By Cecily Markland
Graham County Offers a Scenic Setting and Famous Family Fun
Families across the state look to Graham County in southeast Arizona as a terrific destination for family getaways, fun and recreation—all in a historic setting, teeming with Arizona tradition and charm.
The county features some of the most scenic terrain in the Southwest, highlighted in over 4 million acres of national forest and protected wilderness lands, pristine high desert beauty, the lush Gila Valley and towering pines on Mount Graham.
“People like rural areas like this. We have the desert, mountains, river and hot springs—so much diversity with what you can do,” says Chamber of Commerce president Marie Freestone.
The three great communities of Safford, Thatcher, and Pima, now connected by U.S. Route 70, were settled by LDS pioneer families in the 1870s and 1880s. The Gila Valley Arizona Temple, nestled between Pima and Thatcher, and approximately a 2½-hour drive south of Mesa, was the third temple built in Arizona. It was dedicated May 23, 2010, following the Mesa Arizona Temple (1927) and the Snowflake Arizona Temple (2002).
Graham County is the home of Arizona’s Salsa Trail®, featuring 11 restaurants and a country store. The Salsa Trail® is highlighted by this year’s 8th Annual SalsaFest to be held in downtown Safford Friday evening, September 26, and Saturday, September 27. The annual event, hosted by the Safford Lions Club, celebrates great food and family fun. Activities include a salsa-making competition, Chihuahua races, vendors, a Kidz Korner, Mariachi bands, door prizes, magic shows, a jalapeno-eating contest and salsa tasting. Adding to the family fun will be the “Hot Cars on the Salsa Trail®” car show on Main Street. The SalsaFest is a community event designed for family enjoyment. Proceeds from the event go to support scholarships and service projects of the Safford Lions Club.
Other area attractions in the area include the Mt. Graham International Observatory (MGIO), boasting the world’s largest binocular telescope, called the “number one telescope in the world in terms of importance.” One of the newest and best scopes anywhere, it sees 10 times further than the Hubble telescope. Guided tours are available seasonally.
Natural, mineral hot springs dot the area and the largest copper-producing mine in North America (the second biggest manmade hole on earth!) is next door in Greenlee County.
The Graham County Chamber of Commerce Visitors’ Center offers information, including brochures describing and mapping out the Salsa Trail®, hiking trails, and historic walking and driving tours. A “birding” brochure describes the more than 300 types of birds found in the area. The Chamber of Commerce is located at 1111 Thatcher Blvd. in Safford. Call 928-428-2511 or go to www.visitgrahamcounty.com or www.salsatrail.com for information about activities, hotels and other things to see and do in Graham County.