Travels with Two Sisters: Back road adventure to Lochiel

One of the San Rafael Valley's gorgeous views.

Shortly after arriving in Arizona, we discovered there were 275 ghost towns in this state. Wow! One of our many ghost towns adventures was the Patagonia Back Road Ghost Towns.

One sunny morning in 2013, we packed up the car, brought our directions, and off we headed to Patagonia. We found Harshaw Road and headed south. Leaving Patagonia, the dirt road was wide and very well maintained. The further from town, the narrower and less maintained the road became. It did not matter, our adventurous spirit and enthusiasm continued to move us south.

The first stop on the journey was to watch wild horses run in the field, the second was to view a wildflower up close, and the third stop was to admire an intriguing rock formation. This could indeed become a very long day.

We finally arrived at the Harshaw townsite. At one time, this town was the largest producer of silver in the state of Arizona. There are current residents in the area and some of the remains are on private property. We found three semi-intact buildings: a wooden structure and two adobe buildings; one of the adobe remains is the remnants of the Harshaw Camp Church. There is also a cemetery built on a hill; some of the gravesites are badly eroded, although some graves are well maintained and show some signs of recent visitors who brought flowers.

Travels with Two Sisters: Back road adventure to Lochiel

One of two adobe buildings remaining in the old community of Harshaw.

Mowry, the second of the five ghost towns, was a mining community producing silver, lead and zinc. According to our directions, the town should have been visible, but we could not find any remains of it.

Next on the list of ghost towns was Washington Camp. It was used as a supply community for the mining town of Duquesne. In its heyday, the community had a population of up to 1,000 residents. We located one abandoned mining building. Originally, the town contained a general store, a school and bunkhouses for the miners.

Duquesne & beyond!

We then headed toward Duquesne. A right turn onto a rough dirt road led us to the town. There are several buildings remaining, some of which are old homes and the mining headquarters. We located five abandoned buildings, a cement foundation, and the headquarters. There are numerous “No trespassing” signs, but all of the remains are close to the road and can be easily photographed.

At this point in our journey, the scenery began to change. Beautiful fields of golden grasses and ranches with horses in the pastures began to appear. A few miles down the road, an impressive monument sat by the side of the road.

The monument is in honor of Fray Marcos de Niza, a Franciscan friar who entered Arizona in 1539. He was the first European to enter the United States west of the Rockies. This large cement monument was built in 1939 by the National Youth Administration. There is a large cross and benches for those who wish to stay a while. What a beautiful location for a monument.

Our next stop was Lochiel, a former mining and border crossing town. This is one of the border towns that was split by the formation of new boundary lines. At one time, the small community, on the western edge of San Rafael Valley, had a population of 400 residents. As of 2003, nine residents were recorded.

Several buildings can be seen from the main road, but access to the town is blocked. The town is on private property. The two buildings that we could approach and explore are the one-room adobe schoolhouse and the teachers' residence. It was evident that attempts are being made to restore and preserve this beautiful little school. At a later date we learned that the Patagonia Historical Society has undertaken the task of preserving this historic structure.

We ate lunch on the school grounds under the huge trees. Before leaving, we took pictures of the white adobe church sitting on a hill, the white ranch house with a red tin roof, a cement shed, and corrals.

San Rafael splendor

On our return trip, we headed north through San Rafael Valley — the origin of the Santa Cruz River. What a surprise was in store for us! Golden grass, glistening in the sun, was visible as far as we could see. Passing by the San Rafael ranch, we exited the car, took pictures of the ranch and miles of golden grass.

The San Rafael Ranch, also known as the Greene Ranch, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1999, Arizona State Parks purchased a section of the property, including the ranch house. The three-story house with verandas is a stunning building, complete with spectacular views. Several movies have been made on this property, notably “Oklahoma!” starring Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones. The book “A Slow Trot Home,” by Lisa G. Sharp, is a worthwhile investment: it describes life on the San Rafael Ranch.

There are a wide variety of unoccupied, abandoned, preserved, restored and occupied ghost towns in this state. To us, they are settlements of days gone by. In these places, people lived, laughed, prayed, married, gave birth, and died. It always feels like an honor to walk amongst them.

This 50-mile loop, through cottonwoods, desert, golden grasses and prior settlements, is enjoyable and exciting. Travelers, however, need to plan ahead: no food, no gas, no restrooms until you return to Patagonia. Enjoy!

Travels with Two Sisters is a summer series of adventures in Arizona with Green Valley residents Marie “Midge” Lemay and Suzanne “Sue” Poirier. For more discoveries, check out their first three books: “One Mile at a Time,” “A Gypsy in Our Souls,” and “Connecting the Dots.”