The Gadsden Hotel in Douglas / ©Leigh Spigelman
The Gadsden Hotel in Douglas / ©Leigh Spigelman

Copper Town With a Colorful Past

Explore the rich history of Douglas in Arizona's southeastern corner

BYMonica Surfaro Spigelman
Two hours southeast of Tucson, you’ll find Douglas, a cattle and copper border town. It was named after Phelps Dodge mining magnate James Douglas, who constructed the Douglas smelters. Take the weekend to appreciate its richly diverse culture and celebrity-studded history. 
 
Past Meets Present
The Gadsden Hotel on G Avenue is a can’t-miss destination. On the National Register of Historic Places, the Gadsden’s ornate lobby, sweeping marble staircases (rumored to have been climbed by Pancho Villa on his horse), and a huge Tiffany stained-glass mural highlight the city’s Old West glamour. The historic Saddle & Spur Tavern, adorned with hundreds of cattle brand markings, is still a favorite meeting place for storytelling about past visiting celebrities including Thornton Wilder, Eleanor Roosevelt, and John Dillinger.  
 
Downtown, you’ll see remnants of the town’s mining heritage at Church Square. It’s the only intersection in the United States with four churches at one intersection, all built before 1910. The square features historic houses including the handsome 1909 Douglas-Williams house, now headquarters of the Douglas Historical Society. Plan to see the quirky Art Car World Museum (open by appointment only), where 21 cars have been decorated and transformed into fantasy mobile art sculptures as part of a permanent collection founded by filmmaker and Burning Man artist Harrod Blank.
 
Visit the colorful Galerias Jalisco market to shop for tinware, ceramics, lotteria tiles, and paintings. Down the block, you’ll find Marlins, an old-time saddle and bootmaker shop with rancher memorabilia. 
 
Did you know Douglas Municipal Airport was the first international airport in the Americas? The tiny Border Air Museum on Airport Road includes exhibits highlighting Douglas’ cross-border and world war aviation history.
 
Home on the Range 
For a bit of rugged adventure, head east onto the Geronimo Trail, a scenic dirt road traversing dramatic rangelands. After about 14 miles, look for a U.S. Mormon Battalion Marker commemorating an 1840s troop rest camp. Next, you’ll come to the turnoff for the historic, 50-acre Slaughter Ranch, the immense cattle empire once owned by John Horton Slaughter, the Cochise County sheriff. A portion of the once 88,000-plus acre territory, fed by a natural spring, is open to the public. An adjacent 2,300 acres, which is now the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge, is a wonderful spot for birding.
 
While Douglas may be as remote as you can get in Arizona, small mining town magic and a stunning solitary landscape make it worth the trek.
MONICA SURFARO SPIGELMAN enjoys discovering the nooks and crannies of the Southwest.
If You Go
 
Visitor center: Douglas Visitor Center, 345 16th St., 520-417-7344; visitdouglas.com.
 
Douglas Days: The town celebrates its 1905 incorporation each year in May with Douglas Days. Enjoy a parade, stage entertainment, baseball competitions, vendors, Miss Douglas meet and greets, gallery walks, and dancing; douglasaz.org/douglasdays.
 

Explore Arizona
Find out about more Arizona trips by visiting AAA.com or calling your local AAA Travel agent toll-free at 1-888-870-9392.
Welcome to AAA Highroads
To enjoy customized local content, please enter your ZIP Code below.
Zip Code
AAA Arizona proudly serves AAA members in the state of Arizona
×