Nature’s Crossroad: Coronado National Memorial, AZ

Four major ecosystems meet in Southeastern Arizona: the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts, the Rocky Mountains, and the Sierra Madre. This is a beautiful natural area with an unlimited supply of interesting sights to visit.

Memorial Road looking east from Montezuma Pass. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The San Pedro River valley attracts hikers and birders because of the variety of species that live there. Bisbee is a friendly, funky place to wander and explore. Tombstone trades on a Wild West image. And there are the tens of thousands of sandhill cranes that gather each winter at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area.

Southeastern Arizona is an incredible blend of mountains and grasslands and desert, hot and cold, and Coronado National Memorial is a great place to learn about it.

The breathtaking nature area commemorates the exploratory voyage of Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, which took place from 1540 to 1542.

Coronado’s journey
In the 16th century, the Spanish conquered much of Mexico, establishing gold and silver mines and extending their empire into Peru. The gold flowed and new lands opened to settlement. But nobody knew much about the lands far north of Mexico City. A few explorers had traveled there and returned with fantastic tales of more gold. The reason they said this is unclear. The only people in these lands were Pueblo and nomadic tribes, who had no gold.

But the tales fueled imaginations, and the Viceroy of New Spain launched an expedition.

Coronado was selected to lead it.

Situated in oak woodlands on the southern edge of the Huachuca Mountains, the 4,750-acre park offers a visitors center, Coronado Cave, hiking trails, and a scenic drive that culminates at Coronado Pass overlook. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We have no way of knowing Coronado’s exact route, but historians believe he followed the San Pedro River when he passed through southeastern Arizona in 1540 with about 2,000 men, an army of 336 Spanish soldiers, and hundreds of Mexican-Indian allies. The journey was fueled by more than 1,500 stock animals and blind ambition.

It was a fool’s errand. Coronado died in relative obscurity, his mission a failure.

But as we look back his journey seems remarkable, if only because it was so long. He traveled from Mexico City to what is now Kansas on horseback, and was one of the first Europeans to see this part of the country.

The creation of the Memorial was not to protect any tangible artifacts related to the expedition, but rather to provide visitors with an opportunity to reflect upon the impact the Coronado Expedition had in shaping the history, culture, and environment of the southwestern United States and its lasting ties to Mexico and Spain.

The Memorial has two sister parks in Mexico.

The location was chosen for the panoramic views of the United States-Mexico border and the San Pedro River Valley, the route believed to have been taken by Coronado. It was hoped that this proximity to the border would strengthen bi-national amity and the bonds, both geographical and cultural, which continue to link the two countries.

No entry fee is charged at Coronado National Memorial.


Memorial Road looking west from Montezuma Pass. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Note:There is NO overnight camping in the memorial.

Location: Coronado National Memorial is about 20 miles southeast of Sierra Vista. Drive south on Highway 92 about approximately 16 miles to the 334 mile marker, turn right onto Coronado Memorial Road and continue for about 5 miles to the visitor center.

Did You Know?
Coronado was searching for the ‘Seven Cities of Cibola’ when he began is expedition in 1540. What does Cibola mean? It is most likely a Spanish corruption of ‘She Wo No’ (Land of the Zuni).

To be continued tomorrow…

Worth Pondering…
When your spirit cries for peace, come to a world of canyons deep in an old land;
feel the exultation of high plateaus, the strength of moving wasters,
the simplicity of sand and grass, and the silence of growth.
—August Fruge

Leave a Reply