EXPLORING HWY 80
Updated: Mar 4
A group of Visitor Center representatives from Benson, Tombstone, Bisbee and Douglas — dubbed the Historic Highway 80 group — are working together to promote tourism in Cochise County.
On Friday, the group presented at Benson-based CT RV Resort (formerly Cochise Terrace RV Resort), before a large number of residents.
Each community’s representative spoke about events and historic sites that draw tourists to their towns and surrounding areas, while taking questions from the audience.
“Our goal in these presentations is to get visitor center representatives together from the different communities along Highway 80,” said Bob Nilson of the Benson Visitor Center and one of the group’s organizers. “Visitor centers are the frontline information sources for tourism, so it’s helpful when all of us work together to help promote the whole county, which is our goal.”
Kathy Lara, also of the Benson Visitor Center, started the presentations by outlining upcoming events and activities in the Benson area.
“What we do at the visitor center is tell people where to go,” Lara joked in her opening remarks. Lara mentioned a number of destination spots, including the Mescal Movie Set, Forever Home Donkey Rescue and Sanctuary near Cascabel, Benson’s self-guided mural tours, and the hands-on activities at Benson Visitor Center that tourists enjoy.
While following Highway 80 from its Cochise County starting point off Interstate 10 in Benson, Tombstone representative Jon Donahue spoke of how there’s much more to Tombstone’s history than the OK Corral and gunfights. He reminded the group that silver mining is why Tombstone exists, then launched into different events slated for the town.
“On March 18 and 19, Tombstone is celebrating Wild West Days, a tribute to the men and women of the military,” he said. Organized by the Wild West Detachment Marine Corps League, activities include street entertainment, a Saturday parade and representatives from the Buffalo Soldiers, Donahue said. The event benefits the United Services Organization in support of the military at home and overseas.
“On April 1, since we’re a silver town, we’re going to be hosting Schieffelin Days with the unveiling of a huge statue of Ed Schieffelin, made by local sculptor Jim Trask of St. David,” Donahue said. “Also on Schieffelin Days, the annual pack burro races are happening, with about 80 burros competing in the event.”
Donahue spoke of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, a historic church located at Safford and Third streets in Tombstone. Built in 1882, St. Paul’s is considered the oldest Protestant church in Arizona, Donahue said.
Chris Johnson, visitor center assistant manager for the city of Bisbee, touched on Bisbee’s mining history and its mine and jeep tours.
“Bisbee is a town that embraces everyone,” he said. “Green hair, blue hair, whoever you are, Bisbee embraces you … there’s always something going on in Bisbee.”
With its 31 “fantastic” restaurants, the art galleries, shops and the town’s historic Brewery Gulch, Johnson spoke briefly about the old mining days that created Bisbee. He circulated Discover Bisbee flyers and spoke of the different tours and events the town offers.
When introducing herself, Lawana Diffie, who was born in Douglas, said, “We are here to talk about the best kept secret in Cochise County — Douglas, Arizona.”
She urged the audience to come experience Douglas and “its southern charm and hospitality.”
“Please think of Douglas, Bisbee, Tombstone and Benson as four sisters, with the same mother, but very different fathers,” she said with a laugh. “Each community has its own personality, even though they are basically a day’s horseback ride apart.”
Douglas got its start when Bisbee was seeking a new location for a smelter, she said. The smelter came and Douglas was built as a “planned community with wide streets to allow a team of 20 mules to turn around.”
She also noted that until the late ‘60s, Douglas was the third largest community in Arizona, next to Phoenix and Tucson.
With 20 Mexican food restaurants where all the dishes are made from scratch, Diffie said Douglas has 16 additional restaurants when pizza, Sonoran hot dogs, fried chicken and burgers are included in the mix.
“We invite you to come, spend the day, relax, enjoy a good meal, then visit the points of interest,” Diffie said of the city. “There are actually tours you can take of Aqua Prieta, and they’re fascinating,” she said. “Don’t be afraid of that part of the town.”
Anel Lopez, former owner of the Gadsden Hotel, spoke about some Douglas points of interest.
Lopez works for Douglas parks and recreation and will be in charge of tourism later this year.
“We want you to feel warm and welcome when you come to Douglas,” she said. “The Gadsden Hotel is very dear to me, and we encourage you to visit the museums, art galleries and other sites in Douglas.”
She spoke of how RV park residents tour Douglas and love time they spend there.
She also answered questions about Slaughter Ranch, a national historic landmark about 17 miles outside of Douglas, describing it as “absolutely amazing.”
Nilson said the Historic Highway 80 group plans to hold presentations throughout the county whenever possible.
“It’s important that representatives from each visitor center are able to showcase their communities and answer questions,” he said. “It’s much more effective when the people who live in the different towns highlight the tourist attractions and historic sites in their own communities.”
Feedback from the presentations has proven positive, with groups requesting return visits, Nilson said.