Arizona Back Country Discovery Route – South to North

US/Mexico Border Marker
The marker commemorates the treaty between Mexico and America and marks the border. The marker was placed in 1858

Exploring Arizona by Jeep

The view at the entrance to the park.

Martha and I have been bored for a while now. We go to the store, play disc golf and go for the occasional day ride. Yesterday we explored the first leg of the “Arizona Back Country Discovery Route.” This is not a passenger car route. However, if you have some clearance like in a Subaru or CRV you should be fine. Bottom line is that your vehicle should have more than normal passenger car clearance. This route will have you you will be climbing long, hills with loose rock, traversing grasslands and driving on part of the Arizona Trail (shared use area, in the first leg of the route).

This is a part of the Arizona Trail (this section is multi-use)

What to expect

Looking towards Sierra Vista, Arizona from the apex of Montezuma Pass

The first leg of the route begins in Sierra Vista, Arizona and ends in Sonoita (sone-oy-ta), Arizona. The route itself had a dead end near the border fence and a road closure some five miles later. It required our re-routing on the fly.

However, we still traveled some 50 miles on gravel, and two track. There was also some sketchy areas that would be nearly impossible in a two wheel drive, lower clearance vehicle.

If you travel from late June through early October you can expect triple digits to upper double digits in the valley floors. Your high point on this route is 6758 feet at the top of Montezuma Pass in Coronado National Forest. This is about eight miles into the route from Sierra Vista, Az. If it has been raining or snowing, DO NOT attempt this route. It will become impassible at points with little or no warning and little or no help available.

what to bring

If you decide to go, bring the necessities. Lots of water, a picnic lunch, snacks, toilet paper, wipes, perhaps some energy drinks, flashlight, a good spare and lots of common sense. Remember this is desert, high plains and National Forest area. Traffic is minimal. We saw exactly three vehicles the entire 64 miles of the route.

Dispersed Camping – Restrooms – No Trace – History


This area is full of history. Coronado and his troops explored the area from 1540 through 1542. According to signage at Montezuma Pass, little in the landscape has changed in 400 + years.

Dispersed camping

There is dispersed camping available at various points along the route. Large RV’s are not advised. No fires are allowed (at the moment) because southern Arizona is in a deep prolonged drought.

Restroom Availability

Restrooms are available at Montezuma Pass and are the only ones we saw for 65 miles. There are NO restrooms. You will find the public restrooms at the end of the route in Patagonia closed due to Covid 19.

Leave no trace

You should plan on carrying out what you’ve carried in. There are no trash cans with the exception of the top of Montezuma Pass. No trace camping and picnicking is expected. Carry out your trash or risk losing the privilege to camp here for all of us. National Parks, National Forests, BLM Land have been recently under assault by persons leaving their trash behind. Many parks, forests and BLM land are closing dispersed camping due to this. Do your part to keep them clean. Leave the campsite cleaner than you find it. Haul out what you haul in. Take your trash out with you.

Fuel Availability – Maintenance check – Spare Tire

Descending into the San Rafael Valley from the “Arizona Trail”
Fuel availability

The nearest fuel is available near the route is on the south end of Sierra Vista, Az. which is near the entrance to Coronado National Forest. Warning, this IS your last chance to fuel up for about 65 miles. Plan accordingly.

If you are staying in Tucson allow at least one and a half hours to get to the start of the route. If you are staying in Benson you can plan on forty five to 55 minutes to get to the start of the route.

Maintenance checks

Make sure you check your oil, anti-freeze and spare tire or re-inflation kits prior to departure. You will not be near services and cell service is very spotty.

Taken on the “Arizona Trail ” portion of the route.

What you can expect to see along the way

Arizona Trail

I will annotate most of the following photos to help you understand what you are in store for. It is a beautiful trip encompassing Sonoran Desert, San Rafael Valley, high desert plains, long stretches of desert grasses, the Arizona Trail, Historical markers and old structures.

Portions of the route can be steep
Arizona Trail
At the US border with Mexico. This is the original Border fence. It is fabricated of old railroad ties. US to the right, Mexico to the left.
At least the Border Fence is landscaped, sort of
This portion of the border was established by treaty in 1858
Whetstone Mountains
We came across this monument on our way to Patagonia and it celebrates where the first European Fray (Brother) Marcus De Nizato entered what is now Arizona
An old “Powder House” (used to store explosives safely) near an abandoned Silver Mine.
A long forgotten Adobe Structure we found along the way

Did we mention we were close to the border? The following is a very bad photo of one of the observation Blimps that helps secure the border. It features imaging, heat imaging and radar

Once again, I want to reiterate that this trip should be prepared for. It is very remote with very little traffic. Is it worth the effort? In a word YES.