Southern Arizona Drive
Highway 83 from Tucson to Bisbee by way of Sonoita and Sierra Vista.
The southern half of the state can’t compete with Flagstaff’s autumnal glow. And yet. This south-of-Tucson trip is freighted with scenic vistas – a meandering route amid honey-hued grasslands, vineyard-threaded hills and lush riparian corridors.
From Tucson, you’re on I-10 for only a short stretch before you get to ease off the accelerator and enjoy the leisure of Highway 83. The road weaves and bobs through the Santa Rita Foothills, where desert flora fades into one of the finest grassland valleys of the Southwest – 45,000 acres of them, to be exact. Las Cienegas National Conservation Area preserves this landscape of cottonwood trees, mesquite bosques and the rare marshes of a perennial creek. Since visitors are welcome, stop and stretch your legs before the quick drive to Sonoita.
Sonoita and nearby Elgin boast the largest concentration of wineries and vineyards in Arizona, and the Santa Rita, Whetstone and Huachuca mountain ranges that envelop the grasslands and vine-braided hills set the perfect backdrop for a glass of dry white. Take Highway 82 east to explore the tasting rooms; this will also link to SR-90, your path to Sierra Vista.
The Huachuca Mountains punctuate the expansive views in Sierra Vista. Pine trees crowd the peaks, and thick-leafed oaks in crimson and ochre blanket the lower elevations. And all around, the sycamore and maple trees of Ramsey Canyon and the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area bloom in full fall color.
Finally, arrive in Bisbee in style. By style, we mean Mule Pass Tunnel, a dramatic entrée through the Mule Mountains that deposits motorists into the roof-clad, stair-clung slopes of Bisbee.
109 miles from the starting point in Tucson
Follow I-10 east to SR-83. Drive south on SR-83 to SR-82. Take this east to SR-90. Head south on SR-90 to Sierra Vista and continue southeast on SR-90 to SR-80. Follow this east to Bisbee.
Where to Stay
Overnight at Canyon Rose Suites ($155-$350/night) in Bisbee. The 1900s furniture factory turned boarding house turned present-day hotel offers five spacious guest rooms that feel like city dwellings with character – hardwood floors, sunny windows with downtown views and walkability to everything. 520-432-5098, canyonrose.com