As some of our friends made their way down the trail to a fort that was not visible from the trailhead, the rest of us made our way in Jeeps. Several dusty miles later we arrived at the ranger station and parking lot. I think the ranger standing there was a little shocked to see more Jeeps than they had parking spaces for, but we found room to park everyone and started the short 100 yard trek to the visitor’s center and the site of the fort.
The vision of a cavalry fort from the 1800s to me was in part due to my love of westerns, you know the wooden walls with guard towers at all four corners. Well in my seven years in the southwest U.S., I have never seen such a fort. In fact, I have not seen any fort with log cabin buildings or log walls. Fort Bowie is no exception.
The layout of the fort was pretty much apparent from the deck of the visitor’s center. There were no complete buildings left but there were plenty of stone and adobe walls plus lots of foundations to look at. All of this spread over a score of acres. You could see the remnants of the first Fort Bowie in the distance off to the right. The overall view gave me one of those moments where in the movie “Patton,” George C. Scott, standing on a hillside, told his aide about a battle from ancient Rome and then said “and I was there.” For a moment, I felt drawn back 130+ years and imagined the fort as it was in its glory days. For a moment, I was there too.
The ranger and the park service volunteer kept us busy and interested, showing us pictures, telling us stories, and going above and beyond for us. The interpretive part of this stop by the staff was excellent. By now the hiking group started rolling in and telling us about the old cemetery and other sites that the rest of us missed. Our group continued exploring the ruins and the small museum at the visitor’s center. In all, we spent over two hours at our Fort Bowie experience.
As we regrouped it was apparent that everyone thoroughly enjoyed this stop. Most of the group would be heading back to the Phoenix area once we hit I-10 after 20 more miles of dusty road. The rest would be heading for another night of camping at Hot Wells Dunes recreation area. It was on the trail again, back to civilization.
Forty minutes later, with pavement under foot and I-10 in front of us, the radios came alive with phrases like “Great trip,” “Can’t wait until the next one,” “Have a safe trip home” and more. Friends parting, going together and at the same time, going their separate ways into the sunset. A great ending to another great Jeep Expedition.
* Published by JPFreek Adventure Magazine – The leader in Jeep and adventure enthusiast publications.