Thatcher is a small town within the Safford Metropolitan Area in Graham County, Arizona. Located in the Upper Gila River Valley at an elevation of nearly 3,000 feet, Thatcher has a population approaching 5,000.
The town was founded in 1881 by settlers who belonged to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Specifically, Christopher Layton is remembered as a person who bought 2000 acres of land here and divided it into lots for purchase by Mormon settlers. At the same time, he built homes, an irrigation system in the form of canals, and roads.
There is local accommodation, a few bars, and restaurants; Thatcher is a fitting base for people who want to enjoy this lovely part of Arizona. Here are 15 things to do in Thatcher and the region.
1. Discovery Park
Being away from the lights and pollution of the city means the night sky is crisper and clearer. Naturally, observatories are a great place to head to see outer space with more clarity.
The composition of light and color, sound and outer space all feature in a visit to Discovery Park near Safford.
The whole family will enjoy finding out more about space exploration, but Discovery Park also covers the early years of the Gila Valley.
Walk through the galleries to see the heliograph which was used over a century ago by the army to send Morse code – among other things.
2. Hot Well Dunes Recreation Area
People visiting Thatcher come primarily for the natural environment. This recreation area with its hot springs is a popular place to visit. The spring was drilled by oil exploration gangs almost a century ago and the water has not stopped since.
All that is left of a former lake is a huge area of sand dunes, which are great for the kids to explore. Vehicles are allowed in the area but drivers are asked to be mindful of the environment.
Once all the exploration is done, jump into the hot tubs and set up camp for the night.
3. Roper Lake State Park
Roper Lake near Safford is a great place to escape from the heat of the day. In the blazing Arizona summer, the water is particularly inviting.
The numerous trails within the state park offer the chance of exercise without testing you too much. If you want something a little more relaxing, try fishing from the shore or head out on a boat.
Camping facilities are available if you want to spend a night or two exploring this beautiful area.
4. Kachina Mineral Springs Spa
These natural mineral springs are a good a way to relax after a busy day. The spa is just a short distance from Thatcher and experienced staff are on hand to make the best use of what nature has provided.
Treatments include massages, skin treatments, wraps, and reflex therapy.
A trip to the spa is a great way to rejuvenate after days of exploring. You’ll wake up the next day feeling fresh and ready for more.
5. Hot Air Balloon
A great way to get a completely different perspective of a region is to see it from the air. The clear, sunny days of Arizona mean that you can see far into the distance when you take to the air in a balloon.
You will be struck by the colors of the region, while the operator will point out significant landmarks.
The photographs you will get from this unique experience will have pride of place in your album.
6. Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area
You might assume this region is too dry to have an abundance of flora and fauna, but you would be wrong. This conservation area of more than 20,000 acres supports some very interesting wildlife – bighorn sheep, mule deer, and beaver are common, while black bear and mountain lion sightings are rare.
Within the area, you will find fast-flowing streams, woods, cliffs, and beaches. You can camp, and popular activities include kayaking, hiking, and fishing.
7. Frye Mesa Reservoir
Fishermen come from far and wide to enjoy the sport that the Frye Mesa Reservoir provides. Sitting below the highest mountain in the region – Mount Graham – the streams that run down into the reservoir are regularly restocked with three common species of trout: rainbow, brook and brown. A fourth – the much rarer Gila trout – must always be returned to the water after being caught.
If you are the only fisherman in the family, others will enjoy the local waterfall and some interesting hiking trails that are not too exacting.
8. Coronado Trail
The city of Clifton, about an hour from Thatcher, sits at the southern end of the Coronado Trail, which has become a National Scenic Byway.
The drive to the northern end takes four hours, passing through some wonderful scenic terrain. It is a route that Francisco Vasquez de Coronado took in the 16th century.
Even if you travel just a few miles on the trail, you will enjoy its twists and turns, the chance of some great photographs, and maybe even bump into some interesting wildlife. If you are not up to walking these areas, drive a stretch; whatever the season, you will enjoy it.
9. Eastern Arizona Museum Pima
Just a short distance from Thatcher, you can experience this piece of local hospitality. Entry to the Museum in Pima is free but visitors can choose to make a donation.
The museum covers the history of the region from the time before white settlers arrived; the 19th-century artifacts are especially impressive. Several rooms of exhibits are worth exploring. Outside, you can learn more about the local mining industry.
In addition, the library contains plenty of historical documents.
10. Fort Bowie National Historic Site
The flora and fauna in this region are a delight, but the main reason to visit this nationally protected site is to learn about the struggles between the US forces and the Chincahua Apaches.
The site in Willcox – about an hour south of Thatcher – was once an important army outpost in the 19th century. The conflict between the army and the Apache took place towards the end of the 1800s and lasted a quarter of a century.
11. Coronado Vineyards
Arizona is known for its wines and you are certain to enjoy a visit to the Coronado Vineyards in Willcox. These vineyards between Mount Graham and the Dos Cabezas mountains opened just over a decade ago.
Warm dry summers, cool nights, an elevation of 4,000 feet and mineral soils all add up to ideal conditions for its grapes. In the tasting room, you will get a choice of whites and reds, a dessert wine, a sparkling wine and even one that resembles port – a heavier, stronger drink than standard wine. Don’t volunteer to be the driver.
12. Apache Station Wildlife Viewing Area
The highlight of this area happens in winter when the Sandhill cranes arrive.
If you are in the region at the height of summer, it’s still worth a visit; there are many other fascinating things to see including bobcat, deer, and javelina. When it comes to birds, expect to see several raptors, including the golden eagle, red-tailed hawk, bald eagle and Northern harrier. Waders and waterfowl are present throughout the year, with numbers increasing in the winter.
13. Cochise Lake
This lake – named after famous Apache chief Cochise – is an extremely important habitat for birdlife – some resident and others migratory.
Cranes and ibis, a range of waders including Wilson’s phalarope, avocet, sandpipers, stilts and curlews, make this a birdwatcher’s paradise. Add a large variety of different ducks and raptors and it is little wonder that it is so popular.
14. La Casita
After a busy day exploring Thatcher and surrounds, it’s time for dinner. If you like Mexican cuisine – popular throughout South West USA – head to La Casita in West Main Street, Thatcher.
All the usual Mexican favorites can be found on the menu, with wine and beer to accompany the dishes.