Louise Speaks: As well as visiting all the State Parks in Arizona, we are also planning on visiting all the National Parks and Monuments. A National Monument is a protected area that is similar to a National Park, but can be created from any land owned or controlled by the federal government. Under a proclamation by the President of the United States, it is labeled a National Monument. National monuments can be managed by one of several federal agencies: including the National Park Services and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). National monuments can be so designated through the power of the Antiquities Act of 1906. This trip was to include two National Monuments but one was not accessible by RV so we will have to come back and visit Ironwood by car. However, Fort Bowie Natinal Historic Site is on our agenda.
Following directions from Catalina State Park in Tucson, led us in the middle of nowhere. Then we hit freeway construction and of course our exit was closed. That made us take the next exit and enter the town of Bowie from the back side. Luckily for us there was a sign showing us which way to go to reach the fort. We drove along this very narrow highway until we saw a road that we think we were suppose to turn on. See just another adventure. Anyway, we turn on the road, and it’s a dirt road. Did I mention we are in a motor home? A fairly large motor home? Traveling with Thelma and Louise is not always about the destination, it is almost always about the adventure. So we continue on this dirt road with the dirt in our rear view mirror. Finally we come to a sign and it says straight for trail or left for handicap and Fort. Not sure which way to go, we go towards the Fort. Now let me back up. We were already informed that this was a “hike in Monument”. We were told that you had to park and hike in a mile and a half to get to the Visitor Center. Of course that means you have to hike a mile and a half out and back to your car. We weren’t sure if we were going to do that, but we knew we had to at least get a picture of the sign. So now we are headed off to what we think is the fort. We drive at least 5 miles, still on a dirt road and we see a turn off…up a hill…and it says “Park Residence”. Well that’s not where we’re headed but we knew we couldn’t go straight as that was through a very small gate and there is no way we would fit. So up the hill we go. At list this part was paved, but it was nothing more than a driveway. We get to the top and there is a very small parking lot…room for maybe 3 cars. So we just park as best we can and we take up at least two spaces and most of the driveway but it does appear that we are the only ones here so we’re not too concerned. We look around and see no one. We do see a building that bears a sign “maintenance”. We walk around looking for someone or something to let us know where we are. Finally there is a piece of wood, with painted on writing that says “Visitor Center 500 feet”. It points up a dirt stairway up a small hill. Not really sure where it leaves, we head up the hill. At the top is…well we are shocked. It is the Visitor Center. The one that we were told was a 3 mile round trip hike to reach. Right in front of the Visitor Center is Fort Bowie in all it’s glory.
Fort Bowie was a 19th-century outpost of the United States Army. This particular location was picked due to the water supply available. The remaining buildings and site are now protected as Fort Bowie National Historic Site. Fort Bowie was established by the California Volunteers in 1862 after a series of engagements between the California Column and the Chiricahua Apaches. The most violent of which was the Battle of Apache Pass in July 1862. The fort was named in honor of Colonel Bowie commander of the 5th Regiment Infantry who first established the fort. The first Fort Bowie resembled a temporary camp rather than a permanent army post. In 1868, a second, more substantial Fort Bowie was built which included adobe barracks, houses, corrals, a trading post, and a hospital. The second Fort Bowie was built on a plateau about 500 yards to the east of the first site. For more than 30 years Fort Bowie and Apache Pass were the focal point of military operations eventually culminating in the surrender of Geronimo in 1886 and the banishment of the Chiricahua Apaches. The fort was abandoned in 1894.
The Fort Bowie and Apache Pass site was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960. The remains of Fort Bowie are carefully preserved, as are the adobe walls of various post buildings and the ruins of a Butterfield Stage Station. The mile and a half hiking trail to the old fort passes other historic sites such as Apache Spring, Siphon Canyon, the ruins of the Butterfield Stage Stop and Bascom’s Camp. We missed these sites because we found this short cut and we are happy we did. We still didn’t find a sign and were told the only sign is by the parking lot where you park and take the trail to the fort. So we managed to get out of that small parking lot and head back to where we made the original turn and headed for the hiking trails. We found the parking lot and the Fort Bowie sign and then continued down the 8 mile dirt road to the Freeway.
Some interesting facts. In 1958 a Western entitled Fort Bowie was made, starring Ben Johnson. This was before it was declared a National Monument. The film charted one of the disputes between the US Cavalry based at the fort and the Apaches. The Chiricahua Apaches were first sent to Fort Marion in Florida, then Mt. Vernon Barracks in Alabama, and finally Fort Sill in Oklahoma. If you go to our Ft. Sill Blog you will see Geronimo’s Grave site.
As I have mentioned many times before, I’m not that much into history, but setting out a goal to see all the National Monuments is giving me a history lessen whether I want it or not. There is a small museum in the Visitor Center and you are able to spend as much time as you want walking around the fort and seeing what remains of the various buildings. The fort is pet friendly so Gracie was able to join us on our adventure. There really isn’t much here but remains of the fort. They have done nothing to perserve the fort, but I guess that was history. If you are out this way, when the weather is good, NOT in the summer, it would be an interesting stop. But the trouble to get here, I’m not sure it’s worth the time. Fort Bowie gets a C rating. It’s okay, because we stumbled on it by accident, but I wouldn’t have made the 3 mile round trip hike to see it.