Arizona Sky Islands: Dragoon Mountains

The Dragoon Mountains are the third in our Arizona Sky Islands series. “Sky Islands” refer to isolated mountain peaks that are not part of a larger range like the Rockies or Sierra Nevada. These forested mountains rise up out of the Sonoran desert floor. Floating peaks hopscotch across the US Southwest. The isolation of these mountain peaks creates unique natural habitats. Sky Islands consist of many ecosystems and biodiversities that transition rapidly as you climb the steep elevations.

The first installment of this series studied the Santa Catalina Mountains surrounding Tucson. The second post we discovered the Santa Rita Mountains , located halfway between Tucson and the Mexico border.

Today we are taking a look at the Dragoon Mountains, made famous by the indefatigable Apache chief, Cochise.

Let’s Go! Learn Things About the Dragoon Mountains, and the Cochise Stronghold

Sky Islands: Dragoon Mountains

Sky Island Dragoon Mountians in southeast Arizona

The Dragoon Mountains are a small range one hour southeast of Tucson. Their name refers to the 3rd U.S. Cavalry Dragoons who battled Chiricahua Apache warriors in this challenging granite fortress. One of the most tenacious and famous warriors was Chief Cochise.

Mt. Glenn, at 7520 feet, is the highest point of the range. Although this is a small range with moderate elevation, this sky island, like all the others, is bursting with biodiversity.

As with all Arizona mountains, the granite peaks drew prospectors, hoping to strike it rich. The remnants of long since abandoned mining towns dot the landscape. Tombstone, home to the Earp Brothers and the infamous OK Corral gunfight, lies along the southern border of this range.

Cochise Stronghold

Chief Cochise in the Dragoon Mountains

Chief Cochise was a tenacious leader of the Chokonen band of Chiricahua Apaches. He led and maintained an uprising against the U.S. government from 1861 to 1872. This savvy chief kept his warriors and villages hidden in the rugged and formidable Dragoon and Chiricahua Mountains.

Cochise Stronghold in the Dragoon Mountains
Cochise and his warriors could spot all approaching enemies from their rocky perch
Sky Island Dragoon Mountains
Cochise Stronghold Campground

Many of the Sky Islands are found in the Coronado National Forest, including the Dragoon Mountains. Deep in the Dragoons you will find Cochise’s Stronghold. The area has a beautiful campground and a fascinating hike. The hike can be a total of 8 miles if you traverse from the East side across the saddle and over to the West side. It is an out and back trail so you can go as far as you want. The biodiversity of this Sky Island can be seen all along the trail, as you slowly climb 1500 feet through Alligator Juniper forests, across meandering streams and along massive granite cliffs and hoodoos.

Cochise Stronghold in Dragoon Mountains
Along the hiking trail

The Wild West and Ghost Towns

As I mentioned before, Arizona mountains are pocked with abandoned mining towns and ghost towns. One of the most famous towns is Tombstone. The Earp brothers settled into this town at the foot of the Dragoons, planning to make it rich. They were basically speculators of land, mining rights and entertainment (gambling, drink and women). Local politics and long-held grudges caused most of their plans to go up in gun smoke.

Tombstone

Tombstone is technically not a “ghost town”. As of 2018 the town had an actual population of 1300. One has to assume a good percentage of that population works as re-enactors. Many of the buildings along the 3-block strip are historic and the overall experience is worth a few hours. I am not a fan of cheesy tourist traps and Tombstone definitely leans that way.

Gleeson

Ghost town, Gleeson, AZ jail

The abandoned ghost town of Gleeson, AZ was established in 1870 as Turquoise, in the Arizona Territory. It was named for the precious mineral mined by the local Apaches. Later, prospector, John Gleeson, registered a claim to the Copper Belle Mine and changed the name to Gleeson. Silver Bill, Tejon and Defiance were some of the other mines in the surrounding area. Visitors can find the ruins of a hospital, a saloon, a cemetery, a jail, the foundation of the village school and evidence of the extensive mining in the surrounding hills near town.

Let’s Go! Learn things in the Wild West, discover other historic sites to visit.

Arizona Sky Island Peaks and Valleys

The Dragoon Sky Islands are a unique transition from the Sonoran Desert to the Chihuahuan Desert. Habitats in the Dragoons range from semi-desert grasslands on the western and eastern slopes, oak-woodlands, washes and riparian areas, steep canyons, and woodlands at the highest elevations. These granite peaks are delightfully remote and bursting with fascinating history.

Arizona Sky Islands: Dragoon Mountains and Cochise Stronghold
Dragoon Mountains and Cochise Stronghold

One thought on “Arizona Sky Islands: Dragoon Mountains”

  1. We drove by here once and I vowed to get back and explore this area. Thanks for an introduction to both the Dragoon Mountains and Tombstone. (BTW, I love that you are doing a whole series on Arizona’s sky islands. Cool idea.)

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