Safford is the capital of Graham County, South East Arizona, with a population of a little under 10,000. It is a place where locals and visitors alike can enjoy the outdoor life and the lovely natural environment.
The town gradually developed in the last two decades of the 19th century in Pima and Apache territory and was incorporated in 1901. Native Americans had been using the land for burial grounds for many centuries. Apart from service industries and administration, the economy of Safford revolves around mining, oil and gas extraction and quarrying.
Located at an elevation of around 3,000 feet, there is only an average of an inch of snow each year and 10 inches of rainfall, but water is not a scarce commodity, with a number of creeks and streams as well as the Gila River, a tributary of the Colorado River.
Read on to find out the 15 best things to do in Safford.
1. Discovery Park
The Governor Aker Observatory offers you the chance to learn about space exploration and much more.
A number of galleries offer different experiences, including learning more about the early history of Gila Valley. See the heliograph that the army used in the late 19th century to send signals by Morse code.
Learn about how light is composed of many colors, about sun and sound from outer space, and about astronomy itself. See the sun through the telescopes and enjoy a virtual tour through space. This is a great day out for all the family.
2. Roper Lake State Park
Just a few miles from Safford, you will get to cool off, with a refreshing swim, and there is plenty to do before you take that dip in the water.
This park is full of nature trails to enjoy, while you can fish from the banks or boat. On a hot day, a swim is a delight. Camping facilities are available so you can get away from things without being too far from Safford.
The regular events in the Park add to the attraction of the place, for a different weekend with the family.
3. Dankworth Pond State Park
Hot springs feed the pond in a park created in a marshy area at the base of the Pinaleno Mountains. An interesting 2-mile trail is enjoyable at around 3,200 feet, with minimal elevation for you to climb, so it is rated as easy.
There is an interesting recent construction on the route, a Native American village that is typical of what was around in the region centuries ago. While the lake is artificial, around 50 years old, you would not know it and it is frequented by fishermen for the catfish and bass among others. The variety of birdlife is another reason for a visit here.
4. Dry Lake Park
If you enjoy exercise but prefer not to go to a gym when the weather is good, you should head for Dry Lake Park.
You can trek and camp, or test yourself with gun and arrow. There are three ranges to see whether you are good with trap, skeet or small pistol, a great way for you to have a competition with friends and family.
Get your revenge in the paintball area where there are diverse items that you can dive behind to avoid a shot. Finish off by controlling airplanes, taking off, flying and landing them safely.
5. Hot Air Balloon
There are few better experiences than soaring above an interesting terrain with only the occasional sound of the boost from the balloon. The colors around Safford are stunning and an experienced balloon operator will indicate particular landmarks and answer your questions.
Your “pilot” will explain how the balloon works in case you are mystified by the whole process.
You can enjoy some refreshments when you land and discuss the adventure with photographs and video, which will make an excellent souvenir of your experience soaring above Arizona.
6. Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area
The 23,000 acres of this conservation area include beaches, cliffs, woodland and fast-flowing streams, an oasis in a desert.
Activities available include traveling down the river at your own pace, hiking and camping as well as fishing.
The local wildlife in the area includes bighorn sheep, beaver and mule deer. Mountain lion, black bear and bobcat are there but rarely seen. You will, however, most likely see a wide range of birdlife, with black hawk and ladder-backed woodpecker among the highlights.
7. Hot Well Dunes Recreation Area
An off-road adventure by day with a hot spring to follow is on offer in this recreation area. The spring was discovered by oil drillers back in the ‘20s and water has flowed ever since.
You can roam the 2,000 acres of sand dunes that were left after the ancient lake dried up, and on returning jump into one of the tubs that are fed by the area’s natural hot springs. At the end of the day, pitch your tent and look forward to another day in a lovely setting.
Vehicles are permitted in the recreation area, though the smaller dunes covered in vegetation require a leisurely pace.
8. Black Hills Rockhound Area
One of the souvenirs that you may like to take home with you when you leave Safford is one of the semi-precious gems that can be found in Southwest USA and Mexico.
You don’t need to buy these fire-agates because you will find them in Black Hills. If you decide to do a little digging, you may find a series of colorful gems that will look nice back home and may be appreciated by friends and family as well. Make sure you do not leave holes that can be hazards to others of course.
While the wildlife it happy to drink the water here, it is advisable that you take your own.
9. Frye Mesa Reservoir
One of the best places for fishing in the region is Frye Mesa Reservoir, and the streams that feed it which are regularly restocked with rainbow, brown and brook trout.
The reservoir below Mount Graham, the highest in the area, is in a relatively cool spot and also a place where you can see and catch the gila trout. This species is endangered, so you must return it to the water.
Additional reasons for visiting the reservoir are the impressive waterfall and a series of lovely hiking trails.
10. Riggs Flat Lake
This lake in the Coronado National Forest, among the Pinaleno Mountains, is another place where fishermen can catch trout. It covers 11 acres and is found at the end of the Swift Trail, which runs across the top of the mountains.
It is a nice place for hiking, with lovely views of West Peak from the lake itself and the Aravalpa Valley if you head west on a hike. The lake is also suitable for boating, although most fishermen prefer to fish from the banks.
11. San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation
Around 10,000 Apaches live on this reservation and tourism is one of the things that sustain the economy. The others are agriculture, mostly ranching, and forestry. The reservation covers 1.8 million acres with almost half being woods and forests.
Visitors are welcome, at a small charge, and can hike wilderness areas with impressive fauna. You may not see any mountain lions or black bears, but that may be a good thing as you may not want to encounter them. Expect to see however elk, bighorn sheep and mule deer as well as interesting birdlife.
12. David M Player Center for the Arts
The community of Safford is committed to the arts with this center, opened in 2007, being central to entertainment in the town.
A combination of great acoustics and imaginative design make it a place to visit while you are in Safford, even if the current performers do not suit your taste in music. Head for either of the two theaters, where many people have been entertained by all forms of music, comedy and programming since the center’s opening.
13. Kachina Mineral Springs
What better way is there to relax after a busy day than by getting a boost from natural hot springs? You just need to head a short distance out of Safford to find this spa.
The experienced therapists at the spa can offer a series of treatments including sweat wraps, reflex therapy and of course massages. Suddenly, any stress you have been feeling will be gone. There is a range of packages available and you should certainly try something.
The whole setting and the views across towards Mount Graham add to the whole experience.
14. Essence of Tranquility
Natural springs are the raw material for the ideal place for you to lie back and relax.
The sauna has a number of hot tubs for cleansing before a great massage. One of the tubs is communal where clothing is compulsory, while the other five tubs are private. The temperature of the tubs ranges between 98 and 105 degrees.
There is no reason to hurry away after enjoying the pools, because you can stay overnight and do exactly the same thing the following day.
15. Casa Manana
Many years ago, this region was part of Mexico. Not surprisingly, its cuisine is still popular and if you want to try some, head for Casa Manana. The original owners retired but sold up to an equally capable family, who have continued the tradition of fine Mexican food.
It is open for brunch and serves traditional Mexican food throughout the day. Whether you prefer enchiladas, fajitas, tacos or guacamole and salsa dips, the favorites are all available with beef, chicken and fish. Enjoy your meal.