Arizona to visit 2 ghost towns, Fairbank and Contention City. Below is some background information on the two ghost towns.
Fairbank was established as a satellite town in the late 1800s to Tombstone, AZ providing access to the New Mexico and Arizona Railroad, now listed as part of the Southern Pacific RR. Several buildings have been restored. The site is along AZ 82 with parking available after crossing the San Pedro River bridge, heading east towards Tombstone. A short trail from the parking area leads into the town which is administered by the BLM, Bureau of Land Management.
Contention City was also established to support mining in Tombstone. It was the site of a mill to process the ore mined in Tombstone, also with RR access. This area is also administered by the BLM as part of the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area and is only accessible by hiking.
Leaving Tucson via eastbound I-10 to the turn-off for AZ 83, the Sonoita Highway. This stretch is one of the most beautiful drives traveling from the Sonoran Desert to a grasslands environment.
East side of Santa Rita Mountains, from AZ 83
A quick side note - near where this picture was taken a controversial copper mine is proposed - Rosemont Mine.
Sonoita is a ranching area, which has also developed into a significant wine area. There are several good restaurants and bed and breakfast inns in the area.
Sonoita Road sign
Leaving Sonoita, heading east on AZ 82 the roadside history marker is a good example of early land history in this area.
Roadside History -- the San Ignacio del Babacomari Ranch
Continuing east on AZ 82 we crossed AZ 90, then crossed the San Pedro River. In less than a mile the buildings of Fairbank appear on the north side of the road. A parking area and trailhead, on the left, are just past the buildings. Once parked, there is a short walk to a restroom, then to the entrance of the town.
From Fairbank you can hike to Contention City, but it is an 8 mile round-trip. We did a little research and found that another trailhead in the area would shorten the hike. We drove back on AZ 82 for a short distance to a dirt road, InBalance Ranch Road (also listed as Kellar Ranch Rd). A trailhead is up that road with interpretative signs including a trail map. This trailhead is primarily established to reach the Presidio Santa Cruz de Terrenate. That destination is for another day. The map shows the route to Contention City. The trail is not marked, but easy to follow. The total hike is about 6 miles round trip. It does involve crossing the River when you get to the site. Most of the time it is low enough to cross easily. (During summer rains it would be too hot to hike which is when the potential for an unsafe crossing would be most likely.)
As you start on the trailhead there is a good view of Cochise Stronghold off to the east. Also another great hiking location, accessed off I-10 from the east side of this range.
San Pedro River crossing
Contention City Mill site
Contention City adobe wall
Contention City ruin
San Pedro River view
Back across San Pedro River
Trail along the railroad tracks
The weather was spectacular, mid-60s with abundant sunshine. We were able to find 4 Letterboxes over the course of the day. Once back to the car we retraced our route returning to Tucson.