Sierra Vista delights with unexpected sights

Hidden Gem

One of Arizona’s best-kept tourism secrets, Sierra Vista delights with unexpected sights.

By Alison Bailin Batz

 

Just three hours southeast of the Valley is Sierra Vista.

To most, the area is known as a global leader in military intelligence as well as a bustling hub for cyber security research, workforce development, testing, and certification. And it’s no wonder as it’s home to Fort Huachuca, which is the U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence; NETCOM, a major subordinate of the U.S. Army Cyber Command; and a newly launched Center of Academic Excellence for Cyber Operations through the University of Arizona, Sierra Vista. In addition, the area’s irreplaceable U.S. Army Electronic Proving Ground provides critical services to Army program managers, joint services, other military services, foreign governments, national agencies, and U.S. industry

But, beyond serving a hub that protects us––and our electronics––from everything that goes bump in the night, Sierra Vista is one of Arizona’s best-kept tourism secrets.

At the base of the 9,400-foot Huachuca Mountains, Sierra Vista enjoys bright, sunny days and star-studded nights. Sierra Vista’s 4,600-foot elevation means the average daytime temperature is about 74 degrees. This makes it a cool respite from summer’s hot climates and a delightful escape from winter’s chill. In fact, its diversity offers something for everyone.

Here are some of Sierra Vista’s best bets for a day trip, long weekend, or extended stay.

A Naturalist’s Delight

Long before Arizona was a state, it was a hunting ground for early nomadic Clovis people. Their fossilized remains, as well as mammoth and other game, have been found nearby, dating Sierra Vista’s first tourists to around 13,000 B.C.

As the eras melted into history, Arizona’s jungle environment gave way to today’s warm, dry climate. Sierra Vista’s sky islands, high canyons, and riparian areas are reminiscent of the ancient tropics. As a result, the city is welcome habitat for the 250 species of migrating and nesting birds and is the official Hummingbird capitol of the United States.

Free guided bird walks along the San Pedro River are offered every Wednesday, leaving from the San Pedro House, and every Sunday at the Environmental Operations Park. The Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory conducts hummingbird research and banding between April and September. Watching the banding at the San Pedro House is free, but donations keep decade-long the program going.

These feathered friends share the nearby canyons with butterflies, too. More than 140 species have been identified in the Sierra Vista area, drawing photographers and enthusiasts from around the globe.

There are also several places to explore the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area in Sierra Vista, which is home to beaver, javelina, the Chiricahua leopard frog, and abundant plant life.

A Stargazer’s Sky 

Amateur astronomers can find a host of stargazing opportunities in southern Arizona because of Sierra Vista’s dark sky ordinances and vast, unlit county lands, which help reduce astronomy photolight pollution, making the stars shine even brighter. In total there are 16 observatories in the area.

San Pedro Valley Observatory is a favorite, as it specializes in individualized experiences. The owners recently purchased new telescopes and upgraded the facilities. Guests can book a two-hour session for up to four people with one of the observatory’s professional astronomers.

Patterson Observatory on the University of Arizona Sierra Vista campus houses a 20-inch telescope, making it another hot spot for locals and guests alike. Each month, in fact, the Huachuca Astronomy Club holds “star parties” to introduce visitors to the wonders of the night skies. The monthly Astronomy Night focuses on astronomy events and general education about space and the night sky.

A Foodie’s Unexpected Find

In the heart of Arizona’s premier wine regions, Sierra Vista is ideally situated near Sonoita and Patagonia to the west and Willcox to the east. Rich soil, high elevation, cool nights, and warm days are a vintner’s dream. If planning a weekend or longer stay in the area, take advantage of the more than two dozen tasting rooms within a an hour or so practically in any direction from the heart of the city.

Have a hankering for spicy kimchee, Old World German breads or down-home American eats? You’ll find it in Sierra Vista’s foodie scene with dozens of locally owned restaurants serving American and international fare. Chefs from around the globe have brought their culinary heritage and set up shop in Sierra Vista. Some locally recommended favorites include the German Café, Sunna’s, and Indochine.

An Historian’s Hot Spot

Still an active military installation, Fort Huachuca was established in 1877 to defend American settlers and protect Mexico. Those who mustered there in the early years quelled Apache raids and tangled with the likes of Billy the Kid and Pancho Villa. The Fort was also home to Buffalo Soldiers, who earned their nickname during the Indian Wars.

A visit to the museums on Fort Huachuca is a must for history buffs and espionage enthusiasts alike. The museums boast historic buildings, exhibits and dioramas that bring the past to life and show guests how military surveillance and reconnaissance has evolved from the Revolutionary War spy tactics to modern satellite technology. The museums also house an Enigma machine, a 10-foot section of the Berlin Wall (complete with graffiti) and Cold War spy gear.

For more information, or to plan your visit to Sierra Vista, visit visitsierravista.com.

 

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